Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before.
“A long-term process.”
Steve Nash doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on his key pillars––his holy basketball principles––for the Nets heading into Brooklyn’s first preseason game against the Washington Wizards. And again, he made one thing very clear: “Defense will be the priority.”
Though he was kind of enough to list out the starting lineup for Sunday’s (in his words) “dress rehearsal”––Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, and DeAndre Jordan––Nash made it known that the big guy, Brooklyn’s “sleeping giant,” the greatest free agency signing in franchise history will be taking on more than just one solitary positional responsibility.
“Kevin will offensively play all 5 positions,” said Nash. He continued, “and potentially guard all 5 positions.”
Teammate and FOK² (friend of Kevin and Kyrie) Taurean Prince took it one step further.
“We could open with us playing Kevin at the 1....”
The Nets are ready to get funky. They’re prepared to break positional parameters if the situation calls for it. Nash has preached many things so far, but flexibility in what should be a long-term team-building process is perhaps most paramount in his eyes.
At the heart of all of this is a guy that could be the most multi-positional player in the entire league––if used correctly. He can run the pick-and-roll––on both ends—with an efficiency that rivals the league’s best creators (85th percentile pick-and-roll ball-handler in 2018-2019) while creating vertical gravity that we mostly see from prototypical bigs (92nd percentile roll-man in 2017-2018). He can also block shots in big moments like, well, a center!: Over his three-year Warrior tenure, Durant pinned 1.2 shots to the glass per game in the postseason. Did I mention he’s perhaps a slightly underrated playmaker?
He’s a cheat code in every sense of the word; he’s a Street Fighter combo attack in basketball form; he’s an iPhone keystroke shortcut as a multi-level scorer, who can also pass, cross dudes up from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and protect the weak-side with a shot-blocking 7’5” wingspan.
Of anything from Nash’s presser, his willingness to toy with Durant on defense admittedly caught me off-guard. To hear his name announced as the starting power forward in the very first game of the Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant era wasn’t all that surprising. After all, he’s one of only three healthy Nets players that stands 6’10” or taller.
But the idea of him guarding ball-handlers in pick-and-roll switches (Nash’s example from the Saturday presser). Now, THAT is interesting. What other assignments will he take on? Will he guard shooters curling around screens in “floppy” sets? Will he take on bulkier matchups in the post? Could he play free safety and pick off foolish kick-out passes while opposing bigs attempt to create on the short-roll?
Look, I get it. The game is almost entirely entrenched in “multipositional” thinking. We’ve heard that buzzword a million or so times. Players are expected to do a variety of different tasks at different points in games. Centers are now expected to be able to shoot coming into the league. Three-point shooters are expected to fulfill the defensive end of the 3-and-D label; for defensive specialists, it’s vice-versa. Point-guards are asked to do more than just distribute––they must score, space the floor, and scoot around screens to the best of their abilities. Durant taking on a multitude of duties on defense quarter-to-quarter, minute-to-minute isn’t exactly mind-blowing.
What Nash’s statements do suggest, however, is that Brooklyn’s best player is feeling good. He’s healthy. Nash feels confident in Durant’s abilities on both ends of the floor.
All of those questions we had about KD months ago? Could he hold his own in the post? Can he defend in switches? Would his body––fresh off an 18-month absence––allow Durant to fully unleash his well-versed skillset? For now, those worries can rest easy. At least, that’s what Nash is indicating.
And to be truthful, Steve Nash almost has to believe in Kevin Durant’s return to form. He’s more than Brooklyn’s best player; Durant is the all-purpose Swiss Army Knife that could be integral to the defensive culture Nash is hoping to cultivate. He’s the only player that can capably maneuver around the floor like a guard, physically match up with just about every type of opponent (see: he’s tall!), and execute twelve seasons-worth of NBA seasoning to digest and comprehend any and all opposing offenses.
Optimism from the man in charge––an all-time NBA great in his own right who has seen his fair share of successes and failures––is riding high coming into the preseason. And I mean, c’mon, given how close Durant and Nash are, do you really think Durant wouldn’t sign off on any of this?