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Kyrie Irving’s absence leaves 2 questions about Nets’ rotation

Nets, Kyrie Irving

Nets head coach Steve Nash probably had a sense of how his early-season rotation might have looked one month ago. It’s probably a lot different today. The team is slight favorites in the season opener against the Bucks, despite playing on the road. They’re still finals favorites despite the latest news on Kyrie Irving not boding well for them. That’s how much respect people have for their roster. But how exactly will the rotation look in the season’s early going?

We know Kevin Durant, James Harden and the starters are going to play. But we’re especially curious about how the wing and the front court rotations might look once Nash turns to his bench for a spark.

Nets wing rotation: De’Andre Bembry, Bruce Brown, Jevon Carter’s minutes

De’Andre Bembry comes over from Toronto and the former first-round pick out of St. Joe’s brings a skill set not terribly unlike Bruce Brown. Nets fans got to really enjoy Brown’ defense and hustle last season. The way Brown crashed the glass last year (he tallied a whopping 8.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, that’s kind of crazy for a player who’s just 6’4) endeared him to fans as well as coach Nash. Brown honed his short-roll game in order to help unlock some of James Harden’s best offense. And he’s one of the team’s best defenders.

Well Bembry isn’t quite as good a rebounder as Brown for the Nets, he does rack up more steals (2.0 per 36 vs. Brown’s 1.4).

 

On opening night, the Nets will need some perimeter hounds to slow down Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. It won’t be a surprise if Nash turns to Bembry as a veteran presence defensively with some size (6’5, 210). My question is whether or not he’ll make room for both Bembry and Brown. I’m guessing he will. But then what about another new acquisition and ball-hawk, Jevon Carter?

It’s not easy to imagine all three of these players logging over 15 minutes. Carter is smaller (6’1) than the other two, so he would match up better against a guard than a wing and doesn’t provide as many chances to switch. But neither Brown nor Bembry space the floor for the Nets. In fact, Bembry and Brown haven’t even cracked 30% from downtown in their respective careers, whereas Carter is a dependable career 38 percent 3 point shooter on an impressive 7.6 3pa per 36.

My (pure) guess would be that without Irving in the fold, Carter eventually carves out a steady role for himself as someone who can play both ends of the floor for the Nets. I’m just not sure if it will happen from the jump. I think he might be the odd man out of this trio tomorrow. But this group should all provide some much needed defense.

Pencil in Blake Griffin

What coach Nash has in mind for the front court rotation will also be really interesting. The big three didn’t get to play much together last season. The Nets were one of the biggest players in the buyout market too. As such, one thing there was precious little of a season ago was continuity. For this reason, I predict Nash will reserve a chunk of minutes for 2021 holdover Blake Griffin.

Griffin was never really known for his defense in his prime. I’m not sure it’s fair to say he was known for his intangibles or toughness either. But he changed his reputation a bit during the playoffs.

Last year the Nets finished with the 22nd best defensive rating. They improved to fourth best in the playoffs. Griffin was a big part of how they turned things around.

Offensively, Blake also allowed the team to play some “5 out” lineups with no traditional big occupying the paint, which helped open things up for Kevin Durant to attack a spread floor. He forced Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez into some impossible situations; protect the rim when Durant drives, or run out to contest Griffin’s open 3s? Before Kyrie Irving injured his ankle, these situations went poorly for (the Nets’ all-time leading scorer) Lopez.

So let’s pencil Griffin in for a modest amount of minutes for the Nets. I’ll guess over 20 in the opener. How then does Nash divvy up the rest of his front court?

LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Claxton, Paul Millsap, James Johnson?

If Nash wants to focus on rim protection and the ability to switch defensively, he might turn to Nic Claxton. I expect Claxton to get some burn for the Nets against Milwaukee. Let’s say 17 minutes?

If he wants to play five out more, he could opt to stagger Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge; Aldridge has a really soft touch on his jumper. I’m not sure the Nets will want to give LMA a heavy dose of minutes coming off of a scary heart issue, but I think he’s safe to pencil in for about 18 minutes or so.

The odd player out on Tuesday could be veteran Paul Millsap, at least in the opener. There isn’t a glaring need for what he brings. It’s easier for me to envision 2021 holdovers getting the first crack at some of the frontcourt rotation minutes for the Nets. Griffin will be especially comfortable with the game plan for slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo because of last year’s second-round battle.

I don’t believe that the rotations we see tomorrow night will be set in stone, far from it. But they might illuminate for us the team’s plan for the first weeks of the season. My hunch is that everyone will get opportunities and some may fall in and out of the rotations. Without Kyrie Irving, it’s a good time to for the Nets to experiment over the coming weeks. But perhaps against the defending champs it’s best not to get too cute.