With a lot of new faces — primarily front-court players — on the Nets roster, there has been a lot of speculation over what lineups Kenny Atkinson will use and ... what’s this we hear about a ‘stretch 5?’
On the final day of Nets training camp, Atkinson spoke to reporters about what lineups we can possibly see. There was a wide range.
”I think we’ll be able to play big, powerful. You could play Ed and Jarrett together. You could go small with DeMarre at the 4 and I think Kurucs at the 5 today. And you watch in the games, the exhibition games right now. You just see a lot of guards out there. That was part of the thinking of tweaking the offense a little bit where it fits a four-guard system. “
“I still like having that big guy out there, that one, Jarrett or Ed, just for rebounding and that rim-roller. But I definitely thinks we could see some more four-guard lineups.”
The two big takeaways from Atkinson’s comments are that he is hinting at a “stretch-5” big man who can float out beyond the arc ... and that he hasn’t given up on the smallest of small ball —four guards and a big man. (Also, it’s a bit of a surprise that Rodions Kurucs is one of an option for that stretch role.)
A “stretch 5” big man could play a significant role in either the Nets “small ball” or “big powerful” offense. Besides adding another shooter to the lineup, a deep shooting center can pull an opposing big man out of the paint, opening things up for driving, wheeling and dealing guards.
The obvious candidate for the “stretch 5” is Jarrett Allen, the Nets starting center who’s been building up his body and extending his range.
In his first healthy NBA off-season, Allen has done a good job working on his body. It’s evident that the 20-year-old Allen has spent some time in the weight room.
“ I’d say I put on more muscle mass, Allen told NetsDaily. “ I haven’t really gone to too much in the weight category but definitely got stronger.”
Mass was one area Allen had to improve on this off-season. He was bullied down low and even on the boards on both ends.
Now let’s get into the other reason, the big one, why Allen is a strongest candidate for the “stretch 5” position.
Allen has worked on a lot has been his shooting. Atkinson has said Allen shoots at least 100 three pointers per practice particularly from the corners. He did hit 5-of-15 from deep last season.
At Media Day, Allen told NetsDaily about his three-point shooting and the potential behind the new part of his game.
“I think it’s not going to be as big as people think it is. I just want to add it to my game and start building a base for it. I still know pick and roll is my main thing. If I’m open in the corner and time to set my feet, I’ll shoot it.”
Allen has stressed he will only confidently shoot threes from the corners which is a good area for him. It is enough space to get his guard out of the paint and for him to move around. (He’s also been seen practicing deep three’s from near the top of the arc.)
If Allen were to play the “stretch 5,” it would be a good fit if he can include consistent shooting into his play. Now, he does not always need to shoot the ball if at “stretch 5.” His main role will be to spread the floor and operate on pick-and-roll plays, using his good hands and quickness.
On the other hand, Allen has mentioned the improvement in three-point shooting Brook Lopez made the year before he was drafted. Lopez went from hitting 3-of-30 from deep in his first eight years as a Net to 134 three’s in his last year in Brooklyn. Only one seven-footer in NBA history made more in a season, Dirk Nowitzki. Lopez credits’ Atkinson giving him the green light for his improvement as a deep shooter.
Of course, the other thing needed to make it all work are solid seasons under the basket from traditional power forwards Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried backed up by Allan Williams and even Trevon Graham.
What was also interesting in Atkinson’s short discussion of having his 5 float out beyond arc is that he said Kurucs, who the Brooklyn Nets selected with the 40th overall pick in the Draft, has practicing at the “stretch 5” as well.
Kurucs does not have the right size and body for a traditional NBA center. He is 6’10” and on the skinny side of the scale for NBA players. At Media Day, Kurucs told NetsDaily that he has been working on his size and he has gained some weight.
“I’ve seen my body improving a bit, Kurucs said. “Yeah like 3 kilos (6.6 pounds).”
It’s not a big improvement but what it shows is that the Nets seem to be grooming Kurucs for a less than traditional role.
“I love it (the green light),” said Kurucs talking about the Nets philosophy. “Everyone is always telling me, be ready to shoot. That’s great because I like to shoot the ball. In Europe, it was different. You’re a young guy. You can’t just shoot. you have to respect the older players. Here, everybody is pushing you, everybody is helping you to get better. It’s hard in Europe for young players to get better in big teams.”
Atkinson said Tuesday that he liked what he’s seen from Kurucs (and fellow rookie Dzanan Musa. He even admits being a bit surprised.
“Skill level is the first thing that jumps out. They’re skilled,” said Atkinson. “They’re not just catch-and-shoot guys,” Atkinson offered. “I think there might be a perception that they’re spot up guys. Both drive to the rim, both are pretty good passers, both are competitors.”
Of course, as Kurucs admits he will have to develop —and get stronger— before he can play a significant role. Kurucs recognizes it will take some time. Offensively, his gifts, as enumerated by Atkinson, would help him get minutes in Brooklyn rather than Long Island. Defensively, though, he would get bullied on the defensive end.
Kurucs who told reporters after being drafted back in June that he can play the 2, 3 and 4 , said last week he can play any position.
“I can play all the positions coach wants from me.”
Overall, Kurucs at the “stretch 5” can be an option but Atkinson will have to balance around him. With Kurucs down low, he will need a traditional 4 like Ed Davis or Kenneth Faried by his side for defensive reasons.
But it shows the Nets are serious about inventing and developing him and Allen (who is actually two months younger), as bigs suited to play a more modern game. Might we see it Wednesday night? Don’t bet against it.