Steve Nash and Brooklyn's extensive lineup versatility
The Brooklyn Nets are one preseason game into the 2020-2021 season and expectations for the most anticipated campaign in franchise history are quickly on the rise.
It took less than one minute of game action Sunday to exhilarate an already eager Nets fanbase. On Brooklyn's first possession, Spencer Dinwiddie gathered an offensive rebound and fired a pass to Kevin Durant on the left wing. Durant caught the pass, his first touch in 550 days, and accelerated off of his restructured Achilles tendon, blowing by the defender and throwing down an emphatic slam dunk.
Durant appeared comfortable in his Nets debut, scoring 15 points on 5-12 shooting in 24 minutes. The former MVP glided up and down the court with ease, shooting over defenders with his smooth signature stroke. Kyrie Irving also wasted no time getting back into his groove. The point guard poured in 18 first-half points on 7-9 shooting from the field. Irving's handle looked tight as ever and his incredible touch from the mid-range was on full display.
The duo outscored the entire Wizards team in the first quarter and quickly reminded the league that they will be a force to be reckoned with.
This Nets squad is different than any team in years past. They are fast-paced, exciting and ultra-talented, but more than anything, they are deep.
Brooklyn employs a number of high-level ball-dominant players. Irving and Durant are the clear-cut top two options, but Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert have also found success as lead ball handlers. A lot has been made of Brooklyn's roster and whether there will be enough shots to go around. While there are legitimate questions there, a surplus of scorers being considered one of your biggest problems is an incredible luxury.
Brooklyn's depth and versatility across the board opens up countess lineup possibilities for head coach Steve Nash. With so many talented ball-handlers you would expect to see diminishing returns at some point. Nash will need to find his own way to maximize efficiency.
There are several variations of lineups that stick out on paper, each employing a different strength. First in my eyes is what I would call Brooklyn's "shot-creator" lineup:
- Kyrie Irving - Spencer Dinwiddie - Caris LeVert - Joe Harris - Kevin Durant -
Who is stopping this lineup offensively? Four of the five players are capable of creating their own shot at will. Harris provides a deadly three-point threat who will inevitably be left open alongside four other shooters and facilitators. This lineup could struggle defensively at times and may have trouble against bigger fives, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more talented group across the league.
Next is a lineup that will frequently put defenders in a bind. Let's call it a "floor spacer" lineup:
Pick your poison with this five. Irving or Durant will have open space to isolate alongside three other shooters. Put Irving in the pick and roll with Jordan with Durant, Shamet and Harris camped around the perimeter. Defenders will have to choose between Irving's elite mid-range game, a lob to a rolling Jordan, or giving up an open three to an elite shooter. Good luck to defensive coordinators.
You could then substitute Jeff Green for Jordan as a small-ball five to add even more shooting and playmaking ability. The possibilities are endless.
There will be several variations of lineups headlined by Durant and Irving used throughout the season. Another interesting question surrounds the second unit. Will Nash look to stagger Durant and Irving? Or let LeVert or Dinwiddie captain the unit off the bench?
"Caris is a starter. Will he start for us? I’m not sure,” Nash said. “He’s so good with the ball in his hands. There’s a case to be made that he plays that [Manu] Ginobili role, where he’s clearly a starter. Manu played in All-Star games, started on the bench, ran the second unit and closed games. We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. It’s a great luxury to have."
One of Ginobli's two all-star seasons coincided with his Sixth Man of the Year award in 2008. LeVert flashed elite potential as a lead ball-handler towards the end of last season, particularly in a 51-point outburst in Boston where he was virtually unstoppable. A sixth man role would allow the 26-year-old to maintain an offensive rhythm throughout the season given a healthy dose of shot-creating opportunities.
Nash will also need to figure out how Dinwiddie factors into the equation. The head coach voiced high praise for the point guard, going as far as saying he's "heavy voting towards not trading Dinwiddie". He also emphasized the guard's versatility and ability to fill many roles via Mollie Walker.
“There’s a lot of gaps to fill around Kevin and Ky, and he can fill a number of them — whether he’s creating plays for them or whether he’s spotting up or he’s taking on defensive assignments. It’s a joy to have a player like that with that much talent and versatility in our lineup. So I love him, and I just want to try to maximize his usage.”
Nash's remarks come off as leaning towards LeVert captaining the second unit with Dinwiddie filling roles as both a starter and with the second unit. Both Dinwiddie and LeVert have improved steadily over the last two seasons. Brooklyn hopes that will continue even with the arrival of Durant and Irving.
The Nets have several rotation questions that will likely be hashed out over the first half of the regular season. Nash and a star-studded coaching staff featuring Mike D’Antoni, Jacque Vaughn, Ime Udoka, and Amar’e Stoudemire will look to find a championship formula in Brooklyn.
D'Antoni has the reigns on offense. He has implemented a modern attack in years past, most notably his "seven seconds or less" offense in Phoenix. The theory being that shots should come early in the shot clock as a means to maximize offensive output. Udoka has taken the role of defensive coordinator. The 43-year-old played seven seasons in the NBA before joining the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant coach in 2012 and the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019.
It will be interesting to see what this loaded roster has in store for the season. Opening night is just five days away and a renewed Brooklyn fanbase, as well as the rest of the NBA, eagerly await.