Preview: Nets vs. Jazz
Frontcourt spots are up for shuffling with Jazz followed by Warriors
The term “bigs” has become basketball shorthand, a catch-all phrase for players slotted into the traditional power forward or center positions, also commonly known as the ‘4’ and the ‘5’ spots.
But for the Brooklyn Nets, the collection of players in that category are anything but one and the same. The group runs the spectrum from 7-foot-1, 275-pound power player Timofey Mozgov to the slashing, mid-range shooting Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The two players have almost nothing in common, yet both have played the ‘5’ spot for the Nets this season, even if that’s been a limited experience for Hollis-Jefferson.
Somewhere in between Mozgov and Hollis-Jefferson in both size and style are 7-foot Tyler Zeller, 6-11 Jarrett Allen, 6-8 Trevor Booker and 6-7 Quincy Acy.
Injuries and illness had left the Nets shorthanded up front during their recent West Coast trip, leading to minutes at the ‘4’ for DeMarre Carroll, who typically plays the ‘3’ and two-way contract Jacob Wiley. But with Allen’s return after missing six games, the band is back together.
“As Jarrett’s getting healthy you’ve got a lot of bigs in the mix,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson after practice at HSS Training Center on Thursday. “You’ve got Rondae, you’ve got Quincy, you’ve got Trevor. It’s a lot of guys and you can’t play all of them, it’s just that simple. The problem right now, there’s not a ton of sample size to say, ‘OK, we’ve seen enough of this guy to make a decision.’ But that’s on me, to figure out, and our staff and we’re in the process of doing that, what the best rotations are for our team.”
Things look a little more up for grabs following Tuesday’s game against the Boston Celtics in which Booker started at center, the first time this season that Mozgov wasn’t in the starting lineup at that spot.
“We’re just trying to find the right mix and the right kind of pecking order in that group,” said Atkinson. “And there might be a little more experimenting figuring out, giving Tyler some more minutes. Game to game we’re going to have to really look at it and make decisions.”
Mozgov is the reliable finisher and rebounder with the career 53.4 shooting percentage and per-36 board rate of 9.8. Zeller has played sparingly outside the West Coast trip, but put up 21 points at Denver. Allen is the rangy rookie who has offered flashes of impact defensive potential.
Booker is Brooklyn’s leading rebounder in addition to averaging 11.0 points per game, a rugged energy player who scores mostly in the lane. Hollis-Jefferson, primarily a small forward for his first season-and-a-half in the NBA, brings a wing player’s skills to the spot and is working on a breakout season with 14.7 points per game on 49 percent shooting.
Then there’s Acy, who has taken nearly 90 percent of his field goal attempts from beyond the 3-point arc this season.
“If it was just about shooting,” Atkinson said, “Quincy would probably play 48 minutes a game.”
The decision to start Booker on Tuesday was based on matchup considerations against the Celtics, Atkinson said, and that approach would continue.
“I think that’s going to be how it’s going to be going forward,” said Atkinson. “I think we’re still trying to figure out the whole big situation, how we can be the most efficient. Still starting to discover who those guys are. I think that’s a work in progress trying to figure it out.”
BIG MAN MATCHUP
Whoever gets the minutes up front will have to contend with former Net Derrick Favors, who burned Brooklyn for 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting with 12 rebounds last Saturday in Utah.
Center Rudy Gobert (13.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.5 bpg, 62% FG) missed the first matchup against the Nets and remains out with a bone bruise in his right knee, leaving Favors to slide over to center with Jonas Jerebko the other expected starter in the frontcourt.
“He’s playing really well,” said Atkinson. “He’s healthy. He’s a darn good player. He’s playing well. We’ve got to have more physicality with him. I thought he really hurt on us on the boards and then he really hurt us with pick and roll. I think there’s some things we can do to slow that down. He got under us too much in the pick and roll. We got too high, the bigs got too high, and they hit him. We’ve just got to do a better job of keeping him in front and keep him off the boards.”
ABOUT THE JAZZ
The Nets dropped a 114-106 final to the Jazz a week ago in Utah after being outscored by 16 points in the second quarter. Brooklyn point guard D’Angelo Russell suffered a knee contusion in the final minutes of his 26-point outing and has not played since. He’s been declared out for tonight’s game. Aside from Favors, the Jazz got a huge game from rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, who scored 26 points. Mitchell, a Westchester, NY native, gets a homecoming game tonight in Brooklyn.
Utah has since lost games to Minnesota and the New York Knicks to fall to 6-9. Wednesday’s game at the Knicks was the start of a four-game road trip.
Former Net Joe Johnson has not played since October and is expected to be out with a wrist injury.