What role players have emerged this season and made an impact?
How big a piece of the future can Spencer Dinwiddie be?
Dinwiddie becomes eligible for a up to a four-year, $47 million extension on Dec. 8 — the anniversary of his signing with the Nets in 2016 — and has become one of the NBA’s best sixth men after struggling in that role at the end of last year. I think Dinwiddie can be a piece for Brooklyn for the long-term, but he may be fairly close to his ceiling right now — adequate starter/very good backup point guard who can also play off the ball. He’s a valuable role player, but it’s important for the Nets that if they keep him, they don’t over-commit from a salary point of view.
Do you see D’Angelo Russell as a core player long term?
As much as the fan base would like that to be the case, his lack of elite athleticism and lack of consistency will always hold him back. He has above-average ball-handling skills and can penetrate well and does some nice things with angles and release points to free himself up for shots, but the bottom line is that he will always be reliant on his jump shot to score, which means he will always be prone to stretches such as his last three games, where he has shot 2-for-10 with five points, 16-for-28 with 38 points and 6-for-25 with 14 points. He will be a restricted free agent next summer and, while some coach/GM will believe they are the guys to fix him and will become enamored with his potential, I believe the Nets have seen enough to begin making other plans at the point guard spot.
What is one thing that Grizzlies fans, who probably don’t get to watch the Nets much, should know about this team?
This is a high-character group that plays really hard every single night. They work hard on defense and share the ball very well on offense — the ball seldom sticks and they always look for the extra pass. They just lack the elite player or players necessary to be a true contender. Finishing games will continue to be a problem for this team because they don’t have a go-to closer in crunch time who can consistently create his own shot and get points when the air gets thin and the clock gets short. The Nets have sort of been built in reverse — the role players are good enough to be a playoff team if they had the centerpiece to put those role players around. Without that, it’s a really good bunch of players who are often asked to do more than they are really capable of.
With the Memphis match up, are there any key areas that we should focus on that will decide the game?
Marc Gasol’s experience against Jarrett Allen’s raw potential at center. Allen has made great strides this season, but centers with strength to go with size can give him fits because at 20 years old, he’s still growing into his body and lacks a physical presence. He can be pushed around in the block and is still learning how to defend in space. The other area to watch will be how well the Nets can get their offense moving against Memphis’ defense. Elite defensive teams can create problems for Brooklyn, as we saw against Utah Wednesday night, because the Nets’ young point guards — in particular — are susceptible to taking the bait on switches and will try to take bigs off the dribble. It’s OK to do that, but the Nets have a very bad habit of letting the offense grind to a halt as the point guards go iso-heavy. Once they stop moving the ball and moving without the ball, the Nets don’t have the talent to score enough when they fall into that pattern.
And a fun side note — two of the few left-handed point guards in the league square off in Russell and Mike Conley.