You have your ball-handlers, wings and bigs. That’s the NBA today. There is no longer a set 1 through 5 positions, rather five players on the floor that fall under one of those more general categories.
Insert Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell, who are ... ?
The great debate in the world of Nets fans is whether Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell can co-exist in the backcourt. Stars dominate the ball in this league. Who’s getting the rock?
The two don’t seem to have a problem with it. They both endorsed this piece of fan art on Instagram...
And in their latest interviews, Lin in Taiwan and Russell in Los Angeles have said it doesn’t matter to them which guard spot each plays. Lin has the experience of playing with Kemba Walker two years ago and, as, Russell notes, he started out last season as the Lakers’ point guard and finished it on the wing.
“It doesn’t really matter [where I play],” Russell said in an interview published Thursday with Matt Peralta of Lakers Index. “I think it helped me because it showed that I could be versatile and I could be anywhere. Any position, I’m going to make the best out of it and I don’t think it’s a struggle for me.”
In the same interview, Russell said he is “looking forward to whatever situation he [Kenny Atkinson] puts me in” and “that he was going to make the best out of it.”
Lin had the same thing to say on arrival in Taiwan this weekend.
“He's good. Got a chance to meet him out in Vegas for Summer League,” Lin told his followers on Periscope. “I can't wait to play with him. We're going to do some serious damage next year. “
In fact,, in Kenny Atkinson’s motion offense specifically, there’s reason to believe the two will work just fine together. The ball is constantly moving and bringing up the ball in his system doesn’t necessarily mean more touches or better opportunity to create.
Atkinson says he doesn’t like to use comparisons, but sees a similar style the way C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard work together in the backcourt.
“The way we play offense, it’s very conducive to both of them getting enough touches,” Atkinson said in an interview with SB Nation’s Kristian Winfield. “You look at C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard — and I don’t want to compare the players — but they end up both playing a ton of point guard. They just stagger the minutes. So believe me, there’s gonna be enough minutes, enough touches for both of those guys.”
In his interview with Lakers Index, Russell says he’s happy to follow his coach’s lead.
“He’s a great dude,” Russell said. I’m really looking forward to working with him. I know he’s a hungry coach. He has something to prove and I have something to prove, so I think we’re going to work well together.”
The Lin-Russell duo is probably the least of Brooklyn’s worries. D’Angelo Russell can use somebody that has his back; a mentor to keep his head up when things are tough. You know, a fresh start. Atkinson and Lin will provide that. And Lin can use someone to take the pressure off him.
As for the system - working off the ball in Atkinson’s offense might create better chances to, well, create. Players are constantly moving off the ball, cutting baseline, setting screens in order to find ways to free up the perimeter. With Lin and Russell having a chance to dip their feet in both realms as ball handlers and wings, this should open up opportunity for both of them to create for themselves and others. It should also put defenders in a bind regarding mismatches.
Atkinson and Russell might be a perfect match as long DLo is willing to put the work in and he told Peralta he is. In fact, that’s never been an issue. Luke Walton might have had issues at times with his immaturity but not his work ethic.
“Just going as hard as I can every day without killing myself,” Russell said of his routine. “Getting the opportunity to play basketball for six months throughout the year is a long time, so trying to prepare myself, my body and mentally get prepared the best I can.”
Atkinson is a guards coach with a reputation of developing players. Russell has to trust Atkinson, his philosophy of team ball and game plan of pairing he and Lin together in the backcourt.
For Lin, it won’t be the first time he’s had to share the backcourt. The last time he did so was with Kemba Walker in Charlotte which turned out to be a success for both of them. Charles Barkley even said on TNT after a Hornets-Heat game that the two guards were essentially “unguardable”.
Atkinson has yet to talk to either of them about what he’s planning, the two said in their most recent interviews.
"I’m going to be at the 1 and he'll be at the 2,” Lin said in his Periscope video, then pausing. “I'm really not sure to be honest. I'm pretty sure he will start at the 2, but it will be pretty interchangeable. Then, when one of us is out of the game, the other will most likely have the ball in their hands, So it'll be a little bit Kemba-ballesque. kinda a little me-and-Kembaish.”
It can work. Two years ago, Kemba Walker discussed how playing alongside Lin helped him.
"It takes a lot of pressure off me,” Kemba Walker told the Charlotte Observer in 2016. “I don't always have to go back for the basketball every time. When he's out there, he's helping me with the pace, with the tempo. He's very unselfish and he can score the basketball very well. So that's fun."
Lin is an unselfish player and Russell has more weapons in his offensive arsenal. He did drop 40 on Kyrie Irving last . Both are solid perimeter players that work well in pick and roll situations. This SHOULD alleviate pressure off one another.
In the same interview with the Charlotte Observer, Hornets head coach Steve Clifford brought up an interesting point regarding how the two work in pick-and-roll situations help open up the offense for the rest of the team.
"I think it’s just two really good pick-and-roll players on the floor together. And also when (Nicolas) Batum is out there, because he’s also a good pick-and-roll player, they draw two defenders every time they get in the pick-and-roll. Then when the ball moves, the next guy has room, or there’s so much space on the other side. That’s really what the NBA game is about.”
Ideally in Brooklyn’s case, Caris LeVert will have to improve his three-point shooting and replicate the role that Nicolas Batum provided for Charlotte.
It won’t be easy, though.
With the loss of Brook Lopez, the Nets are limited in weapons. They’re coming off one of the franchise’s worst seasons ever and although the system looked attractive with today’s style of play – it didn’t necessarily fit with the players they had. For example, they were fourth in the league in three-pointers attempted, but they were bottom-five in three-point percentage.
This is where Lin and Russell come in. Having one of the two out on the wing should help with their perimeter game. The Nets NEED both of them – not one – both of them to step up together in order for this team to win any ballgames. They will find themselves in the same position as last year if they fail to do so.
Despite their potential, neither really excelled last season. Lin missed 46 games with injury and Russell was trailed by rumors of immaturity. His play on court was inconsistent.
Both are optimistic. Lin thinks he can get up to 40 percent from deep. Russell says he sees a natural progression.
“Just want to be the best I can be,” Russell said last week. “I’m going to put in the work. I don’t really know what to expect my third year, but it’s been great from year to year, so I’m really looking forward to that.”
The question shouldn’t be whether or not Lin and D-Lo can coexist, rather can the Nets put it together. If so, then anything is possible.
The way the game is headed and the way the Nets play – having two versatile players that can handle the rock or play off the ball is a huge plus for Atkinson’s game plan. They need a stretch big man of some sort in order to create space. Guys like Mozgov, Booker and Hollis-Jefferson will not command the ball the way Lopez did. Those guys need to do the dirty work: set picks, run the floor, rebound and defend the paint. The scoring load will be on the guards shoulders.
The two have already started making the connection with their running mate, texting, talking, even playing some miniature golf in Vegas. Both are invested in making “it” work because, well, It has to.