STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Among the most notable changes in the NBA this season will be the absence of a basketball franchise in New Jersey. The Nets have finally made their move to Brooklyn, ushering in an inspired new fan base and several additional moving parts that may place them in a position to not only improve upon last season's dismal 22-44 record, but contend for the Atlantic Division title for the first time since the Jason Kidd era.
Stalwarts Brook Lopez and Deron Williams remain, as does a much improved Kris Humphries and second-year phenom MarShon Brooks. That's where the similarities between the New Jersey iteration and Brooklyn end, however. GM Billy King and owner Mikhail Prokhorov emptied their pockets this offseason and spent wisely, adding integral role players like C.J. Watson, Josh Childress, and Andray Blatche to complement their big haul - and one of the consolation prizes in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes - Joe Johnson. One of the Euroleague's top scorers, twenty-seven-year-old Mirza Teletovic, also joins the team as a likely sixth man, while veterans Jerry Stackhouse, Reggie Evans and Keith Bogans fill out the roster.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Head coach Avery Johnson leaned heavily on Deron Williams to take on a greater offensive role last season after a fractured ankle sidelined Brook Lopez for the majority of the season. He played upwards of 36 minutes a game, spelled occasionally by the now departed Jordan Farmar, who head coach Avery Johnson sometimes used in tandem with Williams for a small-ball attack. He averaged around 20 minutes per game, and Watson can expect a similar distribution this year. Unpolished rookie Tyshon Taylor will likely be relegated to garbage-time duty.
Johnson steps into MarShon Brooks' spot, and despite Brooks' relative success last season, Brooklyn didn't agree to take on the approximately $90 million remaining on Johnson's $126 million dollar contract to place him in a timeshare. Johnson should get his 35 minutes, with Brooks' PT dropping from last year's 29 minutes to around 20-22 per game. Given the Nets' depth, Bogans is likely to be nothing more than a towel waver, seeing perhaps five-to-10 minutes per game, if that.
The Nets' small forward position was in flux until the Nets acquired Gerald Wallace, and he immediately saw upwards of 35 minutes per game during his 16-game trial. Expect a slight dip this season, with new backup Josh Childress siphoning close to 20 minutes. Jerry Stackhouse, like Bogans, will bring veteran leadership more than anything else and, at age 37, is unlikely to eclipse 10 minutes per game.
Kris Humphries emerged as a nightly double-double threat last season, and regularly saw anywhere from 30-to-40 minutes per game, depending on foul trouble. He had no legitimate backup, and the addition of Evans will finally fill that void. Humphries clearly has earned the trust of Johnson, and he'll still get his minimum 30 minutes per game, but expect Evans to grab around 15 when the Nets need a bruiser to pick up some fouls. The wildcard is the 6-foot-9 Teletovic, who projects as a SF/PF swingman. However, there may not be enough minutes to go around for him to eclipse 15-20 per game in the early going.
Expect a healthy Lopez to return to his typical 30-35 minute-per-game average, backed up by the enigmatic Blatche. With Johan Petro gone, Blatche is currently the only other player on the roster aside from Lopez taller then 6-foot-9, so it's possible he'll see at least 20 minutes per game or more should Lopez incur foul trouble.
Brook Lopez: It was a lost season for Lopez in 2011, as ankle issues limited him to just five games. Fantasy owners were hesitant to invest too heavily in him after his perplexingly low 6.0 rebounds per game the year prior, an issue that would later be blamed on painful calcium deposits in his arm. A career 50.4 percent field goal and 79.4 percent free-throw shooter, a healthy Lopez can offer above average percentages, between 18-20 points per game and nearly two blocks. His scoring load will be relinquished somewhat in the Nets' more proficient offensive attack, so a corresponding uptick in boards would be gravy.
Andray Blatche: Left for dead by the Wizards, Blatche was signed to be Brook Lopez's primary backup and will almost certainly be an upgrade at a position that previously featured a rotation of Shelden Williams, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro and an undersized Kris Humphries. He's one season removed from a campaign with averages of 16.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 0.8 blocks, so the potential is there. It's up to Avery Johnson to motivate him.
Kris Humphries: Free from the Kardashian spell, Humphries emerged as a reliable double-double source for the Nets in 2011, although one could make a case that his production was partially the result of Lopez's absence and the Nets' lack of offensive options. Their new star-studded starting five relegates Humphries to fifth banana on offense, so he could have a Dennis Rodman-esque season, or regress to something along the lines of his 2010 numbers (10.0 points, 10.4 boards, and 1.1 blocks per game). Still, not too shabby.
Gerald Wallace: Wallace looks to be past his defensive prime, and the potential emergence of Mirza Teletovic could threaten his minutes. He'll still be a safe bet for around 1.5 steals per game, but this will be the first time in a while where he was neither the first, second, or even third option on offense. Don't draft him for what he was, draft him for what he likely will be - an unspectacular role player with poor-man's Shawn Marion upside.
Josh Childress: The 'fro has been an epic disappointment since he returned from his one season overseas, culminating in paltry averages of 2.9 points and 2.8 rebounds in 34 games with Phoenix last season. He doesn't get to the line anymore (just two free-throw attempts all year) and hasn't been a useful steals asset since 2007. Still, he'll likely get more run in Brooklyn as Wallace's backup, but isn't on the fantasy radar at the moment.
Reggie Evans: Evans, brought in primarily for defensive purposes from the Clippers, is more of an intangibles guy. Great for the real-life squad, but essentially useless in fantasy. He'll act as depth behind Humphries and perhaps occasionally spell Lopez.
Mirza Teletovic: Acquired from Spain's Caja Laboral, Teletovic is a long 6-foot-9 and weighs in at an NBA-ready 240 lbs. He led the Turkish Airlines Euroleague in scoring with 21.7 points per game and could be a sneaky three-point asset (43.8 percent) when more plodding defenders don't challenge him from the outside. He'll need to carve out playing time behind both Humphries and Wallace, though.
Ilkan Karaman: Another foreign import, the Nets drafted the 6-foot-9 Karaman in the second round, and he'll be used to shore up the power forward position. He projects as Teletovic-lite, although with slightly more rebounding ability. He averaged 10.7 points and 6.4 rebounds in the Turkish League.
Tornike Shengelia: A second-round pick of the 76ers, the Nets acquired the 6-foot-8 Shengelia for more frontcourt depth, and perhaps in an attempt to challenge for the league lead in most foreign-born players on one roster. Brooklyn is quite the diverse city, after all. Shengelia has been labeled a tweener, but was voted MVP runner-up in this summer's Adidas Eurocamp.
Jerry Stackhouse: Stackhouse has seen better days, averaging just 3.6 points in nine minutes per game for Atlanta last season. He'll be nothing more than a role model for younger players.
Deron Williams: Nets brass feared Williams would relish the opportunity to sign with his hometown Dallas Mavericks this offseason, but it appears he's content to make Brooklyn his new home. With Lopez sidelined, Williams was the Nets' offense in 2011, scoring 21.0 points per game - just shy of his career-high mark of 21.3 - while his assists per game dropped from 12.8 in 2010-11 to 8.7. Entering the peak of his prime years, Williams will now captain one of the league's most improved offenses, and should be considered a late first-round pick in most leagues.
Joe Johnson: Near the end of his tenure in Atlanta, Johnson became known more for his exorbitant contract than his production - which actually dipped after he became one of the league's richest players. Given the Nets' bountiful fleet of scorers, Johnson's unlikely to improve upon last year's 18.8 points per game, but owners should still expect solid return on investment in the late second or early third round.
MarShon Brooks: Brooks finished third behind Brandon Knight and Kyrie Irving for the rookie scoring title, at 12.6 points per game. He broke out of the gates like gangbusters, averaging 14.4 points over the season's first month, but cooled slightly in the wake of a broken pinkie toe and sporadic playing time upon his return. He's now relegated to a reserve role behind Johnson, so don't expect much improvement unless Johnson goes down.
C.J. Watson: A shrewd pickup for the Nets, Watson was effective but erratic at times in two years with Chicago, but proved on more than one occasion that he could handle a full load if need be - something he was required to do during Derrick Rose's injury-plagued 2011. He averaged 9.7 points, 4.1 assists, and 0.9 swipes in just over 23 minutes per game last year, and fantasy owners can expect him to post similar numbers backing up another of the league's top point guards in Williams.
Keith Bogans: Bogans appeared in just seven games last season and was decidedly underwhelming in all of them. We suspect retirement or a coaching offer in his future.
Tyshawn Taylor: Taylor averaged 16.6 points, 4.8 dimes, and 1.3 steals at Kansas, and at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, he has nice height for a point guard. He's drawn best-case comparisons to the 76ers' Jrue Holiday from DraftExpress.com but will be too buried on the depth chart to showcase his true potential this season.
Armon Johnson: Johnson was unable to carve out much playing time in two seasons with Portland, and is actually the player DraftExpress suggests could be rookie Taylor's "worst case scenario." Not exactly a glowing endorsement.
Mirza Teletovic: Johnny Giovony, President of DraftExpress.com, recently coined Teletovic as "one of the best scorers in European basketball, period." His paltry six rebounds per game overseas means he'll likely facilitate the "soft" label designated to most Euros with size, but players like Andrea Bargnani have succeeded with a similar profile. At age 27 (one year older than Bargnani), it's possible Teletovic will contribute immediately off the bench.
Andray Blatche: The Wizards wanted to rid themselves of Blatche so desperately that they amnestied him, paying the overweight, underperforming power forward the remaining $23 million on his contract to skip town. He's a reclamation project for sure, but still a presumed upgrade over the perennially disappointing Johan Petro. Blatche is undisciplined and unmotivated, so unless he shows up to camp dedicated and in shape, the jury is out on his effectiveness going forward.