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The BIG Need: Stopping other bigs

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Nets front office may talk “best player available” when discussing the draft and free agency but fans want the team to focus big on bigs.

To a certain degree, Sean Marks agrees but always adds the caveat that the team needs a lot of things.

“You mention size and physicality being one area which, yes, we’d definitely like to upgrade in that area. But there’s other areas too we need to add – We’re not missing (just) one piece.”

Net fans complained loud and long during last season about the lack of quality bigs on the roster and they were right to. The numbers back them up.

Going in, everyone knew that the Nets would struggle on the interior – Timofey Mozgov was Brook Lopez’s successor at center with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson developing by his side a small ball (6’7”) power forward – and they did, very much so.

In their 28-54 season, the Nets were outrebounded 44 times in 82 games. Not great, not that terrible. However, in those 44 games, they won only 25% of the time, putting forth a record of 11-33, and were dominated (by 10 or more boards) on 16 separate occasions. And even in games where they won the rebounding battle tied their opponents on the boards, they were only 17-19.

So how will they get better? Internal development? Off-season acquisitions? In April, Marks said both.

“Jarrett (Allen) being 20, he’s going to mature physically, and develop in that regard. But also we’re going to constantly try to tweak and change and upgrade the roster,” he said at the end of-the-season press conference.

Allen of course took some to develop. The Mozgov experiment lasted 13 games, and after averaging 5.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 15.7 minutes, the Nets first opted for Tyler Zeller, with a few spot starts from Trevor Booker before he was dealt in December to Philly.

From that point on, the Nets were simply waiting for The Fro.

The good news was that Allen led all rookies in blocks, was seventh in rebounds per game, averaged 10.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 23.8 minutes through his 31 starts. He will likely be named to the All-Rookie Second Team in June’s postseason awards. Although he’s shown to be a core piece and the center of the future, his advancements alone won’t eradicate their woes.

So who does Marks like? He wasn’t saying who he’s targeting.

“Do you want me to give you the names?” Marks asked rhetorically with a laugh at that same press conference before once again pointing to the team’s other needs.

“Yes, that would be terrific, but – I think it’s across the board. If we say it’s just front court … yeah, is there a bit of a hole there? True. For sure. But let’s be strategic in how we build across the board 1 through 5, adding length, adding size, physicality to help on the defensive end specifically. Yes, that would be a goal.”

It’s all about flexibility, he says.

“When we’re doing this retooling and reshaping of the Nets, we’re going to have to be pretty flexible and know when we need to pivot and when we need to change and say look can we upgrade here? Is that enough? Where should our focus lie? It’d be a mistake if we said we only need a four or we only need a point guard or whatever it may be. We’ve got to stay flexible and strategic in how we view our roster,” added Marks, insisting that the frontcourt is not the premier priority, but one of several.

Still, the Nets’ leading rebounder this past season was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. At 6.8 boards (and 13.9 points) he demonstrated a comfort level at the 4 not seen when he played on the perimeter during his first two seasons in the league.

And if the Nets don’t improve, individual opponents – from Myles Turner on opening night all the way down to Shane Larkin to end the season – will continue to lick their lips when they see “Brooklyn” on the schedule.

Opposing players managed to grab 10 or more boards against the Nets 92 different times during the course of the season. On 40 separate occasions, the Nets allowed opposing bigs to score 20 or more points on their frontline, with 27 going for 20 and at least 10 boards. That does not include a pair of high scoring (30 and 26 points, respectively) games from Kristaps Porzingis, because they both ended at nine pulldowns, nor does it include a 19-point, 18-rebound game from John Henson on February 4.

However, what it does include are five different 40-point games from bigs, beginning with Nikola Vucevic on October 20’s home opener, and ending with 44 (and 17 rebounds) from Anthony Davis on February 11. Even Brook Lopez plastered the Nets for 34 and 10 in his first shot at his old team back in November, one of 10 30+ scoring games where the Nets were victimized by opposing bigs. Both Vucevic and Aaron Gordon had career highs!

On the other side of the box score, Brooklyn bigs put up 20 or more points, with Hollis-Jefferson having 11 of those by himself, the other five from Allen, Zeller, Booker, Quincy Acy and yes, Jahlil Okafor.

How about 10 or more rebounds? That happened 44 times (four from guards), led by 14 from DeMarre Carroll and 12 from Hollis-Jefferson.

And 20 and 10 games from their own frontcourt? Just six times. Four from The Hyphen and one each from Booker and Dante Cunningham.

No question, the Nets are doing their due diligence on bigs in the draft, but Sagaba Konate, Moe Wagner and or Omari Spellman alone won’t solve the issue. And free agency? Who knows? That’s a well guarded secret.

Will they go for broke and tender offer sheets to Gordon or Julius Randle? Take a chance on fallen angels like Nerlens Noel or Alex Len? Get in on the bidding for Kevin Looney? Give Okafor one more chance?

Despite Marks protestations that they need a lot — and they do — if they don’t improve down low, they’re not going to improve.

Simply put, rebounding is a huge problem, and one that they are not going to solve alone with Allen’s development.