"We're a small team now," said Lionel Hollins after the Nets defeated the Lakers, 114-105, Friday night.
It's a common trait we saw not that long ago.
In Friday's win over the Lakers, the Brooklyn Nets announced it would be their 15th different starting lineup of the season, with Hollins inserting Joe Johnson as a stretch four and Bojan Bogdanovic & Alan Anderson at the two/three slots. Deron Williams started at point and Mason Plumlee started over Brook Lopez at the five.
Haven't we seen something similar to this before? Jason Kidd, perhaps?
The 15 different starting lineups stood out, but at this time last season, Kidd had used 19 different starting lineups. To be fair, the Nets dealt with more injuries last season, but anybody who watched the team on a daily basis were unable to predict what starting combination Jason Kidd had up his sleeve for the night.
Now, says Hollins, it's the loss of Mirza Teletovic and Kevin Garnett that have driven his changes.
"When you look at it: KG and Mase were starters and KG and Brook and Mase and Brook. We have no more bigs!" Hollins explained. "We have Romy (Jerome Jordan), we have Brook and we have Mason. After that, everybody's ... Joe and Thaddeus are about the same height. So this is the way we're going to be."
That kind of thinking is what turned last season around. Hollins is hoping for the same type of spark. Last night, he thought it worked.
"We changed the lineup," he told reporters. "We went smaller. So we wanted to try to get an advantage. They tried to play Ryan Kelly on Bogie, Bogie attacked him. They tried to play Ryan Kelly on Joe, we attacked him. We attacked their bigs who were trying to guard Joe. Joe got a lot of open looks."
Last year it was the 6'7" Paul Pierce at the four, Kevin Garnett at the five with Lopez out for the season. As mentioned, Johnson, a 6'7" (maybe 6'8") small forward, played the power forward position last night and it served it's purpose. Joe would see mismatches throughout the night with bigger and slower perimeter defenders covering him, but with the undersized frontcourt, the Nets could've, and probably should've, been swallowed up on the boards.
As poor as the Lakers have played this season, one of the few things they've done well is rebound. They've seized missed shots at an average of 43.7 per game which ranks them 12th in the NBA. The Nets on the other hand, rank 23rd in the league at 42 per game while allowing the opposition to grab more than 44. Even with Johnson at the four for most of the night, the Nets & Lakers both finished the night with 46 rebounds, L.A. with 14 offensive rebounds, the Nets with 13.
Cue the Mikhail Prokhorov "not bad" meme here.
The mismatches also paved the road to success for Joe Johnson, who exploited anybody on the Lakers that tried to cover him. He finished the night leading all scorers with 23 points and six rebounds on 6-of-11 shooting and 5-of-7 from three. The three point numbers aren't a coincidence. The bigger, slower forwards covering Johnson couldn't get out to the sharp-shooter fast enough and he made them pay.
It wasn't just Joe who was cooking, though. The entire Nets team looked much more fluid on the offensive end with at least 3-4 guys capable of stretching the floor and hitting the three ball. They matched a season-high 29 assists on 42 made field goals as Deron Williams led the charge with 15 assists -- his most in a Brooklyn Nets uniform. Alan Anderson also got the start and finished the game with 14 points and six assists. Off the bench, Brook Lopez scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. The only one who struggled in the new look lineup was Mason Plumlee with four points in 17 minutes.
This may be something we all must get accustomed to. Lionel himself said the Nets are a small team, stating how the team is left without a variety of big men after trading Kevin Garnett. Needless to say, it's almost certain Thaddeus Young will start at the four, but Young is 6'8" himself which is just one inch taller than Joe Johnson. They're going small and judging from the recent past, we really like the sound of that.
After all, It's always a process.
- Nets going small is a big change - Tim Bontemps - New York Post