The Brooklyn Nets are another year further into the Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson vision of the rebuilding aftermath of the Celtics Trade Gamble. Despite beginning the rebuild bereft most of the assets a rebuilding team can count on, Marks and Atkinson have found intriguing value to add to the Nets roster by this point of the 2017 NBA offseason. However, much of the attention paid to the current Nets roster has been given to the guards and wing rotations of the team — to an extent where spectators may be underestimating the potential impact of the beefy behemoths Atkinson will be deploying. The Nets do not have the makings of the next Parish/McHale/Bird frontcourt, but contributions from Trevor Booker, DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Timofey Mozgov, Jarrett Allen, Quincy Acy, Tyler Zeller and Jake Wiley could all surpass expectations.
Perhaps the most unsung solid player in the NBA currently is Trevor Booker. Just the thought of Booker probably conjures images of lunch pails and elbows for most fans. Yet, Booker’s adapted utility for the modern NBA game has gone overlooked. Booker has done a great job to keep up with the influx of small-ball 4s and perimeter bigs in NBA offenses. An above-average athlete with great strength and proactive rotation anticipation skills, Booker unquestionably served as one of Brooklyn’s two best defenders during the 2016-17 NBA season. Not a label that will win boatloads of plaudits as the Nets finished 23rd in defensive rating in 2016-17 (via Basketball-Reference), but a very succinct phrase to demonstrate Booker’s value to the Nets.
Booker has also made efforts to abide by Kenny Atkinson’s downtown-happy philosophies. In 2016-17, Booker teased out about a three per game, following in his footsteps as a member of the Utah Jazz in years prior. Booker’s perimeter shot has yet to become consistently dangerous with him only hitting 32 percent of his jumpers beyond 10 feet for 2016-17. Still, Atkinson will surely request Booker to continue to fire one away every so often this coming season.
Hopefully, another full offseason of knowing Atkinson’s wishes helps Booker improve his shot proficiency. Until Opening Day, Nets fans should at least take comfort in Booker continuing to be extremely effective at beating mismatches with his quickness and strength at the rim. A last chance at a major contract in the 2018 offseason may motivate Booker even more to keep up or surpass his solid play.
Although DeMarre Carroll arrived in Brooklyn from the East-contending Toronto Raptors mostly as a salary dump, one should still expect Carroll to contribute standard rotation player impact for the Nets on the floor in 2017-18. Carroll has certainly lost much of his athleticism from his Hawks tenure, with his ability to attack the rim even off closeouts and switch defensive assignments on the perimeter rapidly diminished as a Raptor. However, Carroll should be able to find comfort in Atkinson’s trigger-happy scheme. Carroll’s Toronto tenure proved him capable of average 3-point shooting on a hefty volume. That, combined with the defensive smarts Carroll has accrued over his 31 years on Earth, should stave off a decline into negative impact for Brooklyn. At least until 2018-19, the final year of Carroll’s four-year, $60 million contract.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson perhaps did not show the offensive skill progress Nets fans crossed their fingers for in his sophomore year in the NBA. Even with a healthy uptick in minutes played as a small-ball 4, Hollis-Jefferson did not have much success taking advantage of his quickness over opposing bigs to get to the rim, and his jump shot lacked both confidence and efficiency. Hollis-Jefferson even struggled scoring consistently while in transition, as his handle is just underdeveloped. Year 3 tends to be the year of the largest leap in impact for an NBA player, so he may shake out some more utility. But, for now, Hollis-Jefferson remains a rotation player solely for his defensive talents.