To say the least, this past offseason was one of change for the Brooklyn Nets. Head coach Kenny Atkinson was hired away from the Atlanta Hawks, most of the front office was revamped behind Sean Marks and the roster was almost completely turned over ... 10 new players.
When they traded Thaddeus Young to the Pacers on Draft Day -- in a slightly confusing move that freed up $12.6 million in cap space and brought rookie Caris LeVert to Brooklyn -- the Nets gave up their starting power forward for an unproven college swingman who struggled to stay on the court in his time at Michigan.
In his one and a half seasons as a Net, Young was a consistent source of scoring and rebounding -- as well as defense -- on a team that, frankly, didn't offer much in any of those categories. He will certainly be missed. Is it likely anyone brought in this summer will be able to match his production? Doubtful.
One guy, though, will be tasked with replicating at least some of Young's production. Trevor Booker, who agreed to a two-year, $18.5 million pact with the Nets soon after free agency opened in July. The veteran spent his first four seasons as a part-time starter with the Wizards and the last two as a bench player with the Jazz. He could be a starter for Brooklyn or not, but he'll play 20-25 minutes a night, at the very least.
Like Young a lefty, Booker resembles Young and his style of play in many ways, especially on the offensive end. Neither has a particularly accurate jump shot but both can knock down an occasional three. After making one three in his first four seasons, Booker has made 41 threes in his last two. His bread-and-butter is being creative in the paint, also like Young. As Nets fans know well, Thad's lefty hook in the lane was an effective weapon. Booker also uses a similar move to similar levels of success.
Booker -- who most fans might remember for this ridiculous shot from two years ago -- isn't a big scorer, as he has only averaged around 6.5 points for his entire career. Mostly, he's a defensive specialist who is a good, not great, rebounder. After the Nets announced the Booker signing, Sean Marks had this to say about his new forward:
"Trevor is a seasoned big with a defensive mindset who will bring toughness, rebounding and a competitive edge to our team."
His defensive rating of 102 last season puts him just outside the top 20 in the NBA and his 2.6 defensive win shares (a measure of how many wins a player contributes to his team on the defensive end) is one of best marks in the league among reserves. For reference, Thaddeus Young -- who played almost 800 more minutes than Booker in the 2015-16 season -- posted just 2.2 defensive win shares.
At 6'8", 228 pounds, Booker is big enough to be able to hang with true 4's that set up shop around the basket and at 28, is still quick and athletic enough to get out on the perimeter to guard forwards who can stretch the floor. Young was a good defender whose shot-blocking ability was key for the Nets, but he struggled with bigger power forwards who bullied him around the rim.
That shouldn't happen with Booker, who can swing between different types of defensive assignments with ease. As shown here, in a game against the Warriors, he's comfortable following Marreese Speights out toward the top of the key. Once Andrew Bogut makes a lazy pass, Booker steps in front and runs down the floor for a big fastbreak jam.
But Booker's defensive exploits aren't limited to taking advantage of weak perimeter play by guys -- like Bogut -- who aren't used to be at the top of the key. While he matches up, relatively, size-wise with Speights in that play, he can also cover smaller players, even guards.
Damian Lillard is just 6-3 and one of the most explosive players in the NBA, both from beyond the arc and off the dribble. So, when Booker gets switched onto him after a high pick-and-roll, it seems as if Lillard is going to get an easy layup at the rim. That doesn't happen:
Ok, I'll throw in another one for good measure:
Sense a trend? There's no reason Booker can't give the Nets some of the fire and highlight defensive plays that Young did ... at a slightly cheaper price. He's also a very tough player who isn't afraid to take on a difficult defensive matchup -- DeMarcus Cousins literally gave him a concussion last season -- which, for a Nets team that doesn't have much experience at all, is crucial.
And then there's this...
Most rebuilding teams don't have the luxury of a guy like Booker. Thankfully, the Nets do and he'll be a valuable resource considering how Brooklyn's current power forward options are the offensively minded Luis Scola, Chris McCullough and journeymen Anthony Bennett and Justin Hamilton. For under $10 million a year for two seasons, Booker could turn into a great value.