Knicks, Lakers, Raptors, Mavericks, Pistons, Kevin Durant

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Looking for good vibrations in Brooklyn has not been a simple process in current instances. Scandals, accidents, commerce requests and public turmoil have been a staple since Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving landed with the Nets. The closest factor to happiness occurred within the final 20 video games. With Irving again within the fold and Jacque Vaughn established as the brand new chief on the courtroom, the promised land appeared nearer than ever for this stressed franchise.

Since November 27, Brooklyn rolled with a league-best 18-2 file, tying for finest offense within the league with the Nuggets whereas capturing an insane 60.3% in efficient subject purpose proportion. In truth, the Nets would at the moment be one of the best capturing workforce ever in a season (58.4 efficient subject purpose proportion). But most significantly, Vaughn has constructed one of many strongest defenses within the league. Only Grizzlies, Cavaliers and Knicks had a greater defensive proportion for the reason that begin of the Nets’ 20-game run.

In a league deep in offensive expertise, nobody has been extra vital than Durant. At age 34 and after overcoming a torn Achilles, we’ve loved one of many most interesting variations of the long run Hall of Famer. Scoring virtually 30 factors per sport, he is setting career-highs in subject objectives (55.9 p.c) and free throw proportion (a league-best 93.4 p.c). His mid-range sport is an absolute magnificence, making 57.1 p.c of his pictures on 7.0 makes an attempt per sport. In the twenty first century, solely Dirk Nowitzki has completed a season over 50 p.c from mid-range with at the very least seven makes an attempt. No one has shot higher than 53 p.c… till now.

But then, Durant acquired injured with a proper MCL sprain. A really comparable harm to the one which sidelined him final season, though at the very least with an anticipated shorter restoration time.

During the 2021-22 season, Durant’s harm was a painful turning level. The Nets went from professional contenders for the Eastern Conference No. 1 spot, solely half a win behind the main Bulls, to should compete for his or her lives within the play-in Tournament. With KD away, they had been the worst workforce in help proportion (solely 55.7 p.c of their pictures got here after an help). Trading James Harden in February for an inactive Ben Simmons ended any probability for an elite playmaker to unravel the issue.

And on prime of that, the workforce, nonetheless coached by Steve Nash, grew to become the third-worst defensive workforce within the NBA whereas Durant was out, solely behind the lottery-bound Rockets and Pacers. The outcome: a catastrophic 5-16 file that ended any probability of a prime seed within the playoffs and, ultimately, a fast first-round exit.

Could this 12 months be totally different? Well there are causes to be optimistic.

It’s unattainable to emphasise sufficient how good and motivated the protection seems in comparison with final season. Nic Claxton, averaging a league-best 2.6 blocks per sport, has exploded as the most effective rim protectors within the league. Newcomer role-players like Royce O’Neale, Yuta Watanabeand so forth Edmond Sumner are bringing some defensive grittiness Brooklyn did not have final 12 months. And for all his offensive struggles, Simmons’ versatility on the defensive finish has supplied an ideal steadiness for the workforce.

It’s inevitable the Nets shall be a worse offensive workforce with out Durant. Without him on the courtroom, Brooklyn has a 108.0 offensive ranking in 2022-23, which might solely be good for the Twenty ninth-best within the league. The workforce must rely extra on a extra well-covered Irving and on the inconsistent playmaking of Simmons. And the nice assortment of elite shooters the Nets have will get pleasure from much less area to search out pictures. It’s all on Vaughn and his defensive scheme. If he succeeds within the subsequent few weeks, Brooklyn can lastly consider once more.

– Alberto De Roa

You can comply with Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto), Yossi Gozlan (@YossiGozlan), Frank Urbina (@FrankUrbina_), and Alberto De Roa (@TikotDeRoa) on Twitter.

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