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The Corner Three

NBA Nerd Heaven

How The New York Knicks Can Get The Best Out Of Kristaps Porzingis

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

On what was supposed to be the happiest day of his young life, Kristaps Porzingis used his gigantic, gangly, Latvian legs to make his way up to the Barclays Center podium, where in his resplendent maroon suit and newly acquired draft cap, he shook Adam Silver's hand in front of the collective NBA World. He was officially a New York Knickerbocker.

However, even though his childhood dream had been realized, it had to be a bittersweet day for the 19-year-old. His soon-to-be fellow New Yorkers booed, screamed and cried (while simultaneously taking a selfie) at Phil Jackson's choice. The noted talking head that is Stephen A. Smith famously furiously ranted on ESPN (while he was on vacation, no less) in response to the pick, claiming that Knicks fans had been, "Hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok and flat out deceived," by Jackson. 

Of course, this train of thought -- while incredibly popular at the time -- was completely flawed. Anyone from Stephen A.'s camp was of the opinion that just like any large European, he would be 3-5 years away from contributing anything at the NBA level. Of course, just about everyone from this viewpoint had never watched Porzingis play, proving that for the billionth time, you should not attempt to form an opinion if you know nothing about the subject. After all, would you walk into Gordon Ramsay's kitchen and tell him his food is disgusting if your taste buds don't work? Of course not. Not only because of the flawless logic I just explained, but because he might do this to you:

Anyone who actually watched Porzingis's European career would've been astounded by his natural gifts and talent, just like I was. The first time I YouTube scouted Porzingis, my initial reaction was, "WOW! This guy's 7'3'', has the athleticism of a wing and shoots threes!? Holy cow!" 

Although I have driven the Porzingis bandwagon since day one, I don't think anyone could've possibly expected Porzingis's rise through the NBA ranks to be this rapid. The big question mark surrounding Porzingis's NBA potential was whether or not he could match the physical nature of the association. He put those doubts do bed last season, showing off incredible toughness (that he may or may not have developed in 'Latvian Crips', according to the great Michael Rapaport) that allowed him to go toe-to-toe with the league's largest low post brutes, despite his thin frame. 

With the physicality of the NBA not affecting his game, Porzingis was a standout in one of the strongest rookie classes in recent memory. He racked up 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, per game, in just 28 minutes each night. Pretty good for a guy who was originally rejected by his fan base, right? Throughout the season, he showed off the frightening athleticism, defensive instincts, versatility and shooting range that made him such an attractive prospect for the Knicks' front office. 

After his impressive rookie campaign, Porzingis walked into this season with expectations galore. It's easy to forget, but Porzingis only acquired the right to drink three months ago, he's nearly two whole years younger than Buddy Hield. It would've been easy for the Zinger to crumble under the pressure, just like a regular 21 year old would, but that's just not who he is. With the mental fortitude of a veteran, Kristaps trained throughout the offseason, even working out with Russell Westbrook, improving his game every day. 

Over the opening 17 games of this season, all of that hard work is showing through. Porzingis has improved in just about every aspect of his game. He has bumped his scoring into the 20s, boosted his field goal percentage by nearly 7%, increased his three-point accuracy to 40% from 33.3%, while taking over two more per game and has lowered his scarily high turnover percentage. Critics will point out that his rebounding rate has dropped by around 3%, but the team as a whole is rebounding at almost exactly the same rate as last season, meaning that Porzingis's poor rebounding numbers aren't affecting the team. 

Porzingis has well and truly made the leap to a new dimension and is on the verge of becoming a star-level player. But with his body, athleticism, work ethic, maturity and pure talent, to go along with the ability he has shown in-game, he should already be that star, even if he is only a quarter of the way through his second season. The problem is that Jeff Hornacek is holding Kristaps back and therefore the entire team back. 

The primary way Hornacek is doing this is by simply not running enough of the offense through him. Porzingis is a multi-dimensional unicorn who can score and create better shots for others in a variety of different ways, but Hornacek has limited his team's success by restricting his touches. Porzingis averages 60.4 touches per game, according to, which is a pretty healthy mark for a star player, especially considering that Carmelo Anthony only touches the ball 57.9 times per night in comparison. But when factoring in that NBA offenses these days tend to have bigs operate at the top of the key to open up an offensive set and have those same bigs initiate the offense with dribble hand-offs and side-to-side ball movement, it's far too low. Big men like, Marc Gasol, Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin all average above 70 touches each game, a number that towers over Porzingis's. 

Recently Hornacek and his Knicks have worked to get Porzingis more of the ball, something that neatly correlates with the team's upswing in form. In fact, the Latvian's touches per game almost perfectly correlate with success. In wins, Porzingis averages 65 touches per game, whereas in losses, that number drops to 58. 

These extra touches can't just be short spurts with the ball either, Porzingis needs time with the rock in order for him to create offense for himself and others. Currently, the Knicks are using him purely as a pick-and-roll/pop man and a spot-up shooter, with Porzingis averaging just 1.43 seconds with the basketball per touch. That number is less than Tarik Fucking Black's average. That needs to change immediately. For a guy that can handle the ball more effectively than every 7-footer in the league and take most bigs in the association off the dribble, he needs to be used as more than purely a rim-roller and floor spacer. 

Other than just giving him more of the ball, Hornacek needs to look at unleashing his unicorn at center. When the Knicks line Porzingis up at the five, with Carmelo Anthony at power forward, they are nearly unstoppable offensively. When these lineups have been played this season, the Knicks score at an absurd rate of 130.8 points per 100 possessions, according to Defenses around the league struggle to deal with the Melo-Zinger combo on a regular basis, but when New York employ lineups with super-spacing, defenses part like the Red Sea:

Defenses just can't deal with five three-point shooters on the floor at one time, especially when one of those shooters is Team USA's all-time leading points scorer and another is a 7'3'' beast who can explode to the bucket at any time as a pick-and-roll man. When the Knicks do go to a Porzingis pick-and-roll with this lineup, defenses are immediately forced into a pick-your-poison scenario. If they help on the Porzingis rim-roll, they can stop the initial action, but risk leaving a bomber open from beyond the arc. If they don't help, they risk getting dunked on:

With a traditional center on the court, these pick-and-rolls become a lot easier to defend, as the floor spacing isn't nearly threatening enough to not help Porzingis's roll, especially when a guy like Joakim Noah is in the game. These groupings have become the Knicks' versions of the vaunted 'Death Lineup'. Only, the Knicks barely use their game-changers and they have already lost the same amount of contests the Warriors did all of last season.

The big question around these Knicks' lineups is if they can defend at a high enough rate. According to, when Melo and Porzingis spend time at the four and five together, the defense concedes 116 points per 100 possessions. While that mark is horrific, it still gives these combinations a net rating of plus-14.8, a points differential that is larger than the league leading Warriors. However, these lineups should be theoretically better defensively. The smaller size allows for switching across the perimeter, which can cut-off circulation for a lot of pick-and-rolls and drives for opponents. 

On top of that, contrary to popular belief, Porzingis is a far better rim-protector than Joakim Noah, at least, at this stage in their respective careers. Noah is lacking athleticism after his multiple body breakdowns and is no longer the ferocious defensive terror he was a couple of seasons ago, while Porzingis uses absolutely all of his gigantic frame to bother shots everywhere. The numbers back this up too. From 6 feet and in, Porzingis causes his assignments to shoot a remarkable 14.4% below their average, whereas, when shooting against Noah, opponents make their attempts at a rate 4.9% higher than their average at the rim. 

Jeff Hornacek has all the evidence and complimentary pieces he needs to turn Kristaps Porzingis into the superstar he can be. By allowing Porzingis a fairer share of the ball and tinkering with his lineups in a way that makes it impossible to defend the big man, Hornacek can make sure all those boos at the Barclays Center back on draft day of 2015, will never be heard again. 

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Are The Washington Wizards Doomed?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

About a year and a half ago, the Washington Wizards were a team to be feared. With a young, exciting, athletic, evolving roster, they took the 60-win Atlanta Hawks to six games in the second round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs, before they were cruelly eliminated on their own floor. Wizards fans will know it as the series that John Wall sprained his wrist and missed three games, costing them a Conference Finals berth.

If John Wall never barreled into the floor of the Phillips Arena, who knows what could've happened? The Wizards would have had a date with LeBron's Cavs in the third round, which doesn't sound particularly appetizing, but remember, Kyrie Irving missed part of the original matchup against the Hawks with a knee injury. So there's a chance -- albeit, a small one -- that had John Wall never sprained his wrist on the play above, the Wizards would've been looking at an NBA Finals appearance.  

With a core that was young and ready to develop, they were supposed to improve upon their postseason success. They looked as if the potential was present to eventually push for a title. Not to mention that with their constant improvement, they became a legitimate destination for Kevin Durant. After their 2014-15 campaign, the Wizards were truly on top of the world. 

However, since their elimination from the 2015 Playoffs, the Wizards have been downright awful. Last season the Wiz missed out on the playoffs with a 41-41 record and played a lot worse than a quick glance at that number would suggest, as their 11-6 final stretch inflated their win-loss numbers. This season, a lot of NBA analysts (including myself...thanks a lot for making me look Dumb, Wiz) believed that with a new head coach that is slightly more competent than Randy Wittman -- which by the way could be literally any other human being -- at the helm in Scott Brooks, improved depth and internal improvement, the Wizards would be back to winning ways. 

Although it's still incredibly early,  the Wizards are proving that this train of thought was incorrect. Scott Brooks' squad is 5-9 and have looked lost on both sides of the basketball. They rank a sub-par 17th in offensive efficiency and a horrific 25th on defense, marks good enough for them to be outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions. The Wizards have improved as of late, winning three of their last four, but wins at home versus the Knicks and Suns, to go along with a victory on the road against the appalling Magic, aren't particularly impressive. 

Much of their disappointing opening can be attributed to the lack of progression from their young guns. We are in the third year of hoping Bradley Beal will make the leap...and he still hasn't made the leap. Otto Porter has stepped up his game, but is still no more than a solid starter, when he really should be one of the league's budding stars, seeing as the Wizards drafted him third overall back in 2013. Kelly Oubre is fun, but hasn't inspired any confidence two seasons into his career. Hell, even John Wall, their bona fide star, still hasn't added a remotely consistent jump shot to tack on to his athletic drive-and-kick mastery, and is arguably the same player he was at the end of the 2015 season. Without internal development, it's going to be difficult for the Wizards to improve on their mediocre selves. 

The rest of the blame can be shifted on to the questionable coaching of Brooks. Firing Randy Wittman was supposed to introduce more creativity and give the Wizards someone that actually knows how to coach a basketball team. To this point, the hiring of Scott Brooks has just brought more of the same to D.C., something the Wizards' front office should have seen coming after his time in OKC. 

The offense is slightly more intricate and involves a tad more movement than in previous years, but in essence, it simplifies down to the same ol' boring, predictable John Wall pick-and-rolls, which for years have been the Wizards' entire source of offense. Many felt that by removing Wittman, John Wall's load would decrease and the offense would start to loosen up, but exactly the opposite effect has taken place. Wall's usage rate has jumped by 4.9% from last season, to 33.5% (the sixth highest in the league), a number that is 6.4% higher than that promising 2014-15 season. In addition, Wall is averaging the second most seconds per touch this season in the association, at 5.49, trailing only James Harden in this category. And on top of this, only Harden and Russell Westbrook have a higher percentage of their team's points created through assists. Wall creates 20.4 points through assists per game, while the Wizards as a team only generate 47, absolutely staggering numbers considering Wall only plays 33 minutes per night.

While building an offense around Wall seems logical, it has a terribly negative effect on the team's overall performance. Wall does quite literally everything for this team, nobody else creates offense for themselves and nothing effective can be conjured up without him, so much so that the Wiz are an absurd 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with Wall on the court.

Of course, as previously mentioned, both James Harden and Russell Westbrook are also heavily relied upon by their respective teams and the Rockets and Thunder both are above .500. The problem for D.C. is that a team based around Wall is far less dangerous than one with Harden or Russ. Teams around the league duck under ball-screens for Wall, daring him to lay bricks from the outside, walling (slow clap) off lanes to the basket, which can stop middle penetration and an offense based around a drive-and-dish star like Wall. Houston and OKC's stars don't have this problem, as their outside jumpers are dangerous enough that lanes to the rim open up on command. Simply put, an offense based around Wall in the same fashion that Billy Donovan and Mike D'Antoni have their teams set up will not work. 

The easy fix to this is obvious: get the ball out of Wall's hands a tad more. While his jump shot-less game make him a strange off-ball candidate, by using him in more off-ball actions, specifically as a screener, he would become a fantastic decoy, using his gravity to create better quality looks for others.

Just juicing up their attack with some more motion in general, as well as introducing some more detailed, difficult-to-defend offensive sets surrounding Wall is also important for the Wizards going forward. Teams like the Hawks and Spurs make a living getting shooters open through creative offensive actions, something Bradley Beal will benefit from immensely. Just check out this play, to see what Beal should be doing on a regular basis:

This set starts off with Beal running a UCLA cut, before giving Markieff Morris a back-screen, which leaves Beal's defender (Brandon Knight) trailing him. This then develops into beautiful flex action (or screening the screener), which gets Beal attacking in rhythm as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, with Knight absolutely knackered due to the sheer amount of obstacles he's had to fight through. Beal misses the shot, but it's still a quality shot that has been generated. Unfortunately, Brooks has barely implemented this type of stuff into his dull offense. 

Not only is the offense lacking in creativity, but it also is running at a lethargic pace. A team that has John Wall as their primary ball-handler should not be operating at the sixteenth fastest pace in the league. Wall needs to be flying up and down the court with speed, turning defenders inside out with his lightning quick moves and blowing by slower dudes before he assaults the rim. 

Currently, the Wiz are probably just a tad too big in terms of sheer size in order to pull off a high speed system. But D.C. still have the tools to go small and wreak havoc on teams league-wide. As long as the Wizards start to give more minutes to Kelly Oubre, this will be possible, as Oubre and Porter could lineup up as the two forwards in a small-ball look. This wouldn't only up the ante on offense either, Scott Brooks' 25th ranked defense theoretically would improve too. By going small, the Wizards could switch more frequently, adding a new-found aggressive look to Brooks' conservative defensive system that has leaked points this season.

All that I have just mentioned will turn the Wizards into a better team. But, these changes, along with ones that aren't suggested by a random sports blogger from New Zealand won't make up for the fact that this Wizards team is kinda broken from a team-building standpoint. As of right now, they have more than $120 million invested into Bradley Beal, someone who is unproven and a guy who has only played more than 63 games in a season once. They've got $28 million per year wrapped up in centers who don't fit the changing landscape of the NBA. Scott Brooks has seemed pretty useless so far and he's locked up for the next 5 years on a $35 million contract, which makes it difficult to fire him. We don't even know if their two best players like each other (hint: they definitely don't). To put it bluntly, Ernie Grunfeld has done a horrible job managing this team. 

It's all about to get worse this offseason too, when their third best player, Otto Porter, is a restricted free agent. In a league that is desperate for long, switchy wings, the other 29 teams will go gaga for Porter's current ability and potential. Wing-needy teams with max cap space like the Kings, Pelicans, Nets and Magic will dive deep into their wallets for Porter's services in the offseason, potentially all ready to give him a near-max deal in the current cap climate. Think I'm wrong? Just remember that Allen Crabbe got a 4 year, $75 million offer-sheet from the Nets last season. Otto is better than Crabbe and with another cap spike expected, Porter's yearly figure could match what Beal is earning. 

Should this happen, the Wizards would have to match any offer-sheet, regardless of size. Losing one of their best assets for nothing is beyond stupid (so, probably right in Ernie Grunfeld's wheelhouse actually). But this would shoot the Wizards way over the cap (even accounting for another spike) and doesn't leave them any room for further improvement.

I've seen Wizards fans on Twitter and on forums claiming that they have cap flexibility, but the truth is they just don't. Beal, Ian Mahinmi, Marcin Gortat, Wall and Markieff Morris will earn a combined $77 million next season. Add on Porter's $20+ million and the Wizards are almost capped out with just six players. Of those players, only Beal, Wall and Morris's contracts are tradeable, but all of them are key pieces of the Wiz's core. Gortat and Mahinmi aren't vital going forward, but earn $12 and $16 million respectively next season, play a position that is not in any sort of demand, with extra years tacked on to both deals, making them unattractive to any other team -- like, approaching levels of unattractiveness that only Gortat's old mohawk knows of.

Extending Porter means that the Wiz will have their long-term roster locked in, with no real path to improvement outside of internal leaps from Beal and Porter. At most, this means the Wiz are a 5th-7th seed for the foreseeable future, if everything breaks right. Perfectly mediocre, with no way up. Is that really where the Wiz want to be? It's where the Dallas Mavericks have been for the past four years, and look how well that's worked out for them.

The only way the Wizards can avoid this is by dealing one of their two stars, ditching salary, acquiring a boatload of assets and setting their win-now timeline back a few years, where it should be when they have such a young core. Brooks is great at developing prospects, so it could be an ideal route. 

In a potential trade, Beal wouldn't give the Wizards the massive return they need from a franchise shaking move like this. Wall, on the other hand, would. A dynamic point guard in the meat of his prime would be appealing for a number of teams. As Kevin O'Connor pointed out earlier this month, dealing Wall to a team like the Denver Nuggets would give the Wizards the assets they require. Denver have a number of excellent young pieces -- such as, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic -- to go along with two first rounders (one from Memphis and their own) in the stacked 2017 draft class (the Wizards would already have a high draft pick due to them tanking in this scenario too) and a developing point guard who can take over from Wall in Emmanuel Mudiay. Plus, the Nuggets have enough cap room to absorb one of the Wizards' bad contracts that is eating at their cap room. A trade like this might be too hard to turn down. 

In my opinion, the Magic, Celtics, Suns, Heat and Timberwolves are also teams that could use John Wall, that could compensate with enough assets in a trade. 

This isn't a route that Wizards fans will like, but it is the path I would take if I were Ernie Grunfeld. Their young core needs to grow and shouldn't be stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity, without the necessary room to improve. They need to set their win-now timeline back a few years and get ready to build around Beal, Porter and the gazillion assets they could recover from losing Wall.

So are the Washington Wizards doomed? No. 

Could they be doomed in the near future? Absolutely.

All stats are from, ESPN, and Basketball-Reference. All stats are up to date, as of Thanksgiving. 

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Kenny Atkinson & The Brooklyn Nets Are Proving That Talent Is Overrated

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In the NBA, you need talent to win, everyone knows this. It's a league in which every season is entered knowing that only about five teams have a realistic shot at the title and an association that is dominated by superteams. The NBA is a star-driven league and if your team doesn't have star talent, you are going to struggle. 

However, talent on itself is placed on a pedestal in the NBA universe. Having a talented squad doesn't get a team anywhere, unless that team uses their players in an effective manner. It's why every four years, Team USA scare the shit out of us, by getting pretty damn close to blowing an Olympics game against the likes of Australia, Luthuania, Spain and Argentina. These countries don't get close to beating a team full of All-Stars because they themselves have a roster that is comparable in terms of pure ability, but more because their game plans are far superior to the States' isolation-heavy, effortless, me-first mess.

In the NBA, Kenny Atkinson's Brooklyn Nets are by far and away the best example of this.

After Billy King and Mikhail Prokhorov's grand master plan failed -- a plan that famously involved dealing four first round picks to the Celtics to put together an ageing, win-now squad that would've only been able to enter 'win-now mode' three years prior -- the Nets had no future. Their ancient core disintegrated within a season, which left them without anyone that could carry out Prokhorov's title ambitions, but more importantly without assets, young talent and draft picks. 

This time last year, the worst trade in NBA history looked as if it had left the Nets stranded. Tanking wasn't an option and the team didn't look like they could be at all be competitive in the short-term. There was seemingly no route out of the massive hole the Nets had dug for themselves. But what most -- including yours truly -- didn't realize, was that there was another way out of that hole, aside from regular team-building strategies.

The Nets started to explore this path when they hired Sean Marks nine months ago. Marks, listed as a son on the Popovich-R.C. Buford family tree, was brought on board to usher in a new era of Nets basketball in the same fashion that Mike Budenholzer and Danny Ferry (both of whom can also be found on the Spurs' family tree) found successful in Atlanta. Ferry and Bud managed to turn a mediocre Hawks team that was consistently battling for the eighth seed, into one that was able to turn in a 60-win season. Atlanta weren't able to do this through a talent influx, but more through a strong culture and a team-oriented basketball system on both sides of the ball.

Just how Marks would try and achieve something similar in Brooklyn was unclear, until he decided to nab Budenholzer's lead assistant, Kenny Atkinson, as his head coach. What better way to emulate a team, than to actively steal key components from them, right?

Since Atkinson has been in place, he has instilled a strong culture and a team identity that has never been present in Brooklyn. 'Culture' has always been a term that I've failed to grasp the meaning of in the context of the NBA. Ever since I started to watch the NBA, I have believed that having a team culture isn't important and to be honest, it's a bit of a bogus concept. Teammates don't have to like each other to win (just ask Shaq and Kobe) and the locker room doesn't have to be a Spurs-esque family in order to achieve success. However, after watching Kenny Atkinson's Nets have completely changed that thought process for me.

After 13 games, it's clear that Atkinson's group of rejects play for each other. They look as if they genuinely get along with one another and that the brotherhood that is apparent on the court, can be attributed to Atkinson and Marks' work off the court. The addition of battle-tested veterans, to go along with youngsters who are willing to learn and work their asses off has created an atmosphere that has produced victories. 

This team has such a strong bond, that when Atkinson and the front office were forced to reduce his squad to 15 players, by cutting four players, instead of offering up the same old 'it's a business' rhetoric, he got emotional when questioned about the roster moves by the media. I don't know that a single other coach in the league has a connection so strong with his players, that he is deeply saddened by having to release Egidijus Mockevicius, Beau Beech, Chase Budinger and Jorge Gutierrez. 

Whether you realize it or not, that connection is highly important. Players play hard for coaches who care about them, not for ones that couldn't give a damn about their lives, after all, even NBA players are human (except for LeBron, LeBron is a cyborg). Just look at last year's Lakers, who were handled by one of the worst man-managers the league has ever seen in Byron Scott and compare them to this year's team, coached by Luke Walton, who has praise heaped on him by his players after every game.

A quick look at the NBA's newly founded 'hustle stats', will show you how much the Nets work for each other within their little brotherhood and for Atkinson. Brooklyn rank first in contested shots per game, at 70.9 and in the top ten for both charges drawn and loose balls recovered. 

Of course, that culture can only get a team so far. To continue following Atlanta's model, Atkinson has had to come up with intelligent, well thought out game plans to maximize his team's minimal talent. He has installed a healthy and efficient 5-out offense that can turn defenses inside out at times. Atkinson doesn't have anywhere near the talent at his disposal to pull this type of system off, at the very most, the Nets can throw out four even remotely competent three-point shooters at one time. However, he's giving his guys the freedom to bomb away from downtown -- like Brook Lopez, who has attempted twice as many threes this season than the other eight of his career combined -- because he knows that the process of getting these shots is more important than the actual results -- especially for a rebuilding team not concerned with winning in the short-term. 

Brooklyn's shots are of such a high-quality, that according to, they average the most 'wide open' shot attempts per game (shots without a defender within six feet of the shooter) in the NBA at 18.9 per game. That mark leads the league by quite some way, in fact the margin from Brooklyn to the second ranked team in this category (Portland) of 1.7 shot attempts, is the same margin between 2nd and 13th. Some of this is due to the fact that defenses just don't respect the Nets' outside shooters, but most of the credit goes to Atkinson's system.

While the Nets' offense is somewhat decent, their defense still has along way to go. There are barely any plus-defenders that Atkinson can throw out on to the court on the roster and Brooklyn's rotations, switches and schemes still need a lot of work. With more time to mold his squad though, Atkinson should get his team to improve on this end over the course of the season.

By the way that I have described the Nets, you'd think that they would be a team on the verge of winning a title. To put it bluntly, they aren't. Brooklyn are 4-10 and will be among the five worst teams in the league by the end of the season. But with their current crop of players, the Nets should be 0-14. Based on pure talent alone, the Nets are quite clearly the worst team in basketball (maybe in basketball history!). Around half of the players on this assembled roster wouldn't even make it as a fifteenth man for any other NBA team. 

But the culture and system that Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson have developed with the Nets has gotten them to a point where they actually look like a real NBA team. On nights where star-laden teams think they've got an easy night, the Nets will surprise them with a frisky, feisty, intelligent style that will cause upsets throughout the season. Hell, if you really want to dream big, this Nets team could make the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. 

Still, the hole that the Nets dug for themselves is still incredibly deep and the rebuilding process ahead for Marks and Atkinson remains daunting. However, if the first 14 games of the season are anything to go by, the Nets are on the way back up. 

The Celtics fan inside of me hates this so much.

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