By Jalon Dixon, Columnist
After spending almost half a decade at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Brooklyn Nets are finally becoming relevant again.
Back in 2014, the Nets make a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics that included them getting an old Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry in exchange for the Nets’ first round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Now considered to be the NBA heist of the century, two of those three first round picks turned into an emerging rotation piece in Jaylen Brown and budding superstar in Jayson Tatum, while the Nets have been left empty handed as they watch their picks grow into rising stars for another team.
Fortunately for them, so far this season, the Nets look as though they finally righted their wrong and steered this franchise back in the right direction. Sitting in the sixth playoff spot with a 30-29 record, Brooklyn has a lot of positives to build off of coming out of the All-Star break that may just propel it to its first playoff berth since that fateful 2014-2015 season.
The first building block is that D’Angelo Russell will be coming off of his first ever all-star selection. After being considered a possible bust and being ran out of town by the Los Angeles Lakers for team chemistry problems, Russell has significantly raised his game this season.
Improving himself in every major statistical category, Russell is averaging 20.3 points, 6.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game while shooting 43.6 percent from the field. With a motivation to prove that his All-Star appearance was not a fluke, look for Russell to come out of the break with basketball aggression and “ice in his veins.”
The next positive they are building off of is the return of their rising star forward Caris LeVert. Coming off breaking his leg, LeVert has been able to rehab his way through a significant leg injury just in time to help the Nets with their playoff push. Averaging 16.8 points, 4.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the floor, LeVert was and can be that fire starter for the Nets that puts up points early and acts as a catalyst for the offense.
Pre-injury, LeVert was having the kind of season that easily could have had him in the running for an All-Star spot. With Russell, LeVert and veteran guard Spencer Dinwiddie handling the ball majority of the time, expect to see some dynamic high flying plays to showcase one of the East’s better backcourts.
The final and maybe even most significant building point is that coming out of the break, the role players are clicking on all cylinders.
Star shot blocker Jarrett Allen is in the running for both Defensive Player of the Year averaging almost two blocks a game and best afro in the NBA. Joe Harris is coming off a career defining night in the All Star Three-Point shooting contest, besting the likes of top shooters such as Stephen Curry, Devin Booker, Buddy Hield and others.
Brooklyn has seven players averaging double figures in points so far this season with Shabazz Napier and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson both adding just under 10 points a game.
This team is playing together, they are exciting to watch and they are making a name for themselves as a team without a renowned superstar like Kevin Durant, James Harden or even a Kemba Walker on their team. They’re clearly not unbeatable and still are a young, inexperienced team, but the Eastern Conference should stay on high alert because the Nets are coming. Stay tuned.