Brooklyn Nets Season Preview: 5 Things to Watch
Taking a look at some of the keys for the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets
It’s probably the most highly anticipated season in franchise history, and we’ve had to wait even longer than usual for the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets, and the debut of the Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving tandem. But it’s here, with the Nets opening the season Tuesday night in a nationally televised game against the Golden State Warriors. The 7:00 p.m. tip-off will be the first game of the NBA season.
So let’s tip it all off by taking a look at five key things to watch and wonder about as the Nets get started:
The Brooklyn roster features nine players who were regular starters last season, and obviously Kevin Durant would have been had he played. Keep on digging, and there’s Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jeff Green, Rodions Kurucs, and Tyler Johnson, all of whom played regularly for stretches last season. Any coach will tell you, it’s great to have a roster that makes playing time decisions difficult. And rookie coach Steve Nash will face that dilemma right out of the box. Will the wealth of options push him toward a deep rotation on nights when all are healthy and ready to go, or will he want to hold the line at nine or 10 deep? Either way, there will be opportunities. Nash has said it’s unlikely Durant and Kyrie Irving play all 72 games, and the compressed 72-game schedule might call for some additional rest games throughout the roster. Circumstances, Nash expects, will require flexibility in rotations and starting lineups. The Nets seem well-positioned to deal with that.
NAME THIS LINEUP
Somebody’s going to have to come up with a decent nickname for the lineup that features Durant as the nominal center. It’s mostly described as having Durant as a small-ball 5, but that’s kind of shorthand for saying there’s no true center on the floor and Durant is the tallest guy. Oh, and somebody has to defend the opposing center, so that’s probably Durant. Offensively, this is about pushing towards truly positionless basketball. It starts with pairing Durant and Irving, and filling in the middle three slots with some combination of Dinwiddie, LeVert, Harris, Shamet, or Prince. You could probably add Luwawu-Cabarrot and Green to that mix as well. You could fill the floor with shooters, with creators, or some combination. Imagining the possibilities is the fun part. Defending it will be infinitely harder.
If you’re wondering what kind of coach Steve Nash is going to be, well, he’s still sorting it out himself. Nash has embarked on his first full-time coaching job embracing the championship expectations that come with a roster led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. He’s opened up stressing a collaborative environment, leaning into modern NBA schemes that have much of their genesis in his Phoenix Suns teams of 15 years ago, and comfortable enough to designate Mike D’Antoni and Jacque Vaughn as having lead roles managing the offense and defense, respectively. In-game tendencies, from sideline demeanor to timeout philosophies, are still to be discovered.
So, Brooklyn’s defense was pretty solid last season. The Nets ranked 10th in defensive rating (109.2), fifth in opponent field goal percentage (44.6), and sixth in opponent effective field goal percentage (51.1). They were middle of the pack in opponent 3-point field goals attempted and made, but in the top 10 in 3-point percentage allowed (35.0), ranking ninth. They gave up a lot of shot attempts, 92.9 per game, the second most in the league, as they played at a top-10 pace and didn’t turn teams over much (28th in opponent turnovers and 27th in steals). If the goal is a championship, keep in mind that the top five defensive ratings last season belonged to the teams with the top five records in the league. Brooklyn is eyeing a more aggressive approach to take that leap, with assistant coach Jacque Vaughn taking the lead with defensive gameplanning. Attacking defensively adds risk, and with the short preseason, this will be a work in progress to get everybody in sync.
AT CENTER …
With all the depth and the lineup possibilities, only one position on the Brooklyn roster offers a binary decision between two players, and that is at center. You can play Irving with Dinwiddie or LeVert — or both. You can mix and match forwards and wings. What you can’t do is play Jordan and Allen together. You’re more likely to see both of them off the court at a particular time than both of them on it. Managing the veteran with the All-NBA history with the 22-year-old who played the best basketball of his career on the NBA Campus in Orlando is one of those good dilemmas, but having two starting-quality centers still leaves hard choices. Last season, Jordan and Allen traded some early starts before Allen settled in as the regular starter. Just before the season was suspended in March, Vaughn replaced Kenny Atkinson as head coach and moved Jordan into the lineup. That lasted two games before the basketball stopped, and when it resumed, Jordan was unable to rejoin the team in Orlando due to a positive COVID test. As a new head coach, Steve Nash gets to start from scratch in sorting out center minutes, but it remains one of the interesting decisions he’ll have to make.
Catch the Brooklyn Nets this Season