This was posted two days before Game 7 of the Nets-Bucks series...
Crunched some NBA playoff numbers: What % of a team's salary cap is injured or playing through injury.— Trung Phan (@TrungTPhan) June 17, 2021
Pretty wild: the Nets are at 53% while the Bucks are only at 3%. pic.twitter.com/d4cWYbFj3G
It turned out to be dead-on analysis and a cautionary tale that Brooklyn’s management took to heart in the off-season.
In what turned out to be the final game of the season at Barclays Center, with Kyrie Irving out and James Harden hobbled, Kevin Durant did all he could. But in the end, the Nets were a physically damaged team and the Bucks were not. It wasn’t so much KD’s “big ass foot” as it was Irving’s ankle, Harden’s hamstring and a bench that was lacking.
“Next man up” only works if there are plenty of those men available.
Steve Nash clearly didn’t have faith in his back-ups. He used only eight players that night back in June. Of those eight, two are gone. And the seven players Nash left on the bench that night? None survived the off-season. Alize Johnson, Reggie Perry, Chris Chiozza, DeAndre Jordan, Mike James, Tyler Johnson, and Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot ... all gone.
In fact, it may be the big underplayed story of the summer: Despite being a top contender, Brooklyn went through as complete a makeover as they had during their lean years ... at least as far as numbers are concerned. They kept the “Big Three” intact, retained Blake Griffin, kept Joe Harris. Otherwise, what Sean Marks and his front office did was a bench overhaul.
And there’s little doubt that Marks was motivated by his desire to compensate for any health issues his coach will face next season. He said so. He might not have much control over the nicks, knocks, cuts and worse that all teams go through every year. But he could “buy” health insurance, premium coverage in the form of veterans, lots of them: Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, James Johnson.
So much of the discussion about the Nets off-season was about filling positional needs, but looking at who’s come and who’s gone, you can make the argument that the summer was more about experience, big game experience ... and being prepared to play in different ways no matter what fate throws in your way. Call it versatility or depth, if you don’t want to talk about insurance.
Just before the DeAndre Jordan trade and the signing of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin O’Connor and Chris Vernon of The Ringer talked in their podcast about how things have changed in Brooklyn in the off-season.
“That’s the cool thing about Brooklyn,” said O’Connor. “They can play so many different ways,”
Vernon agreed and noted, “And not a little bit better equipped when they’re going to lose guys for an amount of time. Now if you lose Kyrie (Irving) for an amount of time, If you lose James Harden, even if you lose Kevin Durant for an amount of time, this time you’re able to withstand it even better this second time through with this version of the team...
As an example, O’Connor talked specifically about how much the Nets have bolstered their front line, created a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency cabinet for Nash. O’Connor started off by mentioning that Day’Ron Sharpe, the Nets 29th pick, is a good prospect but noted all the veterans ahead of him.
“Sharpe looked pretty solid, but you’re not going to rely on rookies for playoff minutes,” he told Vernon. “You have Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap ahead of him on the depth chart. Maybe LaMarcus Aldridge.”
He also described how Millsap and Aldridge would likely fit not in the starring roles they once filled, but as insurance.
“Paul Millsap definitely not the same player he was in his prime with Atlanta, Utah or even what he was early on with Denver, but I think he can still offer something to that team,” O’Connor argued. “They needed rebounding, they needed size. With Millsap and/or Aldridge, you’re getting that.
“With Aldridge’s rebounding ability, with the size he brings, they needed that and they missed that last year in the post-season. With Millsap, you bring in another veteran presence for you, who can shoot three’s for you, make the right plays. He plays hard, He’s not going to have to play 30 minutes per game any more. He played 20 minutes a game that last couple of year. If you can get that, it’s a nice addition for them.”
Marks no doubt looked at the personalities of the players he chose as well, guys like Mills who is selfless, a leader and with long experience — and success — as a Sixth Man, and James Johnson who knows his role well from filling in on various teams. Both those guys also can defend, another reason Nash might not have wanted to rely on his bench.
“I think we addressed a lot of the needs. We won’t have addressed all the needs until probably post-trade deadline, and that’s when we’ll really know what we’ve got,” said Marks after the first round of free agency on August 7. “But we wanted to make sure we were deep, we wanted to make sure we were healthy.”
It wasn’t just about veterans of course. The Nets have filled out their roster with young, promising players like Sharpe (19), like Cam Thomas (also 19), Kessler Edwards (21) and maybe Sekou Doumbouya (20), acquired in the DeAndre Jordan trade.
“That kid at Summer League. He was fantastic. The kid they drafted from LSU,” said Vernon of Thomas.
“And you have Nic Claxton,” O’Connor added. “He may be the best big man of that group in terms of the versatility he has on the defensive end of the floor.
Of course, the best thing about health insurance is knowing it’s there but not having to use it. Harden has talked about the team’s prospects if healthy.
“At full strength, nobody can beat us. I’m just going to leave it at that,” he told Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated in an interview published August 19.
“There’s no chip at all, no chip for us. We’re just excited. We’re focused. We know what we have to do,” he said in response to a question about whether the Nets have a chip on their shoulder. “The biggest thing is us being healthy, which we will be. Honestly, we’re just excited to play a whole season together. That’s the exciting part.”
So maybe next June, a stat like the one we noted at the top of the story won’t be replicated. But if it is, they’ve done what they can to protect themselves against it.