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Burning Hot Q's: Depth in the Front-court

The questions are piling up. In part four of our 'Burning Hot Q's' segment, we take a look at the Nets depth at the power forward and center positions.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets have plenty of things to deal with heading into the season. There's some good, some bad, but most of all: a lot of them are simply unknown and at this point, unknowable.. We've discussed the point guard issuespotential sixth man suitors, and the importance of Bojan Bogdanovic.

Now we ask: What about the front-court rotation?

In the past three years, the Nets appear to have survived Brook Lopez's injuries and have switched out key big men who either started or came off the bench since the move to Brooklyn. Andray Blatche, Kevin Garnett, Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Kris Humphries, and Reggie Evans -- all gone and all of whom played a decent role for the team at one point or another. Brook Lopez being the one exception.

Things change. Last season, Mason Plumlee was Lopez's primary backup. Plumlee had his issues, but at least you felt  secure with him backing up Lopez instead of having Jerome Jordan or Cory Jefferson be the primary back-up. It wasn't perfect, but it was a little better than what they have this season.

This season, there's an entirely new cast to back up Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young. The Nets have acquired younger, less-experienced players to back up their bigs-- always aware that their seven-footer missed 65 games two seasons ago due to a broken foot.

Let's take a look at what they've got:

Frontline: Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young

We group the two together for a reason. These guys are a unit; two players that seem to jell on/off the court.. Some could even argue that Lopez /Young is one of the top big-men combos in the Eastern Conference. It seems like Billy King is trying his hand at a poor-man's replicant of what Lionel Hollins did in Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

The Nets finished 17-13 after they traded for Young at the trade deadline. A steal, really. Young averaged 14 points and 5.4 rebounds last season, an upgrade over Kevin Garnett and a break on Joe Johnson, who was sometimes used in a small-ball system for offensive advantages. He also shot 38 percent from deep, the best number on the Nets.

Brook Lopez was a man amongst men in the second half of the season, averaging 19.7 points and 9.2 rebounds after the All-Star break. Much of the credit has been given to Lionel Hollins, who was hard on Lopez last season. It's helped him become a tougher, more aggressive player.

This isn't where the worries come from. These two guys are going to need to continue that effort for the Nets to have any shot at the playoffs. However, it's not only their production on the court that needs to be a big part of Brooklyn'smix, but also their leadership on and off the court . Especially since they're the veterans on the team now.

In July at a Summer League game against the Pelicans, Lopez was asked, "Is leadership on your shoulders?"

"It definitely is. It's weird for me to think of myself as a vet. its bizarre but I'm one of the elders on the team now. I was talking to Thaddeus about this during our whole free agency process, what we expected from Brooklyn, what we were looking for and what WE need to do to make the team better. The first thing was we need to be leaders on the court, to lead by example and speak up as well."

Lopez is usually pretty quiet on the court, but now that he knows this is HIS team, we may see a side of the big fella we've rarely seen before.

So who else they got?

#1: Andrea Bargnani

This COULD very well be the biggest move of the off-season for Billy King (excluding Lopez/Young signings) if, IF, he stays healthy. He's missed 161 games over four seasons, 93 over the last two, but the risk/reward of signing Bargnani to a veterans minimum is too good to pass up.

As we noted in one of the previous 'Burning Hot Q's,' Bargnani has a chance to be Brooklyn's sixth man. The 7-foot Italian has averaged 15 points per game over a nine year career. He's yet to average any less than double digit scoring in his career. Doubtful that changes this year.

He was the focal point most of his career with the Raptors and Knicks. But now with Brooklyn, Bargnani gets to backup one of the game's best centers with most of the pressure taken off his shoulders. He doesn't have to justify being taken No. 1 in the draft or an $11 million salary. He has a big role, but it seems to be a role better suited for him at this stage of his career.  He turns 30 next month.

He seems to happy to accept these changes. In fact, he was the one who approached the Nets this off-season after playing two dreadful seasons with the Knicks. And now, it appears the native of Rome is ready to get vengeance against his former team and former GM, Phil Jackson. Jackson's had plenty of harsh words about Bargnani this summer, none more insulting than describing him as a "big tease" or an "enigma".

The Nets aren't too mad about this at all.  Billy King seemingly dissed Jackson in his comments about players not having to prove themselves to "local management.". He seems to have a chip on his shoulder heading into the season.

"There is a right time for everything," Bargnani told La Gazzetta dello Sport, "I have the answers, but it would be selfish to trigger controversy. Today, the only important thing is the national team. Later, gladly."

Or in other words from the Godfather, "Revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold."

"Nine seasons in the NBA I've only made ​​playoffs twice. I feel anger in a positive sense along with a desire to feel part of a winning team, to build something bigger than yourself."

EuroBasket has somewhat reassured us of Bargnani's potential this upcoming season. As we noted in an earlier report, Andrea Bargnani averaged 17.7 points during contests where he saw 20-plus minutes. He shot the ball extremely efficiently, converting 51 percent from the field including 48 percent from beyond the arc. He did miss part of a game to a calf issue, the biggest nagging injury for him during his decline.

An Italian website described Bargnani's game as 'revived'.

King suggested that Bargnani could back-up Brook Lopez, while also saying, "Andrea will give us the ability to space the floor and complement our other front court players."

#2: Thomas Robinson

The Nets have flirted with the idea of signing Robinson since the 2012 Draft. He's an athletic big that's waiting for his chance to make an impact after being selected fifth overall that year. He'll get his chance in Brooklyn, and as Rob Mahoney puts it, "Despite having their hands tied by other salary commitments, the Nets scrounged up a great value for the minimum in Robinson."

Robinson is coming off a nice second half of the season, averaging 8.8 points & 7.7 rebounds in 18 minutes per game after being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. But numbers like that on a team as bad as Philly are totally indicative of a turnaround. He also is still foul-prone and turnover-prone.

So, the skepticism continues.

In only three seasons, Robinson has bounced around from Sacramento to Houston to Portland to Denver, Philadelphia, and now Brooklyn. Denver waived him without a practice. There's specific reasons why Robinson hasn't found a steady home in the league. Fred Katz of Bleacher Report has pointed some out:

  • He has always had a reputation of struggling to remember plays...
  • He doesn't always stay within his supposed role....
  • He doesn't command double-teams. He's not a passer. He's not a creator. He's not dynamic off the dribble. He doesn't have range beyond six or seven feet.
  • He's not a threat, and defenses acknowledge that. So, they let him drunkenly steamroll toward the iron. The results often speak for themselves.
  • Katz cites these reasons for a potential flameout in the league after Brooklyn ... IF he fails to fill his role. However, as Katz notes, the Nets have the right coach in Lionel Hollins to develop and challenge him.

    There's plenty to like and dislike about Robinson being a piece to Brooklyn's puzzle of success. But as Katz put it, "The Nets may have got themselves a steal on a minimum deal."

    But it's important to keep in mind: He's had plenty of opportunities elsewhere, and for none of them to pan out, well, that says something.

    #3: Quincy Miller

    When the Nets initially traded for Quincy Miller, it seemed like they were ready to waive him. He had $50,000 guarantee two days after the July 13 trade that sent Steve Blake to Detroit. But after signing  the guarantee check, the Nets don't owe Miller anything until the first game of the season.

    Miller, 22, was taken by the Denver Nuggets two years back with the 38th pick. They mostly used him in the D-League his rookie season, and started him in 16 games his sophomore season. He averaged a hair under five points and three rebounds in 15 minutes per game. The Pistons, who signed him after the Denver debacle, thought Miller was first-round equivalent, but it never panned out for him. He was going to play for the Pistons summer league team, but an errant elbow in a practice broke his nose.

    The Nets are looking at the upside of why Detroit picked him up, his D-League success apparently being the driving force behind their decision. (Also, when when you are under the luxury tax threshold, a $50,000 gamble is a lot better than a $200,000 gamble, including taxes)

    In 17 games in the D-League last season, he averaged 23.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, while shooting 35.7 percent from three. He put on a clinic in one game specifically, posting a line of 35 points, 9 blocks and 8 rebounds. Miller's decent percentage from three and lanky body (7'2" wingspan) are an enticing feature to his game.

    He's unproven -- and similar to most of the backup big men -- Miller's never made much of the opportunities he's received.

    #4: Willie Reed

    Say hey, Willie Reed! The Kansas City native is excited to be a Brooklyn Net and it's all good to hear. But with zero NBA experience, it's tough to imagine that Reed will see big minutes with this team. And if he does, can he be successful?

    • He's played for D-League teams in Springfield, Des Moines, Reno and Grand Rapids.
    • He's spent time overseas in Eilat, Israel, Girona, Spain and the Dominican Republic.
    • He's played in the summer league with the Kings, Grizzlies, Pacers and this year the Heat and Nets.
    • Training camps with the Kings, Grizzlies and Nets.

    And yet, with all those chances, he's never played a minute in an NBA game. Now he's got his best shot with the Nets, a one-year deal with a $500,000 guarantee, more than half the vets minimum..

    Nets assistant coach Joe Wolf has seen Reed's game evolve. "Overall, he's just a much better player. He understands situations and schemes better defensively. He's playing bigger than he has been and I think that's really helped him. He's an athlete."

    Here's another case of uncertainty, though. Reed's had his chances, displayed his game on many different levels. For him to finally receive his first paycheck in the big league after so many opportunities, it's tough to decipher whether he'll finally prove himself, or like Thomas Robinson & Quincy Miller, become another athletic big who may not pan out.

    #5: Chris McCullough

    We don't yet know when McCullough will play or at what level. King hinted this week that the 6'11" (according to the Nets, 6'10" according to the Pre-Draft Combine) Syracuse product could play later in the year.  He did not dismiss the possibility ... at all .. and said he, McCullough and his agent will sit down after the first preseason game to discuss a schedule.

    Before he tore his ACL last January at Syracuse, he was looked at as a likely lottery pick. He is a natural stretch 4 with ball-handling skills, a deep range on his jumper and shot-blocking prowess. His coach, Jim Boeheim, said he had as much potential as any player he ever coached.  That's potential though.

    If and when he hits the floor, maybe in November or December, he's not likely to be playing big minutes.  He is, after all, only 20, the youngest Net since they traded away 19-year-old Derrick Favors.  It will take some time to get his game legs back.  As of last week, he wasn't even permitted to run.  The other issue is strength.  He has been 199 pounds since his junior year in high school although he's said he's put on 14 pounds this summer.

    As the spin goes, even if he doesn't make much of an impact this season, he could be the equivalent of a first round pick next season when the Nets will give up their pick to Boston, the second of four installments on the Boston trade.

    Final wrap:

    Backing up the bigs hasn't been much of a topic of discussion in past off-seasons. The issue has most often been Lopez's health.  The backup big man slots have always been pretty full.

    While most fans are worried about the Nets' point guard situation, depth at the 4 and 5 spots are definitely a concern, if not more so. There's a lot of "if's", and that goes with any case, but if these guys can't fill their roles, expect to see some extra heavy minutes from Brook Lopez & Thaddeus Young.

    Most of the time, 'young & athletic' just doesn't cut it right away.