The Nets did a lot of good things this off-season. One thing they didn’t do? Acquire stretch bigs.
Brooklyn’s offense is built much like Golden State and Houston’s. They like to play small ball while shooting a ton of threes. The only problem is that they didn’t have the weapons both of those teams do, and they might run into a similar issue this upcoming season.
In order to run the offense as efficient as they’d like, they need stretch bigs. The tried to turn Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham into 3-point specialists at the power forward spot last season. The two combined they shot an even 40 percent after the break ... 52-of-130. DeMarre Carroll, a natural small forward, shot 39 percent in that same period. (The Nets were fifth in deep shooting after the break, led by Joe Harris’ 47.1 percent, best in the NBA.)
The Nets lost Cunningham to San Antonio and renounced Acy. Both enabled the Nets to play the way Kenny Atkinson wants with four guys around the perimeter. This not only gave them four 3-point threats, but it also opened up the paint by forcing the rim protector out of his normal position.
Despite the high praise for Sean Marks this free agency, it’s undoubtedly one of the biggest issues as the Nets look forward to next season. They once again run into a contradiction between their personnel and system.
When asked about Jahlil Okafor, Marks somewhat hinted how it’s a need that might not be addressed.
”Obviously we want floor-spacers; that’s a key to this. We’ll see if that happens over the course of between now and training camp if we get somebody in who does that, or we just roll with the guys we have,” he said at Tuesday’s free agency press conference.
And indeed, hours later, the Nets signed Treveon Graham, who has shot a torrid 43.8 percent from deep over his short NBA career. He’s played some minutes —99 last year— at the 4, but that’s not what fans expected.
So, at least on the surface, It’s going to be awfully tough to play this way without stretch bigs. Sure you can put Carroll at the 4, but that isn’t his natural position. Aside from him, it doesn’t look too promising. Jarrett Allen isn’t a threat from deep (yet) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a career 24 percent 3-point shooter. Maybe he’ll improve and surprise us.
Meanwhile, out of the newcomers, Darrell Arthur is the only one other than Graham who can spread the floor, shooting 35 percent throughout his career, but Arthur played 141 minutes last season, troubled by a sore knee. Other than him, Ed Davis has attempted two 3-pointers over his nine-year career —missing both— and Kenneth Faried has hit just 2-of-20 throughout his career. Adam Harrington, the Nets director of player development and shooting specialist, has had great luck turning mediocre shooters into good shooters, but let’s face it, he isn’t a miracle worker.
Maybe the Nets find some luck with their raw draft picks, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs, both 6’9” sharpshooters. Only problem is that both aren’t yet strong enough to cover opposing power forwards or centers. They will get bullied down low.
Marks wouldn’t say they could help this year, wouldn’t say they wouldn’t either.
“I think we get in trouble when we say ‘this guy’s going to be ready in a year, six months, three years’ because you never know how players are going to develop,” he told NetsDaily. “I think Jarrett Allen is the perfect example of that because of how quickly he’s developing. Everybody’s development curve is different.”
There’s no doubt that Marks et al understand the need for a stretch 4, as he noted back in April when talking about the off-season priorities.
“There is a lot of it that involves analytics here,” said Marks at the season-ending press conference. “Obviously the roster build, you look at the way the NBA is going and has gone, the way teams are playing size-wise, the skill sets that are needed not only from a shooting guard but from across the board what the talent and skill set looking at 4’s and 5’s stretching the floor and the pacing of the game and everything else.
“In conjunction [with that], we try to build a roster that suits Kenny’s vision for that, but also where the NBA is going and where we can find advantages for us.”
When Atkinson first took over, one of the main points we noted was you have to fill four perimeter spots with shooters at all times. Corner, foul-line extended, high elbow gives you six possible places for those four guys to be.
They’ll continue to do that even if said player isn’t a threat from deep, which can be problematic. It becomes an issue for the wings. Defenders can cheat over a little when Nets swing the ball around the perimeter and force double-teams.
And this is assuming Brooklyn’s key players can improve their stroke! D’Angelo Russell didn’t shoot better than 32 percent from deep last season (36.4 percent after the break), nor did Spencer Dinwiddie, who was the only key Net to see his shooting decline after the break. Caris LeVert got better as the season went on —hitting 37.3 after Febraury— but still didn’t surpass 34 percent for the season. Nik Stauskas played limited minutes but shot an impressive 40 percent on 99 attempts. He’s now in Portland.
The Nets were bottom-10 for 3-point percentage last season, even after that late season explosion, while attempting the second-most 3-pointers in the NBA. They got more athletic by adding Faried and Davis with Allen and Hollis-Jefferson, but once again, it looks like the Nets will lack perimeter shooting in the frontcourt.
If they want to play to their advantage by going small, this is going to haunt them.