As the NBA speeds toward its Dec. 22 tip-off for the 2020-21 season, the Brooklyn Nets began to assemble for individual workouts this week, with the first group practice of the season scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 6.
The highly anticipated season will feature Kevin Durant’s Brooklyn Nets debut, and the arrival of a new head coach in Steve Nash. Let’s take a look at five things to watch for as these new-look Nets get together for training camp and the preseason.
Rehab, side work, and California pick-up games are in the rearview for Kevin Durant. One of the greatest scorers in NBA history will participate in his first Brooklyn Nets practice, and a new era will begin for the franchise. With the inclusion of Durant and the return of Kyrie Irving after his injury-limited debut season in Brooklyn, the Nets are transformed into a championship contender. So much of what the Nets look like under a new coaching staff will be shaped by how the pieces are arrayed around Durant, a career 49.3/38.1/88.3 percent shooter and 27.0 points-per-game scorer. There’s no role beyond the reach of the 6-foot-10 Durant — who also has career averages of 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists — and head coach Steve Nash has indicated that he’ll be used across the board position-wise. But where you slot him in is just a technicality. Kevin Durant’s position is to be Kevin Durant.
GUARDS AND GUARDS AND GUARDS
With a versatile trio of multi-dimensional guards already in the fold in Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie, GM Sean Marks rounded out the group with a trade that brought in two players with more narrowly defined strengths. Landry Shamet is a career 40.2 percent 3-point shooter, and Bruce Brown has established himself as a standout defender with the ability to guard multiple positions on the perimeter, even at 6-foot-4. Both were regular starters last season, putting the Nets five deep at the two guard positions. Then, the Nets brought back Tyler Johnson, who was with the team on the NBA Campus in Orlando after signing as a free agent in late June. Sorting out the room and roles for all will stretch out to how the Nets utilize the wing positions, in this positionless basketball era that Brooklyn is well-suited to play.
FILLING OUT THE 4
Let’s start with the notion that Durant, on this roster, is essentially the starter at the traditional power forward spot if we're designating assignments 1 through 5. That should hopefully allay some of the fretting over the 4, a position that has seen plenty of churn and imperfect fits over the last few years. If “Who’s backing up Kevin Durant?” is a top-line roster worry, things are in OK shape. What the Nets do have behind Durant are options with Taurean Prince, Rodions Kurucs, and newly acquired veteran Jeff Green. The math also says that one or two of those guys will end up on the outside of the regular rotation unless Nash has notions to go 11 and 12 deep. Prince started here for most of last season, right up until the eve of the season’s suspension in March. He led the Nets in 3-pointers attempted, but slumped to shooting 33.9 percent after shooting 39.0 percent in Atlanta in 2018-19. Kurucs had an uneven sophomore season after a promising rookie year, falling deep out of the rotation early, but did show some progress in improving his 3-point shooting to 36.7 percent, something that will be crucial to his career going forward. Then the Nets added Green, who is on his 13th NBA season and 10th team. He wrapped up last season in Houston, playing for new Nets assistant coach Mike D’Antoni, who used him a bit at the 5 on a small-ball Rockets team. There's also Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who turned a two-way opportunity into a breakout season and saw plenty of time at the 4 when the Nets went small in Orlando. At 6-foot-7, he may be more suited for the 3, but could be in the mix here as well if the Nets look at smaller, shooter-heavy lineups with Durant at the 5.
INTRODUCING COACH STEVE NASH
Brooklyn’s great unknown for the 2020-21 season is Nash, who steps into his first full-time coaching position after a few seasons working with the Golden State Warriors as a player development consultant. That means an established relationship with Durant, but offers little to go on in figuring out what a Nash-coached team will look like on the floor in style and scheme. The best guess goes back to those free-flowing, up-tempo Phoenix Suns teams that Nash quarterbacked while winning a pair of MVP awards and setting his career on a course for the Hall of Fame. The fact he’s brought in his former Phoenix coach in D’Antoni, plus Suns teammate Amar’e Stoudemire for his first staff indicates some thinking in that direction, and the league itself has only evolved since that time to embrace the speed and 3-point emphasis of those Suns teams.
There’s nothing normal about this coming NBA season, and the training camp schedule is compressed, with just 16 days from Brooklyn’s first scheduled group workout on Sunday to the league’s tip-off on Tuesday, Dec. 22. In this shortened preseason, teams had the option for some flexibility in their preseason scheduling, and the Nets are keeping it tight, with just two games: against Washington at Barclays Center on Sunday, Dec. 13 at 6 p.m., and at Boston on Friday, Dec. 18 at. 8 p.m.