The key to the Nets success lies in the frontcourt

Bruce Bennett

The Nets are loaded with talent after an off-season spending spree. This much is obvious: the teams' five starters are former and current All Stars, they have a former Sixth Man of the Year and another former All Star off the bench.

But within the team's star-studded line-up, one group of players stands out. Nowhere is there the depth one finds upfront  Through a long and tough season—the frontcourt should have Jason Kidd's back.

Led by Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez, the Nets may have the perfect mixture of offense and defense in their post players along with a stretch four who the front office hopes can get beyond his rookie woes.

Garnett has been terrorizing NBA teams with his defense for 18 years, averaging 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. His near 7-foot frame can still make life hell for a big man in the post or someone challenging his authority in the paint. And even at 37, he also has enough residual quickness to guard power forwards outside of the paint.

On offense, Garnett has a skill set that hasn't changed, and doesn't need too. He has become used to banging around with centers during his past couple of seasons in Boston, so he has developed a more refined post game, but his go-to move is his mid-range jumper. At the elbow extended, Garnett is one of the most efficient players in the league. Garnett, from each elbow and out, averaged a near-49% clip last season. On the left wing alone, KG was nearly seven percent better than the league average.

Garnett's range should open up the paint for the Nets' other big man. Lopez is a force on offense. He averaged 52% shooting from the floor last season and was the highest scoring true center in all of the NBA. He is a true 7'0" (maybe more) who can take his game outside the paint and hit a baseline jumper from time-to-time. His range extends out to the three point line.

No one is worried about Lopez's offense, but his defense is suspect. He's slow moving his feet and has not done well defending the pick and roll. As Zach Lowe, of Grantland, pointed out in the middle of last season, Lopez just can't defend the P&R.

He writes:

Teams are ruthless in attacking so-so big men in the pick-and-roll, and when opponents involved Lopez in that play, he almost always responded the same way: sagging back toward the foul line area in an attempt to corral the ball handler there while the Nets’ point guard chased over the pick.

As a rebounder, Lopez is improving, but he is still mediocre. He averaged under seven boards a night last season, up from his last full season, but well below what the team believes he can do ... and what he did his first two years in New Jersey, when he averaged 8.1 and 8.6. The Nets recently rehired their big man coach from back then, Roy Rogers, partly hoping he can get Lopez back to those numbers.

The question is whether the Nets can boast a front line that can take on the likes of the Miami Heat. A two-big set is the one that trumps Miami's small-ball lineup. The Indiana Pacers exposed Miami this last spring. Roy Hibbert etc.  had the Heat on the ropes, taking them to seven games. That lineup featured Hibbert and David West, and as the stats show, the Nets have a stronger front line than that of the Pacers. They planned it that way.

However, the Nets don't have to rely on those two big men alone. Nor can they. The two of them played an average of 30 minutes a night, like most post players.  Garnett is 37 and last year missed 14 games. Kidd has said it's unlikely he's going to play both ends of the 20 back-to-backs the Nets will play this year.  Lopez has had three surgeries on his left foot in the past two years and is just out of a walking boot.

So who picks up the leftover minutes? Enter Andray Blatche.

Blatche played 19 minutes a game last season in his first year with the Nets and was nothing short of a marvel. After being amnestied by the Wizards, Blatche was signed him to a non-guaranteed veteran's minimum deal. He proceeded to drop 10 points a night along with five rebounds in limited action. His player efficiency rating put him  among the NBA's top 15. Blatche is two years removed from averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds while starting 63 of the 64 games he played; he is clearly capable of playing significant minutes.

The Nets have Blatche as insurance ... and as a partner for whoever is playing center.  When on the floor last season with Lopez, the two grabbed 62% of the total rebounds on the floor, a big number for two players not known for rebounding. Blatche can also play some point forward, for better or worse. When on the floor, Blatche creates opportunities for Lopez and could be in line for a boost in minutes in his second campaign with Brookly

Blatche played the five for the first time in his career and did it well, but he is not the most athletic big the Nets have. This year's pick Mason Plumlee is.

The Nets knew that they were going to acquire Garnett four picks before Plumlee was selected. Knowing that they would feature Garnett and Lopez --and confident they would re-sign Blatche, they still took Plumlee. Says something about him, right? It also may something about how they see frontcourt depth as an advantage against the Heat.

Plumlee brings a side to the Nets that they lacked last year: energy. He is a high-flyer and mature as a player. Here's more on Plumlee. He played four years under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, earning a record of 124-23, including the 2010 National Championship. Plumlee comes from a winning pedigree and is aware of what it takes to win. He's also a two-time Academic All-American.

Plumlee is 23 and ready to play and showcase his athleticism. This is a guy who measured a 36" max vertical in the pre-Draft combine, second among bigs. Only Cody Zeller scored higher.  He showed what that looks like in a game this summer in Orlando.

That leaves two odd ducks at power forward. Reggie Evans and Mirza Teletovic are about as opposite as you can get at power forward. They are not afterthoughts, far from it. They both bring a needed skillset.

An absolute bruiser, Evans surprisingly earned the starting job at power forward last season. For all his deficiencies, Evans is one hell of a rebounder. He lead the league by nearly three rebounds in rebounds per 48 minutes at 21.7 rebounds. He also had nine games of 20 or more rebounds, easily the league leader in that category. He has another strength that works for him: Garnett is a big fan. He no doubt recalls Celtics finished 29th in rebounding last season.

Evans will likely fall in the pecking order due to the team's new depth and Kidd's desire to push the ball and use all five players on the court on offense, but having a guy like Evans come in spurts and grab some rebounds, maybe throw some elbows, is a luxury.  So, hopefully, is Mirza Teletovic. Mostly confined to the bench by Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo, Teletovic possesses something none of the others have: an ability to get out on the perimeter and get hot.

As John Schuhmann tweeted after the Celtic trade...

Indeed, the players mentioned above accounted for exactly five three-pointers last season: three by Blatche, two by Garnett. Teletovic should help if not frustrated by a lack of minutes. In the middle of last season, a group of Bosnian fans even produced a video reminding everyone that Teletovic can shoot!

Over the summer, Teletovic has shown that he can do other things beyond shooting the three (despite his limited minutes, he did shoot 34 percent from deep, hitting 37 three's). Last week, in a three-game stretch against top European talent, he averaged 24.7 points along with nine rebounds, two assists and three blocks in a little under 33 minutes. He.shot 50% overall, 57% from two, 47% from three. He moved well without the ball, finishing a number of alley-oops and showed confidence, which he admits was missing last season in Brooklyn. The two big questions are can he translate that to the NBA and can he play defense? He didn't last season.

The depth doesn't end there. Andrei Kirilenko is best described as a "forward." He can play both power and small on offense and on defense can guard up to four positions. He'll probably end up playing more minutes backing up Paul Pierce, but when the Nets need to go small, they can move him into the four spot.  He is not a three point specialist, but he does have a 31 percent career mark beyond the arc. Problem with him is that he misses a lot of games. He's missed 10 or more games for 10 straight seasons.

The key term here is luxury. A lot of writers focus more on the record luxury tax the Nets need to pay, but more importantly the biggest luxury the team and Jason Kidd have is the collection players they will have in the frontcourt. They have so many options to and can combine different players to find the winning combination. Will the distribution of minutes become a problem.  Not if they're winning.

The Nets have the bigs to challenge the Heat.  ESPN's David Thorpe thinks all that height is fine, but unless KG has a lot left, they don't have the defensive bigs ... and it was that defense upfront that helped the Pacers take them deep. The Nets, of course, swept the Pacers in the regular season last year. They should be a better matchup pound-for-pound and inch-for-inch with the gritty Chicago Bulls ... and don't get me started with the team across the river. Miami, though, is the top dog, and there's no doubt the Nets spent a lot of the off-season working on a formula they hope can beat them.

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