Figuring out answers to problems is a coach’s job at its most basic root. For veteran coaches, new problems presented may mimic old problems, but Jason Kidd is brand new to coaching. Always a great anticipator, Kidd has no doubt prepared himself for some of what he may encounter this season, but most of his decisions will come on the fly.
Among the areas Kidd and his staff need to address:
The highly-anticipated starting lineup that the Nets expect to trot out for most of the season didn’t see one tick of the clock together this preseason, so while preseason may have not been the best indicator for exactly what type of offense the Nets will be using, some things are clear.
Jason Kidd is delegating a lot of the offensive responsibility to his assistants, notably John Welch, who spent years learning under George Karl. Kidd’s emphasis has been unselfish play, ball movement, and freedom. He referred much to his championship team in Dallas as a comparison to this year’s Brooklyn team: while not dynamic athletically, the Nets are loaded with high-skilled and high IQ players. Each member of the Nets starting five has been a primary offensive target at some point in their respective careers, so they are used to having to create shots and having to create shots for others.
You can expect probably an initial “feel out” process, but if ball movement remains an emphasis, this unselfish style of offense combined with immense offensive talent could be explosive. At least, that’s the task facing Jason Kidd and the rest of the Nets coaching staff.
But make no mistake, the Nets will be given plenty of rope on that end of the floor. One prevalent theme is Lawrence Frank’s “PTG,” or “play the game.” There will be a loose framework of principles in place for the Nets to operate from, but letting them play is the key.
Deron Williams put it best recently when he said the Nets won’t run plays: they’ll make them.
The other constant you’ll see within that structure is Brook Lopez, a legitimate number one scoring option. While Kidd is stressing freedom within the offense, Lopez has elevated his offensive game enough to warrant constant attention from opposing defenses. Playing through Lopez eases the burden on the rest of the Nets lineup, so expect a steady stream of post-ups, pick-and-pops, and those set plays that has Lopez making swooping cuts from the weakside from the Nets offense.
Plus, Lopez will have more space than ever to work with now that the Nets have replaced Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans in the lineup with players whose ranges extend beyond that of a sleeping Yao Ming.
From a basketball standpoint, the defensive end represents the trickiest part of Kidd’s job this season. Sure, the Nets have enough talent on offense for Kidd to pull a gym teacher routine and just “roll the balls out and play.” But for all the skill the Nets bring scoring buckets, stopping them may be a harder challenge.
Kidd won’t be going at this alone. Kidd has a great relationship with Lawrence Frank, and that familiarity and trust no doubt helped Frank get the job. But make no mistake: Frank has few peers insofar as basketball acumen. Lawrence will be leaned on heavily to create and maintain the Nets’ defensive system.
You can already see his influences playing out on the court. A few weeks ago we wrote about the Nets’ new pick and roll coverage (we’ll have more on this in the coming weeks), a concept brought in directly from Frank. Along with strategy, he brings new terminology and an encyclopedic knowledge of the league, personnel and opposing team tendencies.
While Frank oversees the X’s and O’s, Kevin Garnett is the on-court general, holding everyone accountable, using his booming voice to both inform and intimidate. Garnett’s been a one-man defensive system with every stop he’s made, and although his beard is grayer and his knees are creakier, expect that same type of impact with Brooklyn.
So if Welch presides over the offense and Frank designs the defense, what does that leave Jason Kidd?
Perhaps the most important work: getting these 12 individuals to act and work as one single unit.
Kidd has been a leader for his entire professional career, and his skills in that area are undoubtedly his greatest strengths as a coach. The words sacrifice, unselfishness, and commitment to defense, which Kidd has been preaching since his hire, now need to turn into action.
By hiring a coach with no experience, the Nets and Kidd opened themselves up to heavy fire in media scrutiny. Those type of distractions could be crippling to a team with colossal expectations like those set out in Brooklyn. How to handle a defense hard-trapping on pick and rolls? He can lean on assistants for that. But a three-game losing skid, or dropping four out of five? Kidd’s response to those situations will be his greatest contributions as a coach this season.
The Nets have a bevy of veterans to police culture, but the clear and consistent message has to come from the top — and that starts with Jason Kidd. This will be Kidd’s toughest challenge; on the court, Kidd had all the answers.
But on the sideline? That question has yet to be answered.