• Erik Slater

The Brooklyn Nets and the piece that is still missing

The NBA is evolving into a new brand of basketball.

Fast-paced, high scoring offenses reign supreme in today’s association. Speed, versatility and 3-point shooting are the benchmarks of the new-school offensive philosophy that so many teams — including the Brooklyn Nets — are implementing.

Brooklyn is among the prime examples of the pace-and-space offense. Kenny Atkinson’s squad was second in 3-pointers attempted last season.

Power forwards are now required to spread the floor and hit open jump shots.

The stretch 4 is a position of immense value in Atkinson’s pace-and-space system. A power forward who can space the floor with his shooting while controlling the glass would add a completely new element to the Brooklyn offense. The Nets have yet to find this player.

A true stretch 4 would do several things for the Nets. It would give Brooklyn more shooting from 3 off drive-and-kicks or pick-and-pops. This increased threat of outside shooting would open up driving lanes for guards.

It will also give the Nets another big body to help rebound and defend alongside Jarrett Allen.

The Nets can, and will, use several natural wings at power forward to get the shooting they need, but they will struggle to rebound and defend as a result. Slender-framed Allen already has trouble rebounding inside; adding less size by playing a wing at the 4 is complicating the problem.

This is why a true stretch 4 with size is so important. The importance of a shooting power forward was evident in Brooklyn’s 102-86 win over the Cavaliers on Wednesday night.

Jared Dudley gave the Nets a burst at power forward, shooting 4-for-5 from deep and actively working the offensive boards while sparking a 23-5 run to start the third quarter. The lack of production from the position was very apparent in Brooklyn’s opening-night loss to the Pistons.

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While Dudley is a serviceable veteran, he is clearly not in general manager Sean Marks‘ future plans and will likely see a significant decrease in

minutes once the Nets are fully healthy. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll will split the bulk of minutes at the 4 this season.

Hollis-Jefferson showed significant improvement last season. The 23-year-old averaged 13.9 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field. Carroll had the best season of his nine-year career last year, averaging 13.5 points per game on 37.1 percent shooting from 3.

While Hollis-Jefferson and Carroll are solid players, both are undersized at the 4 and raise issues controlling the boards.

This, along with Hollis-Jefferson’s shooting limitations and Carroll’s age, make it unlikely that either will be a long-term fit at the position. Both are plausible trade candidates for this season.

Marks will be looking for a young stretch 4 with size to fill the void at power forward in the near future. The ability to shoot from 3 and rebound effectively is a rare combination that is tough to come by.

Kevin Love, Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony Davis are among the league’s best at the position. Lauri Markkanen, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft, showed his versatility in Chicago last season as a future building block.

Marks could look to the draft to find a stretch 4, but it is more likely that he will select the best player available, as the Nets are still numerous pieces away from competing. If there is no one of value at the position in the draft, free agency will offer a chance to fill the void.

Brooklyn will have nearly $70 million in cap space next summer.

Tobias Harris will be a free agent next offseason. The 26-year-old averaged 18.6 points per game on 41.1 percent shooting from 3 last season. Harris will likely carry a hefty price tag.

If the bidding for Harris exceeds $20 million, which it very well may, Marks will likely look for a mid-level free agent.

Bobby Portis and Trey Lyles are two young names that Marks could target. Both have great size and have shown ability to shoot from 3, rebound and defend.

Portis averaged 13.2 points per game on 35.9 percent shooting from 3 last season while Lyles averaged 9.9 points on 38.1 percent from deep.

At just 24 and 23 respectively, Portis or Lyles would add a young player that could be groomed into the particular type of power forward Atkinson wants in his offense.

The Nets front office realizes the importance of the stretch 4 in their future plans. When Marks finds a productive floor spacer at power forward, it will completely revitalize Brooklyn’s offense.