Will anyone play as crucial a role as Lopez did on the floor this season? No, but the Nets have the opportunity to develop several young players. Mirza Teletovic, Mason Plumlee, and to a lesser extent Andray Blatche should continue the progress they've made this season, hopefully becoming major pieces as the season rolls on. Teletovic and Plumlee are under contract next season. Blatche has a player option and Early Bird Rights that would permit the Nets to sign him outside the salary cap. Teletovic is the oldest at 28. Blatche is a year younger and Plumlee 23.
Teletovic has been named the starter in place for Lopez for the time being, and it's been well deserved. The 6'9" Bosnian has received the confidence from his coach that he never received when Avery Johnson or P.J. Carlesimo were at the helm, averaging 12 points and four rebounds when starting at forward. He's also shooting 38.7 percent from deep, including a 1-of-9 start in the team's first 10 games.
Teletovic may be the best option for the Nets to start because he spreads the floor very well and continues to develop on the defensive end. Last night, even in another blowout loss -- and him failing to hit a three in five attempts, Teletovic still showed how effective he could be when he isn't scoring. He was constantly crashing the glass for rebounds and hustling back on defense, doing all the little things that the Nets need to remain in games going forward.
When Teletovic is in with the starting lineup, the Nets have played quite well. Although it may have only been eight minutes in three games, the Nets are shooting 63% from the floor and have a net rating of almost +10, the best lineup the Nets have for a lineup that has played more than five minutes.
The Nets number one draft pick, Mason Plumlee, has been a big lift for Brooklyn this season. His athleticism has given him extended minutes at times, and he too has earned more time on court from coach Kidd.
Plumlee is rough around the edges: he doesn't leave the post often; he has taken only five shots outside the paint this season. He also isn't feared as a presence on the glass, grabbing only three rebounds per game this season, but one can't look past his aforementioned athleticism.
Plumlee is a true center due to his skillset. He will backup Kevin Garnett and keeps learning from one of the best bigs at hitting that mid-range jumper. Garnett isn't capable of playing 30 minutes anymore at an effective rate. In the big picture, this will help Plumlee greatly in the future. The best way to get better is to actually play, and Plumlee will receive a big minutes boost with Lopez injured ... and KG in his ear.
“I make plenty of mistakes, I’m sure I’ll make a lot more. It doesn’t bother me. To me, as long as I correct them and move forward I’m good. I can’t tiptoe around (them) and not be sure of myself because we’re in New York or because I have K.G. (Kevin Garnett) yelling at me or whatever. You just got to get over that,” Plumlee told his hometown paper, the Indianapolis Star on Monday.
Andray Blatche has already proven he is a crucial piece to the Nets puzzle this season. He is posting averages of nearly 12 points and six rebounds while shooting 47% from the floor. Blatche has had to step up with Kevin Garnett's minute restriction and he has, for the most part. Some time Blatche forces his game too much, but overall he has been a big piece to the Nets' success.
During the stretch earlier this month when the Nets won four of five, he averaged 16.6 points a game off the bench, shooting 50 percent and grabbing 8.6 rebounds, all in 25 minutes per game.
Blatche is already a capable passer for his size and can take his defender off the dribble. If he can let his game come to him, then he's likely to keep up his solid play off the bench and could be a driving force to the Nets getting themselves out of this early season hole.
In the long term, the Nets are strapped for assets, so they must develop and play with what they have now. The injury to Lopez will expedite the process. Teletovic will garner starter's minutes and fill the promise many saw in him: a solid rotation player. With the Nets in must-win mode for the rest of the season, they can't succeed without him. Plumlee will see a lot more minutes than anyone, including him, could have expected ... and it could accelerate his development. When his older brother, Miles, got minutes this season in Phoenix, his numbers and value jumped significantly.
For Blatche, the role is bigger. He has to anchor the Nets' second unit, and score when scoring is needed and play the rest of his game. Blatche now seems much more mature than at any point in his career. The Nets will need that maturity going forward.