NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #20 Brooklyn Nets

With Paul Pierce gone and KG only getting older, what can we see out of the Nets in 2014?

This NBA offseason has been very eventful and the preseason is now just around the corner. To help bridge that gap for hoops junkies, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 20th-ranked Brooklyn Nets!

The Nets had a successful 2013-14 campaign as they finished with a 44-38 record on their way to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. They made it out of a very competitive first-round series with the Toronto Raptors, and after going seven games with the young and talented Raptors, the Nets moved on to the second round to face a much more experienced team in the Miami Heat. The Nets managed only one win, as the Heat ousted Brooklyn in five games. Yeah, the Nets had a successful season, but Mikhail Prokhorov and company haven't been building a team to compete in the playoffs - they've been looking to win a championship. Can the Nets now take another step toward that ultimate goal?

numberFire Metrics

Projected Record: 39-43
Eastern Conference Rank: 11th
NBA Rank: 20th
nERD: 46.1
Playoff Chances: 47.53%
Championship Chances: 0.30%

Sorry, Brooklyn. Our metrics don't like the Nets to match their win total from last year. The numbers project the Nets to finish four games under .500, and therefore fail to reach the Eastern Conference Playoffs while ultimately finishing 11th in the Conference. However, there's plenty of optimism mostly due to the fact that the Nets are in the East as opposed to the West. Even though we only like the Nets to finish with 39 wins, their playoff chances are just under 50%. But even if the Nets manage to make the playoffs, don't look for them to compete for an NBA championship this year.

Player Movement

Notable Additions
Markel Brown (via draft)
Xavier Thames (via draft)
Cory Jefferson (via draft)
Bojan Bogdanovic (via 2011 draft rights)
Jarrett Jack (via trade)

Notable Losses
Paul Pierce
Shaun Livingston
Andray Blatche

After losing the likes of Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston to free agency and Andray Blatche to China, the Nets are looking to build around a younger core of players in order to compete in the East. Though Pierce bolted to compete for a championship in Washington, the core four, including KG and the Nets' big three of Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams still remain. The Nets also added a veteran presence at guard in Jarrett Jack. Jack will share point guard duties with D-Will while providing added depth to a young backcourt.

But, with the departures of role players like Livingston and Blatche, the Nets knew they needed to draft some young talent to fill the voids they left in the Brooklyn lineup. The front office did a good job to draft Brown, Thames and Jefferson all between the 44th and the 60th pick in this year's draft. In my opinion, the Nets found one of the few great steals of the draft in forward Cory Jefferson, a physical specimen out of Baylor. Jefferson, at a lanky 6'9", could add some much needed depth to the Brooklyn frontcourt. He and Mason Plumlee will help prevent KG and Lopez from playing too many minutes this year.

Three Burning Questions

Can Brook Lopez stay healthy?
Lopez only played in 17 games last year due to foot and ankle injuries. It's clear that the Nets missed their star center last year. In order to show you how much they missed him, I just want to look at the difference between Lopez's 2013 and 2012 (in which he played 72 games) stats in a vacuum. This will tell you what the Nets were really missing last year: 1,085 points, 410 rebounds and 124 blocks.

With a healthy Lopez, the Nets will be a lot better down low. The seven-footer can provide a post presence, both on offense and defense, that Brooklyn sorely missed last season. If Lopez can play like the All-Star caliber player he is, the Nets could compete for a playoff spot, or even surprise some people in the first or second round.

Who's going to play shooting guard?
Last year, the Nets normally started Pierce at small forward while Johnson played shooting guard. Now that Pierce is gone, it's likely that the Nets are going to slide Johnson over to small forward. He's certainly got the size for it at 6'7" and a solid 240 pounds. But who's going to take his place in the backcourt with Deron Williams?

There are many eligible candidates for the starting shooting guard position in Brooklyn. There's the experienced but smaller Jack, the bigger Alan Anderson, the younger Markel Brown and even the inexperienced but talented new guy, Bojan Bogdanovic. There are many questions to be answered in training camp. Someone is going to have to take hold of that shooting guard spot. But, as I look at the rest of the starting lineup prior to training camp, I think the favorite has got to be Alan Anderson. Anderson has proven he has the ability to shoot from three, as he shot nearly 34% from the arc last year. Jack had similar numbers, but Anderson has the size for shooting guard while Jack would be better served in a reserve role behind Williams to ensure the Nets a backup plan in case Williams is hit by the injury bug again. Brown and Bogdanovic would have to show something in training camp to pass up the veterans.

Can D-Will have a comeback season?
Just like Lopez, Deron Williams is looking to have a comeback season, as he only played in 64 games last year. That's not a bad number for a guy approaching 33 or 34, but Williams is just now 30. If he can enter the season healthy, I would look for him to play around 75 to 80 games on his way to posting numbers similar to his 2012-13 campaign (21 points, 8.7 assists). If he and Lopez can consistently hit the floor together on a daily basis, they could make for a dangerous pick and roll combo. I know it's a lot of "ifs", but if Williams can have a comeback season, it could make a major difference for Brooklyn this year.

Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch

C Brook Lopez (Yahoo O-Rank: 22)
Sorry, but I have to talk about Lopez again. He's the highest ranked Net according to Yahoo!'s O-Rank, and it would be smart to target Lopez as your center for this upcoming fantasy basketball season. In the 17 games he played in last season, Lopez averaged 20.7 points, 6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Now, you may say those numbers are only based off of 17 games. Well, in 74 games in 2012-13, Lopez averaged just under 20 points and 7 rebounds per contest. And with an older KG, D-Will coming off injury problems and Pierce with the Wizards, Lopez could see his usage rate go up from 27% last year to somewhere around 30 to 32 this year. And when usage rate goes up for a consistent low-post presence like Lopez, that could only mean more production.

SG/SF Joe Johnson (Yahoo O-Rank: 90)
Joe Johnson is yet another of the few quality fantasy players who are eligible for the shooting guard position on Yahoo! This, coupled with his unique skill set, should make for a steal at his number 90 ranking though, right? I'm not so sure.

Johnson is highly dependent on scoring. As a matter of fact, Johnson averaged just under 16 points per game for Brooklyn last season, however he didn't produce much in other categories. Contrary to his size and ability to post up smaller guard/forward combos, Johnson averaged a mere 2.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. Johnson is also very reliant on the three, as our own Russ Peddle points out in his latest piece of fantasy brilliance. So, if you're punting threes, it would be smart to avoid him. And if you're looking for a more consistent, night in and night out contributor at the shooting guard or small forward position, it might be better to look elsewhere. Johnson may have his moments when he's on fire, but other nights, when his shot's off, he could give you next to nothing.