The Brooklyn Nets enter 2017-18 with a gluten of guards. Heading into training camp, eight guys naturally fit into either backcourt position, and Caris LeVert, Allen Crabbe and even Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can slide into the two if the situation calls for it. Of everyone, however, only three or four are going to be the Nets’ primary point guards: Jeremy Lin, Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell and maybe Isaiah Whitehead.
Each has a unique set of skills that they can maximize in different situations, and Kenny Atkinson is already comfortable with most of his ball-handlers. This piece is going to highlight those four because their duties are going to be different from the other guards’. They will be Brooklyn’s floor generals. The others, who can serve as secondary ball handlers, aren’t going to have the full-time job of initiating the offense and making their teammates better. And to a certain extent, Russell won’t have that job either.
If I’m Kenny Atkinson, I’m opening the season with Jeremy Lin as my starting point guard and D’Angelo Russell at the two. Some won’t agree with this. Russell, who played a lot in the point guard role with the Lakers, doesn’t prefer that spot, and I can’t blame him. He’s always been a natural scorer. Lin, on the other hand, has spent his entire career at that position. Last year — his first with the Nets — was solid despite the mess that was his hamstring. In 36 games, he averaged 14.5 points and 5.1 assists in just 24.5 minutes, and he looked comfortable running Atkinson’s offense. Some of that stems from its simplicity.
Atkinson runs a motion offense that involves players moving the ball around and getting up a ton of shots. The Nets didn’t play through one player unless it was Brook Lopez, and even he got a fair amount of shots off the extra pass. I expect this to continue this year (just without Brook).
Lin does a great job of slashing and forcing the defense to move. He’s a solid athlete, but not the most explosive. To offset that, Lin uses his brain and his teammates. From what I saw of him last year, he was at his best when handling the ball in the pick-and-roll. Depending on how the defense played him, Lin has the balanced repertoire to convert a variety of shots and his dialed-in perimeter shot (37.2 percent from 3) made him just a bit tougher to guard.
Basketball is more than offense, and I don’t know if Lin’s an underrated defender or Brooklyn as a team was so bad that everyone just looked like garbage. I think a lot of the latter has to do with it.
Jeremy Lin isn’t an All-Defensive guy, but he’s serviceable. However, having defense is porous, as the Nets’ would make Gary Payton look bad.
The backup to Lin is almost guaranteed to be Spencer Dinwiddie. After one year with the Nets, Dinwiddie has finally got the ball rolling on his NBA career. His two failed seasons with the Detroit Pistons are in the past, and he’s poised to be in a position to make an impact with the Nets.
Dinwiddie turned a lot of heads last season as both a floor general and a shooter — things he never got to showcase with Detroit. The Nets gave him 22.6 minutes a night, and Dinwiddie gave them back 7.3 points, 3.1 assists and a 37.6 percent clip from the floor. The most important thing, though, was consistency. Night after night, Atkinson could rely on Dinwiddie to make the right play, and despite his limited time, the point guard boasted a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s not in Chris Paul territory, but it’s encouraging to see a young player make the right decisions. Eventually, he’ll be able to go for home runs.
In his second year, I imagine Atkinson wants to see more of the same from Dinwiddie, but with some more aggression. The second unit is going to need someone who can create shots for themselves, and Sean Kilpatrick can’t carry the load by himself. Synergy has Dinwiddie in the 83rd percentile on isolations, trailing Trevor Booker, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kilpatrick.
I can’t be the only who thought Isaiah Whitehead looked uncomfortable last year, right? It was much worse at the beginning of the season, and he developed nicely as the games went by. However, I don’t know where he falls on the depth chart, or if the Nets even want to run him at point guard.
Whitehead struggled on both ends of the floor, but I noted how aggressive he was. And how that was unrelenting. He just played basketball. The turnovers, fouls or missed shots didn’t slow him down, and the last thing you’d want a young player to do is to lose confidence.
I don’t have anything specific I want to see from him next year — just overall improvement. If you turned my wrist and forced me to pick though, it’d be outside shooting and decision-making. Whitehead connected on just 29.5 percent of his 3s and averaged 1.9 turnovers a night in 22.5 minutes. His improvement wouldn’t have to be stratospheric, just enough to stay in the rotation and be ready; steadiness and reliability are valuable traits. That way, if something happens and the coaching staff thrusts him into a bigger role, he’ll be ready.
I alluded to this in the beginning, but D’Angelo Russell is going to split time at two positions. He can play point guard, but the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t do a great job with that experiment. Russell’s a scorer who can make plays, but he’s not actively looking to create shots for others. If it’s the right play, he’ll do it. But, he’ll also likely want to get up as many shots as possible.
Whatever Brooklyn wants to do with him, he’ll succeed. I expect to see him coming off screens and shooting a bunch of open looks (hopefully he’ll make them). At 6-foot-5, Russell matches up well against either position, and he’s comfortable with the ball in his hands. His firm handle lets him knife through defenders and break them down off the dribble from time to time, and the only issue is finishing around the basket.
According to NBA.com, Russell shot 50.7 percent in the restricted area. That’s… just bad. Oddly enough, he shot 47.2 percent in the paint but outside of the restricted area (which is a forgotten zone in today’s NBA). Some of those struggles in the paint were a direct result of the Lakers’ spacing issues. The Nets have shooters, so the floor should be more spaced. (That’s the ideal circumstance, at least.)
Above all else, I just want to see Russell break out. A lot of people aren’t a fan of him for various reasons, and they’re already writing him off, even though he wasn’t in the best situation.