Coming off of what is arguably their worst two-game stretch of the season, first a frustrating close loss in Atlanta and then a beatdown at the hands of the Orlando Magic, the Sixers return to the Wells Fargo Center for a showdown with a team who they could face in round one of the playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets.
To learn more about the Nets, I chatted with Justin Carter. In addition to his wonderful work here at LB (you can check out his latest piece here), Justin writes for Nets Republic. Given his expertise when it comes to both of these teams, it was only right to have him participate today.
Question #1: It is a very real possibility that the Sixers and Nets face off in the first round of the playoffs. As someone who follows both teams extensively, what do you think would happen in this hypothetical matchup?
I think the Sixers would win.
Since I write about both of these teams, I’ve watched a lot of them, and in a way they are polar opposites in terms of roster construction. Philly is that top-heavy kind of team that rolls into the playoffs with four really good starters, a great complementary guy in JJ Redick, and a bench that is...well...yeah.
Meanwhile, the Nets win because of their depth. Injuries have struck over and over this season, but Brooklyn just keeps having enough guys to make it through. Both Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie missed extended time, but the team got contributions from Shabazz Napier to get them through. They’ve made second-rounder Rodions Kurucs a key piece of their rotation. I mean, Treveon Graham started a ton of games for this team.
In a playoff series, when rotations tighten, I’m favoring Philadelphia’s star power. This Sixers team has struggled to stop guards who can get to the basket, but they luckily get to face D’Angelo Russell, who just doesn’t do that whole “scoring in the paint” thing. LeVert isn’t playing like the guy who looked like a potential breakout star at the beginning of the year. Jarrett Allen can slow down Joel Embiid a little, maybe, but a lot of other teams in the East have centers who would scare me more if I’m Philadelphia.
Question #2: D’Angelo Russell’s sudden ascension from a massive question mark into being named an All-Star has been one of the heart-warming stories of the season. With Russell set to hit restricted free agency this summer, do you think Brooklyn should be willing to make a significant financial investment in him?
There are a lot of flaws with D’Lo’s game. Let me be that guy for a second and link this piece I wrote about his incredibly low free throw rate.
The TLDR of that: Russell is unique among guards for his complete inability to get to the free throw line, and a big reason why he doesn’t get fouled is that he’s been an absolute disaster finishing around the basket, which is why he’s just stopped driving into the paint and is instead pulling up from midrange. Russell’s good at that — really good! But mid-range shots don’t win championships.
After making his first All-Star team, some guard-needy team might want to sign Russell to a very large offer sheet, and the Nets might have a moment where they think, okay, should we really match this? But young guards who possess great shooting touch while also being a highly-capable passer aren’t the kind of guys you can afford to let walk, and this team spent so much effort trying to rebuild in the post-KG-and-Friends trade world without the benefit of high draft picks, and letting Russell walk essentially throws you right back into the confusing world of being bad, but not bad enough to get the kind of draft picks that help you reach the next level. In fact, the only reason I’d let Russell go is...well, let’s talk about that in the next question.
Question #3: Everybody is talking about next year’s free agents going to Los Angeles to play for either the Clippers or Lakers, or going to New York to play for the Knicks. But the Nets will have significant cap space, too, and shouldn’t be counted out here. So, Justin — make the case that a premier free agent should take his talents to Brooklyn this summer.
*pulls out chair for Kevin Durant or [just some other superstar]*
Hello there! My name is Justin Carter and I’m the new GM for the Brooklyn Nets. I’d really like to thank you for taking this meeting with us.
I hear that you’d like to live in New York City. I also hear that you think that means you’ve got to sign with the New York Knicks and be tainted by the rotting carcass of that team and owner James Dolan.
Well, look, I’ve got an idea. Here in Brooklyn, we’re also part of New York City, even though the team name doesn’t technically say “New York City.” We’ve got some good, young players like Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs, and D’Angelo Russell. We have an elite shooter in Joe Harris. We have a proven track record of rescuing guys off the scrap heap and making them into viable rotation players, a thing that would really take the pressure off of you.
We’re also, like, definitely willing to do what it takes to pair you with one of those other free agents, even if that means letting D’Angelo Russell sign that offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns and leaving. We can make this work financially! Imagine, Kevin, a starting lineup of Jarrett, you, Harris, LeVert, and Kyrie. That would be a lot more fun than playing with Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr.! Don’t go to the Knicks!
Thank you to Justin for bringing his Nets expertise to LB for the day!