It’s about that time of the year that we take a look at what the Nets’ depth chart is looking like heading into training camp and preseason.
We begin with points guards.*
I say point guards with an asterisk next to it because the Nets play position-less basketball. Kenny Atkinson has separated positioning by three categories: playmakers, wings, and bigs. Sean Marks has even said the team is in "talent acquisition mode”; it’s all about getting the best player and letting Kenny sort it out. Still, the game is played with positions and the Nets have dealt with point guard issues for three consecutive seasons.
They have not had a legitimate creator in the backcourt since Deron Williams was healthy.
Let’s take a look at who they have and what their role would be. We offer up a depth chart with zero knowledge behind Kenny Atkinson’s thinking.
1. Jeremy Lin - PG/SG
Obviously the key to Lin’s season is his health. He was sidelined in 46 games last season due to a lingering hamstring injury. In the games he did play, however, Lin made an impact in the box score and, maybe even more importantly, as a leader. THAT may be his greatest value.
The Nets restricted his minutes. Besides, the Nets motion offense limits minutes anyway. Can't have players keep up the league's fastest pace without more rest: minutes are more evenly distributed than in a normal NBA offense.
Still, Lin averaged 14 points and five assists in less than 25 minutes. The Nets finished the season with an 11-13 record in March and April after Lin returned. Compare that to the 1-27 stretch during December and January when Lin sat out in almost every game.
Lin is crucial to the Nets becoming a relevant team in the East again, and it will be on him to lead the young team. He took a discount to play with the struggling Nets because of his relationship with Kenny Atkinson. He’s a team guy, but he’s a competitor as well.
There's no position where "position-less" means more than at "point guard" or "lead guard" or whatever you want to call it. Lin and D’Angelo Russell may get equal time running at the two backcourt positions— both have experience doing that— but Lin will likely be the starting "point guard" on opening night… whatever that means.
2. D’Angelo Russell - PG/SG
So much has been written and said about D’Angelo Russell’s ability to score, to go off on any given night, that his passing, his court vision has been obscured. He has some work to do particularly in a brand-new motion offense that he’s still learning, but expect “DLo” to get plenty of touches in the backcourt. He’s a great floor general with great floor vision, as seen during his days at Ohio State and, most recently, his two seasons in Los Angeles where he averaged five assists while sharing point guard duties.
There are a number of reasons why D’Angelo fits well in Atkinson’s motion offense. First and foremost, it will give Lin a chance to play off the ball and find open looks on the perimeter. Also, as we’ve seen, Russell loves to push the ball. If you watched the Nets last year, you know that essentially everybody on the floor has the green light to dribble up the floor, whether it be for a fastbreak opportunity or to simply get the Nets into their offensive set without killing too much of the shot clock. (Ask Trevor Booker!)
His pick-and-roll game is solid enough to open up opportunities for guys off the ball ... and himself. He’s a weapon from anywhere on the floor, including in the post, where he can be a scorer or playmaker.
And don't underestimate his length and what that means in regard to Atkinson’s vision. He’s 6’5” with a 6’9.75” wingspan. This fits Kenny Atkinson’s vision on both offense and defense. He was made to be a point guard in the motion offense, but combo guard Jeremy Lin should bode well for Russell to expand his game in different roles.
This is where it gets tricky…
Both Isaiah Whitehead and Spencer Dinwiddie got time as starters and/or backups last year. Neither really moved the needle – the Nets’ 1-27 stretch coming with the young and inexperienced Whitehead starting at the point. Same for Dinwiddie, who had several inconsistent stretches, but took care of the ball and showed serious potential towards the end of the season.
3. Spencer Dinwiddie - PG/SG/SF
Dinwiddie is an interesting case because he’s a 6’6” lanky combo guard who fits Atkinson’s vision of long guards/playmakers. He reminds me a bit of a poor-man’s Shaun Livingston during the 2013-2014 season – a reliable backup who takes care of the ball and comes up with a lot of deflections due to his length in the passing lanes versus smaller guards. He was inconsistent at times, but he showed serious growth with practice time under Atkinson and his staff. One example: drawing fouls behind the three-point line. It shows high basketball IQ. So does his ability to take care of the ball —he went three straight games last year without a turnover— and learning little things. Dinwiddie is only 24.
There was a reason he was kept over Yogi Ferrell, and with a full summer with the Nets training staff, expect to see improvement from Dinwiddie.
4. Isaiah Whitehead - PG/SG
Whitehead was thrown into the water without knowing how to swim last year when both Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez got hurt. Sure he had some experience playing point guard in college, but he’s mostly a combo guard that can get to the hole and create opportunities to score buckets inside the paint. That’s what Whitehead does best, using his bulky stature and being able to body point guards and excel with the ball in his hands. His toughness and strength might be his best feature if he wants time at the one.
He had his faults as a rookie, but he progressed as the season grew older. He’ll get time at the shooting guard position as well, certainly in a three – maybe even – four guard set. He should flourish in different roles without the hefty duty of carrying the starting point guard role. That being said, he’ll need to shoot better than 29.5 percent from deep and his assist to turnover ratio (2.6:2.0) needs to improve if he’s going to handle the rock.
And remember what Atkinson said in summer league, that he can see Whitehead playing some small forward in the mode of Marcus Smart. He'll need to improve his three-point shot for that to work.
It’s tricky picking apart who’s going to be playing where in Brooklyn’s case. Like I mentioned, Atkinson sees it more as a playmakers, wings, and bigs type of league. The Nets have more players worthy of handling the rock, namely Caris LeVert and Sean Kilpatrick. Even camp-invite Milton Doyle is worth keeping an eye on for that last roster spot.
The point guard spot has been an issue for a long time now, but if Lin can stay healthy and Russell handles the motion offense well, then this is not the position the Nets need to be worried about.