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Small Is Big

It was the most oft-asked question of the preseason: With a full stable of healthy, capable big men, how would Coach Frank distribute the minutes among them? Who would get to play?

Would you believe none of them?

OK, that’s a little overly dramatic. Obviously, all the big men have seen court time in the early going. However, three games into the 2007-08 season, Coach Frank has shown a surprising penchant for going small—that is, playing a lineup consisting of four of Kidd, Armstrong, Carter, Wright, RJ, and Boki, anchored by a center. As Dr. Seuss might have put it:

All Small Play Ball.

Dr. Naismith, on the other hand, might just have asked: Does it work? Let’s look at the numbers:
As far as I can tell, the Nets have used a small lineup for just over 70 total minutes, or an incredible 47% of game time. That includes a full minute when Coach Frank used a lineup consisting of FIVE smalls (two separate lineups for thirty seconds each). More importantly, the small lineups have done pretty well, accumulating a combined plus-fifteen. The obvious beneficiary of this trend has been none other than lame-duck Antoine Wright, who is averaging 27 minutes a game, up from 18 a year ago (and just nine as a rookie).

The most common small units used have been:

• Kidd-Carter-Wright-Jefferson-Collins, 17 minutes and 23 seconds, plus-nine
• Armstrong-Carter-Wright-Nachbar-Magloire, 11 minutes and six seconds, minus-one
• Kidd, Wright, Jefferson, Nachbar, Krstic, 7 minutes and 21 seconds, plus-five
• Armstrong, Wright, Jefferson, Nachbar, S. Williams, three minutes and 44 seconds, plus-seven
• Kidd, Carter, Jefferson, Nachbar, S. Williams, three minutes and nine seconds, minus-eight
• Kidd, Carter, Jefferson, Nachbar, Boone, three minutes and one second, plus-three

For those who consider Nachbar a borderline "big," if we remove him from the analysis, we discover that the Nets have used combinations consisting of four of Kidd, Armstrong, Carter, Wright, and Jefferson for 24 and a half minutes—one-sixth of total game time—and such combinations have earned a plus-12 rating. Can we expect this trend to continue, or was Coach Frank just playing the best matchups against a particular opponent? Once Krstic works his way into playing shape, and Magloire and Malik Allen become more familiar with the Nets’ system, will Coach Frank’s use of these small lineups diminish? Perhaps a better question might be: Forget about the big men; once Marcus Williams returns, how will Coach Frank work all the smalls into the lineup? That’s something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.