• Erik Slater

Accessing Brooklyn's Power Forward Dilemma

The last two weeks have been rough for the Brooklyn Nets.

Coming off of the most successful offseason in franchise history, Brooklyn came back down to earth as Wilson Chandler was suspended 25 games after testing positive for PEDs and Rodions Kurucs was charged with allegedly choking his ex-girlfriend.

Kurucs, a second-round pick in the 2018 draft, exceeded expectations for Brooklyn last season. The 21-year-old was a sparkplug off the bench, frequently coming up with steals and providing timely buckets with savvy backdoor cuts on the offensive end.

Chandler signed a minimum deal with Brooklyn this summer after splitting last season between Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The forward was a serviceable three-and-d player coming off the bench for the 76ers in 36 games last season.

Both situations make an already uncertain situation at power forward even cloudier for Brooklyn. Taurean Prince will be the starter at the four in Atkinson's pace and space offense. Kurucs was likely in line to see time on the wing and at the four coming off the bench.

Kurucs is better suited on the wing with his long arms and underdeveloped frame. The 21-year-old struggled to keep larger bodies out of the post and off the boards in his rookie year.

This is where Chandler would come in. The 12-year veteran adds a stout defender in the post who can also switch and guard on the perimeter.

It is not certain whether or not Chandler will be waived, but it would not be a surprise to see Marks pull the plug.

Chandler would fill a role similar to Jared Dudley on last year's team as a 10th or 11th man. As the season progressed, Chandler would have likely seen a decrease in minutes to younger players along with the potential return of Kevin Durant.

On top of this, Brooklyn has been emphasizing the culture that the organization has built. Should Marks risk tarnishing that for a 32-year-old backup on a one-year deal?

ESPN's Bobby Marks reported that Chandler will be moved to the suspension list after Brooklyn's 5th game (Nov. 1st) and will be removed for the 26th game (Dec. 15th). During that time, the Nets will be eligible to add a player.

Kurucs' situation is a bit more uncertain. Until more details emerge, it is tough to say where he stands. But given the severity of the allegations, if proven true, the Nets must be prepared to move on.

Marks is undoubtedly looking into the free-agent power forward market. Carmelo Anthony is the biggest name available but there are several other options that could bring more well-rounded skill sets to the table.

Here's a look at the names that Brooklyn will likely be considering.

 

Carmelo Anthony

You’ve all heard the rumblings. Carmelo Anthony, the 10-time NBA all-star now on the outside looking in, is searching for a new home and Brooklyn has been thrown around as a serious landing spot.

Anthony played 10 games in Houston last season, averaging 13.4 PPG on 32.4% shooting from three before being waived. Before that, he was part of a failed experiment in Oklahoma City which ended in a disappointing first-round exit.

While Anthony is an ultra-talented offensive player and future Hall of Famer, he is a questionable fit as a role player with the Nets. He is a deficient passer and defender, both skills that Marks will surely be looking for in a complementary piece.

Among the biggest concerns is the dynamic a high-profile player like Anthony will add on the court and in the locker room. Anthony has been known to butt heads with coaches and has struggled to accept a more limited role as he's moved into the later stages of his career.

Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have worked tirelessly over the last few years to build a selfless winning culture and environment. Now, with two of the highest-profile signings in franchise history in Durant and Kyrie Irving joining the team, would they want to risk Anthony tainting what they have worked so hard to establish?

Irving and Durant appear to believe Anthony would be a valuable addition to the team. The star duo has reportedly been pushing management to sign the former all-star according to Frank Isola of The Athletic. It was also reported that Anthony was working out with Nets players in Los Angeles over the summer.

Anthony is a rare offensive threat to be available on the market this late. The 35-year-old still has a smooth offensive game.

At 6’8”, 240-pounds, he can bully defenders down in the post or face up and shoot over them in the mid-range. He is also a serviceable three-point shooter at 34.7% on his career.

In his last full season, he averaged 16.2 PPG on 35.7% shooting from three with Oklahoma City. The problem with that number is that it came on 15 shots per game, which is far too many for a role player, yet the lowest rate of Anthony's career.

The Nets know where the bulk of their scoring will come from, and it won’t be Anthony. He wouldn’t see anywhere near 15 shots per game. That begs the question, can Anthony accept a lesser role and become an efficient scorer?

The 16-year veteran went on ESPN's First Take last month to suggest that he is ready to make the adjustment.

"I feel like I still can play, I know I still can play. My peers know I still can play," he said. "I don't think it's about basketball anymore. I think it's about me as a person willing to accept certain roles on basketball teams. Am I willing to accept a certain role on a basketball team? Yes."

Throughout his career, Anthony has been a ball stopper on offense. He loves playing in isolation sets facing up in the midrange or bullying his way down low. This presents multiple issues for Brooklyn.

First, head coach Kenny Atkinson has been known to be against the mid-range shot. Anthony would see far less of those looks in his offense. Next, Anthony would rarely get the ball in isolation situations.

The Nets actually operated at the fourth-highest isolation rate in the league last season. However, the majority of these looks will go to Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and when he returns, Durant.

Anthony’s role would likely be limited to a floor spacer with the occasional isolation touch late in the shot clock. Can Anthony be an efficient scorer in this role? And more importantly, could he accept the role and play within the offense?

Looking at Anthony's numbers in 10 games last season, he shot an impressive 49.3% from the field in games where he took 12 or more shots. However, that number plummeted to 27% in games where he took less than 12 shots.

This does not fare well for Anthony's case as a complimentary piece. The forward's defensive deficiencies may also be a dealbreaker for the Nets given that he will not be a primary scorer.

It will be hard to tell if Anthony has truly changed and can perform in a limited offensive role. It’s also a question Brooklyn does not want to have to ask about a role player.

Brooklyn spent the last three seasons gearing up to make a splash and succeeded this summer. The task now is to finish surrounding Durant and Irving with pieces that will enhance their games.

Role players on championship teams play tough defense and hustle while doing what is asked of them offensively. That’s what the Nets will be looking for and Anthony doesn’t seem to fit the bill.

 

Dante Cunningham

Dante Cunningham is widely viewed as the most complete power forward left on the market. Cunningham played 22 games for the Nets during the 2017-2018 season and spent last season with San Antonio.

While he does not have the offensive skill set of Anthony, Cunningham possesses the intangibles that a contending team will be looking for in a role player. He is a solid defender, adequate rebounder, and can space the floor.

Cunningham's combination of size and shooting would be a valuable asset in Brooklyn's frontcourt. The forward has dramatically improved from deep over the last three seasons, shooting 38.4% on 414 attempts.

Defensively, Cunningham has the ability to switch and guard on the perimeter. A high motor and good instincts have kept the veteran on the floor as his career has progressed.

A player like Cunningham is not a sexy signing, but there's nothing wrong with that. He would fill a necessary role and allow Brooklyn to avoid the potential media circus that would come with acquiring Anthony.

If the Anthony rumors prove to be nothing more than speculation, Cunningham will be a serious option. The 10-year veteran is a grinder who will hustle on the defensive end and space the floor offensively with the occasional three.

That's what Brooklyn should be looking for in a 10th man.

 

Lance Thomas

Lance Thomas is the top defensive option at power forward left on the market.

The New Jersey native has played the last five seasons across the river for the Knicks. In that time, Thomas has gained a reputation as a gritty defensive player who knows his role on the offensive end.

At 6'8", 240 lbs, Thomas could add a hard-nosed defender to Brooklyn's frontcourt, something the team lacked last season. The 31-year-old was a strong post defender while proving capable on switches on the perimeter in 17.0 MPG last season.

Thomas' defensive presence is somewhat offset by his lack of ability offensively. The forward is limited as a ball-handler and struggled from the outside last season, shooting 27.8% on 79 attempts.

Despite this, Thomas cracked 40% from deep in the three seasons prior, so Brooklyn's coaching staff could bring him in hoping he can regain his form from three.

If defense is what Brooklyn is looking for, Thomas is the best option. The eight-year veteran could be used sparingly to offset any defensive deficiencies that arise with Prince and Kurucs at the four.

Throughout his career, Thomas has been known as a vocal leader on and off the court. The 10-year veteran's hustle factor and positive presence in the locker room could give him the edge over other free agents.

 

Until Kevin Durant returns, the Brooklyn Nets face several questions at power forward. The uncertain futures of Chandler and Kurucs could present a serious hole in Brooklyn's rotation.

Whether or not one, or both, are let go, another player will be eligible to join Brooklyn during Chandler's suspension.

Fans across the country will anticipate a Carmelo Anthony signing. Marks and Atkinson will proceed cautiously as they consider the idea.

Cunningham and Thomas present safer options as role players. Both have experience in the league and will have no issues adjusting to their position on the team.

It is unclear how the power forward position will shape up in Brooklyn, but it is clear that Marks still has several important decisions to make ahead of the season.