The Brooklyn Nets entered the 2016-17 NBA season expected to be one of the league’s worst teams, as new general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson begin recovering from the Billy King regime’s strategy of swapping youth and draft picks for high-priced older veterans in a failed pursuit of instant success. They’ve come out of the gate eager to prove the doubters wrong, going 2-3 through five games and showing plenty of fight even in their losses (save a 30-point blowout at the hands of the Chicago Bulls).
Their early-season spark might be about to fade, though, because they’re going to be without their offensive engine for a little while.
The Nets announced Thursday afternoon that Jeremy Lin has a strained left hamstring, and that their starting point guard “will be re-evaluated in two weeks.” He’ll definitely miss Friday’s meeting with the Charlotte Hornets, for whom Lin played a key reserve role last season. If he’s ready to return to the floor after two weeks, he’ll miss seven games.
Lin appeared to suffer the injury during a drive to the basket in the second quarter of Brooklyn’s Wednesday matchup with the Detroit Pistons at Barclays Center:
He exited with 2:14 remaining in the first half and wouldn’t return, finishing with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, four assists and two rebounds in 16 minutes. The Nets held on without him, scoring a 109-101 win behind double-doubles from Brook Lopez (34 points, 11 rebounds) and reserve Sean Kilpatrick (24 points, 10 rebounds).
Lin joined the Nets this summer on a three-year, $36 million deal for a starting job and a chance to reunite with Atkinson, the assistant coach with whom he worked closely during his meteoric rise to stardom with the New York Knicks in 2012. He has performed well at the controls of the Nets, averaging 15 points, 6.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals in in 26.8 minutes per game.
He’s getting into the paint, averaging 8.5 drives per game, and has assisted on 38.2 percent of his teammates’ baskets when he’s on the floor, the eighth-highest rate in the NBA. He’s been as effective in the screen game as Marks and company hoped, averaging a very strong 1.25 points per possession finished as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, fourth-best among players to finish at least 10 such possessions.
Sure, the standard small-sample-size alert applies, but given what the Nets have behind Lin at the position, it makes sense that a Nets offense that has ranked 14th in the NBA in offensive efficiency thus far this season would crater with Lin on the bench. In the 134 minutes Lin has played this season, Brooklyn has scored an average of 106.6 points per 100 possessions. In 106 minutes without him, the Nets have managed just 97.4-per-100. The difference is equivalent to going from a middle-of-the-pack unit to the second-worst offense in the NBA. (Even with “The Process” on hand, nobody’s touching the 76ers on that front.)
Losing Lin leaves Brooklyn perilously thin at the point. Expected veteran backup Greivis Vasquez has played poorly in the early going as he continues to battle the ankle woes that shut him down with the Milwaukee Bucks last season; he, too, is on the injured list and expected to miss Friday’s game. Randy Foye’s expected to return from his own hamstring ailment in time for Charlotte, but he’s long been more a combo guard than a true table-setter. Rookie Isaiah Whitehead will get plenty of chances to improve on the 8-to-12 assist-to-turnover ratio he’s managed through four pro games, and ex-D-League scoring stud Kilpatrick will also see some time on the ball, as Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily details:
“Isaiah Whitehead, what can I say?” Atkinson said after the game. “That’s the beauty of sport, that’s the beauty of the NBA — that you get another chance to do it and you get another opportunity. I’m really proud of how he stepped up in front of his home crowd. Good stuff.”
Atkinson knows that this is an issue, but he continues to instill confidence in his young guys. The players know they have to step up to help the issue. One is Sean Kilpatrick, who’s stepped up nicely in different ways thus far. We saw him fill the one role Monday and Wednesday.
“I noticed as soon as Jeremy went out,” Kilpatrick said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to have to play the point’ because that was something I did throughout Summer League and Coach did a great job during the summer, making sure that I played the point because you never know when that time is going to come.”
The time is now, and while the early going suggests that Brooklyn will continue to compete, it’s likely that Lin’s absence will only make Nets fans’ hearts grow fonder for his return.
“Obviously, it’s tough to be there without J-Lin,” said Lopez, according to The Associated Press. “We’re confident he’ll be all right.”
Whether the Nets will be, though, remains to be seen.
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