Championship teams in the NBA are always talented, but sometimes it takes an ideal path to the finals to get the job done. The Brooklyn Nets fear no team, but the job would certainly be easier if the Nets got to avoid certain teams. The Nets glaring weakness on the defensive end of the floor is rim protection. Brooklyn will look to avoid teams that will shred them inside. Rather, the Nets would like to play in shootout-type games where they can simply beat teams with their offensive talent. When the game gets messy inside, the Nets may struggle. However, when both teams are firing up threes at a high rate, it would be hard to defeat Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Here is the ideal path to the finals for the Brooklyn Nets.
Ideal Path Round One: Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors have gone through an identity shift in a matter of months. Last season, the Raptors prided themselves on strong interior defense. Players like Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka were massive towards their success last season, and their championship the year before. The Raptors would frequently build a wall inside to limit stars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, and always ranked as one of the league’s top defenses. This year however, the Raptors give up around the league average in points per game, and have only the 18th best defensive efficiency. These numbers aren’t bad, but it will take an elite defense to slow down Brooklyn.
Moreover, Toronto’s defense this year is allowing more jump shots than ever. Although the Raptors allow the second fewest points per game in the NBA, this is because the Raptors give up so many threes. Toronto suffers with the second lowest defensive rebounding percentage in the NBA as well, meaning they give up a lot of long offensive rebounds off of long shots. In fact, the Raptors are a very small team, with OG Anunoby starting at center. Defensively, the Nets won’t have to worry too much about Toronto’s inside penetration. Toronto shoots the fourth most three pointers per game, and attempted 50 threes in their last game before the all star break. Nets fans should be very comfortable with getting into a shootout against Toronto. Thus, the Toronto Raptors are the first team the Nets will have to face in their ideal path to the finals.
Round Two: Boston Celtics
A very likely second round matchup for the Nets would come down to either the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics. The Heat beat the Celtics in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but the Nets should hope that the Celtics edge out the Heat this year. The Celtics are incredibly top heavy, lacking scoring depth outside of Brown, Tatum, and Walker. NBA critics often point out the Nets poor bench depth, but in reality their bench can provide more scoring than that of the Celtics. Boston also has a “track record” of underperforming in the playoffs. Coach Brad Stevens has been under scrutiny for his lack of adjustments during the playoffs. Steve Nash is still unproven as a coach, but he may be able to outsmart Brad Stevens. Even if Nash can’t outcoach Stevens, the Nets still have more than enough talent to defeat Boston.
Moreover, the Celtics are a perfect matchup for the Nets. Boston also plays a smaller lineup, often playing Jayson Tatum at power forward and Daniel Theis at center. Their guards, Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart, are also short for their positions. Unlike the Raptors lineup, the Celtics struggle to defend the paint. Boston is 25th overall in both rebounding and second chance points allowed. Offensively, Boston ranks 27th in assists per game, meaning they don’t move the ball around much. Boston is near the bottom of the league in pace and three point attempts. The Celtics play too much isolation basketball. Tatum and Walker are quite inefficient, and shoot a lot of mid-range jump shots. The Nets are fine with exchanging mid-range jumpers for Durant threes and Harden drives to the basket. The Celtics present a perfect second-round matchup as a part of the Nets ideal path to the finals.
Round Three: Milwaukee Bucks
The last step of the Nets ideal path to the finals would have to be defeating the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s likely that the Nets would have to play against either Milwaukee or Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Sixers are more dominant inside, are better coached, and are a deeper team than Milwaukee. Nets fans should feel far more comfortable playing against the Bucks. Like the Celtics, Milwaukee’s coach Mike Budenholzer is on the hot seat for his lack of playoff adjustments. Milwaukee has also underperformed in the playoffs, most recently getting embarrassed 4-1 by a 5 seeded Miami Heat team. Lastly, Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t quite performed to his standards in the playoffs. He struggles when the game slows down come playoff time. Despite a poor track record, Milwaukee is simply not as good of a team as the Brooklyn Nets.
The Bucks are an exceptional defensive team on the interior, with Giannis and Brook Lopez waiting in the paint for opposing teams. However, Milwaukee is awful at defending threes. They rank 7th in overall field goal percentage allowed, but only 20th in three point percentage. When it comes to the volume of threes allowed, the Bucks give up the fourth most threes per game. They basically dare teams into attempting a lot of threes, and the Nets are more than willing to take them. Last season, the Bucks allowed Miami to make 75 threes in just 5 games. Tyler Herro, Kelly Olynyk, and Jae Crowder all shot over 42 percent from three. Guys like Jeff Green, Bruce Brown, and Landry Shamet will likely be open more times than not.
Offensively, the Bucks are near the bottom of the league in free throw percentage and true shooting percentage, but are near the top of the league in three point percentage. As crazy as it seems, the Nets best strategy might be to force Giannis to drive and make free throws. If the Nets over-commit to Giannis, they will leave shooters open, and the Bucks will cash in on open looks. Milwaukee might be the only team that could survive a shootout with Brooklyn, so it is important that the Nets defend the three point line more than the interior. The Nets could get easy three point attempts, while giving up mainly twos and free throws on defense. Overall, the Brooklyn Nets ideal path to the finals isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is definitely possible that your Brooklyn Nets will be in the NBA Finals.