The Brooklyn Nets had several glaring weaknesses last season, but few were more evident than their rebounding. Last year's team ranked 28th on the defensive glass and was outscored 80-22 in second-chance points during a first-round sweep against the Philadelphia 76ers.
General manager Sean Marks and head coach Jacque Vaughn emphasized that changes were necessary in the area following the season. However, Marks did not acquire a true center this offseason, later saying those changes will come from within. Vaughn elaborated on what that could look like Tuesday following Brooklyn's first training camp practice:
“The personnel doesn’t change. I think having more strategy into where guys are positioned on the floor. That’s gonna help us,” Vaughn said. “We will use Nic to switch at times. That’ll be in our toolbox to use him that way. But then we’ll have alternate defenses where he isn’t switching. I think our toolbox will be full. That’s one thing I will do in this training camp is explain that to the guys pretty early, a lot of what’s in the toolbox.”
“It won’t look pretty in the beginning but I want them to kind of digest it and be able to understand that last year was last year. We switched everything because that was the most simple thing to do with three different teams on one roster. And so I tried to keep it real simple for our group. We’ll challenge this group to be able to play different schemes and part of that will be keeping Nic close to the rim at times.”
Nets making changes
Claxton's dominance as a perimeter defender was a revelation last season. The 24-year-old tied Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. for the league lead in stocks (steals + blocks) and finished with the NBA's fourth-best defensive rating, per Statmuse. However, the Nets' switch-heavy scheme pulled Claxton away from the rim, often leaving Brookyln vulnerable on the glass with smaller guards underneath on centers.
Mikal Bridges said Claxton and third-year center Day'Ron Sharpe are already adjusting to heavier drop coverage in practice.
“I think just throwing in the drop defense that a lot of the league does,” Bridges said of how Brooklyn can improve on the boards. “It helps keep our bigs down there, and that's a big point of emphasis of why teams played the drop, to keep their bigs by the rim and make guys shoot tough twos. I think Nic and them look pretty good. I think that's their first time really playing drop, honestly. I think him and Dayday have been playing one-through-five since they got in the league. So they’re locking in on it quick.”
Impact of Brooklyn's changes
Brooklyn's personnel changes should open the playbook for Vaughn defensively this season. The team moved aging shooters in Joe Harris, Patty Mills and Seth Curry in favor of young, versatile athletes in Dennis Smith Jr., Lonnie Walker IV, Darius Bazley and Trendon Watford.
The new-look roster posts an average height of 6-foot-6 and an average wingspan of 6-foot-9. Brooklyn has eight players who ranked in the 80th percentile or better in defensive estimated plus-minus last season, per dunksandthrees.com.
Fans will soon get a look at the Nets' defensive changes with the team set to tip off the preseason on Oct. 9 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.