Per multiple reports, the NBA is back. As Thursday’s NBA Board of Governors meeting nears, the league is planning to propose a 22-team resumed season in Orlando, from July 31 to as late as October 12th.
With the vote widely expected to gain approval from league governors, many Nets fans now have their sights set on what lies ahead. For Brooklyn, their playoff expectations are largely dependent on whether their two stars — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — are deemed healthy enough to return and capable of handling the chosen format. As Spencer Dinwiddie said on ESPN’s ‘First Take’ last week, whether KD and Kyrie return is the ‘billion dollar question’ on everyone’s minds.
The Nets currently sit below .500 at 30-34, seventh in the Eastern Conference. Given the team’s performance prior to the league’s stoppage, the Nets weren’t expected to be a real factor come playoff time. All that changes should Durant and Irving return. The Nets would go from a likely early playoff exit to a team that could potentially make a surprise Finals run.
Whether Durant and/or Irving return is a debate for another day — or everyday among Nets fans — so for this exercise, let’s assume KD and Kyrie are back and ready to roll.
If Durant and Irving are playing, they’re starters. That’s a lock and should go without saying. It’s also fair to assume DeAndre Jordan will be the Nets starting center. Jordan supplanted Jarrett Allen as the team’s starting five right before the league’s stoppage in what was Jacque Vaughn’s first meaningful adjustment as interim coach. With KD and Kyrie back in the mix, expect Jordan to stick in the starting lineup to maximize the minutes the ‘Clean Sweep’ trio plays together.
Caris LeVert should have a spot locked up as well. Prior to the break, LeVert was on an absolute tear, playing the best basketball of his career. Alongside Durant and Irving, LeVert should have the opportunity to prove himself as the team’s third star, dispelling any concerns about fit or the need for an upgrade. LeVert has averaged 21.4 points per game as a starter this season and prior to the league’s stoppage he poured home 51 points at Boston and a triple-double against San Antonio.
The fifth spot in the starting five could be heavily debated. The names in the mix — Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, and Wilson Chandler. Spencer Dinwiddie is most certainly a top-4 player on the team and has a good chance to close games, however, it’s doubtful Brooklyn would empty it’s bench to deploy an Irving-Dinwiddie-LeVert-Durant-Jordan lineup as its starting group.
While Harris is the best player of the three options and would thrive getting open looks next to Irving, Durant, and LeVert, Harris’ defensive limitations could leave the Nets vulnerable on the wing and would force Durant to take a heavier defensive burden than one might prefer post-injury. Bringing Harris off the bench alongside Dinwiddie and Allen could be deadly for the Nets. Sporting three of the four longest tenured Nets, that group could anchor the second unit with their chemistry and familiarity, giving the Nets a real edge over opposing teams’ benches.
Prince has had a rough first season in Brooklyn, but there’s hope he could rebound in a smaller role next to KD and Kyrie. Prince was a 40 percent three-point shooter while in Atlanta, so if he could return to those marks, he could be a valuable floor spacing piece next to the Nets stars. Prince needs to improve his corner three-point efficiency — he was among the league’s worst shooters this season — and his defensive consistency to match the standard of a Nets starting unit.
The third and final option to round out the starting five is Wilson Chandler — probably the best fit of the available options. Wilson Chandler started the final three games before the break and the Nets looked better with him in the lineup. Since his return from suspension in December, Chandler has become a steadying force and a major contributor to the team’s top-10 defense this season. In addition, a Chandler-Jordan-LeVert three-man lineup has produced a 104.7 defensive rating for Brooklyn and a 2.8 net rating. Add on Durant and Irving to that stout defensive trio and the Nets could be dangerous.
Chandler’s a big, multi-positional, versatile forward that possesses the strength and toughness to battle with opposing bigs. With Chandler in the starting five, the Nets could still play a four-out offense, but they could hide a freshly returned KD on a lesser offensive option while Chandler takes on the challenge of Pascal Siakam, Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, and the many other big forwards in the East. It’s important to note, just because Chandler starts, it doesn’t mean he will play 30 minutes per game. It will be matchup and performance based.
The Starting Five
6th - Spencer Dinwiddie
7th - Joe Harris
8th - Jarrett Allen
9th - Taurean Prince
10th - Garrett Temple
And don’t forget Chris Chiozza who played his way into the rotation just before the season was suspended in March 11.
Of course, who closes games is typically more important than who starts. For the Nets, it will largely depend on match-ups and how each player performed that night. If Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are back, they’d serve as the anchors for a versatile, deep Nets team ready to go on a deep playoff run.
Now, the billion dollar question — will KD and Kyrie return given the chosen format? Let the debate continue!
There was news today out of France. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot told an interviewer that KD has been ready for five months, meaning January, but TLC does not believe KD will play.
“I don’t think so,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot when asked if he thought Durant will play, according to a Google Translate. “I know he wants to play ... Here is a guy who’s been in great shape for five months and that he plays every day but I don’t know if he will resume this year.”
He was not asked why Durant wouldn’t play if he’s ready.
TLC is part of the so-called “Extra Work Crew” that’s been working out with Durant. He, like Chris Chiozza and Sean Marks, said the Nets superstar had been “unstoppable” and “a pain in the butt” in those sessions.
- A case for and case against Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant returning this season - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic New York