Wilson Chandler, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot Make it Count as Next Man Up for Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets are rolling out rotations and lineups that not only weren’t part of the plan back on Oct. 23, they hadn’t seen the light of day a week ago. But with Sunday’s 109-89 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, who had won nine of 10 to rise to second place in the Eastern Conference, the Nets have mixed and matched their way to a 10-5 record in the games they’ve played with both Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert out of the lineup, dating back to Nov. 16.

“You learn how to adapt and be flexible,” said Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson. “And the players are amazing. They’re more resilient than the coach. We’ll complain, or man, this guy’s in or this guy’s out and you have your frustration. Players look at it as an opportunity and I think that’s how guys embrace it. They love their teammate. They know we’d be a better team with (Kyrie Irving) in there, Caris (LeVert) also, but it’s also like, man, this is my chance to step up or my opportunity. I think players look at it from a little different perspective. Coaches, I think coaches, you always want your best guy out there.”

The latest wrinkles are the growing importance of sparkplug swingman David Nwaba, an opportunity for two-way man Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and the season debut of veteran forward Wilson Chandler.

Atkinson had said earlier in the week Chandler would be “thrown to the wolves” in his first game against the Sixers on Sunday night, but the coach was mostly thinking about an appetizer. Instead, with starter Taurean Prince in foul trouble, Chandler ended up playing 20 minutes.

After being suspended for the first 25 games of the season, Chandler said his return on Sunday was the most anxious he’d been for a game since his NBA debut in 2007, though most of it came on Saturday as the Nets prepared to play Toronto in the final game he had to sit out. He’d spent the previous two months watching games on TV. Sunday was, finally, a regular gameday.

In between, he’d been waiting, grinding through workouts sometimes apart from the team. Nets teammates jokingly called him “the cardio king,” but there was a support there that he was grateful to have.

“It means a lot,” said Chandler. “They could have cut me at any time. The training staff, the coaching staff, some days they would run sprints with me. Teammates always talk to me, text me, so it means everything to me, especially to have somebody there physically doing the same work. Not too many people do that.”

In his return, the 6-foot-8 forward grabbed seven rebounds and made his only shot.

“Obviously rebounded it great for us which is a big thing,” said Spencer Dinwiddie. “Also just having a veteran presence, kicking guys out, inverting the switches so he could guard the bigger body we could get on the guards and just make an extra pass, ball movement, quick decisions.”

The day before Chandler’s Brooklyn debut, Luwawu-Cabarrot entered the Nets game in Toronto. The fourth-year swingman, a first-round pick in 2016, had played just six minutes while appearing in two of Brooklyn’s first 24 games.

He played 17 minutes in Toronto on Saturday and 23 against Philadelphia, shooting 3-for-6 in both games and grabbing five rebounds against the Sixers. Luwawu-Cabarrot has played 10 games in the G League for the Long Island Nets, averaging 19.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

“I like his athleticism and his length on defense,” said Atkinson. ”He just gives us another long wing. He’s fit in nicely with the group. Understands the offense, what we want. He’s not passive either. He’ll take it to the rim. He shoots open catch and shoot. He’s been a pleasant surprise these last two games.”

With Chandler and Luwawu-Cabarrot part of the mix, the Brooklyn second unit has a new look. Atkinson has kept Dinwiddie in to run the show with four reserves late into the first quarter, yesterday with a group of David Nwaba, Luwawu-Cabarrot, Chandler, and DeAndre Jordan. Jordan, the veteran center, had double-figure rebounds for the fourth time in his last five games.

In the previous 14 games, the Brooklyn bench had a plus/minus average of minus-2.1 per game. Against the Sixers, they outscored the Philly bench 40-23. Nwaba was plus-17, Jordan was plus-10, Luwawu-Cabarrot was plus-14 and Chandler was plus-5.

“The bench was great. Tim coming in, playing his second game has been great for us,” said Garrett Temple. “They were denying me and Theo (Pinson) in the second unit, second quarter, and he really provided that offense for us. He’s been in the league three or four years, understands the game, has a nice calm pace to his game, which is great, and then another guy, David Nwaba has been playing outstanding for us the last few games. Obviously we hate to see (Iman Shumpert) go, but David has stepped up as that defender as well as energy guy. He’s been doing really well for us.”

Nwaba, who played sparingly for much of November, has become a key bench piece over the last two weeks. With Chandler, Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Nwaba, the Nets have a completely different set of second unit wings than they were using two weeks ago.

“The vision was he was gonna be that versatile, 4-3-2 that can bring energy and toughness and that’s what he’s doing right now,” said Atkinson. “I’m glad how he handled kind of not being in the lineup for a little bit and I told him during that stretch, I said, ‘You didn’t do anything wrong. We’re just trying to figure out. Keep working.’ He kept working. What I’m really thrilled about is how he’s shooting the ball. No hesitation. It’s amazing sometimes, it’s confidence and us embracing it. You see a guy, shot looks pretty good, well, why not? That’s part of our philosophy. That’s really helped us, his ability to stretch the floor for us, and we want him to keep shooting those open threes.”

As Atkinson said, the flexibility the Nets have shown is nothing new.

“The Nets, we need it on a banner somewhere: Next man up,” said Jarrett Allen back at Friday’s practice. “That’s been our mentality since I’ve been here, and we’re gonna stick to that.”