In our second look at the Brooklyn Nets right before their first preseason game of the 2016-2017 NBA season, we focus on the team making up for some of their more glaring weaknesses by trying to use as many two-position players as possible (and maybe even three). Jeremy Lin is part of that stock, although it’s doubtful his role on offense will change very much: The Nets don’t have another playmaker like him, and their main hope of not being a doormat this season connects directly to him doing well as the team’s point guard.
I mentioned this concept by Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson briefly during the offseason, but a reminder from Nathan Gottlieb helped dive a bit deeper into the subject, looking at who exactly can play more than one position and role for the Nets. Teams with more individual and scoring talent don’t need to get this creative. The Nets need to find things to generate advantages for them, until Marks is able to finalize his vision for the team.
The Nets aren’t inventing the wheel here. Having players who can fill a number of positions on the floor isn’t new. For those who haven’t been following the NBA for long, the Golden State Warriors didn’t invent that either. Kenny Atkinson worked under Mike D’Antoni, who was the leading coach in playing small ball and 3-point shooting lineups during the first decade of the new millennium, and will probably try to bring some version of that to the Nets.
With Brook Lopez being a dominant and important player for the Nets, true small ball might not be available for too many minutes. But having guys who can guard multiple positions and fill a number of roles in the same lineup? That’s the way to make up for the weaker points in this squad, which is mostly individual talent and players with the ability to create points for themselves. There are always the usual cliches: Teamwork, effort, hustle… you’ve heard them all. I’m not sure coaches actually need to spell those out for their players. The concept here is hiding the lack of talent with “tricks”. The key to this trick isn’t necessarily offense, but the ability of the combo players to defend more than one position.
So who can play a number of positions? Well, the backcourt is filled with combinations of putting two official point guards on the floor, with one of them playing more of a shooter. Lin can play as the 2-guard, but the Nets didn’t bring him in for that, except for very small minutes and experiments. Randy Foye is a 6’4 guard who played a lot of small forward last season. Greivis Vasquez is 6’6 and can guard bigger players, although his defense isn’t exactly something that has impressed anyone over the years.
The perimeter players is where it gets interesting. Bojan Bogdanovic can play 2-3-4 and even had minutes at center last season. Sean Kilpatrick was used in the same way, usually hovering between the ‘2’ and ‘3’ spots, but got minutes as a power forward too. Caris LeVert is 6’7 and will surely be used in more than one slot. Joe Harris, all 6’6 of him, can help out in both the ‘2’ and ‘3’ positions. The option of playing big or small in the backcourt with players relatively comfortable in two or even three positions is there.
Things get a little less imaginative in the frontcourt, but there are options. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, if he gets his long range shot to drop, can be an incredible weapon to use all over the floor. Chris McCullough and Justin Hamilton are bigs who can shoot, but Hamilton rarely plays as anything but a ‘5’. That’s about where it ends in terms of versatility. Luis Scola and Trevor Booker are your more classic power forward in terms of where they get their points from. Lopez isn’t going to be moving too far away from the basket unless he’s setting pick & rolls. But it’s something to work with, and the preseason is the time to find out who fits where.