Kenny Atkinson has spent a decent amount of the past week treating training camp like a laboratory, mixing and matching lineups from the standard to the unorthodox. What he's finding is that the Nets have options.
He can fill the floor with guards. He can toss out a pair of twin towers. He can go for a shooter, a slasher or a board-crasher at the four spot that has increasingly become a sort of flex position that dictates matchups and defines how a team plays.
"Your position is what you can guard," said newly acquired veteran Jared Dudley, who came into the NBA as a two-guard a decade ago and whose most likely path to playing time this season is at the 4.
A year ago, Atkinson regularly used 6-8 Dante Cunningham or 6-7 forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Quincy Acy at center. Now he's got 6-10 Ed Davis to back up 6-11 Jarrett Allen. Or maybe even play with him?
The other way was on display in Monday's practice, with 6-8 DeMarre Carroll at the 4 and 6-9 rookie Rodions Kurucs at the 5 in one lineup.
"I think we'll be able to play big, powerful," said Atkinson. "You could play Ed and Jarrett together. You could go small with DeMarre at the four and I think Kurucs at the five today. And you watch in the games, the exhibition games right now. You just see a lot of guards out there. That was part of the thinking of tweaking the offense a little bit where it fits a four-guard system. I still like having that big guy out there, that one, Jarrett or Ed, just for rebounding and that rim-roller. But I definitely think we could see some more four-guard lineups."
Carroll started primarily at the 3 during the 2017-18 season, but saw plenty of minutes sliding down to the 4, particularly when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was out for a month. Even with the additional options the Nets have added at the position, Carroll is still in the mix there.
"We've been playing DeMarre at the four, yeah," said Atkinson. "He played a ton last year at the four. Great thing about DeMarre, he doesn't really care. I think he also understands it's a little different from the 80s. You don't have Charles Oakley at the four. He gets it. He's good at that position."
Ultimately, it's Brooklyn's deep roster of guards that may dictate what they do at a forward position.
"We definitely are going to play a lot of small ball," said Carroll. "It’s interchangeable. At the end of the day, we’ve just got to put the guys on the court who are going to help us win and who are going to help us compete at a high level. I think this is a good year for us to start making those steps into the right direction of what this organization wants to be and wants to become and what we want to hang our hats on. Year three is basically that year."
NEW VETS FOR DEMARRE
Congrats to DeMarre Carroll, who gets a little assistance this season filling the sage veteran, mentor role. Last year Timofey Mozgov, 11 days older than Carroll, was the Nets' oldest player. This year, 12th-year veteran Jared Dudley has a year on Carroll, and a presence to match.
"It’s just great to have another voice," said Carroll. "I know these guys are tired of hearing me, hearing my mouth all the time. It’s just great to have another person who’s been through the fire and understands what it takes to win. So we can hit guys from different angles. Some guys might not listen to me. Some guys might listen to Jared. Some guys might not listen to Jared but might listen to me. So, it’s just good to have a variety for these guys on and off the court."
A slew of turnovers had the Nets running and Kenny Atkinson hoarse from shouting on Friday morning, but the Nets coach was much happier with what he saw from his team on Saturday and Monday.
"I was pretty positive coming out of our practice scrimmage on Saturday," said Atkinson. "First and foremost, I thought the competitive nature of the scrimmage was excellent. I thought we executed our principles both on the defensive end and the offensive end pretty well. We’re farther along than I thought we were and I was a little worried because in the practices it didn’t look that way. We had referees here and stuff so maybe guys turned it on a little bit. It was very positive.”
Rookie Dzanan Musa had his first full practice on Monday, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson saw limited action and point guard Shabazz Napier was held out.