The Brooklyn Nets haven’t had a stable point guard since Deron Williams. Tough to hear, but it’s just the way things have gone since Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson’s came to Brooklyn two seasons back. They’ve yet to have a healthy starting or backup point guard.
They’re hoping that changes this season. Better yet, they need it to change this season.
It’s been their biggest pitfall. The first year under the new regime, Jeremy Lin missed 46 games due to a lingering hamstring injury that started six games into the season. Lin’s backup, Greivis Vasquez, played three games that season before undergoing surgery on his ankle, ultimately ending his season and tenure in Brooklyn.
It was a nightmare to say the least. The Nets shuffled between rookies Isaiah Whitehead and Yogi Ferrell, then eventually Spencer Dinwiddie. None got the job done.
Last season, Lin ruptured his patella tendon on Opening Night and missed the rest of the season. D’Angelo Russell had lingering knee issues that eventually required him to get surgery and miss 34 games. (He’s been working on his lower body strength this summer.) On the bright side, the Nets found a diamond in the rough in Spencer Dinwiddie, who finished second in voting for Most Improved Player.
Marks knew he had to change things up. Russell will lead the charge, but Marks held onto Dinwiddie to back-up (and play with) DLo then brought in 27-year-old Shabazz Napier, a VERY random signing.
Of course, at the same time, he got rid of Lin and Whitehead, two guards who played a total of 206 minutes in 16 games (in return for a first round pick in 2019; an unprotected and a protected pick in 2020 and draft rights to a 21-year-old French guard.)
“You can see what happened in the past where having depth at that position is something that we need,” said Marks when he was asked about bringing in Napier. “At any time where you’re able to add talent and add talent through depth as well, that’s something that will help us long-term.”
And in the short term?
Last year, Atkinson had a methodical way of using the two guards when they weren’t on the floor together. DLo would typically play the first 7 or 8 minutes of the first quarter. Dinwiddie would check in and take his place for the final minutes of the first and then play a big chunk of the second quarter with DLo on the bench. Either the two would finish out the half together or Russell would then take Dinwiddie’s spot. He often had the same method for the second half, too.
Now, Atkinson has some options. Napier is coming off his best season in the NBA, and during his first interview as a Brooklyn Net, he explained how Brooklyn’s willingness to play him off the ball is something that grabbed his attention. After all, he shot 37.6 percent from 3-point last season and 45 percent in catch-and-shoot situations.
“I don’t need to be on the ball, “he said. “I proved that when I was in Portland. I think that’s the reason why Kenny and I came to terms understanding this was a great fit for me.”
He’ll certainly get time off the ball with all the point guards on the roster, but he’s also going to get his chance to handle the rock and control the offense, particularly when Atkinson wants to play small ball. Napier isn’t your typical lanky point guard we’re used to seeing in Brooklyn. This might indicate that they’re going to use him in several different ways.
Then, of course, there’s Caris LeVert, who logged a good amount of time at point, serving as Dinwiddie’s backup until Russell return. His length made it tough on opposing point guards, particularly on the defensive end, because he was able to get his hands in passing lanes and force turnovers. Offensively, LeVert’s claim to fame was his chemistry with Jarrett Allen. The two played exceptionally well in the pick-and-roll.
“I don’t really try to define my position with one position, and say I’m a point guard or shooting guard,” LeVert said at the end of this past season. “I feel like I can do both things. I feel like I can bring a lot to the table. I would just say I’m a guard.”
That right there is the epitome of Atkinson’s system. Of course, you need players with traditional positions, but the Nets – and most of the NBA – are most intrigued by players who can play multiple positions. Those who can handle the rock and play the wing are the ones that are going to get paid.
There’s no set depth chart with the Nets and no one knows whether Dzanan Musa, who describes himself as a guard, will see any playing time. Sure, guys will be pinned for certain positions, but with the game reaching a point of position-less ball, it’s crucial the Nets have versatility in the backcourt.
But, before we start talking about versatility and guys being interchangeable, they need to show that they can stay healthy for a full season. It hasn’t happened, and they need that to change in order for this to be a successful season.