How the Nets look heading into the 2014-15 NBA season:
Deron Williams has vowed to prove he's still one of the league's elite point guards and seemingly has regained that confident bounce in his step after offseason surgery on both ankles. He's bound to attack the basket and penetrate into the lane more because he no longer has to "choreograph'' his steps, as he put it. The addition of Jarrett Jack gives them another solid ballhandler and someone who can use his vision to set up others.
This is one of the team's most troublesome areas. An inability to rebound adequately ultimately could hurt the Nets on more than a few occasions, especially when their expected starters are on the bench. Brook Lopez must make more of an effort to crash the boards, Mason Plumlee also has to expand that area of his game and the Nets' guards must help out when need be while also making sure they don't get sucked in too deep and allow fast breaks.
The combo of Williams and Lopez, when healthy, gives the Nets a nice inside-outside punch, and with Joe Johnson's versatility making him a tough player to defend on the perimeter or down low on the blocks, the Nets have plenty of options with their first unit. Few teams have a 7-footer who can play with his back to the basket, score inside and display an effective jumper, but the Nets do, and they're going to ride Lopez as much as possible.
The Nets are going to have to be selective in their attempts to quickly get up and down the court, in part because they don't exactly possess guys with cheetah-like speed and have few who can finish athletically at the rim. But they will have to take those opportunities as they come to alleviate some of the pressure in half-court sets.
One of coach Lionel Hollins' strengths stems from the way he stresses defense, and his teams in Memphis were considered among the best in the league. Protecting the paint was something the Nets had a lot of trouble doing last season. Maybe Hollins' way of defending the pick-and-roll -- Williams said Hollins doesn't like players to switch on screens -- will help in that regard.
With Paul Pierce now with the Wizards and Shaun Livingston and his gritty defense gone to Golden State, and given that the Nets no longer have a reserve unit that includes Andray Blatche's offense, there's no doubt their bench isn't as strong as it was a season ago. Depth was one of the reasons they were able to navigate through the myriad injuries they suffered, and if anything remotely close to that occurs again and any of their key players miss significant time, they could be in trouble.
Pierce was one of the most vocal players in the locker room a season ago, and losing a veteran with leadership qualities and a championship pedigree won't be easy to replace. At least they still have Kevin Garnett, who also has championship experience, is like a second coach on the court and has 19 years of experience to offer. Williams has said he will need to be more of a leader, a role he hasn't necessarily been comfortable with during his tenure with the Nets.
Stability. That's what Hollins brings to the Nets, who surely could use some, given that he's their fourth coach in less than three seasons. He doesn't believe in the new- school statistical approach, preferring an old- school style that involves coaching with some of the more traditional principles. He's going to demand a lot out of his players and already has shown he's going to ride them when the situation calls for it.