With no draft picks and no possibility for the playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets still have plenty to play for in the final 14 games. Other than Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Bojan Bogdanovic–all of whom could be floated in offseason trade proposals–the Nets’ roster consists of players fighting for jobs, be it in Brooklyn or elsewhere.
In the team’s 118-102 loss to the Chicago Bulls, the game took on a preseason feel. New general manager Sean Marks is clearly using these games to evaluate talent rather than scrap for a few wins. Considering he obtained the job on the day of the trade deadline, his philosophy makes sense.
It’s been effective thus far. Marks used these showcase games to find Sean Kilpatrick, and he subsequently inked the D-League’s leading scorer to a multiyear deal. Kilpatrick has averaged 11.9 PPG while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from three in nine games with the Nets.
Kilpatrick bounced around the NBA on 10-day contracts, including pit stops in Denver, Minnesota, and most recently Brooklyn. He also spent last summer on the Milwaukee Bucks summer league team. By giving him a chance, the Nets learned that he could play.
“It’s clear that he can play in the moment,” interim head coach Tony Brown said after a recent game. “He’s one of the few guys that seemed very poised out there when things were going a little sketchy. I commend him. He stayed aggressive, he looks shots that were there, he made plays off the dribble, he played a solid game.”
For the rest of the Nets, these games could provide many of the players their last opportunity for meaningful minutes. Even if players like Markel Brown, Thomas Robinson, Sergey Karasev, Donald Sloan, and Shane Larkin come back in some capacity in 2016-17, they will not see 30 minutes a game once Marks puts his stamp on the team.
Brown seemed to be carving a niche for himself, erupting for career-highs of 23 and 21 points in games against the Timberwolves and Nuggets, respectively. However, he’s struggled of late, and his size makes covering opposing two-guards like Jimmy Butler a monumental challenge. IN his last five games, Brown is averaging a shade under five points and has shot 27.3 percent (9-for-33) from the field.
Recently, Marks also signed journeyman center Henry Sims to a 10-day deal. He has the same opportunity that was given to Kilpatrick.
Tony Brown appears to be on board with Marks’ strategy, as he’s gone longer with the reserves than situation might warrant under normal circumstances. Against Chicago, Lopez and Young played just 31 minutes while Karasev accumulated 32. If the Nets were intent on giving the Bulls a run, that was not the most surefire way. But the message is clear: see what the team has going forward.
Marks may opt to keep some of the players in an effort to develop them, or he could be trying to build their stock to flip them around draft time. Either way, the players have a lot left to prove before the season comes to a close.