With the news that Brook Lopez will miss at least one week of action with a lower back strain-he will be out at least four games-the Nets must replace the offensive-minded big man.
Who steps into the starting lineup for Lopez? The Nets won't release who will be starting Monday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers until near game time.
So we will speculate for the time being. Conventional wisdom says Mirza Teletovic or Mason Plumlee. Teletovic has started in relief of Kevin Garnett twice this season, but Lionel Hollins may want to start two traditional big men, keeping KG at power forward and Plumlee at center. Plumlee, after seemingly falling out of the rotation, has played nearly 15 minutes per game over the past four games, looking to be more in a flow and comfortable inside the team's flex offense.
Garnett has played 63 minutes this season alongside Teletovic, and 45 with Plumlee although there's a chance Lopez was on the floor with Garnett and Teletovic during those 63 minutes. I think Hollins will put the Bosnian in the starting lineup in the interim. Teletovic has thrived with the starters this season, averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds in his two starts. Plumlee on the other hand, could be better utilized off the bench and would keep the bench afloat, since KG isn't likely to play all that many minutes and the Nets' depth will be tested during this period.
Mirza could the whole first quarter, as he did Wednesday against San Antonio, with either Plumlee or Jerome Jordan coming off the pine in the middle of the first to replace Garnett.
Looking into further detail, Teletovic has played much more with Plumlee than Jordan. The King of Bosnia has logged 116 minutes with Plumlee and only 49 with Jordan. While Teletovic and Plumlee have posted a +9 net rating together, the Nets offense takes a big hit. The team is averaging a shade under 96 points per 100 possessions and is shooting just 41% from the floor with them on the floor together. However, the Nets defense, aided by Plumlee's high energy and length, allows just 94.6 points per 100 possessions.
With Jordan and Teletovic playing together, the Nets offense has been significantly better, scoring 103 points per 100 possessions, yet their defense is much worse off. A lineup with the two allows 113 points per 100 possessions, the second worst mark on the team for two-man lineups that play at least 40 minutes. The worst? KG and Plumlee. Take that as you will.
Either way, the Nets can maintain a solid style of play without Lopez. They will need to likely revert to last year's style of play, lots of outside scoring, more motion, and commitment to crashing the boards. But in the last dozen games, offense has become a problem and the team is 29th from three in that timeframe.
Hollins will have to get tricky with his lineups, using Garnett with Plumlee or Jordan, and utilizing the bench. Cory Jefferson may see some more minutes off the bench at power forward ... although Hollins seems to like him more at the three, where is lack of strength isn't so obvious. Jordan and Plumlee could play together, and they have, but the Nets spacing would get killed and the team would become very easy to defend.
Of course, a most of these examples are based on very small samples and there's no guarantee they will play out in the same way when the minutes increase. And most importantly, Lopez may only be out a few games.