“A lot of excitement that it starts for real. And there’s consequences and pressure and all that stuff why we love playing this game.”
Steve Nash is about to take the reins of one of the most powerful teams in the Eastern Conference as the Brooklyn Nets kick off the 2020-21 NBA season on Tuesday night when they host the Golden State Warriors.
The 46-year-old Nash, who has never held a head-coaching job before, will be looked upon as the final captain to officially navigate the Nets out of their rebuild from the darkest of ages brought forth by the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade of 2013 and into the age of NBA title contenders.
Of course, the sudden expectation of contention was sparked by the shock acquisitions of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant last summer. The 10-time All-Star Durant never even saw the floor last season as he completed his recovery from a ruptured Achilles suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals while he was with the Warriors. Meanwhile, Irving was limited to just 20 games due to a litany of injuries.
Irving is a full go and Durant certainly appears to be close, too, but Nash is already starting to ease expectations on the 32-year-old, who the Nets will be using as a power forward this year.
“This is tough for me to actually put a number on. It’s really hard,” Nash said of the percentage of Durant’s health. “But he’s in the nineties, for sure. Whether it’s 90 or 99, I don’t know. But I keep trying to tell him that he’s got to give himself 15, 20 games before he starts judging himself. Sometimes, they say the amount of time you have off takes you that much time once you’re back to feel like yourself.
“He’s done absolutely everything we could ask, but there’s no way to finalize what he is, who he is post-injury without playing NBA games. You can’t recreate it, you can’t simulate it, and you can’t replace it. So he’s going to go through this process, play some games, and before long — if we’re fortunate enough with his health and all the things he’s put into this — he’s going to be 100% Kevin Durant, no question.”
He and Irving looked good enough in their two preseason games as the Nets defeated the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics, but with the games — and stats — officially counting, Nash will have to oversee the two properly sharing the basketball. It’s not the easiest thing for two superstars to do that, but Durant did that with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson while in Golden State and Irving did so with LeBron James while with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What makes the Nets that much more of an attractive team is the supporting cast around Durant and Irving. Spencer Dinwiddie is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-best 20.6 points per game and was garnering All-Star consideration in the process. Joe Harris is still one of the better three-point shooters in the game to further stretch the floor and Jarrett Allen continues to develop into one of the more menacing threats down low on both ends of the floor.
Here is what the Nets’ starting five will look like for the 72-game season with projected stat lines (via ESPN):
PG- Kyrie Irving: 24.9 points per game, 6.4 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game
SG- Spender Dinwiddie: 16.3 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.4 rebounds per game
SF- Joe Harris: 13.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.4 3-pointers per game
PF- Kevin Durant: 25.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.5 apg
C- Jarrett Allen: 10.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.4 blocks per game
In a weaker Eastern Conference, the Nets have the firepower and the depth to make a run for the top of the regular-season standings. Their main competition will come in the form of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks and potentially Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics. That shouldn’t prohibit them from making a run to the NBA Finals.
Want to see how we think the Nets will do this season? Check out our full season preview here.