The Nets are one of many new-look teams facing early challenges due to a lack of preparation time. Beginning with a shortened training camp and abbreviated preseason, small windows of practice time and simply playing basketball in a global pandemic, Steve Nash has been faced with a lot of challenges.
And so, the rookie coach has decided to experiment with lineups, rotations, minutes, etc. Why not?
“We don’t have much practice time. We are a new group. We have Kevin out with COVID protocols, we were struggling, and I think we are going to continue to experiment,” Nash said specifically about lineups.
“We have to find out who we are, what we are, where we need to improve, and sometimes just giving guys different opportunities at different times. We can mix things up and we will see different lineups. I am really proud about everyone for accepting that change, that dynamic, coming together, and playing their butts off for one another.”
Nash dived deeper — noting he wants his players to learn through games as much as practice sessions. Nash also mentioned how each team is required to have a day off each week.
“It is difficult because we don’t really have much practice time. I hear you have to have a day off every week so we haven’t been able to practice so that’s tricky,” Nash said. “This is going to be the craziest NBA season ever. I think trying to be adaptive, continue to work through things, and learn through your games as much as anything rather than practices is essential.”
The Nets have continued to experiment, having four different starting lineups through the first eight games. Clearly, some adjustments were due to rest and early injuries...
Games 1-3: Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, and DeAndre Jordan.
Game 4: Caris LeVert, Harris, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Taurean Prince, and Jordan.
Games 5-7: Irving, TLC, Harris, Durant, and Jordan.
Game 8: Irving, Bruce Brown, Taurean Prince, Jeff Green, and Jarrett Allen.
Nash has also instituted a covert element to his planning. He doesn’t provide his starting lineup until the very last minute (although he lets his players know early.)
Now with this mixing and matching, we’ve got a first look at the level of experimentation Nash and the Nets coaching staff will go Tuesday when the team started an interesting starting five that inserted Brown and Allen while moving Harris and Jordan to the bench. In fact, Nash noted how that starting five did not even practice together or get in-game runs together as a unit before Tuesday night.
“Not that I can remember,” Nash said. “As a matter of fact, I say it’s a hard no. We just mixed it up and we got a shot in the arm out of it, and guys responded to it.”
As for the players like Harris and Jordan, who were assigned bench roles, Nash praised his guys for accepting new roles during said experiments. To add context, Tuesday’s game was the first time since April 1, 2018, Harris came off the bench, snapping a 155-game streak as a starter while Jordan came off the bench for the first time this season.
“Not only the guys that started but the guys who were moved to the bench were outstanding as well. Didn’t flinch and accepted their role. That’s the type of teamwork and attitude that is important if you want to win games.”
To complement Nash’s desire to continue experimenting comes the Nets depth and the ‘stay ready’ unit.
As Chris Chiozza broke it down, there’s a “stay ready” group that includes six players. The goal of that unit is to build each other’s confidence, build chemistry, and of course - stay ready.
“The stay ready group is usually six players: me, TLC, Rodi, Bruce, Reggie, and sometimes we throw in a couple of other guys,” Chiozza said. “We just get out there and hoop after practice, before practice, and play as much as we can to stay in shape. We just work hard, encourage each other, try to get each other’s confidence up, and build some chemistry for when the time comes.”
Chiozza, who had his career high three games back, credits the Nets for having him and the rest of the end-of-the-benchers get work in and improve their game.
“It is always my job to stay ready,” Chiozza said. “I learned that last year when I got here and got thrown out there when I wasn’t expecting it. They do a good job of having me work every day and getting extra work in when I’m not playing.”
The same thing follows with Brown, who only saw 12 combined minutes in the Nets' first seven games off the bench. To add context, Brown came off the bench 15 of the 58 games he played in with the Detroit Pistons last season - noting the adjustment as difficult.
Brown explained how that squad of players get extra runs in and have been commonly seen getting shots up well before and after the regular season games.
“It was definitely difficult,” Brown said about the lack of playing time. “It was an adjustment. I was ready for it. The ‘stay ready’ group kept me ready. We worked hard. Those guys, we played one’s, five-on-five, and we knew our time was going to come and I just wanted to put out that energy and play well.”
As LeVert noted on December 28, the team is going to need the ‘stay ready’ guys all season long.
“We are going to need them all season long - Next Man Up mentality.”