Much has been made of the new offense the Brooklyn Nets installed under Kenny Atkinson in 2016-2017. I, personally, have written, read and heard the words “modern,” “fast-paced” and “efficient” 1,989 times in the past year.
But to describe the Nets offense in these terms, without context, is like calling a poke bowl or southern fusion triple bacon burger (grass-fed, of course) “delicious” without discussing the ingredients. The “stuff” that makes the Nets offense tick is just as important as the pace they play and the shots they take.
Last season, the NBA saw Atkinson’s creativity as an x’s and o’s coach. The YES Network broadcast team noted the different looks of every Net out-of-bounds play. Even during regular possessions, the Nets ran interesting sets that deviated from their typical offensive flow. In a nutshell, the Nets’ primary offensive game plan focuses on read-and-react plays, rather than pigeon-holed sets.
With new personnel on board, the Nets could use these plays to their advantage. D’Angelo Russell could manipulate Nets pick-and-roll plays to his and his team’s betterment. A deep threat like Allen Crabbe could benefit from off-ball screens or dribble handoffs. A healthy Jeremy Lin could excel using his speed off-ball to create for himself or his teammates. Timofey Mozgov and DeMarre Carroll might man the big positions, but could also play on the perimeter on certain possessions.
What plays could the Nets use to highlight players’ strengths? We have the video! Here are three simple actions the Nets used last season that could carry over to 2017-2018.
The Horns set is essentially pick and roll plus. The simple, but effective play is so popular, the Nets’ offense flows into it naturally at times. From horns sets, there are several options. Here, Quincy Acy and Andrew Nicholson are the “horns” for ballhandler Isaiah Whitehead. It leads to an Acy jumpshot.
Below, the ball moves from the primary pick and roll action of horns. Jeremy Lin handles the ball initially, then swings it to Quincy Acy, who swings it to Caris LeVert. LeVert drives on the secondary penetration, receiving an Acy screen. This leaves Acy open from the three-point line.
Isaiah Whitehead uses an Acy-Trevor Booker horns set. The two bigs move in opposite directions, with Acy hanging back on the perimeter and Booker driving to the basket. Booker lays it in after a nice assist from Whitehead.
The play may work best with two contrasting screen setters. Timofey Mozgov and DeMarre Carroll could act as the screen setters for a Jeremy Lin or D’Angelo Russell setup. Carroll’s threat as a perimeter option and Mozgov’s size as a big dive target could be useful in creating offense. Last season, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie ran Horns quite often on Nets bench units. The threat of these two bigger playmakers could create mismatches for teams without proper personnel to guard the perimeter.
The Flex cut was a favorite of Lionel Hollins. The action has also been used at times for Kenny Atkinson – a go to play to set Brook Lopez up deep in the post. Even without Lopez, the Nets could still use the simple play to set up a shot at the rim.
Above is the flex action at its simplest. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson receives a post entry pass from Randy Foye in the shallow post. Foye cuts to the basket (who coincidentally is guarded by Allen Crabbe.) Foye sets a strong screen on Jusuf Nurkic, forcing a switch of Crabbe onto Lopez. Lopez catches the pass and sinks a trademark teardrop shot.
Above, Jeremy Lin sets the flex screen for Brook Lopez. Lopez cuts across the paint, drawing attention from Kosta Koufos and Darren Collison. This leaves Jeremy Lin open underneath the basket for the easy layup after Booker reads the defense.
The Flex cut is a simple play that can cause confusion for defenses in the post. A strong, taller guard like Isaiah Whitehead or Spencer Dinwiddie could set a screen for a big with flex action. While Timofey Mozgov may not be as gifted offensively as Brook Lopez, he did shoot a solid 66.0% at the rim last season with the Lakers. If matched up with a plodding power forward, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, DeMarre Carroll, Quincy Acy or Trevor Booker could each use their quickness to fling free for easy baskets down low. The flex action itself may not lead to immediate points, but could lead to secondary ball movement to scavenge for the best shot.
Out of the three actions described, the Nets used the flare screen least frequently. While the Nets may not have ran a flare action often, it could be a useful tool with additional shooting on the floor. It's a way for shooters to get open on the move without the ball.
While not a “true” flare play itself, Sean Kilpatrick nails a three-pointer on an out of bounds play. Brook Lopez and Spencer Dinwiddie “smush” together to cause a diversion for the defense. (Smush was the most scientific word I could use for that initial movement.) Lopez sets the flare-type screen for Sean Kilpatrick, who flashes to the elbow. He receives the pass from Jeremy Lin. C.J. McCollum is a beat too late and is unable to contest the shot fully.
Here’s the Portland Trail Blazers running flare-type action. (I honestly have the urge to WOOO! like Ric Flair typing flare over and over again.) Crabbe cuts from right corner to left elbow. He receives a screen from Ed Davis going away from the basketball. C.J. McCollum lofts a pass to him for a quick trigger three-pointer.
With a spot-up shooting threat like Allen Crabbe, the flare screen seems like an obvious action to run when the team needs perimeter scoring. Even for a playmaker like D’Angelo Russell, coming off of a flare screen could set the offense up for a pick and roll or drive. Like a Brooklynite at Smorgasburg, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
Kenny Atkinson’s offense is complex compared to previous coaching regimes. The read-and-react nature of the offense, and the seemingly endless options coming off of one pass requires a learning curve. For players and for fans, understanding how shots are generated is useful to better understand the team. Rather than using the same buzzwords to describe the offense, it’s fun/interesting/cool to tread knee deep in full on basketball nerd X’s and O’s. It’s a basketball buffet.
Here, I’ve simplified some basic actions the Nets can use heading into the 2017-2018 season. With new faces on-court, Kenny Atkinson could look to diversify his playbook.