Nets

Durant’s MVP Campaign, Nets’ Win Streak Puts Team Back in Contention

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In sports, winning cures all. Look no further than this year’s edition of the Brooklyn Nets.

Entering this season, the outlook for the Nets wasn’t pretty after a disappointing 2021-22 campaign. Shortly after, the franchise dealt with a confusing offseason, Kevin Durant‘s demand out from Brooklyn, and a slow start to this season.

But now, Brooklyn seems to have finally put it all together.

The Nets approach their matchup tonight versus the Cavs with an eight-game win streak and having won 12 of its past 13 games. As of Christmas Day, Brooklyn sits just two games back from the first-place Celtics and a sizeable distance away from the Play-In Tournament.

Sitting at 21-12 on the year, Brooklyn’s playoff chances look astronomically better after overcoming a 12-11 start, Steve Nash‘s mid-season firing, and Kyrie Irving‘s off-the-court controversy.

So, what’s changed? And, what does this all mean for KD, Kyrie and the Nets moving forward?

Durant’s offensive apex

To an extent, Brooklyn’s recent surge begins and ends with the MVP campaign Durant continues to produce night after night. Through 32 games, KD is averaging 29.9 points per game on a ridiculous 56% shooting from the field.

Two stats stand out when looking at Durant’s dominance this season. Surprisingly, he’s only shooting a league-average 36% from three on under five attempts per game. He’s made up for that with his success within the three-point line, however.

From two, KD is shooting 63% (!!!), two percentage points higher than his next-best career mark (61% in 2016-2017). In his 15-year NBA career, he’s averaged 54% shooting from two-point range. Compared to his lone MVP season in 2014, Durant’s efficiency continues to rank as his best. In terms of effective field-goal percentage, Durant’s current mark of 60.7% ranks just short of his 2021 season for the best of his career (2021: 60.8%).

The other success for Durant is getting to the line. In his last two seasons with the Nets, he’s averaging over seven free throw attempts per game. For context, that’s the most since his prime with the Thunder nearly a decade ago.

For the Nets, that’s opened the door for Brooklyn’s offense to become one of the most efficient across the league this season:

Nets Offense (2022-2023)

  • Field-goal percentage: 51%, first in NBA
  • Two-point percentage: 58%, second in NBA
  • Three-point percentage: 38%, third in NBA

The interesting part: Brooklyn’s offense is more impressive considering the team’s weaknesses with rebounding and second-chance opportunities. The Nets rank in the NBA’s bottom-five in both field-goal and three-point attempts. On the rebounding front, Brooklyn sits 29th in total rebounds per game and offensive boards, too.

Even with elite efficiency, Brooklyn only generates the 15th-most points per game in the league. If the rebounding improves even slightly, we’re looking at one of the most efficient offenses top to bottom.

KD’s scoring continues to drive the Nets forward in the right direction.

Success from the top-down

Durant’s MVP-caliber play trickles down to the rest of the roster.

Offseason shenanigans aside, Kyrie Irving looks as good as he did toward the end of his tenure with Cleveland. He currently leads the Nets in minutes per game (36.6) and field-goal attempts (19.7). Statistically, he ranks top three on the team in points and assists per game, serving as the ideal second elite scorer in Brooklyn.

More importantly, he’s played. Before this season, Irving’s availability in the regular season was anything but a certainty:

Irving’s Games Played with the Nets (2020-2022)

  • 2019-2020: 20 games played, missed 52 games (played in 28% of team’s games)
  • 2020-2021: 54 games played, missed 18 games (played in 75% of team’s games)
  • 2021-2022: 29 games played, missed 53 games (played in 35% of team’s games)

So far, Irving suited up for 23 of the Nets’ 32 games. Considering he’s on an expiring contract heading into his age-31 season, it’s hard to see Irving mail it in the rest of the way.

And of course, you can’t forget about Ben Simmons. He’s transformed into a Draymond Green-lite, ranking first on the Nets in assists and steals, and second in field-goal percentage and rebounds.

Two more notes about Brooklyn’s roster. First, Nic Claxton‘s defense looks great out of the gate, averaging a career-high 2.3 blocks per game (second in NBA). And second, the supporting cast continues to fire away from three. Out of the 12 Nets’ players suiting up for at least 12 minutes per game, eight are shooting above league average from three.

From a regular-season standpoint, it appears Brooklyn will continue to at least be above .500 given the team’s 17th-best strength of schedule the rest of the way.

Where do the Nets fit in the Eastern Conference contention picture?

So how do the Nets stack up now in the Eastern Conference compared to the beginning of the season?

For starters, it’s safe to assume the East will have around five legitimate contenders to be in the Finals: Boston, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. Each has proven that barring injury, they are all ahead of the rest of the Eastern Conference pack.

Brooklyn’s biggest team needs are more size down low. Outside of Simmons and Claxton, this team’s defensive personnel is lacking. Yes, Brooklyn, currently sits 10th in defensive rating and ninth in points allowed per game. However, shooting luck does play a big role in that defensive ranking. As of Christmas Day, the Nets’ opponents are shooting 46% from the field, which ranks sixth-best in the league.

Given Durant’s play and the KD-Kyrie duo’s past playoff performances, the Nets could be in the same conversation as Boston and Milwaukee. Philly’s recent playoff history remains a concern, as does Cleveland’s lack of a post-LeBron playoff history in the first place.

With all that said, the Nets found their way back as a playoff-caliber team with a ceiling to possibly make the Finals.

As always with Brooklyn, it’ll be a case of wait-and-see to prove the winning trend is sustainable.

But given Durant’s play and the Nets’ recent streak, Brooklyn is in a great place heading into the new year.

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About Dominic Chiappone

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