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Nets may go “Long Ball” with Rondae at the 5

NBA: Brooklyn Nets-Media Day Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Training camp and preseason are times for experimentation and Kenny Atkinson gave a big hint about his big rotation Wednesday. Don’t call it “small ball,” call it “long ball.”

After practice at the U.S. Naval Academy on Thursday, Kenny Atkinson talked about playing the 6’8” DeMarre Carroll at the 4. At the 5, where the Nets have Timofey Mozgov, Tyler Zeller, and rookie Jarrett Allen, Atkinson proposed using Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, all 6’7” and 214 pounds. Huh?

“Rondae’s real strength is defensively, getting rebounds, steals, being able to guard big guys, small guys, his versatility defensively. We needed help on defense. That was the thought on putting him at the four,” Atkinson said.

“The proof’s in the pudding. We got better defensively, it was better for his game … Now we’re more balanced. It’ll give us more versatility throwing DeMarre at the four sometimes and Rondae can go to the five.

“That’s where this league is going. That’s very possible. You could see that. He’s got a 7-3 wingspan. That’s damn near Draymond Green-type length. I know everybody looks at him (as 6’7”). I don’t think we should be looking at him that way,” Atkinson said, changing from a vertical motion to a horizontal one. “What is your length like? His length translates into rebounds and steals.”

It might be tough watching RHJ playing Andre Drummond, but Al Horford doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. How about Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez?

Of course, Atkinson didn’t commit to anything, saying only that it’s “very possible.” With the Nets roster heavily loaded with wings and guards, expect a lot of experimentation. You play the game with the players who have.

That experimentation starts for real on Tuesday when the Nets travel to Madison Square Garden for the opening night of preseason. Atkinson has said he has a starting lineup “way back in here,” pointing to his head.

For his part, Hollis-Jefferson trained a bit over the offseason with Zach Randolph, who knows how to use his body —and his range of post moves— to be effective. What did he learn?

“I would say footwork stuff, ball handling, kind of just being able to attack the guy downhill,” he told Draft Express at Media Day. “Change of motion / speeds, which was great... The mental side of basketball is really big...”

One player the Nets would like to see, Allen Crabbe, isn’t guaranteed to start or even play Tuesday. Crabbe sprained his left ankle in practice. X-rays came back negative, the Nets said, but there’s no word yet on the severity of the sprain of how long he will be out. We’ll probably know more Thursday. Crabbe had surgery on the same foot in May.

By all accounts, the Nets put in an “intense” practice Wednesday.

“[The theme was] compete. This is a high-intensity day,” Atkinson said. “We competed in a lot of drills. Between teaching, fundamentals. and live play, we broke it down 3-on-3 stuff and finished up full-court. It was hard. DeMarre [Carroll] came up to me and said that was one of the hardest practices. That was the plan.”

Carroll has said this is as healthy as he’s been since his days with the Hawks when Atkinson was Atlanta’s assistant coach for development.

“It’s a great opportunity for me, especially to play with one of the coaches who helped my game,” Carroll told beat writers. “I’m just actually excited to be healthy and to be here and play with these guys.”