Nets’ Hot Streak Gives Them Leeway To Find Right Deal To Address Stretch Five Need
The Nets are getting healthy and banking wins over teams they should be beating, including Monday night’s 112-100 victory in Washington. At 17-12 after their eighth win in their last nine games, Brooklyn (17-12) has risen to fourth place in the competitive Eastern Conference, just a half game behind Cleveland.
However, few experts believe the Nets have all the ingredients necessary to seriously challenge the elite teams in the postseason.
Atlanta happens to be going in the opposite direction. Players are dropping like flies and they’ve lost seven of their last ten games, needing a miracle inbounds play with 0.5 seconds remaining to defeat Chicago on Sunday to avoid a five-game losing streak.
The Hawks are on track for another finish somewhere in the play-in slots, which isn’t ideal for a team that is projected to spend about $145 million on its top seven players next season.
Hmm, maybe that’s why on Monday The Athletic’s Shams Charania listed Brooklyn as one of several teams that have inquired about the availability of floor-spacing Hawks forward/center John Collins, who is signed through the 2025-26 season (player option) at an average of $25.5 million per year.
The 6-foot 9 Collins has been out with a left ankle sprain since November 30 and, whether it’s because the addition of guard Dejounte Murray demoted Collins in the Hawks’ offensive pecking order or some other issue, he wasn’t as effective as in past years when on the court this season. He’s shooting at career lows from the field and from behind the three-point line while producing his lowest points per 36 minutes in his six NBA seasons.
On one hand, Collins’ performance drop and injury history (he’s missed at least 20 games in three of his last four seasons) make him a bit of a risky bet for Brooklyn, which needs a stretch five in the worst way if they’re going to get by strong defensive teams like Boston and Milwaukee when it matters. Then there’s Atlanta’s reported disinterest, according to Charania, in Nets wing Joe Harris, who is the only Brooklyn player with a middle-tier salary (about $18.6 million) to send back to the Hawks to make the money match for two over-the-cap teams.
What concerns me most about Collins is that 669 of his 693 minutes this season have been shared with either Clint Capela or Onyeka Okongwu. What does it say that not even Atlanta trusts Collins as a small-ball five? So, while it’s conceivable that he could raise his three-point rate from a ghastly 21.9% to something closer to his 37.6% career level going into this season, he doesn’t really solve Brooklyn’s problem in the middle.
Philadelphia star center Joel Embiid, who was battling through a knee injury at the time, had a difficult 2021 second-round series against the Hawks in general, shooting 8-for-18 in the seven-game series with Collins specifically as the nearest defender, per NBA.com, but Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo ate Collins’ lunch in the Conference Finals and has continued to do so thereafter.
It isn’t easy to find Al Horford types, who have the heft to bang with the bigger bodies and can also keep defenses honest from behind the three-point arc. Ideally, Indiana’s Myles Turner would fit the bill, but he’d probably cost an arm and a leg--if he was ever made available.
It’s why I keep coming back to Orlando’s Mo Bamba, who has raised his three-point efficiency to 38.1% this season despite receiving erratic playing time in a role behind currently injured starter Wendell Carter Jr. and because of his club’s appropriate fascination with offseason acquisition Bol Bol.
Bamba’s defensive numbers, which don’t always tell the entire story, aren’t awful. He’s an ok rim protector with his 7-foot 10 wingspan and Orlando has been better defensively with him on the court versus off in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions over the last two seasons. Opponents are shooting 1.6% under their average field goal percentage with Bamba as the closest defender this season, per NBA.com. That difference (minus 4.1%) was even better in 2021-22.
The Magic are going nowhere this season and could be persuaded to offload a player who doesn’t seem to be in their future plans—they extended Bamba to a 2-year, $21 million contract in the offseason.
That new contract makes Bamba ineligible to be traded until January 15. The Nets have a baker’s dozen games before then, some of which will provide more applicable tests than what they’ve faced (except for the loss to Boston) during this hot streak. Only five of those games will be at the friendly confines of Barclays Center. There’s a three-game gauntlet against Golden State, Milwaukee, and Cleveland next week plus contests at Miami and New Orleans before another go-round with the Celtics.
The bottom line is that the Nets can afford to wait another month to make the right deal that will complete their roster.