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Can Kyrie, Caris and Spencer work together when healthy? Stats guy takes his shot

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Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Kenny Atkinson has said that he and his coaching staff believe strongly that a line-up of Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie can work together on court, but what doe the stats say?

Seth Partnow of The Athletic took a shot at it —and other issues, and believes that it could work but it will take some management by Atkinson. There are a couple of issues, Partnow writes, one is obvious, the other less so.

In general, having your best players on the court together is good!

However, “good” is almost always contextual, and the oncourt fit of those three players together is imperfect. Even looking just at the offensive end, their skill sets are more overlapping than complementary. All three are somewhat ball dominant, with Dinwiddie and Irving both above the 90th percentile in time of possession percentage. Neither Dinwiddie nor LeVert are particularly effective off-ball players, and while Irving is reliable in terms of catch-and-shoot efficiency, he’s also the Nets’ most efficient creator in terms of getting looks for himself.

So while these may be the three most talented players, it could easily be a too many cooks situation whereby lineup combinations are more effective with off-ball players like Joe Harris or Taurean Prince in the game instead of one of those top three.

That’s the obvious issue. But Partnow writes there is another: defense.

[I]n the small sample the trio has shared the court — 138 non-garbage time possessions — the Nets scored extremely efficiently, 115.9 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. However, that lineup appears very vulnerable defensively, giving up 113.7 points/100 and allowing opponents to rebound almost 35 percent on their own misses. Lineups with two of the three on court have scored at similar efficiencies while not getting caved in quite so badly on defense.

Bottom line, writes Partnow, is that running the trio together isn’t a bad idea, if used judiciously. He also suggests that while some might think having three stars in the backcourt might hurt roster-building, Dinwiddie and LeVert have “reasonable enough contracts” to make things manageable (at least until Dinwiddie is due for an extension next summer.)

And what adding Kevin Durant to the mix? Whenever that happens. Partnow suggests that even with some decline —”one has to have some concern if he can regain MVP-level form”— he can be “an offense unto himself.”

[E]ven a somewhat diminished Durant is an exceptional shotmaking threat in essentially any scenario or split. For his career, he’s scored at 73.3 percent at the rim. He’s hit 45 percent of his midrange shots and 38 percent of his 3s, despite less than 20 percent of his 3s being uncontested. Prior to arriving in Golden State, he had spent years redefining the frontier of what was possible in terms of combined usage and efficiency. Since 2010-11, every Durant team has been in the 86th percentile or better in offensive efficiency with him on the floor. It is not an overstatement to say that pre-injury, he was an elite offense unto himself. I think that solves some problems.

Will KD return at the same level? His manager and business partner, Rich Kleiman has said he’s confident Durant will look the same and despite the declines experienced by others, Marc Stein and others have pointed out that each of those players were older when they went down and that Durant has a dogged work ethic. Everyone both on an off the record say KD has been working extremely hard —like a machine, as one insider put it. Not to mention, sports medicine and sports science have improved dramatically.

Partnow also looks at the team’s new players and suggests that with KD’s return, Garrett Temple may be the biggest beneficiary, more so than Taurean Price who likely become Durant’s back-up.

That said, my strong intuition is that with Durant back in the fold, Temple’s defensive ability and versatility will become more useful than has been Prince’s floor spacing. Between Durant, Irving and Dinwiddie, the team won’t need a ton from the other two positions offensively, and Temple has been a significantly better defender than Prince over their respective recent careers — in three-year Defensive RAPM (one of my preferred catchall stats for estimating defensive impact), Temple is 87th (Good!), while Prince is 711th (Not!).

Partnow also has kind words for DeAndre Jordan whose athleticism may be declining but whose rebounding and defense can come in handy during the playoffs.

Unsurprisingly, given their ages and Jordan’s declining athleticism, Allen has been a far more active rim defender, even though Jordan remains a considerable barrier at the rim when he does get in position...

Jordan does have a significant advantage as a rebounder, both from an individual standpoint but also in terms of impact on team rebounding. Allen has been perfectly sufficient in that area. Both are low usage, high efficiency “dunks only” dive men on offense, though impact metrics have rated Allen’s play more highly on offense than Jordan’s this year.

Though it’s not really a consideration for this year, as the Nets don’t have realistic aspirations for a deep playoff run, Jordan’s bulk could be important in some matchups. I don’t think Nets fans are especially eager for Allen to have to defend Joel Embiid in the post for an entire playoff series again, for example.

With a third of the season to go (half if you make a deep playoff run), the Nets surprisingly have a lot of unanswered questions, mainly due to the spate of injuries they’ve suffered. Expect answers.