Losing an aspect that’s integral to a team’s success forces tense change. It requires the team to search intensively for something to fill the gaping hole. Most attempts end up futile, as the majority of organizations don’t possess the extra “dirt” necessary to replace a vital feature. So in a league where size and dominating big men are hard to come by, the Brooklyn Nets looked to be out of answers when tantalizing center Brook Lopez was sidelined for the rest of the year. The sun seemed to be setting on the Nets who were already enduring a loss in 4 of their last 5 games. In searching for a solution, however, Brooklyn was still able to find a sizable response to their disadvantage.
Yes, the Nets had to pluck Garnett and Pierce out of their comfort zones and thrust them into the Center and Power Forward positions respectively. It did make them drastically smaller. Yet that lack of size also translated into tremendous versatility, especially on defense. According to NBA.com, Brooklyn was 28th in the league in defensive efficiency till the new years. In 2014 amidst their 10-2 stretch, the Nets are 5th. It certainly helps that the entire team is now willing to put in the effort to battle around screens and to hustle rigorously to close out on a shooter after converging in the paint. But there are several more pieces to this puzzle.
With Livingston, Pierce, and Johnson at 6’7” (Pierce and Johnson also possess uncharacteristic strength for a wing) and Anderson at 6’6”, Brooklyn contains 4 players who can at times guard any position from Point Guard to Power Forward. This simplifies their pick and roll and switching schemes. Unless the play involves Kevin Garnett and thus the opposing big man, the Nets are unafraid of forgoing the initial assignments and sending whomever is closest to the ball to guard the ball handler. That is for both the pick and roll and for off ball screens.
Pierce starts guarding Lewis and Livingston starts guarding Allen. Allen and Lewis run an off ball screen, and the 2 Nets players peacefully switched instead of fighting to recover on their original assignments.
Jason Kidd’s trust in Brooklyn’s adaptability and athleticism is exhibited in plenty of his other defense schemes. They often send double-teams to opposing star players and trust their rotation ability if the ball handler is able to escape with a pass. In addition, the Nets frequently converge in the paint to aid Garnett in protecting them rim and play off ball defense relatively very far away from their individual assignment. All of these strategies hinge on Brooklyn’s ability to be agile and close out on the perimeter quick enough. They’re able to put pressure on the penetrator and to recover before relinquishing any legitimate opportunities.
Offensively the Nets were required to replace the player they ran their system through. Initially their scheme was predictable and eventually not affective. Brooklyn attempted to penetrate off the dribble or via the pick and roll, create space for others, and then dish it out to the perimeter. Although decent, the plan required constant one on one attacks to stimulate the offense. Rather they began to desire to collapse the defense without any forced isolations.
Brooklyn became a smaller team overall, but still possessed a size advantage on the perimeter. Both quality post up wings, Johnson and Pierce pose the threat to score in the post against a relatively vertically challenged defender. Yet, it is Joe Johnson Kidd has decided to be the Nets’ primary option.
If the beginning assignments pit a smaller opponent on Johnson, Kidd attacks the match up and forces the defense to send back up help. If not, the Nets run a pick and roll with the PG where Johnson forces the opposing PG to defend him. The double-team appears to aid the smaller opponent, and Johnson delivers a crisp pass to the open player to evoke offensive activity. Since Brooklyn is very selfless and constantly ensures that the ball finds its way to the open man, they’re able to capitalize. This is illustrated by Brooklyn’s increase in assist ratio during this 12-game hot streak. The Johnson post up is significantly more effective and inclusive of the entire team than the harmful isolations Brooklyn found itself running when it was 11 games under .500. The Nets were 25th in offensive efficiency in the first ten days after Lopez’s injury; they’re 13th since.
A lot of criticism and skepticism over Jason Kidd’s ability to coach spread like wildfire when Brooklyn was a miserable 10-21. But Kidd stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park with some of his tremendous chess moves. Utilizing his team’s newfound versatility with Pierce at the 4 and selecting Johnson as his primary play-maker in order to exploit Joe’s size certainly saved the Nets’ season. In the offseason, Brooklyn would have perceived a 20-23 start and a current 7th place ranking in the East as a colossal failure. Instead it is an ode to Kidd and the players’ ability to probe outside the box to discover the solution.