The Nets’ 6-15 record doesn’t reflect it, but signs of slow, incremental progress with the player development program instituted by general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson are emerging. The Nets put two strong first-half performances back-to-back against the Wizards and Nuggets, which shows progress even though they blew a 16-point lead over Washington and lost 27 points of a 29-point lead in a win over Denver.
Injuries have hurt, especially the loss of point guard Jeremy Lin (strained right hamstring) for the past 16 games, but that facilitated the development of rookie Isaiah Whitehead. Now first-round pick Caris LeVert has been added to the mix after completing rehabilitation from left foot surgery in March, and he showed in his debut against the Wizards that he can make an immediate impact with his speed and size on defense.
The roster churned again Thursday when the Nets waived undrafted rookie point guard Yogi Ferrell, who is barely 6 feet, and replaced him with 23-year-old free-agent guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who is 6-6, can play both guard positions and has 46 games of NBA experience. Dinwiddie played well in nine D-League games with Windy City, averaging 19.4 points and 8.1 assists.
Asked if the lack of experience sometimes is reflected in the Nets’ inconsistency, Atkinson said, “I think that’s part of it, and that’s not an excuse. We are throwing out a lot of new lineups, even with Caris. That’s just a fact. Basketball is continuity, playing together with guys. It has something to do with it, but it’s not the whole story.”
The point is the Nets are evolving. They face a tough two-game road trip to San Antonio on Saturday night and Houston on Monday night and likely will continue to struggle. But they have improved defensively in recent games and even overcame their third-quarter problems in two of the past three games.
“We were sharing the ball a lot,” center Brook Lopez said of the way they built a 29-point third-quarter lead against the Nuggets. “I just keep telling them, ‘Same way, same way.’ I was trying to repeat it: ‘Trust each other. Share the ball. Move. Attack the basket. Be aggressive.’ That’s what has to continue . . . for a full 48 minutes.”
Coming as close as the Nets did to blowing a win over Denver didn’t look good, but they still could see the improvement.
“Yeah, a lot of progress,” guard Sean Kilpatrick said. “It’s something we’ve been building on and something we’ve been talking about, especially with that third quarter. We know we have a third-quarter problem, but [against Denver], we were able to get a win and actually make a run in the third quarter. That was good for us. I think we’re getting better by the day.”