Other than a 48-game stint in Boston 12 years ago, none of three have ever played together, but a nickname is surely in order. They're "The Three Headed Monster" - Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko. Three former All-Stars, all capable of playing different positions around the perimter, will give the Nets the stability they need at the wing, where last year they had ... issues.
First, let’s talk about how the two presumed starters, Johnson and Pierce, will coexist. Won't be the first time. They played together in 2001-02 with the Celtics.
As we wrote earlier in the week, Johnson and Pierce out on the wings will open the floor up, giving Brooklyn many options on offense. Johnson, known for his isolation abilities, can use one side of the wing to take his man off the dribble and take his trademark floater. While Pierce can use his go-to step-back jumper that is clockwork.
Both known for their offensive abilities, the duo has seen better days as defenders but they do bring possibilities. Johnson is 6’8" in shoes, big for a shooting guard. Within a well-crafted defensive system, he could give many opponents. Pierce, like Johnson, seems lethargic playing defense, but he has still maintained to average above one steal per game over his career and did well in the systems that Tom Thibodeau and Lawrence Frank devised, The question is how much can they improve on the defensive end. If there's something to bicker about, this is it.
All in all, the Johnson-Pierce combination could be lethal. Both are slashers that could handle the basketball and let Deron Williams take advantage of his likely smaller defender, but also hit the open shot when the opportunity presents itself. Johnson is probably better at creating off the dribble at this point, as this video shows.
Late in games, though, is where these two will find their niche.
Johnson, the best "clutch" player in the league last season, statistically. He hit 10-of-13 shots with the game closer than five points with less than a minute remaining; 9-of-10 with the game closer than three points and 4-of-4 in the final 10 seconds when the margin is 3 points or fewer -- all league bests. Pierce was 12-of-24 from beyond the arc when Boston was trailing by 5 points or less in the final three minutes. That too was a league best.
Combined, they should give opponents fits in the last minute. Teams won't be able to commit to one or the other, simply because the other guy can beat them just as easily. (And of course, they won't be operating in isolation, not with the guy who holds the NBA record for three-pointers in a half at the point.)
Next, let’s visit the Johnson-Kirilenko tandem.
Johnson, unlike Pierce, will likely guard the teams weaker wing, while Kirilenko will be the defensive workhorse. Kirilenko has been known to guard anyone between shooting guards to power forwards due to his long 6’9" frame and physicality --and craftiness-- against his opponents.Three times in his career, he's made the All-Defensive team, although not in the last seven years. And three times, he's had a 5 x 5 games, with five or more points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Until Nicolas Batum did it last year, no one had accomplished the feat since Kirilenko did it in 2006, with a monster line that looked like this:
On offense, Kirilenko isn’t flashy (other than his interior passing), averaging just 12 points per game last year, on 50% shooting, which was a career high. Kirilenko doesn’t play beyond the arc much, but would rather set screens and roll to the hoop to get his shots. And once he gets to the hoop, he finishes at a high level. As Mike Mazzeo noted this weekend, Kirilenko shot 66.4 percent at the rim last season, Gerald Wallace only 54.7 percent. And clearly, he recalls who his best pick-and-roll partner was.
Therefore, he's more of a power forward on offense, which is fine because it gives Johnson more room to operate. If Williams isn’t the primary ball handler on sets, plays can be drawn up for a Johnson-Kirilenko screen-and-roll. For one, Johnson could get a mismatch, and Kirilenko can use his speed and length to get to the rim. It could work.
Considering Pierce does have age bearing down on him, expect Jason Kidd to keep a keen eye on his minutes, meaning JJ and AK-47 could see a lot of court time together. Indeed, their different styles of play could benefit them and the team. They're not likely to get into each others way. It also helps that Kirilenko played nearly six years with Williams in Utah, and clearly D-Will and Johnson don’t have issues.
That leaves the last possibility of the "Three Headed Monster," the Kirilenko-Pierce lineup.
This one could be feast or famine, the riskiest of the three combos. Pierce is not used to playing shooting guard, even though he could often have a big size mismatch. He may have trouble with the speed of opposing shooting guards. Kirilenko can defend the two, but on the offensive end could that turn into a mess? Kirilenko isn't the three-point shooter either of the others are. Pierce, while similar to Johnson, is not as quick and may have trouble using a pick-and-roll set with Kirilenko.
Of course, it's more likely with Pierce's minutes limited, it will be Kirilenko who's likely to substitute for him.
And what about the bench? Aother big acquisition this summer was Jason Terry, an undersized shooting guard with range beyond the arc. Terry will likely be the first true guard off the bench, running sets similar to those the Nets ran last year for C.J Watson and D-Will. Terry and Pierce played together last season in Boston and with Kidd in the Mavs' title run in 2011. (Terry is known as a leader in the locker room who can get the best out of his teammates.)
The Nets' last signing, Alan Anderson, has been in-and-out of the league since 2005, but put up career numbers in Toronto last season. Anderson averaged 10 points per game in 65 contests, including 26 and 35 points against the Knicks. Anderson won’t get much time in Brooklyn, but he could be a 3-and-D player for them when used. There's a lot of value in that. He does have a tendency to bomb away early in the shot clock, but if he does. he's not likely to get minutes.
Lastly, Toko Shengelia, who didn’t get much action last year and probably won’t see much more in this coming campaign. Shengelia, a player who can do a little bit of everything, is recovering from minor surgery on his meniscus, but should be fine by training camp. However, it seems that the Nets off-season moves didn’t do him any favors. Even without more playing time, learning behind another multi-talented European, AK-47, could help him in the future.
The Nets have a bevy of options on the wing. They have the "Three Headed Monster" along with several bench players who have proven they can contribute when called upon. The wings are where the Nets showcase the depth they put together over the off-season. Is it enough to win? We shall see.