Roundtable: Uncovering the Brooklyn Nets’ best lineups

Isaiah Whitehead
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

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Our former leader Devin Kharpertian may be on to new adventures and The Brooklyn Game is definitely changing, but let’s be clear: we still love our roundtables. In fact, our affinity for the group conversation is about as strong as Jarrett Jack’s adoration for the mid-range jumper. That is to say, we’re going to rely on our bread-and-butter until we hit you with the 1-Thou-Wow Shuffle or go 2-11.

Today, Michael, Domenic, Justin, and Ben dive into creating the Brooklyn Nets’ best lineups, project the squad’s biggest asset, and try to understand how things will shake out in 2016-2017. What’s the lineup do you think head coach Kenny Atkinson should put on the floor this season? Let us know!

If the season started today, what would be your lineup against the Boston Celtics?

Ben Nadeau: Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker, Brook Lopez

This is the best-case scenario as it involves two of the big summer signings, the promising sophomore, the Olympic-scoring phenom, and the franchise center. Other than that, who is really deserving to start? I could make an argument for Randy Foye or Sean Kilpatrick annnnnnnnnd that’s it. Both will get ample opportunity as the Nets tinker given the Nets’ desperate need for shooting on the floor, but this seems like the early bet. Jeremy Lin in the pick and roll with Brook Lopez will likely be the life or death of this team, so it hardly matters who they stick in around them, at least in October.

Domenic Lanza: Jeremy Lin, Randy Foye, Bojan Bogdanovic, Trevor Booker, Brook Lopez

This seems to be the safest lineup that the team can trot out there, doesn’t it? It’s a basic, paint-by-the-numbers build that can’t be criticized all that much. And, barring injury, that’s the route that I would expect Atkinson to take at this juncture. Foye wasn’t good last season, but I could see him playing a large role early in the year due to his veteran presents (or presence, for those that aren’t a part of Baseball Twitter) and reputation for being a solid three-point shooter. I hope that Atkinson’s reputation is well-earned and that this isn’t the case for too long — but, without the talent to force his hand, I think he’ll play it safe.

Michael Gorwitz: Jeremy Lin, Sean Kilpatrick, Bojan Bogdanovic, Chris McCullough, Brook Lopez  

With scoring at a premium — and then some — this season, when I put on my Atkinson hat (which I imagine to be a Sherlock Holmes-esque houndstooth number for the deep investigations he’ll have to do towards the end of the bench), I envision a lineup which features the most solid scoring options at each position. Lin can be frenetic and mistake-prone, but he’s one of the few Nets capable of creating his own shot. Other than that, Lopez is a rock (perhaps, literally) down low — but other than that? The rest is obviously where things get interesting: while Bojan Bogdanovic is the Net most likely to put up big numbers on any given night, sliding him over to small forward makes room for Kilpatrick, one of the only other remaining players to put up double-figures last year. The same goes for McCullough, who, while only averaging 4.7 points per game in his limited action last season, did get into double-digits several times in the final weeks of the season.

Justin DeFeo: Jeremy Lin, Randy Foye, Bojan Bogdanovic, Trevor Booker, Brook Lopez

Unfortunately, it looks like Atkinson has the potential to make bad choices in his debut lineup’s construction. Lin and Lopez are easy choices, obviously, and if Bogdanovic can carry over some of his Olympic scoring prowess then he’ll have the swing position locked down. Lin’s backcourt partner and Lopez’s frontcourt partner are the more interesting questions — will he opt for the kids or the veterans? Of course, Foye and Booker are both underwhelming choices, but they do bring sixteen years of experience — or, nearly more than the rest of the bench combined — and a certain beefy counterpoint to the beauty of Lin and Lopez.

Based on the pieces that the Nets currently have, would it make sense to go big, or small, or something in between?

BN: I’m not really sure if the Nets are necessarily big or small right now, but they have gotten pretty long. Remember how well Shaun Livingston worked out on defense a few years ago? Well, add (eventually) Isaiah Whitehead, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and McCullough to that equation under Atkinson and these athlete kids have the potential — again, eventually — to cause some chaos defensively. In the paint, size may not matter, but the Nets will likely look to control the perimeter defensively, give up less three-pointers, and stop constant penetration. 

If they can do that with their athleticism and length, they’ll live with whatever happens under the hoop.

DL: I think going somewhat big will work, given the length they have with Bogdanovic, Hollis-Jefferson, McCullough, Whitehead, and, eventually, LeVert. Frustrate the hell out of the opposition on the perimeter and good things will happen — Hollis-Jefferson proved that at times single-handedly last season. It may not be pretty from the get-go, given that it’s dependent on young players developing under a rookie head coach, but it makes a great deal of sense given their current personnel’s construction, strengths, and limitations.

MG: Though it doesn’t make for the most exciting brand of basketball, the strength of the Nets clearly resides in going big with Lopez and hoping those Brook-Lin pick and rolls mentioned by Ben below generate sufficient offense. While their future may rest in the length and athleticism of the young kids, that future will likely remain over the horizon for another season — so, unless they flip Lopez into picks, they might as well play to the strengths of their 20 point per game big man.

JD: I don’t see any particular advantage for this team to play “big,” which makes me lean towards putting out a smaller lineup, but they also lack someone with the skills needed to play a small ball four. Lopez makes perfect sense at center, so what other pieces could go around him? I’d be most curious about Hollis-Jefferson. Could he be a four in a small lineup? His lack of shooting range doesn’t help stretch the floor, but he’s certainly capable of guarding other small ball fours. So, I guess that leaves us with ‘in between’ as the answer to the question and that probably speaks to the struggles the Nets may face this season.

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

What is the greatest strength on the Nets roster? What can they do to play into that?

BN: The greatest strength on the team is clearly Brook Lopez — always has been, always will be. However, now they’ve gotten a bonafide pick and roll point guard for him in Lin. I’m excited to see what Lin can do as a much-needed option on offense, but Lopez is best off when he’s put in situations to succeed, not when he’s trying to do it alone in the post.

The Brook-Lin joke got old fast, but it’ll be the key to the Nets’ success this season.

DL: In my heart, I want to say it’s the pick and roll game that Lin and Lopez can play … but I’m not sure how true that is. Lopez scored a ton of points as the roll man, but he shot just 49.1% (95th in the NBA), and scored just 0.99 PPP (109th). It’s a volume over efficiency issue — Lin could help, but to what extent? So I’m going to stray from the path and give the nod to the team’s surprisingly strong point guard duo with Lin and Vazquez. Both have their limitations, but they’re also both capable of keeping the offense flowing and offer dramatically different looks. That is something that the team lacked last season and it will help in every element of the offense.

MG: Since I agree with Ben that their greatest strength is the two-man game of Lopez and Lin, I’ll use this space to make the case for the under-the-radar Bogdanovic. At 6’8 and capable of playing the two, he is a match-up disaster for opposing shooting guards. Here’s a small sample of his point totals from games last season: 26, 29, and 44 — you’ve got to imagine there’s still room to improve on that. He’s a 38% shooter from the three-point line, which, when coupled with his height, makes Bogdanovic a potential spark plug for the team this season.

JD: You don’t pursue, and eventually sign, Lin if you don’t think he will fit with your already established center. Lin and Lopez together could be a pretty formidable pick and roll/pop tandem under Atkinson. Lopez is not an above the rim after a roll finisher in the mold of DeAndre Jordan, but he has a knack for that short roll + floater, so if he and Lin can develop even the slightest bit of chemistry, I could see their two-man game being a staple in whatever offensive success this team has.

And, aside from a generic ‘lack of talent’ rib, what is its greatest weakness? Is there anything that they can do to mitigate that?

BN: I’m going to go with a wildcard answer here and say patience — or, it was, anyways. The Nets have shot themselves in the foot far too many times to count by trading away picks, assets, or potential contributors because they weren’t patient. They couldn’t wait to win, topple the Eastern Conference, and buy their way to a championship — so here we are. I appreciate Mikhail Prokhorov’s legitimate attempt at creating a winning team and culture, but it was also the franchise’s immediate downfall too.

This goes for the fans too — there will be some absolutely miserable nights this fall — I hope everybody is aware of that. Be patient, though, this is why they hired Sean Marks and Atkinson. They’ll get there, it just may take a while.

DL: It’s inexperience on multiple levels. The head coach is a rookie, the general manager is a rookie, and many of the lineups that we’re proposing are chock full of first or second-year players. This is also a team that hasn’t really played together before, which matters at least a little bit. When you factor in this team’s overall talent level — I promise this isn’t a generic ‘lack of talent’ rib — it is unlikely that this team will hit the ground running. From there, it’s a matter of how quickly everything comes together and waiting to see how the team’s core develops.

MG: To borrow a page from The Night Of, I’m going to say feet. Lopez has had trouble staying on the court in the past and this year’s first round pick, LeVert, is already out with a Jones Fracture of his own. For a team with little-to-no depth, nothing will derail this season (or in Lopez’ case, trade value) faster than a few frail metatarsals. Perhaps the Nets will consider putting an herbalist from Chinatown on the training staff, just to be safe.

JD: Firepower. Aside from Lopez, none of the other Nets have shown an ability to consistently score the ball on a night-in, night-out basis. Linsanity was fun, but he settled into a fringe starting role during the rest of his stops, as others around him handled the scoring burden. Bogdanovic has had big scoring nights in the NBA, but he’s also had some clunkers. In FIBA competitions, Bogdanovic is a gunslinger, but he’s yet to light that torch consistently in Brooklyn. After that, it’s a collection of has-beens, never-weres or maybe-somedays. Finding scoring on a night to night basis could be a real struggle.

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