It’s now seen as a given that the Nets have the worst center rotation in the NBA, just like they had the worst point guard rotation last season after Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez went down.
Pundits think so and think that, if anything, is going to stop the Nets from making incremental improvement, it’s the 5. So the Nets are looking at a center by committee at least as of now until they can see what each of their three bigs can do.
Not so fast, says Kenny Atkinson. He likes what he sees so far from Timofey Mozgov, rookie Jarrett Allen, and Tyler Zeller, signed three weeks ago.
“I was surprised, especially with Timmy — he hasn’t had a lot of time with us. He hasn’t had a lot of reps [because of EuroBasket 2017],” Atkinson told beat writers as the team closed out its time at Annapolis. “He’s going to be a good screener for us, I can see that … he’s going to play a big role. Not bad. He runs the floor, we got him on that pass — we like that pass over the top. He scored a couple of times on the block. So good debut for him.”
Mozgov does have one advantage: He played a whole season with D’Angelo Russell, the Nets new point guard. And Atkinson also says he’s been surprised with Allen, who many thought might start off the season on Long Island. That now looks unlikely.
“I see him mature beyond his years. I don’t want to make any predictions yet where he is, but right now if I was going to say early returns, he’s going to help us sooner than I thought,” said Atkinson. “He’s really a deterrent at the rim. Just get a little stronger.”
Zeller, who like Mozgov (and Allen) has been practicing his threes, showed he can rim run as well, and both he and Atkinson noted that the Nets offense is a bit like the one Brad Stevens ran in Boston.
“He’s got experience, started in the playoffs,” Atkinson said of Zeller. “He does a good job of understanding what we want right away and for a new guy he fit in pretty well with the guys. I like that.”
For their parts, the Nets centers match their coach’s enthusiasm. Allen said that guarding Mozgov, who has him by at least 40 pounds, is one of several adjustments he has to make.
“Trying to guard Mozgov. Obviously, there’s not a lot I can do. I have to be able to do the little things to beat him on defense,” said the 19-year-old. “That was my first time really scrimmaging like that where it was controlled. This was my first NBA experience playing against NBA guys. The game’s a lot quicker than college. There’s a lot more things that I know now that I have to adjust to be the player I want to be.”
Zeller, like so many of his teammates, has a chip on his shoulder after going from an 82-game, 21-minute per player in 2014-15 to a 51-game, 10-minute scorer last season. So what changed?
“If you find an answer to that one, let me know. I’m still trying to figure it out,” said Zeller who the Celtics dumped rather than pay him $8 million. “I don’t know, I really don’t. It was one of those things I was trying to figure out all year. They had a great year, so I can’t say they made the wrong decision. But at the same time, I wish I was a part of it. I felt like I could’ve contributed more.”
Meanwhile, two of the key rotation players were dealing with ankle issues. Allen Crabbe lost his walking boot and was seen shooting around, three days after spraining his left ankle. No word on his return, but Atkinson doesn’t seem that concerned.
On Sunday afternoon, the Nets tweeted out an image of Crabbe shooting, as if to assure fans that he was doing well.
Caris LeVert twisted his ankle Saturday, but said he expects to be back at practice Monday after a day off Sunday. The Nets open their preseason Tuesday night at the Garden. The game will be televised on MSG, starting at 7:30 p.m.
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