Tuesday, July 8, 2014
How will Lionel Hollins make the pieces fit?
By Mike Mazzeo
The Brooklyn Nets took off last season after replacing injured 7-foot center Brook Lopez in the starting five with 6-7 combo guard Shaun Livingston and going small.
They fired a lot more 3-pointers, took advantage of mismatches -- particularly by posting up their bigger guards -- and created a ton of turnovers via steals.
But Jason Kidd, who made the lineup change, is no longer the coach of the team, having bolted to Milwaukee following a failed power play. Livingston is gone too, having left for more money in Golden State.
Lionel Hollins, who used a more traditional alignment in Memphis buoyed by big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, has replaced Kidd. And Lopez, currently rehabbing from foot and ankle surgery, is expected to be ready for the start of training camp.
So it’s fairly reasonable to believe the Nets aren’t going to look or play the same next season.
“I know that I want to play at a little quicker pace than they even played at, that we played at in Memphis,” Hollins said. “But I don’t want to run up and down the court and jack up shots. I want to be aggressive. I want to be tough defensively. I want to be tough mentally. That’s what I pride myself in as a player and as a coach. And in trying to win and win it all, it’s about how mentally tough you are, because there’s so much adversity in an 82-game season and then [the] playoffs are such a marathon. It takes mental toughness, it takes cohesiveness -- and that’s more what I’m putting my sights on versus what style, because any style you play can be successful.”
Before going down for the season Dec. 20 in Philadelphia, Lopez was having a tremendous individual campaign. He shot 56.3 percent from the field. He ranked in the top 10 in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (25.50). Opponents were converting on just 40.3 percent of their rim attempts with Lopez defending. But the team struggled as a whole. Lopez didn’t fit Kidd’s system. Assuming he’s healthy, he should fit Hollins’ scheme.
“I want him to score, but I want him to be able to make plays out of the post," Hollins said. "I want him to be able to run the court. I want him to be able to rebound and guard the paint -- not necessarily block shots but be in the way, take charges and help us defensively, keep people honest when they come in the paint. I think that’s important for a guy with that size.”
Deron Williams, a three-time All-Star who has been plagued by injuries and a lack of confidence over the previous two seasons, was at his best in 2013-14 when he was playing with Livingston. Williams is very good at reading screens and knocking down midrange jumpers (46.5 percent) and 3-pointers (36.6 percent).
“We’re at our best when Deron’s off the ball,” one team official said.
It will be interesting to see how Hollins decides to deploy Williams. Nets GM Billy King has yet to acquire another point guard, but he intends to. Jarrett Jack's name has come up frequently, but that projected backcourt would be extremely small. The loss of Livingston looms large.
Joe Johnson, who has always excelled in isolation sets, shot extremely well last season and exploited defenses in the post -- both as a scorer and facilitator. He shot 53.3 percent from the field in the playoffs and averaged 21.2 points per game.
In 2012-13, the Lopez/Williams/Johnson-led Nets played at an extremely slow pace for P.J. Carlesimo but still managed to finish in the top 10 in the league in offensive efficiency.
So there is hope.
Mirza Teletovic can shoot. Bojan Bogdanovic, who will sign with the Nets for the mini midlevel exception, has a history of strong perimeter marksmanship in Europe. Andrei Kirilenko provides versatility on both ends of the floor. Mason Plumlee and Markel Brown, assuming he inks a guaranteed deal, provide athleticism. Kevin Garnett can still hit the occasional one-dribble pull-up, and few can quarterback a defense the way he does. Add Paul Pierce, assuming the Nets can persuade him to stay, and they have a lot of quality pieces. It’s up to Hollins to make them fit.
It’s possible, a scout said, that Hollins could decide to run a lot of pick-and-rolls, unlike in Memphis, where everything was pretty much run through Randolph out of the high post. Defensively, Hollins’ Grizzlies finished second in efficiency in 2012-13 en route to winning 56 games and advancing to the Western Conference finals. He has always been a defensive-minded coach. The Nets hope that translates over to Brooklyn.
“It’s about finding the strengths of your team, finding the weaknesses of your team and trying to put them in an environment that they are always playing to their strengths and not to their weaknesses,” Hollins said.