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ANALYSIS: Brooklyn’s roster is deep and versatile; how might Steve Nash make it work?

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With so much depth and versatility, Steve Nash should have plenty of different lineups to experiment with.

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Brooklyn has largely maintained the core of last year’s roster (for now... you get the point). Of course, the Nets will now get two big “additions” that change everything — Kevin Durant and a full season of Kyrie Irving. Pundits can grade teams on who they added in the Draft, free agency and trades. The Nets upgrade is internal (and huge!)

Brooklyn did tweak things around the edges; upgrading the roster spots held last season by Dzanan Musa, Garrett Temple, and Wilson Chandler with new acquisitions Landry Shamet, Bruce Brown, and Jeff Green. Monday night, we got word that Elie Okobo, the Suns free agent point guard, will be joining Brooklyn in some capacity.

All in all, Steve Nash looks like he’ll have a overabundance of options at his disposal. Brooklyn boasts one of the deepest and most versatile rosters in the NBA ... and so far, they are all healthy.

Along with managing the egos of a star-laden Nets squad with high expectations in his first season at the helm, Nash will be tasked with deciphering how best to mix and match this roster. What Sean Marks calls, “the fit.”

In Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert, Brooklyn maintains likely the most devastating trio of guards in the entire NBA. While questions remain about Dinwiddie and LeVert’s ability to fit as complementary pieces — needing to play off-the-ball more — all three guards possess adequate size to guard both backcourt positions as well as dynamic abilities to break defenders down off-the-dribble on the other end.

All of them can’t be guarded 1-on-1. That alone should lead to plenty of open looks for shooters like Joe Harris and Landry Shamet on drive-and-kick options as well as dump-offs at the rim for bigs like DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen.

Harris, re-signed in the offseason for four years and $72 million, should remain an integral part of Brooklyn’s offensive attack. According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, Harris shot 53.9 percent on “wide-open” three-pointers last season — the second best mark among the 154 players who attempted at least 100 of those shots. Harris was also one of seven players to shoot better than 50 percent on at least 50 corner three-point attempts — arguably the most sought after shot in basketball.

As one of the league’s most elite shooters, the former three-point champ’s value was on full display this off-season — he’s now the third highest paid player on Brooklyn’s roster with a roughly $16.1 million paycheck for 2020-2021. Shooters get paid in the new NBA. Nash and his offensive guru Mike D’Antoni must be drooling thinking about all those open looks Harris might see in lineups that start with KD and Ky.

Shamet was an underrated pickup. The former Sixers and Clippers guard enters his third NBA season as a career 40.2 percent three-point shooter on solid volume at 5.2 three-point attempts per game. That’s currently 13th among active NBA players. (Harris is fifth.)

Shamet’s a high IQ player that understands how to play next to start talent — he has shared the floor with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons in his first two NBA seasons. Shamet’s quick decision-making and ability to contort his body while curling around screens for 3-point looks should give Nash and the Nets plenty to work with. When combined with Harris, the Nets should drive teams nuts having to deal with two snipers on the wing.

Nets ald have the stud ball-handlers in Irving, Dinwiddie, and LeVert to knife info opposing defenses at ease, snipers to space the floor in Harris and Shamet, but they also have a number of versatile forwards.

It feels constricting to characterize KD as just a versatile forward. The two-time champion and former MVP does so much on both ends — operating as a rim protector defensively (he has a 7’6” wingspan, longest on the roster) and sometimes a point guard on the other. In a truly position-less league where every team is looking to improve its versatility, Durant is a true unicorn. His ability to protect the paint at a near elite level — sporting the 11th best defensive field goal percentage allowed in the 2018-2019 season and averaging 1.5 blocks per game as a Warrior — should allow the Nets the option of playing Durant at the 5. As Nash said back in September, “Kevin can play all five positions and I plan to use him in all five positions.”

In addition to Durant, Brooklyn added veteran Jeff Green to the mix. Green, a 13-year pro, had a resurgent season in Houston last year with new Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni experimented with the 6’9’’ 235 pound Green as a stretch 5 and found much success. Houston’s took advantage of Green’s versatility as a shooter, ball-handler, and defender — incorporating him in pick-and-pop actions, big/small pick-and-rolls with Green as the ball-handler, and utilized Green’s ability to guard multiple positions with their “switch everything” defensive scheme. With D’Antoni on board in Brooklyn, expect the Nets to utilize Green similarly.

Then there’s the incumbent — the much maligned Taurean Prince. Nets fans had high hopes for Prince last year after a scorching hot start to the preseason. On top of that early success, Prince had a track record of strong shooting in Atlanta — torching the nets from behind the arc to a tune of 38 percent across his Hawks career.

Many around the Nets organization thought Prince could be the stretch 4 the organization has long been waiting for and a capable stopgap during Durant’s gap season. Long story short, Prince struggled mightily, shooting just 38 percent from the floor and an uncharacteristically low 34 percent from three. Now sliding back down to the 3, there’s hope Prince can rebound and justify his big ($29.2 million over two) extension with a smaller burden. If productive, Prince fits the profile of exactly what the Nets are looking for — a big 3-and-D wing.

Last, but not forgotten — “Brooklyn’s Bigs.” The Nets didn’t trademark that phrase like they did “Brooklyn’s Backcourt” back in the Deron Williams Joe Johnson days. Maybe they should.

DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen are back for another season to form one of the league’s more solid center duos. There’s also the hope of a second year breakout from Nicolas Claxton — the Nets have high hopes. Jordan and Allen both provide the Nets with similar impact — two efficient lobs and blocks type rim rollers that should open up the floor with their vertical spacing.

Allen scored 1.37 points per possession as a roll-man last season, which as Schuhmann noted, was the best mark among the 26 players who averaged at least 2.5 roll-man possessions per game. While Allen and Jordan stay true to the paint on both ends, Claxton provides the hope of more versatility. In a small sample last season (187 minutes) as well as his play at Georgia and in the G League, Claxton showed the potential to guard multiple positions on switches as well as space the floor with a perimeter jumper. Should Claxton take a leap this season, Nash and the Nets will have yet another versatile weapon at their disposal. (And we haven’t even mentioned Reggie Perry who the Nets are very high on despite his having to wait till the No. 57 pick to hear his name called.)

With the rotation pieces now laid out, here are the five lineups we’re most intrigued by heading into the season.

1) Kyrie Irving—Spencer Dinwiddie—Caris LeVert—Joe Harris—Kevin Durant

In an ideal world, Brooklyn will find success with their best five players on the floor. In this re-imagined “death lineup,” Brooklyn lacks the defensive expertise Golden State once possessed, however, they’ll hope to override that flaw with otherworldly offense. With Irving, Durant, and Harris, Brooklyn will have three elite shooters on the floor and while Dinwiddie and LeVert aren’t more than average shooters from deep, they’re good enough to command respect from opposing teams and allow the Nets to play a devastating version of 5-out basketball, a D’Antoni favorite. With these five on the floor at once, teams will be forced to man up defensively and guard the Nets 1-on-1 — never a wise strategy when Durant and Irving are in the mix.

2) Kyrie Irving—Landry Shamet—Joe Harris—Kevin Durant—DeAndre Jordan/Jarrett Allen

Picture this: Irving has the ball. Shamet, Harris, and Durant are spaced out across the 3-point arc. Three elite shooters that defenders absolutely cannot leave. Jordan or Allen — they’re rather interchangeable — come up to set Irving a screen. With three defenders out of the picture — glued to Shamet, Harris, and Durant — defenses are left to defend an Irving-big pick and roll without any weakside help — if they do it’s an open three. With Irving’s ability to break down defenses, there isn’t a defensive scheme in the world that could defend this Nets five-man group. This is just one potential — rather simple — offensive set for this unit to run with. The Nets can also run two-man actions with KD and Ky, placing Jordan in the dunker spot Nash could even insert Jeff Green as the small-ball five to space more. More on that...

3) Spencer Dinwiddie—Caris LeVert—Taurean Prince—Kevin Durant—Jeff Green

Here, the Nets would run out a lineup where every player is between 6’5’’ and 6’9’’. The idea behind this group is maximum versatility — switch EVERYTHING defensively. Again, the Nets would have five shooters on the floor at once, allowing Dinwiddie and LeVert to get downhill and attack the rim with ease while opposing bigs are forced to track Durant and Green on the perimeter. The length and versatility this group possesses would be a nice complement to Durant’s otherworldly offensive ability. This would be an interesting lineup for Nash to play with when Irving is on the bench.

4) Kyrie Irving—Bruce Brown—Caris LeVert—Kevin Durant—Nic Claxton

Got a need for speed? This is your lineup! The goal of this lineup would be simple — get into opponents defensively, cause turnovers, and get out in transition. While both Irving and LeVert are far from above average defenders, they both have active hands and often force turnovers. Across their careers, Irving and LeVert both have steal percentages of 2.0. Brown — known as a competitive, hard-nosed defender, capable of taking off the head of an opposing team’s snake — had a steal rate of 1.9 last season. Then there’s KD and Clax, two rangy front-court players than can switch out defensively and put pressure on opposing players. Durant and Claxton both possess high level athleticism for 4s and 5s and because of this, they’ll be able to pressure ball-handlers without the fear of getting beat off-the-dribble. This lineup has the potential of being one of the more entertaining Nets lineups, leading to lots of transition highlights.

5) Kyrie Irving—Joe Harris—Kevin Durant—Jeff Green—DeAndre Jordan

The ‘Clean Sweep Crew’ plus two. KD, Kyrie, and DeAndre all joined forces in Brooklyn last offseason and it will be interesting to see them on the court together as a trio. Add on another FOK (friend of Kevin) in Jeff Green — the two have been friends since before the league and were teammates in Seattle and Oklahoma City — and this group has the necessary chemistry and veteran experience to withstand the pivotal points of games. Nets could get creative with the fifth man of this unit, but I’m opting for Harris. Harris will give the other four the spacing they need and provide the type of high IQ and competitive play that veterans respect.

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These are just a few of the many lineup options Steve Nash will have at his disposal this season. None of them take into account internal improvements. Suppose Jarrett Allen improves from mid-range., for example. Then, there’s the large scale change, bringing in James Harden, the ultimate “third star” or getting another big in return for Spence Dinwiddie. Even without any change —and Sean Marks says, “I sincerely mean it when I say I like this group that we have, the first year coach has an embarrassment of riches to pull from and it’s only right that fans can’t wait to see it all unfold, starting with the beginning of training camp on Tuesday.

Any other lineups you’re looking forward to see? Let us know!