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Nets keeping offense a secret but it won’t be iso-driven

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Back in May, when he and Sean Marks spoke with the media about last season, Steve Nash said he had been in the gym every day since the Nets were swept three weeks earlier, working on offensive schemes. Around that same time, Marks hired Igor Kokoskov as an assistant coach. Nash described Kokoskov on Wednesday as “an incredible offensive encyclopedia,” a coach who has 19 years an as assistant plus head coaching gigs in Phoeniz and with the Serbian and Slovenian national teams.

So what’s up? Nash also mentioned on Wednesday that the Nets will be “changing some of our schemes” and will be “resetting in a lot of ways.” On offense, that means a more wide open offense that will depend less on isolation plays. The Nets led the league in iso’s last season and as Patty Mills said Thursday, that led to stagnant sets.

“Definitely felt the stagnant type of offense last year, but it was just trying to find ways to stay involved and keep the movement,” Mills said. “It was a challenge.”

The challenge of course was the lack of consistency caused by all manner of chaos. Kyrie Irving refused to get vaccinated so couldn’t play at Barclays Center for months. Kevin Durant sprained his MCL missing six weeks. Joe Harris went down in the 14th game with a sprained ankle and never returned. James Harden forced his way out and his replacement, Ben Simmons, hurt his back and never played a second. There were 45 starting lineups and 24 players wore the black-and-white over the course of the season. Rookies being forced to pay nearly 3,000 minutes and start 40 games. So iso, when people were healthy, made sense. After all, the Nets have two of basketball’s best isolation players ever on the roster. Relying on them doesn’t change. As Kristian Winfield wrote Friday, “the offense has had a philosophical shift from forcing Durant and Irving to take tough shots over the defense to creating looks for them.”

“I think what we’ve put in this year is definitely different and learning from those [iso-ball] times [last season], as well,” Mills told reporters. “How can we get easy buckets for Kevin? How can we get easy looks for Kai, and Ben makes a massive difference in that sense, too, [with him] bringing the ball up the court. I think all of these subtle changes make a big difference.”

Indeed, Simmons has been the most mentioned Net in training camp, with multiple players, led by Mills, his fellow Aussie, and his head coach, suggesting his versatility brings is the key ingredient in the Nets new offensive plan.

“He’s a great screener, terrific vision. With his size and speed he’s able to push the ball in transition and also get in the gaps. So a great fit for Kevin and Ky to try to make the game a little bit easier for them,” said Nash, adding that if he wants to shoot, that’s fine, but he doesn’t need to.

And as our analytics guy, ProfessorB, notes, Simmons can also create offense ... for himself.

Just for the record, Simmons’ career average is 22.5 points (and 10.9 assists) per 100 possessions.

The championship Warriors had Kevin Looney averaging 13.8, Otto Porter Jr. averaging 18.0, and Draymond Green averaging 12.7 among their top six guys in minutes played.

The championship Bucks had Brook Lopez averaging 21.2, Dante DiVincenzo averaging 17.8, and Pat Connaughton averaging 14.0 among their top six guys in minutes played.

The championship Lakers had Kentavious Caldwell-Pope averaging 17.4, Danny Green averaging 15.4, and Dwight Howard averaging 18.8 among their top six guys in minutes played.

If Simmons on offense is the Nets’ biggest problem, they’re going to have a very good season.

What about specifics? What are the Nets planning? Kyrie Irving ain’t saying. Too many people listening and watching for clues.

“Nah,” Irving said. “Got some guys out there in the league [listening], so just gotta wait and see.”

One thing Irving admits is again it will not look like last year.

“You look at some of our possessions last year, it was a lot of one-on-one,” said Irving, one of the most gifted one-one-one players in NBA history. “You guys talked about it often and we were well aware of it. That offense, when the ball sticks, it’s just not the greatest brand of basketball you can play. We’re giving the defense some nights off when we just go one-on-one.”

Irving also brings up Simmons when talking about the Nets offensive potential.

“Having Ben be one of our lead guards and him getting up and down the court, the ball’s hopping. It feels good. Everybody feels good. That’s all that matters,

“Having a point guard 6-10, 6-11, I’m also a point guard, lead guard, whatever you want to call my position. It’s good to get off the ball and have him get up and down the floor,” said Irving adding that once Simmons is acclimated to things, he expects him to be an All-Star again.

As for Simmons himself. he was asked how playing with KD and Kyrie has been so far. “Incredible,” he responded.

If the Nets do get back into what Irving called more “ball hopping,” maybe they can get back to what the Nets were able to do back in Nash’s first year. Again, Professor B:

In their first year under Nash they were first in the NBA in offensive rating, first in true-shooting, fifth in free throws per field goal attempt, eighth in assists, ninth in 3-point attempt rate, and 12th in pace. That’s a much stronger and clearer identity than anything they had under Kenny Atkinson—even with KD and Harden eighth and sixth on the team in total minutes played. The question now is whether they can get back to that style after a year of chaos and a lot of roster turnover.

We will start to see what the new offense looks like starting Monday when the Nets play the 76ers in Brooklyn.