While the (vast) majority of the attention paid in this space is assigned to the Atlanta Hawks, there is real incentive for Tony Ressler’s organization to pay close attention to the Brooklyn Nets this season. As discussed prior to the 2019-20 campaign, the Hawks will be closely monitoring Brooklyn for draft purposes and, with 20 games in the books for the Nets (before they arrive in Atlanta on Wednesday), there is more information to use when projecting to the future.
As a refresher, the Hawks will acquire Brooklyn’s 2020 first round selection if the Nets make the playoffs this season. If Brooklyn falls short of the postseason, that pick will defer to 2021, where the same parameters of lottery protection will apply, and the same setup would then come into play for 2022 if the pick has not yet conveyed. From there, the pick in question would become a pair of second-round picks if Brooklyn was to (somehow) miss the playoffs for three straight seasons.
Because of the looming reality that Kevin Durant will return for the Nets in 2020-21, it is a common assumption that the 2020 NBA Draft is the best place for Atlanta to take advantage of this draft obligation. As such, the Hawks are rooting hard for the Nets to land in the playoffs but, at the same time, Brooklyn can’t be too good or the pick loses value in a hurry.
With that in mind, here are some updated projections for the Nets, both from the standpoint of statistical models and human evaluation.
- ESPN Power Rankings (from 12/2) — 14th overall, 7th in East
- The Athletic Power Rankings (from 12/2) — 13th overall, 7th in East
- NBA.com Power Rankings (from 12/2) — 14th overall, 7th in East
- FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR projection — 41 projected wins, 7th in East
- FiveThirtyEight’s ELO forecast — 38 projected wins, 8th in East
- TeamRankings projection — 38 projected wins, 7th in East
- NumberFire projection — 41 projected wins, 7th in East
- ESPN’s Basketball Power Index — 39 projected wins, 7th in East
As you can see, the consensus projection places Brooklyn in the playoffs and, given their 10-10 record (and the reality of the East), that makes sense. The Nets haven’t been at full strength for much of the season, with Kyrie Irving playing only 11 games to this point and Caris LeVert appearing only nine times, but Brooklyn has been strangely effective when they are short-handed.
The Nets are actually 4-7 with Irving and 6-3 without him this season, though it has to be noted that Brooklyn has faced one of the 10 easiest schedules in the NBA. If the Nets can simply hold serve at approximately the same level they’ve established through one-quarter of the campaign, an ideal scenario will emerge for the Hawks.
It is certainly possible that a team like Orlando could overtake Brooklyn for the No. 7 spot or a team like Indiana could backslide a bit when their own schedule becomes more difficult. Still, the best-case for Atlanta is Brooklyn landing in the No. 6 through No. 8 segment of the Eastern Conference Playoffs and, through approximately 20 games for most teams, it could be argued that the Nets are in a “tier” with the Magic and Pacers that would place them right there.
If that happens, the Hawks would claim a pick in the mid-teens (No. 15 through No. 17, depending on the particular landing spot) and that would represent an optimal outcome from the trade involving Taurean Prince and Allen Crabbe. There are reasonable opinions on all sides when it comes to what Atlanta might look to do with that selection but, from a value standpoint, the lottery protection on the pick dictates that the Hawks simply want the Nets to sneak into the playoffs in one of the next three seasons.
The stars could be aligning for that exact circumstance and, even if Irving misses a bit more time, the Nets are on the trajectory that the Hawks should prefer. In April, there will be a lot of attention paid to the exact positioning but, in the meantime, observers in Atlanta should be rooting for the Nets to hover around the .500 mark.