Is It Time To Start Andray Blatche?

How much should Andray Blatche (left) play in Game 6? (AP)

When the Brooklyn Nets signed Andray Blatche in September to a non-guaranteed deal, to say I went ballistic would be an understatement. I ranted for weeks. I wrote at length about how his talent was exclusively perception, and his combination of on- and off-court ineptitude made the deal little more than a worthless signing. I yelled at people. I fell so deep down the desperation rabbit hole a writer that I’d never spoken with in person messaged me to reassure me it was a non-guaranteed deal. This stuff actually happened. I was just livid as a human being that the Nets would give this waste of a basketball player a shot.

I say this because I need to make it abundantly clear: if you’d told me in September that I’d be advocating starting Andray Blatche in an elimination playoff game, I would’ve asked when Brook Lopez’s funeral was, and if mine was scheduled for the same day.

And yet, here we are. Because the way this series has progressed, and the season long mea culpa about his performance aside, there’s no doubt that Andray Blatche should play starter’s minutes minutes possible next to Brook Lopez in Game 6 against the Chicago Bulls Thursday night.

This isn’t always prudent. If the Nets play Blatche & Lopez next to each other for too long, there will be stretches when both have to rest, and the Nets are stuck running Reggie Evans & Kris Humphries at the 4 and 5 spots. (Ironically, having Nazr Mohammed — who the Nets pursued this summer before he spurned them for the opponent Chicago Bulls — would’ve been very useful for eating garbage minutes. Also: Jason Collins.) So if Lopez & Blatche each play, say, 35 minutes, they need to be staggered to some degree.

(As a note, I’m intentionally saying “starter’s minutes” rather than “start” as a general principle because it doesn’t matter so much who plays in the first 30 seconds as it does the full 48 minutes.)

To some degree, Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo has done that. For all the criticism he gets for not playing the two in tandem, Carlesimo has gone with the Blatche-Lopez combo for 36 minutes this series, 16 of them in the fourth quarter — more than any other two-big combo in the fourth, and twice as many minutes as the starting tandem of Evans-Lopez. In these five games, Carlesimo has used the Blatche-Lopez combo in the fourth quarter for more than half as many minutes as he did in the entire regular season.

And it’s looked good:

Since Carlesimo took over as interim head coach of the Nets, he’s often talked about his desire to go “big,” specifically playing bigger players over smaller ones to utilize that advantage. The Nets’ best “big” advantage comes from their deadly offensive center combo of Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche, a combination that Carlesimo has seldom used in crunch time: the two have seen the court together in the fourth quarter just six times under Carlesimo, for an average of five fourth-quarter minutes a game. The Nets outscored opponents 68-51 in the 30 minutes those two shared the floor in regular season fourth quarters, a dominating performance in a small sample, leading him to use it more in the playoffs — and it’s delivered.

Andray Blatche

Andray Blatche (AP)

Much like the regular season, the Blatche-Lopez combo has proven dominant: With the two on the floor together in the fourth, the Nets have outscored the Bulls 40-17 in 16 minutes, with the two bigs either scoring or assisting on over half the team’s field goals. With the two on the floor in all quarters, they’ve outscored the Bulls 91-53 in 36 minutes. That’s right, 91-53.

Blatche and Lopez is an intriguing combo for a variety of reasons: with Chicago’s frontline suffering from plantar fasciitis (Noah) and defensive ineptitude (Boozer), running out Blatche instead of Evans gives the Nets an enormous offensive upgrade. Additionally, Blatche merely functioning as an offensive threat the Bulls must respect puts him light-years ahead of Evans. Blatche’s offensive numbers speak for themselves: 19.5 points per 36 minutes, a 51.2% field goal percentage, a PER of 21.9, and an offensive rating of 107 — all career highs.

(Hey, remember when I said I’d rather the Nets take a chance on Eddy Curry than Andray Blatche? Me neither. So let’s just all live in the reality that says THAT NEVER HAPPENED. Cool.)

Watch this play again:

Great highlight? Yes. Big play in a playoff game? Sure. And without Andray Blatche on the floor, it never happens.

Watch again. Carlos Boozer is guarding Blatche, and since Blatche is a threat from outside of 17 feet, has to pick him up as soon as he reaches the foul line. Because of that, he’s not a threat to help down on Joe Johnson, even though Johnson is bunched right next to Boozer. With the non-threatening Evans on the floor, Boozer’s correct defensive position in this same play would be to sag off Evans, which would put him in perfect help position.

But with Blatche on the floor, it’s Noah’s instinct to help up, since Boozer has to stay attached to Blatche and a dish from Williams would give Johnson easy inside post position for a layup. And since Noah’s the one to help, that leaves Brook Lopez wide open for the dunk.

What Evans brings to the table over Blatche is historic rebounding and strong defensive acumen, one that helps buoy Lopez’s dearth on that end. But thanks to Noah’s injury and Nazr Mohammed’s perpetual mediocrity, Lopez is able to help off his man much more quickly, and the paint has been where Chicago attempts have gone to die. If Lopez is playing defense as well as he has this series, Evans’s additional defensive responsibility becomes far less important, and Blatche’s rebounding ability means the Nets can compensate for losing Evans’s primary edge.

This similarly isn’t an indictment of Evans, who has rightfully become a fan favorite at Barclays Center this year. Every team needs a player like Reggie Evans, who’s willing to play his role to perfection. But the Los Angeles Clippers best utilized him in bursts off the bench, not for 50 minutes during a triple-overtime game. Evans is a player with significant limitations that allow a vaunted-yet-limited defense like Chicago’s starting unit to load up on Brooklyn’s legitimate offensive options. With Blatche on the floor, that’s not an option.

While Lopez has an edge defensively over the plodding Blatche, they’re also interchangeable as far as defensive assignments, and the two can switch players without losing effectiveness:

In fourth quarters, the Bulls have shot just 6-23 with Lopez & Blatche on the floor, and 4-12 in the paint.

One major issue: can Blatche play that long? His calf is admittedly “very sore,” and he was struggling to stay on the floor in the fourth quarter of Game 5. Additionally, Blatche may not be well conditioned enough to play starter’s minutes; Carlesimo said that Blatche’s conditioning needed work 81 games into the season. He’s done quite well limiting him to just about 20 minutes in each of the five playoff games.

That said: according to Carlesimo, Blatche requested to stay in the game in the fourth quarter even with his calf injury, and scored 10 points on 4-6 shooting. Think about that for a second. Andray Blatche convinced his coach to let him play through pain in a crucial playoff game, and he delivered.

Imagine saying that sentence a year ago today. Then imagine saying this: in an elimination playoff game, the Nets are best giving starter’s minutes to Andray Blatche.


  1. Absolute joke that Evans/Lopez has played 96 more minutes this series than Lopez/Blatche.

    I’m also tired of hearing that Evans is a good defender. He’s better than Blatche (who is pretty bad on D) but against Boozer? I haven’t seen anything that’s made me say “wow, we need Evans on Boozer at all times.” In fact, it’s the opposite.

    It’s why Carlesimo won’t be here next season.

  2. There was another play in the 1st quarter, I believe it was:

    Lopez was trying to get post position, but was unable to do so because he had both Noah and Boozer on either side of him cutting him off from getting deeper, meanwhile, Evans was left all by his lonesome at the FT line.

    Lopez did pass the ball to Evans, but it resulted in a Nate steal (it kind of looked like both players’ faults: Lopez could’ve made a better pass, and Evans seemed to start moving to the rim before the ball actually got to him, leaving the ball more exposed for Robinson to come in and steal it).

    As an aside, do you really think Evans is a good defensive player? And even if he were, he certainly isn’t the right guy on Boozer.

  3. Couldn’t hurt. He could start with Lopez and then have Humphries and Evans sub in later. Or Hump can start with Blatche coming in.

    Evans’s offensive rebounding has been pretty average and while he is finding other things to do, he still seems to have rebound tunnel vision. He really doesn’t need to play as much as he does. It can’t hurt to try something new with the line up.

  4. With all due respect, that Lopez backdoor cut was successful because Jimmy Butler was top-locking Johnson, not allowing him to use Blatche’s screen. Noah must give support between Johnson and the basket, as that is where Butler is sending him. He overhelps and Lopez makes a smart basketball play by flooding to the rim. The reasons why Boozer would be up at the level of a Blatche pin down screen for Joe Johnson aren’t unusual.

    1. “The reasons why Boozer would be up at the level of a Blatche pin down screen for Joe Johnson aren’t unusual.”

      Exactly — which is why Blatche on the floor makes this possible, rather than Reggie Evans.

      1. Sorry, I miswrote that a bit. Boozer must be up at the level of that pin-down for Johnson no matter if you or I set it. What do you think would happen if Butler trailed out that pin down and Boozer was sagging off Evans or Blatche?

        1. Not true — Boozer doesn’t have to be at the level. With Evans on the floor this season the defender on him (often Boozer) has essentially played free safety, particularly with Williams on one side of the floor. My guess is that Boozer would’ve been on the strong side of the paint with Evans at the free throw line, which would have cut off the passing lane into the paint.

          Watch where Boozer starts as Williams comes up the floor — he’s first keyed onto Williams, then steps back to cover Blatche. With Evans on the floor, he never steps back.

          Also, that’s not really a pin-down for Johnson, since Blatche never slid over to set a screen. It could have developed into one.

          I don’t disagree that Butler’s top-lock helps create the look, since it forces Noah to help. But Blatche being on the floor forces Boozer out of that help position.

          1. If its not really a pin-down, what exactly is Butler top-locking then? The name of the play is “Ear”. Its a middle pin-down for Johnson. If the defender isn’t at the level of the screen, Johnson’s got a FT line jumper or a tight curl to get to his right hand. Now, there’s no screen because Butler top-locks it, which puts more pressure on the low-man help. In this case, Noah’s positioning was poor and he failed his assignment. I agree with you completely about Chicago’s free-safety defense when Evans is in the ball-game, it’s just that it wouldn’t really apply to this particular play.

            1. I should clarify — I meant that it’s not a pindown because it never develops into one.

              I agree that Noah’s abandonment of Lopez was poor, but that was a defensive option he chose because he was the only man available to help. The disagreement here is that the low help could have easily come from Boozer had Evans been in the game because of Boozer’s defensive positioning in those instances. This is how they’ve played Evans all series regardless of the play, and with Boozer’s presumed position on the floor with Evans in, that dunk doesn’t happen. It’s a unique failure on Chicago’s part, but it’s also one that doesn’t happen with their starting unit on the floor.

              1. Your right, that dunk may not happen. But Joe Johnson getting a clean look from 12′ would.