Steve Nash hints at lineup change around Kevin Durant, James Harden
The Brooklyn Nets are openly seeking an offensive identity. They’ve made no secret that they believe finding one will take some time. Kevin Durant and James Harden came into the season healthy, but their “continuity plan” was abruptly shattered with the whole Kyrie Irving absence thing. Nets coach Steve Nash has been experimenting with his lineups all season long.
If you’re going to do it, it’s better to iron on your team’s wrinkles around Thanksgiving than in April, right? But would they really bench a starter to make room for a certain scorching hot reserve?
After a recent win, Nash opened up about their original plans getting derailed with the Irving news.
“I think offensively we have all these different lineups,” Nash shared. “Different backgrounds, styles of play, 10 new players on our team, it takes time. We started the year with a continuity plan from last year that got thrown out the window obviously when Ky didn’t come back, so we’re trying to build and figure it out.”
So the experimenting began. The Nets have already deployed 147 unique five-player combinations. That contrasts a bit with other teams. The New York Knicks, for example, have only used 80, the Utah Jazz just 74 unique combos.
The Nets opened the season with big man Nic Claxton at center, but the 22-year-old has missed the last 14 games with a non-COVID illness and still needs time in order to ramp up conditioning.
One starting lineup constant in the frontcourt, along with Durant and Joe Harris, has been Blake Griffin. The Oklahoma product has drawn a start in every game he’s been available for so far. However, he has struggled mightily to score.
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The Nets are a switch-everything team, which is the kryptonite to an off-ball-heavy motion offense.
But when you're giving up easy switches that get Blake Griffin defending Steph Curry, you get results like this. pic.twitter.com/ydbeMBEXaT
— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 17, 2021
Last season, Griffin averaged 10.0 points per game for the Nets, and now he’s down to just 5.5. The former first overall pick has been ice cold from downtown, having connected on just nine of 56 triples, a lowly 16 percent on the year. He’s shooting 32 percent overall from the field.
Contrast that with the team’s third leading scorer in LaMarcus Aldridge (13.4 points per game on 58 percent from the field). Aldridge averages fewer minutes per game than Griffin but he puts up nearly eight more points per outing and has cracked the 20-point threshold five times so far.
“LaAutomatic” has won them a handful of games they had no business winning with his white-hot midrange shooting. Opposing bigs are clearly reluctant to help off of him. When they do, he makes them pay. When they don’t, it opens the paint for Harden to play slash and kick.
Aldridge had 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the floor on top of 11 rebounds when the Nets beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 117-112. The big man played so well that Nash was asked about a possible swap in his starting unit. Would he consider bringing Griffin off the bench to make room for Aldridge with the starters?
“We’ll see, we consider all of these things every day. That’s what coaches do….And sometimes you don't want to over react to situations but everything is up for debate and consideration."
-Steve Nash was asked if he'd swap L. Aldridge in for B. Griffin w/ #Nets starters pic.twitter.com/ZiuCXdxfdd
— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) November 24, 2021
“We’ll see, we consider all of these things every day. That’s what coaches do,” said Nash. “We’ll see though, long season, lots to consider. Lots of things that are unforeseen in the road ahead. And sometimes you don’t want to overreact to situations but everything is up for debate and consideration.”
On the one hand, Nash didn’t shoot down the idea and admitted they’ve already considered it. That’s a pretty big deal. On the other hand, he made it sound as if they’ve considered everything and that this potential change isn’t unique in that way. Possibly just due diligence to consider everything. So what should we expect?
Deciphering this Nash-ism, it’s easy to assume that Nash doesn’t really think whoever starts between Griffin or LA matters all that much. He might say something like it’s good to experiment with both of them in starting and closing units. He might point out that Aldridge’s (as well as Patty Mills’) hot shooting has been instrumental in buoying bench units so that he can buy rest for KD and The Beard occasionally.
Let’s assume what he means is basically that they’re going to try lots and lots of different combinations and it’s not necessarily because one guy is balling and the other is ice cold, although those things do factor into the grand calculus.
Keep in mind that as well as Aldridge hardly played when the Nets faced their toughest test to date in hosting the Golden State Warriors. He wasn’t really part of the game plan. LA only logged nine minutes total in that one.
That was probably the case because Griffin switches better defensively, whereas Aldridge is better suited to a drop coverage that teams can’t successfully deploy when Stephen Curry is running around bombing triples. Even when Griffin is cold, he might represent a better fit in certain matchups like that one. In that contest, a 117-99 loss, it was actually DeAndre’ Bembry who absorbed most of Aldridge’s minutes.
The too-long-don’t-read version? Things remain fluid for this work in progress.
It will still be intriguing to see if Aldridge gets promoted to the Nets’ starting unit. He’s certainly played well enough offensively to earn a shot. But even if they tried it and it worked, it’s best not to put it past Nash to then turn around and try something else a few nights later. They’re experimenting to fill their Kyrie void. And everything except benching Kevin Durant and James Harden feels like it’s probably on the table. They’re also in sole possession of first place at 13-5, so there’s always that whole “if it ain’t broke” thing to consider as well.