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The ULTIMATE Orlando ‘bubble’ Brooklyn Nets mailbag

2020 NBA Restart - All Access Practice Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Folks, we’ve done it. The long 134-day wait is finally over. Basketball is back. Though the Nets first scrimmage wasn’t exactly enticing, brighter times are hopefully on the horizon. To prepare for the three-month extravaganza of bubble-ball, I fielded a series of “mailbag” questions regarding the Orlando Brooklyn (Borlando?) Nets from the good folks on Twitter and Reddit. Let’s get started.

Best case scenario for the Nets in the bubble? - @RuFan130

Bruce, buddy, I’d love to sit here and tell you “the Nets could win a round!!” But then again, I was raised by my mother not to tell lies.

I’m not sure I’d give the Nets a single playoff victory against any of Milwaukee, Boston, and Toronto. Not a single game! As for their regular season schedule, the Nets could maybe go 4-4, splitting the series with Orlando, beating what’s left of Washington (talk about the kettle calling the pot black), screeching by Sacramento sans Marvin Bagley III, and finishing strong against Portland, who during the early stages of the resumption discussion did their best Eric Bledsoe impression by practically saying “I Dont wanna be here.” (Then again, Damian Lillard recently told Jason Quick of The Athletic, “we are coming here to make some noise.” So I’m not sure what to believe anymore.)

How’s that for rose colored glasses?

Can someone on the Nets (players/staff/etc) do a vlog too?? As much as I enjoy Matisse Thybulle’s vlog, I’d rather see behind the scenes of our team! - u/thefineart

Woah, this is some light years thinking. (Like, realll lights years thinking, and not just bringing Andrew Wiggins into the fold on the off-chance that Milwaukee fancies him. Ayo!)

What would the power rankings of “Nets Vloggers” look like? I’ll take a stab.

  1. Dzanan Musa: Vlogging requires a lot of self-confidence. You’ve gotta fill space between action scenes, make things appear more fun than they actually are, and inspire as much nauseating “FOMO” as humanly possible. Does it get more abundantly confident than Brooklyn’s 28-foot-bomber and Jamal Crawford sparkplug apprentice, Dzanan Musa? The man made shooting 36 percent from the field look like an all-expenses paid trip to the Bahamas (well, sh*t… so much for that). Who knows what he’s capable of behind the lens of a Canon M50.
  2. Joe Harris: While maybe not the most entertaining vlog per say, Joe’s Orlando footage would be simple and to the point; 14 hours a day of first-person catch-and-shoot practice via a GoPro. All without Harris exhaling once. Well, maybe once or twice, you’d see an ever-so-slight fist pump in the peripherals of that GoPro fisheye.
  3. Jarrett Allen: A recurring Twitch stream of ‘The Fro’ playing computer games from anywhere between 1995-2004. I can see the titles now:

10 hours of Putt Putt!”

Speed-running Freddie Fish!”

Playing Pajama Sam… in My Pajamas!”

Sign me the ‘f’ up. I love those games.

Predict Caris LeVert’s Stat Line - @BirdsNets

I mean, shoot, just how high can we go with some of these numbers? From Feb. 3rd (the 119-97 victory against the Phoenix Suns) and onward, tireless Caris LeVert posted a top-10 usage rate of 30% among an exclusive list of starry names. Since that time, LeVert’s already-slim cast of secondary and tertiary options has only dwindled further… to the point that I’m not even sure who the Nets second-most potent offensive option would be in the so-far impermeable Orlando “bubble.’ Is Brooklyn’s go-to secondary-scorer… 40-year-old Jamal Crawford? Joe Harris? The untested Chris Chiozza?

What I mean to say is that LeVert’s already-bonkers usage rate could actually creep even higher. Could we be looking at CLV handling the ball for 35% of the Nets possessions. FOURTY?!?

If something like that were to happen, it isn’t crazy to picture LeVert tossing up anywhere between 23-to-26 points on average, somewhere in the ballpark of 6-to-6.5 assists, 5 or so rebounds, and maybe a steal and a half per game. Sheesh, just writing out a stat-line of 26/6.5/5/1.5 is nuts. Whatever happens, we’re in for a treat thanks to the wizardry of Brooklyn’s 26-year-old Michigan alum.

Do you think the Nets will change their defensive strategy with a new coach and without several key players? - @BirdsNets

What a great question! Predicting the philosophical aspects of these ‘bubble’ Nets –– with their six brand spankin’ new players –– is damn near impossible, but I’ll give it a shot. To make matters even tougher (on me, at least), Jacque Vaughn is effectively fresh out the box with just two total games in Brooklyn to his name. Because of unfamiliarity, this Nets team is realistically closer to a Big-3 squad than an actual NBA team; they’re just kind of… showing up. Marks wasn’t lying: name tags may be required during the early stages of team-building in the Orlando ‘bubble.’

My biggest takeaway from Jacque Vaughn, aside from his very clear emphasis on “communication” with fellow staffers and players, is (…and I can’t believe I’m saying this based on a two-game sample…) he adjusted well while leading the helm for the Nets. I covered his shrewd maneuverings against the Lakers –– those bear-trap-like double-teams and feisty pick-and-roll blitzes –– to cloak Los Angeles low-post-baked offense in an article from March, and I’d expect more of the same from Vaughn with a fairly bare cupboard of assets and all of the freedom in the world to experiment.

Perhaps he can learn from the school of Nick Nurse (or should I say… the Nick Nursery? I’ll see myself out) and vary his styles of coverage expeditiously; taking elements of Kenny Atkinson’s famed zone coverage with its drop-back bigs, some prototypical man-to-man, and perhaps even some instances of switching like we saw against the Lakers could be a rather viable strategy as the Nets head into the restart.

What are you looking for from a guy like Caris during the bubble? Do you think that what he does can impact his standing as a fit for next year’s roster? It would be great to see him play well as a top option, but that’s not going to be what he’s asked to do for us next year -@NetsFan20

Well, Dylan, you’re really stealing my thunder by at least partially answering your own question; I, too, am not sure how much LeVert’s ‘bubble’ performance can translate over to next season when the spotlight grows brighter and the responsibilities become narrower.

Because here’s the thing: Isn’t limitless usage LeVert, with all the time in the world to flex every dribble he’s got while tearing down driving lanes during 12 inconsequential ‘bubble’ games, maybe not the best way to judge his fit next to the stars as a third-banana ancillary piece on a championship team? I mean, seriously, who would Caris be standing in the corner for in Orlando? Tyler Johnson? Dzanan Musa?? Theo Pins–– oh wait.

I expect LeVert to have the ball in his hands at all times, taking anywhere between 18-to-22 shots a game. I don’t expect to gain much insight into his abilities as a catch-and-shoot marksman (something he needs to work on), and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dog it a bit on defense due to Brooklyn’s, uh, rather limited ceiling. I hate to say this, but there isn’t all that much to play for as a ‘bubble’ Brooklyn Net, unless of course you’re hunting for big time stats like I expect Caris to do.

Caris could, however, greatly enhance his trade value in the ‘bubble’ as a guy with glowing glimpses of stardom on a reasonable 3-year, $52 million contract. Which brings us to…

Do you think the Nets should trade LeVert for a third star or keep things status quo and go for it next year with the same team? - u/nashavi86

I’ll keep this brief since I think the Nets are in a winning situation no matter the outcome. Sure, I’ve expressed some skepticism in LeVert’s supplementary skillset in the past. But here’s the thing; he’s a damn good player who I truly believe can “figure it out” regardless of circumstance. LeVert’s a resilient MFer, you know, bouncing back from damn near every injury known to man, and even if the fit between him, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving is a little awkward next season, they can always split those guys up and have CLV run with the bench unit after a quick first-quarter substitution a la what Utah has done with Mike Conley or what Philly plans to do with Al Horford.

NOW, in regards to dealing LeVert, that all depends on what the market provides. There are certain names that stick out to me –– Rudy Gobert and Bradley Beal, for example –– and I’d truthfully think hard if I were the Nets should a player of that caliber apparate Harry Potter style on the rumor mill. But as of now, no one in that class is “available.” Cornrow Caris ain’t a bad consolation prize.

Have you seen Hoop Dreams yet? :P

j/k don’t really have a question, just wanted to say I really liked the Twitch stream stuff you’ve done with the Glue Guys. I enjoy your stuff brother, thanks! - u/Loupy_e

Yooooo, I appreciate that, my dude! The streams will be back sooner than later. You can bet on that! (Editor: Per MyBookie, you actually can’t.) As for Hoop Dreams, I plead the fifth.

Do you think Chiozza starts at PG or does he come off the bench with LeVert starting PG? - u/Evilsj

Pooch and I talked about this on our stream, which you can watch here. Ultimately, we came to the same general conclusion; just because of sheer inexperience alone, we are both working under the assumption that Chiozza comes off the bench during the early ‘bubble’ stages like he did in early-March. Meaning that, yes, LeVert would be the Nets starting point guard –– an idea the Nets have toyed with in the past. Next to him would sit some amalgamation of Garrett Temple, Jamal Crawford, and the ten-million other shooting guards on this peculiar restart roster. (Seriously… Crawford, Joe Harris, Temple, LeVert, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Dzanan Musa, and Tyler Johnson all could [and probably should] play the two!)

Eventually, should Chiozza play well enough, I do think the Cheeseman could finagle his way into the starting lineup, forcing Caris into the two-spot. This sounds like a bigger deal than it is; even if “Chorizo” does seize playing-making duties as a starter, the offense won’t undergo much of a makeover whatsoever. It’s more of a formality. LeVert is, realistically, Brooklyn’s only reliable scoring option, and knowing this the Nets don’t have much of a choice but to run dang near everything through his herky-jerky bobbing-and-weaving self. Chiozza, meanwhile, comes ready-made with that ultra-desirable pass-first mentality, meaning that not only he doesn’t necessarily require a heaping load of possessions to make an imprint on the game, he’s actually more than willing to make the guys –– like LeVert! –– around him better!

(A brief –– well… hopefully brief –– tangent; my belief in Chris Chiozza is undying, and I expect him to absolutely 100% show the heck out in Orlando. Do I care that he’s played just 126 total minutes in Brooklyn? Absolutely not. Even in that short amount of time, Chiozza possessed such an instinctual, unteachable feel for the NBA game. The full-court heaves and off-hand hook passes are the first things that come to mind when picturing Cheese as a full-time NBA hooper, but he’s also a heady defender who read screens well in his limited action. And then of course, he’s ballsy –– the step-back three-pointers that have you yelling “excuse me?” and the ten car pile-up inducing crossovers speak for themselves. I’m dying on this hill: Chris Chiozza is going to make it in the NBA.)

What position do you think LeVert spends the most time at? Will they have regular rotations or a mix and match assortment of guards and wings? - u/Frigidevil

*Looks up and down Brooklyn’s completely unfamiliar roster for the sixtieth time*

Um, all of them?

No matter what position LeVert is delegated on offense (point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, etc.), his responsibilities won’t fluctuate a ton: Score as much as humanly possible and involve his bigs (Jarrett Allen, in particular) with alley-oops and dump-offs on an infinite loop. Penetrating down the lane like the X-Men’s unstoppable Juggernaut will force defenses to double and rotate on the fly, giving Brooklyn’s offense that needed breath of fresh air for its many, many three-point marksmen. It all comes down to what LeVert is able to do with his distinctively crafty live-dribble.

Given that he’s shouldering such a freakishly tremendous ridiculous load on offense, I have no idea what to expect from LeVert on the other end of the floor. Will the Nets ‘hide’ him on the opposition’s weakest offensive player? Will they do the complete and utter opposite and assign LeVert the toughest matchup on the floor? I guess time will tell.

As for your question about rotations, it’d be disingenuous to describe a roster full of nine guards, three wings (Justin Anderson, Lance Thomas, and Rodions Kurucs), and just two bigs (Donta Hall and Jarrett Allen) as grounds for “regular rotations.” I hope you’re ready for the biggest “well, duh” moment of this column, but the Nets will be playing a whole heck of a lot of small-ball. Crazy thought, I know! Rodi may see some time at the five, Lance Thomas is (dare I say it) essential, and Jarrett Allen will be leaned upon a great deal by coach Jacque Vaughn. Plus, given Brooklyn’s, erm, lack of overall offensive punch, I’d bet my bottom dollar we get a healthy dose of Caris LeVert and Jamal Crawford on the ball –– at least during the early stages of play.

The rotation would look something like this:

  1. Caris LeVert / Chris Chiozza / Jeremiah Martin
  2. Jamal Crawford (?) / Tyler Johnson / Dzanan Musa
  3. Joe Harris / Garrett Temple / Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
  4. Rodions Kurucs (!) / Lance Thomas / Justin Anderson
  5. Jarrett Allen / Donta Hall

Just my speculation.

Who’s the best Net ever, and why Dwight Howard? u/FlannyG

People forget Nets Anthony Bennett was a bucket *huffing smoke emoji*

What are Jacques Vaughn’s chances of landing the HC position based on his bubble performance?

You know, as of now, I feel pretty freakin’ good about Vaughn’s chances. Does it help that Adrian Wojnarowski damn near spelled it out letter-by-letter that Vaughn is currently Brooklyn’s leading candidate? I mean, yeah. But given Vaughn’s roots with the Spurs and Gregg Popovich, his tutelage under Kenny Atkinson, and his strength as a cohesive leading voice in the locker room (err, hotel lobby? Is that where ‘bubble’ ballclubs meet pre- and post-game?), I do think it’s Vaughn’s job to lose. I would hope that Sean Marks and the rest of the basketball operations team refrain from making any hasty judgements from the ‘bubble’ performance because… well, the current roster just isn’t very good. That’d be an unfair shake for JV, to say the least.

Plus, it’s not like the current market of other available head coaches is exactly… enticing.

Is this bubble Musa’s last chance to prove himself to be a rotation player? Or will he play just to be a trade piece? - u/BabyLeVert

Here’s my thing: What exactly are you trading Musa for at this moment in time? His value will (hopefully) never be lower. He’s a former first-round pick whose 47% true shooting was one of the eleven-worst marks of shooting accuracy league-wide among a list of players who saw at least 300 total minutes (other names include Theo Pinson [what a time November Nets basketball was], Dennis Smith Jr., Jordan Poole, former Net Allen Crabbe, plus others). Basically, you’re maybe getting a second-round pick in return for his services.

Orlando represents a big opportunity for Musa’s future, which I can’t promise will be in Brooklyn. Given how crowded next year’s team could be, with both of Brooklyn’s superstar profiles and assuredly countless veteran role guys in the fold, even if the 21-year-old scorches the restart nylons/polyesters/whatever the heck nets are made of, I’m just not sure there will be a spot for Dzanan within a championship-caliber rotation. He’s got plenty of time to carve out his spot in the NBA, but for this specific team I’m currently dubious.

Would you make signing Joe Harris a top priority in the summer even if it gets too expensive? - u/nashavi86

I mean, what exactly is the alternative? In Brooklyn’s case, they’re already a tax-paying team thanks to the extension hits of Taurean Prince and Caris LeVert. Are you really going to find someone better than Professor Joseph Buckets on the open market if you’re simply working with the mini-MLE? I’d lean toward the hardest of hard “no’s.”

His bird rights work in Brooklyn’s favor, and at the very least he could become another enticing trade piece should Sean Marks look to get creative in negotiations. This is a no-brainer; retain the asset, always and forever.

And pay the man.

Which free agents would you target in the summer to take the team to a championship level contender?
 - u/nashavi86

To avoid stealing from off-season Matt –– a desperate, deplorable, content-starved sports writer if you’ve ever seen one –– I’m going to filibuster like a MOFO and instead provide positions that I think could use some filling.

A 3-and-D four (think what Wilson Chandler provided this season) and a stretch-five (versatility is key in the later rounds of playoff basketball; Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan are slightly duplicative) could work wonders for the Nets as they pursue the 2020-2021 title.

What Nets player do you think will surprise us most in the bubble? - LiaM_CS

Oh boy, so many strong cases for this question. I’ve already expressed my eternal optimism about Chris Chiozza’s chances above, so I’ll pull him from the running. That leaves me with two options.

The first and most obvious answer: Rodions Kurucs. Not long ago, Rodions Kurucs was on the fast-track to becoming one of the more desirable three-and-D prototypes in the league. In year two, Kurucs improved upon perhaps his biggest weakness as a rookie: three-point shooting. Unfortunately, nearly everything else about his game took a healthy step-or-two back.

With such limited competition at the four-spot, this golden opportunity in Orlando is all but Rodi’s to screw up. As pointed out by my colleague Nolan Jensen, Kurucs held opponents to just 40.7 percent shooting at the basket –– the 26th-best DFG amongst the 392 NBA players who contested at least 100 at-rim shots. If he can continue to dance with Jarrett Allen in the paint as his ready-and-able defensive counterpart on the strong-side, cut with 70th percentile excellence, and clip three-pointers without tripping over his feet after an endless reel of pump-fakes, Kurucs may finally fulfill the potential that made him such a desirable building block just 10 months ago.

My second choice? Drumroll please…

Tyler Ryan Johnson.

Twitter tirade and all, yes, I’ve done it. I’ve somehow talked myself into the upside of Tyler Johnson. Sure he posted 48.1% true shooting and fell out of Phoenix’s not-so-inspiring rotation. Yes, he graded out as a grossly underwhelming defender across popular advanced metrics (80th out of 136 point guards in ESPN’s defensive RPM; -1.0 defensive RAPTOR rating per FiveThirtyEight; -0.38 in defensive player-impact plus-minus). And sure, there is a chance that a series of injuries (including arthroscopic surgery on his left knee) may have robbed him of the athleticism that made him such an enticing in-your-face combo guard on both ends of the floor (defense especially).

And yet, he’s still just 28 years old. If the “right” version of TJ decides to show up in the Orlando ‘bubble,’ the Nets may have stumbled upon their latest three-and-D bargain bin find, adding to that growing list of David Nwaba, DeMarre Carroll, Iman Shumpert, and many more. If Johnson can shoot, say, 36% from distance and defend the opposition’s guards with tenacity, he’s got a real chance at sticking around next season.

Any reasoning for the vet signings rather than unproven younger guys? - u/Aldernade

Some folks have described the Orlando ‘bubble’ as Brooklyn’s “veteran tryouts,” which is an idea I quite enjoy. Title-contending teams are predominantly made up of older players –– think the Big-3 Miami Heat with Ray Allen, Mike Miller, Chris Anderson, etc. and the Golden State Warriors with David West, late-career Andrew Bogut, and Zaza Pachulia. Orlando represents the perfect time to investigate which elder statesmen fit the mold of the team that Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Sean Marks are cohesively building together. Guys like Lance Thomas and Jamal Crawford have been on the Nets radar for a while, and this once-in-a-lifetime tournament represents the perfect chance to see what these guys have left in the tank.

Now selfishly, I’d much prefer the idea of the Nets going the “summer league” route and signing mostly G-Leaguers and early-career NBA flameouts for watch-ability reasons alone. Mystery box quantities will always be more appealing than veterans with loads of tape available at our fingertips; “newness” is an unquantifiable yet ultimately desirable trait in the NBA. Just look at how Donta Hall’s signing was received.

Thanks to those who asked questions and enjoy this tremendous Orlando restart! I know I will.