Brooklyn Nets forward Jeff Green has described himself as a “Swiss Army knife,” ready to plug and play all over the floor, regardless of position. More importantly, Green noted, that kind of description can be deployed across this season’s roster.
“The definition of versatility in a team is us,” said Green. “Big guards who can play multiple positions. You’ve got forwards who can play 1 through 5. Even our so-called centers are mobile enough to play multiple positions. That’s the league. That’s what is going to make us so great is that we’re able to throw different lineups out there that you can’t really prepare for. It’s going to be really fun.”
When that’s the case, said Green, every player has to essentially know every position, because they won’t always be in the same spot at the same time.
While this range can be found across the roster, in combo guards and swing forwards, much of the group’s versatility is unlocked by a single player, an all-time scorer who defies definition with a guard’s game at 6-foot-10.
Where you slot in Kevin Durant is a technicality, even when it’s what’s generally described as having him be a “small-ball 5.” In lineups that don’t include either Jarrett Allen or DeAndre Jordan, Durant may nominally be the 5, but what he’ll do offensively will have little to do with the traditional profiles of the position.
“It’s not an emphasis,” said Durant of such a lineup over the first few days of practices. “It’s more so where everybody can utilize their strengths, they can handle the ball. Anybody can bring it up, and guys are going to be switching on the defensive side of the ball. So, I think as the game goes and as it ebbs and flows, each player, I think guys are going to be playing different positions. On one possession, Kyrie (Irving) might be the two, Caris (LeVert) might be bringing it up. So, you’ve just got to be ready for anything. Coach is just going to throw me out there and see how I respond.”
But it is those lineups that have Durant, or even Green, slotted in roughly as the 5 man that intrigue for their offensive potential.
It’s part of the league’s evolution over the last decade-plus that has altered what’s expected out of the center position. For Brooklyn over the past few seasons, even with Allen and Jordan, or Ed Davis before that, the traditional center post-up on the block was nearly non-existent. Still, their shots came at the rim, whether on pick-and-rolls or putbacks.
Head coach Steve Nash’s determination of how he defines the position and what he wants to get out of it will fuel Brooklyn’s style, and determine playing time for those in the mix. But, back to the theme, he likes the versatility and the options the roster provides.
“A traditional five or a small five and so the traditional fives, the challenge for them, they bring rim protection, they bring a vertical threat but the challenge for them deep in the playoffs has been do they clog up the offense? The small ball five is either a stretch five or a mobile five that can make plays for his teammates and allow you to switch defensively,” said Nash. “So trying in that spectrum to find where we're strong, where our rotation, what our versatility is, our problem solving by having different looks at it so that's something we're going to have to work through. That's a challenge to try and find those minutes for different looks and different options so we're going to have to work through that and hopefully we get to a place where we have a lot of versatility and options and that we're not just playing one way at that position.”
With flexibility in mind, Nash has been mixing and matching through the opening sessions of practice.
“Guys are starting to get a feel for one another,” said Nash. “We've mixed it up a lot so it hasn't been starters vs. reserves predominantly at all it's been more even, we tried to make it competitive and balance it out and so lots of different guys have had different looks with different teammates so that's positive. I couldn't tell you what's going to happen to the rotations yet, there's a lot of competition for spots and minutes which is a positive as well. It's tough on a coach but it's positive for our group and program but they are. They're gaining connectivity which I always preach that familiarity that chemistry's coming and so that's something where I'll say a few days in I've been really positive and excited about it.”
“We’ve got such a talented group,” said Durant. “You’ve got guys who can do multiple things on the floor with the basketball. It brings the best out of everybody, having Spencer (Dinwiddie) and Caris going at it every day, Kyrie, myself going at it, DJ and Jarrett going at it every day. That just breeds that competition. It’s a healthy competition. It’s not like guys are, you know, wanting another guy’s spot. It’s more so we want to push each other because we know it’s going to help with the end goal. So, it’s been healthy, it’s been good and guys are getting better.”
The first look will come Sunday, when the Nets play their first preseason game against the Washington Wizards at Barclays Center. Durant said the plan for his workload is still being formed. His last game action came on June 10, 2019 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
“It definitely inspires to see him back in the form before he got hurt, it’s definitely inspiring,” said Green, who first teamed with Durant when the two were rookies in 2007. “After practice, me, him and Taurean (Prince) are getting workouts in. Me knowing him personally the way I do, I’m happy to see him back doing what he loves in good health moving on the floor, so it’s definitely inspiring to see. His leadership is amazing. He’s a guy that goes up there and leads by example. I believe in an interview he said he doesn’t do drills half----. He goes out there and he’s giving it all he has. When you have a guy of his talent, his stature in the NBA going out there and playing as hard as he is, it’s definitely inspiring. So I’m glad to see him back on the floor, and I’m glad I don’t have to guard him on a nightly basis during games because mostly in practice, it doesn’t get filmed. I’m happy to see my brother back out there.”