October 22, 2008
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
New Jersey Nets
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Nets

They will struggle to be .500. While other teams in the East have improved, the Nets have become younger.

If things go badly, will they look to move Vince Carter right away? There is a large school of thought, based on the way he finished his time in Toronto, that Carter will go south if they get off to poor start. There are a lot of times when Carter looks stiff-legged; those highlights are fewer on a nightly basis than they used to be. Carter is a 10-year vet at a position where athleticism is far more crucial than for a big man. A shooting guard has to chase opponents around the floor and fight through the big guys laying picks on you. Carter is probably going to post up more and try to use his size. They'll use him in the pick-and-roll where he has the ball in his hands. If you give him a good screen he can still turn the corner, but there are nights when he settles for the jump shot way too much. This is a team that won 34 games last year, and that sort of shows what leaning on Carter is going to get you.

Devin Harris isn't a great half-court point guard as far as executing and making decisions. He's much better pushing the ball up the floor, and he's a terrific defender -- as quick as you can get with decent size for the position. The key is going to be using him in the right way, and finding the right personnel to put around him.

They picked up Yi Jianlian in the Richard Jefferson trade, but I'm not sold on him as a prospect. When the game gets physical, he becomes a jump shooter who shies away from contact. He has a nice stroke, but that's not enough. I don't see him as somebody who mixes it up as a power forward. I think he's going to have problems this year. They have a lot of other options at power forward -- Eduardo Najera as well as Sean Williams, Stromile Swift, Josh Boone and rookie Ryan Anderson -- so where is he going to play? If they're hoping to build a new following of Chinese fans, they need to consider both possibilities: The fans are going to be disappointed if he doesn't play, and he's going to get exposed when he does play. All they can try to do is Sarah Palin him by picking and choosing his matchups and hiding him most of the time.

They can rely on Williams to block shots. But he needs to learn how to stay on the floor and when to challenge the shot. It's tough for him and their other young power forwards to come up without a veteran big man in front of them to help them through the learning curve. At least they can waste fouls while they figure out the combinations of which one plays well with another.

Rookie center Brook Lopez appeared to be impressive in his early workouts. Because he's less athletic and mobile than his twin [the Suns' Robin Lopez], the thinking has been that Brook will be the one who takes a little longer to develop in the league.

Keyon Dooling is an interesting guy who might have overvalued himself in Orlando. He isn't good enough to be a distributor and ball handler as a point guard, and he can't make shots consistently enough to be a shooting guard. But he is athletic enough to get to the basket -- a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. But he can be a nice piece, as he was in Orlando -- before he screwed himself out of job with a contending team by demanding too much there.

With this young roster, I would think Carter will be expendable before coach Lawrence Frank is. There shouldn't be any expectations here. They're not done clearing the roster. Frank can wear on people, but as far as being organized and prepared and a teacher, he's pretty darn good. He knows who his stars are, and he doesn't steal thunder from them. But there aren't a lot of stars on this team.


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