On Wednesday, July 22nd, NBA games will tip-off for the first time since the league suspended play on March 11t. 22 NBA teams have been quarantined in the Disney “bubble” since July 8th, and the time to play has finally arrived.
Ahead of the scheduled “seeding games” set to begin on July 30th, each team will play three exhibition games, acting as a pre-season of sorts for the second half of the 2019-2020 regular season. What are these games going to look like for the Brooklyn Nets, and what should fans be looking out for?
These games will be different from typical NBA contests, as the first matchup will use four 10-minute quarters, rather than the typical 12-minute quarters. This change will only be in place for the first of three matchups in an effort to prevent injuries – primarily soft tissue – after a prolonged absence from competitive basketball.
The NBA has considered using rotating referees on the court, which, in theory, decreases the chance of any of them contracting COVID-19. It’s clear the league plans to use these games as a trial period for the rest of the restart, and the broadcast will be no exception. All 33 games will be available to the public through a combination of national channels like ESPN and NBA TV, or locally using NBA League Pass.
Commissioner Adam Silver has said that fans should expect never before seen angles of play, and there is still much to be finalized in terms of crowd noise and fake atmosphere.
The Nets Opponents
The Brooklyn Nets schedule is as follows:
Vs New Orleans, Wednesday July 22 – 7PM
@ San Antonio, Saturday July 25 – 4:30 PM
Vs Utah, Monday July 27 – 5:30
The Nets have played each team in the regular season, but the luxury of roster continuity isn’t available to teams in the bubble. The Nets have had an abundance of dropouts due to positive COVID-19 test and various injuries, replacing them with the likes of Jamal Crawford, Lance Thomas, Justin Anderson and Donta Hall. The Pelicans have added first pick Zion Williamson since they last matched up against Brooklyn, and New Orleans management acquired Sindarius Thornwell as a replacement player, replacing Josh Gray. Williamson is currently away from the bubble attending a family matter, and his playing status is unclear.
The San Antonio Spurs have announced that LaMarcus Aldridge’s season is over due to surgery, and they also signed Tyler Zeller for the restart. Brooklyn destroyed the Spurs on their home floor less than a week before the NBA went on hiatus, but suffered a loss in the AT&T Center earlier this season. With Aldridge out, look out for the Austrian big man Jakob Poeltl to shine in a starting role.
After the blockbuster offseason acquisition of Mike Conley, the Utah Jazz seemed poised for a deep playoff run this season. Unfortunately, the longtime Memphis point guard underperformed drastically for Utah, and the team as a whole has been surrounded by controversy. Star center and two-time Defensive Player Of the Year recipient Rudy Gobert was the first NBA player to test positive for the novel coronavirus, and the only other positive case on the team was All-Star teammate Donovan Mitchell, which put their relationship under a microscope and revealed deep-rooted issues the team’s best two players had with one other. Much like San Antonio, Utah’s Bojan Bogdanovic underwent surgery during the offseason, and his recovery has ended his season.
Saying that the Nets are entering this restart with uncertainty would be an understatement. The Nets will likely be employing starting lineups that have played zero minutes together, they are in a completely new environment, and head coach Jacque Vaughn has barely gotten his feet wet, only coaching two games.
Both the point guard and power forward spots are up for contention, with a plethora of candidates for both. At the point, the favorite seems to be Two-Way G Leaguer Chris Chiozza. However, he has plenty of competition. The Nets signed two combo guards – Jamal Crawford and Tyler Johnson – and could play it safe with veteran Garrett Temple, who played backup point guard in spurts this year. At power forward, the Latvian second sound pick, Rodions Kurucs, seems likely to start in both Wilson Chandler and Taurean Prince’s absence. As a rookie, Kurucs was a pleasant surprise for Brooklyn –starting 46 games. But this year, surrounded by legal issues, he saw his production dip drastically and was out of the rotation for much of the year. Traditionally, he was the only “true power” forward on the Nets roster entering the bubble until longtime Knick Lance Thomas was signed, who was also on Brooklyn’s roster during pre-season.
⛹️♂️ Nets @ Night ⛹️♂️ pic.twitter.com/VSKUpQmQui— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) July 17, 2020
>> Lance Thomas has entered the chat pic.twitter.com/oxaRAGuapB— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) July 18, 2020
Both Luwawu-Cabbarot and Kurucs have been photographed playing with the starting unit running the 4, and Thomas has been quoted to say “I’m going to make open shots, do whatever the team needs me to do. Probably guard the other team’s best player, do the things that got me into the league and do the things I enjoy doing.” (NBA.com) One can easily infer guarding the other team’s best player would mean that Thomas expects to start. Mystery surrounds the power forward spot for Brooklyn, and fans should keep a close eye on who starts for coach Vaughn against New Orleans on July 22.
Jacque Vaughn’s Scheme
The Brooklyn Nets ranked eighth in the league in defensive rating this year, but their roster does not tout any spectacular individual defenders. Only two players had defensive RAPTOR ratings greater than +0.7, both being centers. This begs the question: how did the Nets defend so well this year? The answer is simple, Kenny Atkinson’s schemes. The Nets’ former coach employed drop coverage heavily in the pick-and-roll, where the center (or the defender guarding the roll man) will drop into the paint and the ball handler will fight through the screen. The Nets prioritized taking away three pointers and paint attempts – the most efficient shots in basketball – instead allowing teams to attempt mid range jump shots. This same scheme is employed by coach Mike Budenholzer – who Atkinson used to work with in Atlanta – whose Bucks have the No. 1 defense in the league at a historic margin.
With Atkinson no longer coaching the Nets, how will their defensive scheme change? And should it change at all? After all, drop coverage did work this year for Brooklyn. However, Atkinson often stood by this scheme—almost to a stubborn extent— and gave up mid range jump shots to opposing teams late in games, which cost the Nets multiple clutch victories.
Although the personnel for the Orlando restart is very different from the roster on March 11th, when the NBA went on hiatus, coach Vaughn will implement his own schemes in effort to win the coaching job for the 2020-2021 season. In the two games Vaughn did coach, there weren’t any drastic changes to the Nets’ schemes, but mobile center Jarrett Allen did switch onto guards more often than in the past, indicating Vaughn could potentially be more lenient in the future. In these upcoming exhibition games, how the Brooklyn Nets play defense is sure to be intriguing.