When Billy King worked to build Brooklyn’s first team last season, he prioritized versatility. King saw it as important that the Nets have a roster that could go small or big, and use different types of lineup combinations. Unfortunately, despite a high talent level, things did not play out that way in the Nets’ inaugural season in Brooklyn.
Throughout the season, and especially in the Nets’ first round defeat to Chicago, the Nets had four clear weaknesses: their defense, their three point shooting, and their lack of versatility and passion. The Nets ranked 18th in defensive efficiency last season: below league average, and then could not stop what was a 24th ranked offense in Chicago in the playoffs. They were 17th in three point shooting percentage, and lacked floor spacing around Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, which caused the paint to be routinely packed. The Bulls exploited that lack of shooting throughout their first round series. And the Nets also lacked roster versatility and constantly used similar lineups regardless of context, a far cry from King’s statement that he hoped to build a team that had multiple players that could play multiple positions. Gerald Wallace’s inability to shoot did not enable him to be a floor spacer at the 4, the Lopez-Andray Blatche combo rarely materialized, and Williams-CJ Watson lineups struggled defensively. So the Nets essentially went with Williams Johnson, Wallace, and Lopez, paired them with a rebounder in Reggie Evans or Kris Humphries, and sprinkled some Watson in.
However, the Nets addressed each of these weaknesses this offseason in what was a sensational summer for the Nets. The Nets hired Jason Kidd, and he has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal. Kidd has talent and depth at all five positions, and should be able to play all types of lineups depending on the situation.
Here is a look at four of the more interesting lineup combinations that Kidd will be able to utilize this season.
1) Defense And Passion: Kevin Garnett-Evans-Andrei Kirilenko-Paul Pierce-Jason Terry: If you want to watch your Nets play some elite defense and talk trash while doing it, this is your lineup. Garnett and Kirilenko are two of the best defenders in the league. And for all his problems offensively Evans does defend the pick and roll well, and would provide Garnett and Kirilenko with support. Shaun Livingston is a hound to opposing point guards with his length, and would provide another dimension on the perimeter. Garnett, Evans, Pierce and Terry are all big trash talkers on the court, and this lineup would be both tough and full of fire. The Nets would miss Williams, Lopez, and Johnson offensively eventually, but this lineup would do very well in spurts.
2) You Can Never Have Too Much Shooting: Lopez-Mirza Teletovic-Pierce-Terry-Williams: If Teletovic can break into the Nets rotation next season, this could be one of the Nets’ most productive lineups. Lopez provides this group with a presence in the middle, and would have space offensively to operate because he would be flanked by four three point shooters. Terry in a down season still shot 37.2% from three, and Pierce shot 38% from three last season. Williams did this last year. A Williams-Lopez pick and role with this type of shooting around it would be awfully tough to guard, forcing defenses to pick their poison between a Lopez 1 on 1, or open shooters. The Orlando Magic rode that type of offense to the 2009 finals.
3) Run The Break Like Kidd Circa 2002: Blatche-Teletovic-Kirilenko-Anderson-Williams: One of the more interesting stories about the Nets this season, albeit minor, is about their pace. The Nets played at the league’s 3rd slowest pace last season and their principal acquisitions are between 32-37, but Kidd wants them to push the tempo as he did when he was a Net in some of the most unique ways. But Williams is a great point guard too, and he can push the ball with the best of them. This lineup presents a strong chance for the Nets to get off and running in the ways Kidd hopes, as Anderson and Kirilenko give the Nets their best speed on the wing, while Blatche can get up and down as well. Teletovic would serve as Williams’ trailer on the break.
4) It’s not 2012-2013, So We Can Go Small: Garnett-Kirilenko-Anderson-Terry-Livingston: This is a type of lineup the Nets never utilized last season, whether by choice or due to suspect head coaching. If there is one Nets weakness, it is their ability to contain smaller guards because they have a very big roster. When defending a smaller team, it is critical to have speed on the floor, as well as bigs that can defend multiple positions when switching pick and rolls. This group provides the Nets with quality defense in the backcourt in Livingston, and the ability to switch on most any pick and roll with both Garnett and Kirilenko. Quick guards will often target the bigs they hope to exploit in pick and rolls: a Garnett-Kirilenko front court does not allow for that. This lineup also would not be a staple because it leaves firepower on the bench, but could be used in spurts to defend quicker teams.
With the additions of Garnett, Pierce, Kirilenko, and Terry, and as many as twelve players competing for minutes on what will be a very talented roster next season, there are countless lineup combinations the Nets can employ that will be both effective, and exciting to watch and root for, that I did not include here. This is just a small sample of a few of the possibilities.
With all this talent, Kidd can mix and match in countless ways when assembling lineups. Want someone to guard the LeBron’s and Carmelo’s while preserving Pierce’s energy? Hello, Andrei Kirilenko. Worried about guarding Derrick Rose in the pick and role? Livingston can disrupt him as a bigger defender, and with Garnett, Kirilenko, and Evans there is no shortage of strong pick and role defenders. Worried about Paul George? The Pacers’ strength is in their size, and the Nets have size at every position.
This is an exciting time to be a Nets fan. Last year’s Nets did not defend or shoot the three, and lacked versatility and overt passion, but still won 49 games. Then, King and his staff addressed all of those weaknesses this offseason while maintaining the core. With Garnett and Kirilenko, the Nets go from lacking capable defenders to having two of the league’s most outstanding defensive players on the roster. With Pierce and Terry in tow, three point shooting has also gone from a weakness to a strength and the Nets now can flank Williams and Lopez with tons of elite shooting. And with With Garnett, Pierce, Terry, and Evans leading the talking, passion and fire will not be a problem next season.
When the Nets introduced Williams and Johnson last summer, King proudly proclaimed that his new backcourt could score on anybody in the league, and defend anybody in the league. Now, his entire roster can score on anybody in the league, and defend anybody in the league. The Nets should win a lot of games next season, and should be a pleasure to watch all year. I hope you enjoy this season.