We’re back for our fifth and final part of Brooklyn’s roster breakdown. This part, like the power forward position, is tricky for a different reason: the Nets are small – two players 6’10” or taller to be exact.
Expect to see some funky lineups and a whole lot of small ball, position-less lineups. If even one of the two “natural” centers on this team get hurt or finds themselves in foul trouble, the tallest guy on the floor will be no taller than 6’10”. At least it’s easy to pick out!
Kenny Atkinson has separated positioning by three categories: playmakers, wings, and bigs. Sean Marks has even said they’re in "talent acquisition mode"; it’s all about getting the best player and letting Kenny sort it out.
We offer a depth chart of the center position with zero knowledge behind Kenny Atkinson’s thinking.
1. Timofey Mozgov - C
Mozgov has some big shoes to fill (pun unintended) with Brook Lopez no longer manning the fort at the 5 slot. However, it should work out in his favor, at least. Mozgov’s contract is huge, but it’s no longer a topic of conversation, at least for right now. This year, he and D’Angelo Russell make more money —$1.7 million more— than Brook Lopez is making in Los Angeles.
He can play a little more free than he has in the past, even stating at his press conference that he’ll take three-pointers if head coach Kenny Atkinson wants him to. And he says, Atkinson wants him to. He and Atkinson have a relationship that goes back to their days with the Knicks.
As for his game, don’t expect more than the borderline double-double statline. He does the dirty work down low and sets hard picks, something worth keeping in mind with Atkinson’s motion offense. Players running through an off-ball pick from Mozgov will find more open looks than they did with Brook Lopez. Mozgov doesn’t rebound the ball at a high rate, which is definitely a concern for the undersized Nets, but he can run the floor very well for somebody who’s 7’1”. He has great hands, can hit the mid-ranger and has developed chemistry with D’Angelo Russell.
He’s going to do the quiet things that don’t show up in the box score.
2. Tyler Zeller - C
Zeller was signed by the Nets late in the offseason. He'll get minutes, either sharing the 5 with Mozgov or serving as a solid backup. He isn’t a flashy signing and doesn’t stretch the floor the way the Nets want to play, but he’s a 7-footer who will help rebound the basketball and defend the rim. Zeller has career averages of seven points and 4.4 rebounds per game -- his best season coming with Boston where he averaged 10 points in 2014-2015.
Don’t expect Zeller to be a focal point in the offense, but it’s important to note that the center doesn’t have to be the guy in the motion offense. That falls on the guards, namely D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin. If he can do the little things as mentioned — set good screens, run the floor, rebound the basketball and protect the rim, set more good screens, then he will get playing time. Did we mention it’s crucial that he sets good off-ball screens in order to open guys up on the perimeter? If he can do these ‘little things’ then he should fit in just fine.
3. Trevor Booker – PF/C
It’s crazy to call Booker a center at 6’8” but this is where we are in the NBA world today. He’s the best rebounder the Nets have and his athleticism will be much needed in the front court. He’s extremely undersized for a center, but as of right now the Nets don’t have many options. It’s Timofey Mozgov, Tyler Zeller and rookie Jarrett Allen that are 6’10” or taller. Booker is the most likely candidate from the list of power forwards to bump up and expand his role.
His high-intensity, gritty style of play should help his case a little bit.
4. Jarrett Allen - C
I called Jarrett Allen the mystery man of the Brooklyn Nets. The rookie didn’t play in Summer League and we haven’t heard much from him. He seems like a simple man, but don’t mistake that for a lack of love for the game. He’s made that clear. Allen is 6’11” with a 7’5” wingspan and a 35.5” max vertical. His max reach, a function of his wingspan and vertical, puts him at 12’1”, the same territory as Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He fits the exact “lobs and blocks” script that Sean Marks and other executives around the league look for. He showed that he was a good rim protector with quick reactions at Texas. He also showed that he can hit mid-range jumpers and can finish down low.
Allen is a project, though. He’s the second youngest player to be drafted by the Nets at 19-years-old, two months. That’s only a couple months older than Derrick Favors when he was taken at No. 3 in 2010. He may see time in Long Island if he struggles at first, but he also might surprise some. He’s still growing.
This is the position that’s most likely to see new blood by the start of the season. Management knew they had a void at this spot and added some size with the late offseason acquisition of Tyler Zeller.
Sean Marks is never fully done, but we have an idea where this team stands and who will be playing where.