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The Nets seven ‘centers’ ... and how they can be used

2021 NBA Playoffs - Brooklyn Nets v Milwaukee Bucks

In a world of position-less basketball, 1 through 5 is a bit passe’. In particular, the 5 position has evolved. It used to be that the biggest men on the court played center, but rules have changed things and players who once would have played the 5 — or the 4 — now play all over the court.

The Nets have, as everyone knows, has a LOT of bigs. FiveThirtyEight’s Jared Dubin counts seven, but says that may not be a surplus.

If you don’t have a game-changing star, the thinking goes, why not simply acquire a group of players who can fill different archetypal center roles and rotate them through the game, depending on matchup and situation?

Perhaps no team has ever taken this idea further than the 2021-22 Brooklyn Nets, who appear set to platoon the center job among as many as seven different players filling six different roles. Each brings something distinct to the table.

Dubin looked through the list, from Blake Griffin to Bruce Brown who as we know is, as Dubin noted, “Biggie Smalls.”

Specifically, he wrote about a couple of things that the bigs could bring, starting with one whose strengths are well known to Nets fans, Nic Claxton.

Dubin is a fan, as are many analytics guys and all of Nets Twitter!

He’s played just 781 regular-season minutes during his young career but in those minutes has showcased tantalizing potential. Claxton is an explosive Athlete, and the Nets showed last year that they are willing to weaponize his agility and acrobatics to great success.

He noted the switchability factor and just how historic the 22-year-old’s abilities are in that area.

No center in the NBA switched pick-and-roll plays more often than Claxton. Not just last year, but maybe ever. During the Second Spectrum era,2 there have been 610 player-seasons in which a center has defended 250 or more screen and rolls. Among those 610 seasons, Claxton’s 2020-21 campaign had by far the highest rate of switched screens.

Here’s the relevant graphic.

LaMarcus Aldridge also gets kudos from Dubin as a facilitator.

Do the Nets really want to run their offense through Aldridge in the post? Ideally, of course not. But you could do a lot worse when looking for a late-clock bail-out option. Per Second Spectrum, Aldridge’s 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons ranked 20th and 23rd, respectively, in points per chance among the 262 player-seasons with 250 or more post-ups during the player-tracking era.

Dubin also likes the Nets signing of James Johnson and Paul Millsap, in particular because historically they play Giannis Antetokounmpo well on defense.

Then, of course, there’s Kevin Durant who as Steve Nash has said can play 1-through-5 ... and has.

Few players in the history of professional basketball shoot the ball as well as Durant from any area on the floor, and his rim-protection numbers were on par with those of Anthony Davis last season. That is just not fair. (And it’s not out of character for him, either.)

So, with Durant, Johnson, Brown, Millsap, Claxton, Griffin and Day’Ron Sharpe, the Nets may have a surfeit of bigs, but not a surplus.