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Welcome to another edition of What We Learned About The Nets. I’m trying out a new structure this week, which is to go deep on one takeaway from the previous week instead of doing less deep on three takeaways. It’s early in the year. We’re testing things out. Let’s talk about the Nets!

This week, I want to look at what the Nets are doing with their centers and, specifically, with how they’re managing those centers when it comes to lineup construction.

Through six games, Jarrett Allen has started three times. DeAndre Jordan has started three times. The Nets don’t really seem to be concerned with putting out a consistent starting lineup, which seems counter intuitive to the whole “how you manage a basketball team” thing.

But maybe it’s not? Maybe it’s okay?

Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan’s Situational Minutes

First, let’s look at which games the Nets started which players and — because it also matters when it comes to analyzing this question — who that team started at center.

Jarrett Allen

Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns
Knicks: Mitchell Robinson
Rockets: Clint Capela

DeAndre Jordan

Grizzlies: Jonas Valanciunas
Pacers: Myles Turner
Pistons: Andre Drummond

So, there’s some data. But the Minnesota and New York games came before Kenny Atkinson messed around with the starting lineup at all, so maybe a better question is this: why did Allen start against the Rockets, have a strong game, and then return to the bench on Saturday against the Pistons?

Let’s start with what Allen did against the Rockets. In 31 minutes of action, Allen scored seven points on 3-for-3 shooting. He grabbed 10 rebounds. He blocked a pair of shots. Jordan ended up playing most of his minutes when Houston put Tyson Chandler on the floor, with Allen handling the Capela minutes and the late game minutes where the Rockets shifted P.J. Tucker down to center.

But against the Pistons and against the rebounding behemoth that is Andre Drummond, the team turned once again to Jordan as a starter. It was Jordan playing 30 minutes and putting up 10 points and 10 rebounds while Allen saw 18 minutes of run. A quick look at when the two players were in shows us that while both players did see time against Drummond, all of the minutes where Drummond sat and ran one of their stretchier bigs out at the five featured Allen in the game. Jordan was the primary player responsible for playing against Drummond.

The quick read of this situation might look like this: bigs like Drummond who rebound well and score inside need to be matched up by someone you trust more inside — that appears to be Jordan — and bigs who aren’t so paint bound or who don’t post up as much are the guys you want to use Allen against.

Allen’s current 18.8% rebounding rate is the highest mark of his career, but this year is the seventh in a row that Jordan’s had a rebound rate of at least 21.6%. So, some common sense here: if you’re playing against Drummond or against a paint-bound big like Tyson Chandler, you can try to negate that rebounding advantage by playing Jordan over Allen. Even in those limited minutes against the Rockets, we saw Jordan 21.7% of available rebounds when he was on the floor, while Allen grabbed 16.3%.

And rebounding aside, there’s also just general defensive things that necessitate one or the other at times.

Against a team like Houston, who runs Clint Capela and P.J. Tucker out there for long periods of time at the five, Allen’s the better option. Capela’s not a stretch big, but he’s also not much of a post-up player, as he’s averaging just 0.4 post ups per game. Capela’s whole offense is pick-and-roll, and Allen’s the better option to defend in that situation because he’s more mobile than Jordan. Same goes for when the Rockets had Tucker in the game. Tucker’s a spot up guy on offense. You’d rather have Allen out there on the perimeter against that kind of big.

Let’s take the Detroit game as an example. Drummond has led the NBA in rebounding in three of the last four seasons. He’s 22nd in the NBA in post ups per game at 3.2. And while Drummond managed to put up one of his monster 25 and 20 games on Saturday night, I’d still argue that it was the right call to go with the matchup that they went with.

The other part of this question is this: Is playing this matchup based approach to lineups something that’s workable long term? Will it disrupt the team’s chemistry?

Well…look, I’m not inside the Nets locker room, so I don’t know how anything will actually impact the chemistry, but I doubt this has much effect. Allen and Jordan do so many of the same things offensively — both are among the league leaders in screen assists and can roll to the rim — that it’s only natural to let the things they differ on be the things that help determine playing time. Jordan’s the big, interior defender. Allen’s the energy guy who makes some impressive blocks but is at his best when not facing an elite inside big.

And for now, I bet that’s how things remain. Faster paced matchup against a big who isn’t a major interior force? Give Jarrett Allen the nod. A game against someone whose post moves are scary? DeAndre Jordan time.

Yes, it’s an imperfect situation, but it’s what the Nets have. Both players will have nights where they struggle and nights where they look more than capable of holding their own and excelling at their role. It’ll be frustrating and the lack of a real stretch five option on this team to give opponents a third look is definitely one issue for Brooklyn, but if the Nets continue to struggle to win games, I wouldn’t put the blame on Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan.

Wait, Just a Little More

I know I said this week’s WWLAN would focus on just one thing, but here’s a quick list of some other Nets related thoughts I had this week:

  • Caris LeVert needs to be closing games over Spencer Dinwiddie.
  • David Nwaba brings enough defensively that I don’t mind how he’s struggled on the other end. Think he should be getting more minutes than the zero he got against the Pistons.
  • Spencer Dinwiddie has looked rough lately. Twitter is turning on him. It hasn’t been pretty.
  • Really, the bench itself is just not performing at the level I expected. Rodions Kurucs has been a major part of that, as he’s just looked lost so much. Is there some other option at the backup four spot?