The Nets first preseason game is complete: a overtime victory at the Verizon Center over the Washington Wizards. But while the result was nice, the more important thing to monitor tonight was the culture and identity the Nets are trying to develop. What type of playcaller is Coach Kidd? After a huge emphasis was placed on defense in training camp, how was the D? How did some new lineup combinations fare together? How are the Nets numerous positional battles shaping up? Here is my take.
First Things First: Get Excited About the Starting Lineup
Worried about how our new starting lineup will mesh? So far, so good. While Lopez scored the bulk of the points when the unit was out there, most of his baskets were a product of crisp ball movement and sharp passing. Lopez made many catches on the move as a result of dribble penetration and weak side screens and action, and even connected with a nifty pass to Garnett in the second quarter. The amount of motion the Nets utilized was refreshing after last year’s isolation heavy offense.
One underrated key in spurring the Nets movement could be John Welch, one of Jason Kidd’s trusted assistants. While Lawrence Frank is Kidd’s lead assistant, and his guidance to Kidd has garnered more headlines, Welch was a longstanding member of George Karl’s staff in Denver, coaching teams that routinely finished top 5-7 in the NBA in offensive efficiency, and relied heavily on motion and ball movement. Karl was so insistent on high quality ball movement that he clashed with his star Carmelo Anthony on the topic, one of the dominoes that led to Melo’s departure. If Welch can help Kidd incorporate the type of motion Denver has relied on for years, in Brooklyn with the talent we have, the Nets will be in excellent shape.
In addition, it is worth noting that Kirilenko looked absolutely fantastic with the bench unit. Any concern that Pierce and Johnson would struggle as a fit, and that Kirilenko should start in either’s place, did not manifest itself at all tonight.
The Backup Point Guard Battle: Shaun Livingston In Command over Tyshawn Taylor
The one position the Nets potentially downgraded at this summer was at point guard, as CJ Watson was a valuable piece and Livingston was not as good as CJ a year ago. Billy King alluded to the potential for Taylor to compete with Livingston for minutes. However, Livingston looks like a clear bet to win the backup point guard position at the moment.
Livingston is an astute passer who has clear point guard instincts, in regards to how to run a basketball team. He knows how to involve his teammates, get the ball moving, and facilitate offensive sets: those skills helped the offense hum when he played with the starters. While Taylor is a quality defender who showed how feisty he is in spurts last season, particularly when he piloted a win at Indiana in February, he does not have Livingston’s innate point guard skills. He is a better scorer than Livingston, but he dominates the ball, and does not see the floor as well. Taylor typically looks to score, or make a pass to his first read: he struggles when the defense takes both options away. Kidd stated that he needed to “widen his lens” as coach: Taylor must do the same to succeed at Kidd’s former occupation. I like Taylor and hope he finds success in Brooklyn. But, he is most definitely third on the depth chart at the moment.
The Battle for Minutes at Backup Shooting Guard: Alan Anderson Makes His Case
Jason Terry’s arrival to Brooklyn has been celebrated, as he came in the big trade with Boston. He is already a fan favorite, and posed with the Nets core players in Media Day photos. He has a postseason resume, with his most celebrated postseason success coming with Kidd in the form of a championship. He is fully expected to get minutes for the Nets.
Nevertheless, Terry did have a down season last year, and Anderson is more than good enough to get minutes in the NBA with any second unit, including Brooklyn’s. Anderson is the type of player that never met a shot he did not like, but he can score, and showed that tonight. While Terry is going to get minutes with the Nets, Anderson made his case tonight that he deserves to either cut into Terry’s minutes, cut into Livingston’s (with Terry playing some point guard), or cut into Reggie Evans’ or Mirza Teletovic’s minutes by playing some small forward with the Nets using Kirilenko at the 4 (instead of Reggie or Mirza). At the very least Anderson should prove to be a luxury in the event of injuries, and in the event of resting starters, and he showed that tonight.
Backup Power Forward: Reggie Evans or Mirza Teletovic
One hope when the Nets hired Kidd: that he would not shun Teletovic (and MarShon Brooks before the big trade) from developmental opportunities off the Nets’ bench. Nevertheless, Kidd went with Evans tonight as his apparent presumptive backup power forward behind Garnett. While the minutes distribution was close, Kidd’s rotation was obviously expansive given this was a preseason game, and most of Teletovic’s minutes came with Kidd’s third string and training camp invitees, while Evans played with our more regular bench players. Evans cannot score but provides rebounding and intensity, while Mirza provides more prolific outside shooting. While Teletovic sometimes looks solely to force his three point shot when he should instead look to create offense and show his skills (unless the three is open: then he should launch it), Teletovic looked better than he did last preseason in his inaugural performance, and looked closer to unseating Evans than Taylor did to unseating Livingston. While Teletovic is third on the depth chart like last year, it appears he actually has a chance to upgrade that status this go round, and it will be incumbent on him to continue to work sot that he can make that happen. Teletovic posted strong rebounding numbers, and if he can play competent defense, that will enable him to make a strong case for minutes.
Other Notes From Tonight’s Game:
Andray Blatche is undoubtedly talented, and played hard tonight: he took charges and did not lay down defensively the way he did in game 7 last season. That was encouraging to see, and the hope is that Garnett and Kidd have been a positive influence. However, at points Blatche attempted to force his offense and break the Nets’ flow on that end. Given his history with the Wizards, that is understandable, but Blatche needs to make sure that he does not make that a habit going forward, especially against other teams. Blatche had a good game, but could have had a great one.
24 turnovers is way too many. This was just the first preseason game, and the Nets starting point guard in Deron Williams did not play, but the Nets will obviously have to trim that number in November.
Mason Plumlee had a solid first preseason game, his foul shooting notwithstanding. Plumlee is obviously raw, but runs the floor and plays with energy. He has a wiry frame as expected for a rookie in training camp, something Kevin Seraphin exposed on the block tonight. Per King, Plumlee will likely spend a good amount of time in the D-League this season as the Nets have 5 bigs ahead of him, and while there he will be working on building his frame. Plumlee is an interesting piece going forward if he can improve his free throw shooting and get a little stronger because he runs the floor, plays hard, and can rebound the basketball.
The training camp invitees looked good tonight. Chris Johnson was a solid piece in Memphis last season and played well tonight, as did Jorge Gutierrez. While no camp invite stands a material chance of making the roster, as the Nets go forward with limited cap flexibility for three years, they will rely on cheaply signed players to perform, and to see King’s camp picks perform well was encouraging in that regard.