By Steve Lichtenstein
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The Brooklyn Nets won the opening tip of their first preseason game in Washington last night. Within 15 seconds, Paul Pierce took a handoff from Kevin Garnett and calmly knocked down a 20-foot jumper.
I immediately turned to my younger son Jack and it was understood—yeah, this was something different.
You see, last season those positions in the Nets lineup were manned by Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans. Offense wasn’t so simple way back then.
This was just our first look at the new-look Nets, with all the stars finally on the floor (except for injured guards Deron Williams and Jason Terry) after general manager Billy King’s Summer Makeover—Part Two. No one needed any more to be convinced that this roster is just oozing with talent.
This had nothing to do with this meaningless exhibition’s end result, a 111-106 Nets’ overtime win secured by the Nets’ third-stringers and future D-leaguers against the lowly Wizards’ top two units.
No, it was just that I was amazed at how the Nets seemed like they had an endless wave of skilled players at rookie coach Jason Kidd’s disposal.
Take forward Andrei Kirilenko. The Wizards would kill for a player of his caliber. With his size, wingspan, and active hands, he is a stealth disruptor of opposing offenses. He plays an intelligent game on both ends, filling up every column on the stat sheet.
On the Nets, he’ll come off the bench to share time at both forward spots and will probably average about half the game in playing time.
There’s just not enough room on the floor. Up front, Garnett and Pierce are both headed for the Hall of Fame while center Brook Lopez is continuing his development as that rare offensive force from both the low post and mid-range.
That leaves Kirilenko to fight for the leftover scraps of playing time with others who also bring unique gifts to the table—players like Andray Blatche (scoring), Reggie Evans (rebounding) and Mirza Teletovic (three-point shooting).
The backcourt will be less in flux, once Williams and Terry return. Shaun Livingston and Terry will back up Williams and Joe Johnson, with Alan Anderson, another who has ability to provide instant offense, likely the odd man out.
This fascinating experiment is now in Kidd’s inexperienced hands. In addition to settling on a rotation and roles for all this talent, the most useful impact he could make is if he succeeds in implementing the culture of sharing that made Kidd so iconic as a player.
It’s not that simple, considering that so many Nets players have the confidence to take their man one-on-one at any time. Even in the 12 minutes the starters played last night, there was a tendency for the offense to stagnate. While Lopez was cooking up 15 points (but had zero rebounds), you got the feeling that others were itching to pull the trigger the next time they got the ball. Even weak teams like Washington can get on runs if the Nets offense continuously settles on inefficient jump shots.
But when the Nets move the ball—wow, they have the potential to be dominant against even the top defenses. Unlike last season when the Nets so often played offense 3-on-5, you can’t leave anyone open.
Livingston was the primary delivery man last night, dishing out five assists in 19 minutes in place of Williams. I guess that’s why Kidd believes Williams, who is a vastly superior scorer, will average double-digit assists this season, assuming he stays healthy.
Defense might be a little bit more of a work-in-progress, as the Nets have to get better at defending the pick-and-roll (particularly when it’s Lopez’ man setting the screen) as well as the three-point line. The Wizards were horrid from the floor last night, not uncommon for a team’s opening preseason game, but the Nets will be in trouble if they intend on giving teams like the Heat all those free looks from the short corners.
But overall last night was only the start of what should be an enjoyable journey for Nets fans. The regular season can’t start soon enough. We may have only dipped our toe in the water last night, but we can’t wait to dive in.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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