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NY Post
New York Post
17 Feb 2024

NextImg:Nets midseason report card: Grades must improve for late-season run

The All-Star game marks the nominal midpoint of the season — and for the Nets, that season has been admittedly disappointing.

Brooklyn gimped into this weeklong break still smarting from a 50-point beating in Boston, the second-worst in franchise history and fourth-biggest in the NBA this season.

Even worse, at 21-33, they’re 2 ½ games out of even the Eastern Conference play-in tournamant, much less the actual playoffs. They dealt away veterans Spencer Dinwiddie and Royce O’Neale at the trade deadline, bringing in Dennis Schroder but no other starting help. Any other second-half improvement is going to have to come internally.

Mikal Bridges, the Nets’ biggest star, will need to improve on his C+ midseason grade if Brooklyn wants to make a late-season run to the playoffs or the play-in game. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

If it comes at all.

The Post takes a shot at grading each individual Net still remaining, as well as general manager Sean Marks and head coach Jacque Vaughn.

The departed players such as Dinwiddie, O’Neale and Harry Giles did not receive grades. Neither did the newcomers such as Dennis Schroder and Keita Bates-Diop, or those that logged just a handful of cameos like Armoni Brooks, Noah Clowney, Dariq Whitehead and Keon Johnson.

Stats: 44 GP, 29.4 MPG, 12.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 62.5 FG%

Despite a large stretch playing in drop coverage — something scouts told The Post hurt his energy level — Claxton has had a solid season. He’s averaging a double-double for the first time (12.2 points, career-high 10.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks) heading into unrestricted free agency that should land him a nine-figure contract this summer.

Grade: B+

Nic Claxton earned a B+ grade for his play in the first half of the Nets’ season. Getty Images

Stats: 39 GP, 15.7 MPG, 7.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 58.12 FG%

His 23.4 rebound percentage isn’t just a team-high, but would lead the league by a wide margin if he played enough games to qualify. The Nets already picked up his $4 million option for next season, but if he can stay healthy and show any ability whatsoever to handle switching, what kind of extension might they offer in the summer?

Grade: B+

Stats: 34 GP, 18.1 MPG, 11.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 47.4 FG%, 43.3 3FG%

Can only be considered a resounding success on a team-friendly $2 million veteran minimum contract — a deal he’s clearly outplayed and earned a raise from. Walker is averaging 11.5 points on 47.4 percent shooting, a solid 43.3 percent from 3-point range despite not starting a single game.

Grade: B-

Stats: 38 GP, 12.1 MPG, 6.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 54.2 FG%, 38.2 3FG%

Speaking on savvy under-the-radar moves, Watford also fits the bill. With injuries to Ben Simmons and other guards, Watford has provided sneakily-effective playmaking that belies his 6-foot-9, 240-pound frame. At just 23 years old, he was a nice pickup from Portland.

Grade: B-

Ben Simmons earned a D+ midseason grade because he has been injured for much of the season. Getty Images

Stats: 16 GP, 14.6 MPG, 5.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 50.0 FG%, 52.4 3P%

Anything a team gets out of a second-round pick is a bonus; despite Claxton’s success, only about a fifth of them make the league. But Wilson is the most NBA-ready of the Nets’ three rookies, earning a rotation spot and logging at least 17:45 in the last five games. He’s erasing doubts about his questionable jumper by hitting .524 from deep. Combined with a 6-foot-8 frame, that’s promising.

Grade: B-

Stats: 45 GP, 28.1 MPG, 8.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 40.9 FG%, 37.6 3FG%

The only one of Brooklyn’s 30-year-old vets still here after the trade teadline. He provides much-needed toughness and grit as a power forward or even smallball stretch five, shooting .376 from 3-point range. There could be a lineup crunch if the Nets get healthy after the break.

Grade: C

Stats: 54 GP, 35.2 MPG, 21.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 45.2 FG%, 37.1 3FG%

He’s leading the team in scoring and averaging career-highs in points, boards and assists. He never misses games and has picked up his defense. Yet half the fanbase wants him shipped out for draft picks, thanks to unreasonable expectations from last season’s second half. He and Cam Thomas are figuring out how to play off each other.

Grade: C+

Though Jacque Vaughn was given a flawed roster, he received a D+ midseason grade because he hasn’t found enough winning combinations for his lineup. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Stats: 45 GP, 29.7 MPG, 21.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 43.9 FG%, 36.4 3FG%

A fascinating case study, and one that divides scouts across the league. What do you get when you combine A scoring with F defense? He’s pouring in 21.2 points — the third-youngest player in the NBA mustering that much — but his -0.1 VORP is tied for the worst on the team and minus-2.1 Defensive Box Plus-Minus worst of the regulars. His extension talks will be fascinating to watch.

Grade: C

Stats: 38 GP, 20.0 MPG, 7.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 44.0 FG%, 27.4 3FG%

Smith is as advertised. He’s a high-energy player and pest on defense, but not much of a contributor on offense. Still, as a veteran minimum signing, he’s been par for the course.

Grade: C

Stats: 41 GP, 28.2 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 45.5 FG%, 40.0 3FG%

In many ways, he’s improved — and had no choice, asked to do more off the bounce than ever required in Phoenix. But that’s clearly a work in progress. He’s averaging 13.7 points and hit .400 from deep; but with the Nets paying him $25.7 million this season, they must find ways to maximize that jumper and have him dribble less.

Grade: C-

Stats: 12 GP, 25.7 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 59.4 FG%, 00.0 3FG%

His back may never let him be the All-Star Ben Simmons again, but it’s clear to those without an agenda that the Nets are better with him than without him. He brings rebounding, defense, size and most of all pace and open 3-point looks. But he’s making $37.9 million and played just 12 games, hamstringing their season.

Grade: D+

Nets general manager Sean Marks received a grade of incomplete because his mark will depend on what he does in the offseason. Corey Sipkin / New York Post

A loyal soldier who is so upbeat he makes Little Orphan Annie seam dour. But handed this flawed roster, he had to solve a number of problems — getting the spacing with Simmons and Claxton together, finding a structured offense when the former was hurt, shoring up the defense, getting in sync with the team’s best players. He’s gotten the calculus wrong on all too many of them.

Grade: D+

It’s impossible to grade Marks because 1) it’s unclear whether the likes of Dennis Schroder is a long-term piece or an asset to be flipped in the summer, and 2) more important, the biggest call he will have to make is on Vaughn’s status.

Grade: Inc.