Since the Brooklyn Nets mortgaged their future for an out-of-date Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, things haven’t been fun for the loyal Nets fan base. Not only have they won just 69 of a possible 246 games, they have watched their would-be early draft picks like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum excelling in Boston.
With late-round picks and a dearth of tradeable assets left from one of the worst moves in NBA history, the Nets would be forgiven for not having any potential franchise cornerstones. However, as we sit and ingest the first few games of the 2018-19 NBA season, there is a surprising buzz around Brooklyn’s future. That excitement is centered around two players: Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert.
Allen, a 20-year-old who stands at 6 feet 10 inches with arms that go into next week, was selected with the 22nd pick in the 2017 draft, while 6-foot-7 wing LeVert was acquired via trade less than a month after being selected at pick 20 a year earlier.
The two may be ying and yang in terms of size and skill sets, but together, they create a budding future for the Nets, one that many fans would not have expected to arrive so quickly. Throughout the first three games of the season, the pair has dazzled in expanded roles.
LeVert has averaged an amazing 24.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4 assists per game, shooting a blistering 65 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. Coach Kenny Atkinson has handed him the reigns as a legitimate secondary ball-handler, and he has shown to have taken huge strides in his ability to snake through pick-and-rolls, find his teammates and finish at the rim with class.
This game-winner against the New York Knicks was a perfect example of the craftiness and execution that the former Michigan product is currently displaying. It was also just about enough to blow the lid off any tempered expectations hoop heads had for LeVert:
Obviously, his overall numbers and shooting percentages stem from a small sample size, but the 24-year-old looks primed to make another jump in 3-point shooting efficiency after improving on his long-range shooting a season ago. He is firing with confidence and a self-assurance that wavered throughout his first two NBA campaigns. LeVert failed to post a positive offensive box plus/minus in those seasons after an injury-riddled college career, but he currently boasts a ridiculous plus-7.2 mark. Even in a tiny sample, that is genuinely impressive.
In an interview with WFAN Sports Radio, Atkinson didn’t seem surprised at all at the potential Most Improved Player’s opening stretch:
“I think that confirms what we’ve seen all offseason, and then the preseason; he’s made a jump. I think he can play with the ball in his hands. He can play off the ball. He’s a heck of a competitor … he just spent a ton of time with our performance team in the weight room, and he’s gotten stronger. I’m really excited about where he is now and where he can go.” he said.
LeVert might be lighting it up in a perimeter-ball-handling role, but down in the post, the Nets faithful have just as much to get excited about.
Even after a promising season last year, nobody expected Jarrett Allen to burst out of the gates as he has thus far. Whether rolling to the hoop and finishing off a lob or pocket pass, knocking down a corner triple or playing the role of a shot-swatting madman on the defensive end, the Texas-born stud has been everywhere.
Even after a quiet night in their most recent loss against the Indiana Pacers, the gangly center is putting up 13.3 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks per night. His 64 percent shooting isn’t overly surprising considering he is so long and athletic around the rim, but the fact he has hit 2-5 (40%) from 3-point range is a mouth-watering development.
In fact, Allen’s rollicking start to the season has been of the historic variety. Only eight players have ever registered a double-double with four blocks in their first two games of a season: Tim Duncan, Dikembe Mutombo, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Artis Gilmore, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jarrett Allen. Talk about impressive company to keep.
Following on from coach Atkinson’s WFAN Sports Radio interview, the Nets headman was full of praise for his 20-year-old big man:
“He’s a talented, talented guy. He hit two corner threes last night. I know that’s not what it used to be in this league, but he can roll to the rim, catch lob dunks … he’s a fearless rim protector. He does not care who is going at him. He’s going to get dunked on here and there, but he’s fearless protecting the rim. He’s already one of the elite rim protectors in the league. He kind of fits what the modern center looks like today.” he said.
Individually, the pair is enough to have any NBA fan drooling intensely, but together, they are beginning to form a powerful duo. The chemistry these two have was palpable last season, but now they have the platform in Atkinson’s scheme to really showcase how well they mesh:
As you can see above, the two already have a handful of really nice plays together already this season. They often come from LeVert’s growing ability to penetrate the paint and hit Allen, who rolls toward the rim with as much vigor as any big man in the league. When Allen does flare out to the corner for a triple, LeVert’s vision seems to locate him instantaneously.
Throughout their second season together, there is no doubt this chemistry will continue to blossom. The wins might not come in abundance yet, but there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that this recipe is creating a delicious dish.
With a duo of budding young stars, Brooklyn Nets fans are finally able to put the woes of the Pierce, Garnett and Terry deal behind them and focus on their bright future. They’re not going to challenge for any type of title just yet. They might not even sniff the playoffs in 2019, but the fun is back in BKN, and that is a good thing for one of the league’s most prolific markets.