With the loss of Paul Pierce and the coaching change from Jason Kidd to Lionel Hollins, questions about the Nets starting lineup have crept into the minds of Nets’ fans and doubters alike. The Nets’ depth was constantly on display last year, even after multiple injuries to both their backcourt and frontcourt. Particularly, the development of Mason Plumlee and coming out party for Mirza Teletovic gave Brooklyn the type of boost and energy the team needed. With Andray Blatche likely playing elsewhere, Kevin Garnett in the twilight of his career, and Brook Lopez returning to man the center position, the question as to who will lineup next to Lopez to start the season has been prevalent. With that in mind, here are the 4 power forward options to line up next to the Nets’ 7 foot center next season.
1. Kevin Garnett: The Nets had very little time to acclimate to their lineup last season with Garnett lining up next to Pierce and Lopez before the latter’s injury. With not even a full 90 minutes together, the Nets averaged the 3rd lowest amount of points per possession out of their 20 lineup combinations last season and 8th lowest points per possession allowed. The sample size may be small, but it’s questionable whether Garnett is quick enough to guard opposing power forwards or comfortable enough on offense after playing center for the Celtics only a season ago. They also only rebounded 45% of their opportunities, the major weak point for the Nets throughout the entire season.
More importantly, Garnett will be on a major minutes limit, something that may not allow the starting unit to develop the type of chemistry necessary to reach their full potential. If KG can keep up with opposing power forwards and focus on defense and rebounding while allowing Lopez to focus on scoring, this combination could work. Whether he can turn back the clock is questionable, but if he shoots 50% from the field and averages 8 rebounds per game as he did in his last season in Boston, the Nets would be wise to go with the veteran.
2. Mirza Teletovic: Teletovic finally got a chance to show his talent level when Jason Kidd took the reins in Brooklyn. He not only proved he belongs in the NBA, but proved that he deserves to compete for a starting job next season. Outside of Joe Johnson, Teletovic provided the Nets with their only consistent threat behind the arc and could be a floor stretcher to complement Lopez’s post game. After shooting 39% from beyond the arc with countless hustle plays last season, the question is whether Teletovic can improve upon those numbers with more minutes, while also providing adequate defense. Since Teletovic never shared the floor with Lopez last season, his numbers with Blatche and Garnett have to be considered, particularly since the former is similar to Lopez in regards to offensive repertoire.
Offensively, the Nets averaged more points per possession with Teletovic, Blatche, and Andrei Kirilenko in the frontcourt than any other combination. The rebounding percentage was also 50% when Williams and Johnson made up the backcourt. Defensively, however, there was a lot to be desired. In addition, the Teletovic-Garnett combination averaged 1.34 points per possession and only gave up .92 points per possession, the 6th best defensive combination of any power forward, center pairing. If Lopez spends most of his time in the paint and works on his passing, Teletovic could become the perfect partner as a stretch four. Hollins will have his choice of where Teletovic fits best, but no matter which unit he’s on he should give a scoring boost to Brooklyn’s frontcourt.
3. Mason Plumlee: Plumlee has quickly taken himself from late first round pick with very little chance of playing time to a likely member of Team USA for the FIBA World Cup. He’s done it with a reliance on energy, hustle, and adherence to fundamentals. His ability to defend the pick and roll improved as the season went on and his footwork around the basket was arguably the best on the team. He started for Lopez for the majority of the season and shot an efficient 66% from the field. More importantly, he averaged 8.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, over 1.5 more than what Teletovic did last season. That difference could be attributed to the fact that he spent most of his time around the basket, but it’s still a positive development in his favor.
Offensively, he’s more athletic than Teletovic, but doesn’t offer anything near the offensive arsenal and range Teletovic or Garnett do, getting the majority of his points on put-backs and dunks. The Nets were at their best when Plumlee was on the floor with floor spacers who could shoot the 3. With Williams, Johnson, Pierce, and Alan Anderson on the court with the former Duke product, the Nets averaged .87 points per possession defensively and had their 2nd greatest rebounding percentage at 53.5% of their opportunities. If the Nets opt for defense they’ll likely start Plumlee at power forward. No matter what, however, expect him to be on the floor if the rest of the lineup is composed of shooters.
4. Andrei Kirilenko: If the Nets go with a “small-ball” lineup with Alan Anderson at shooting guard and Joe Johnson at small forward, the Nets could opt to start Kirilenko at power forward. Kirilenko, if healthy, gives the Nets the ultimate weapon of versatility with his ability to defend and rebound. With Lionel Hollins valuing his defense and an innate recognition of passing lanes, Kirilenko will undoubtedly exceed the 19 minutes per game he played this past season. That, of course, is dependent on the health of his back, but health permitting he should be playing at least 25 minutes per game and could reach 7 rebounds per game if he starts alongside Lopez. Outside of his three-point and free throw percentage, AK-47′s numbers per 36 minutes were on par with his career numbers, which could improve as chemistry with the team grows.
With Kirilenko playing power forward alongside Pierce and Blatche, Brooklyn had their best defensive points per possession output at .82. Kirilenko deservedly gets most of the credit as neither Pierce nor Blatche provided the defensive presence or footwork to constantly stay in front of their offensive counterparts. Besides his weak-side blocks and hustle for loose balls going out of bounds, Kirilenko was arguably the Nets greatest difference maker last season. Whether or not Kirilenko plays small forward or power forward for Brooklyn, Hollins should rely on the veteran like he did Tony Allen in Memphis. Allen averaged over 25 minutes and 9 points per game while usually guarding the opposing team’s best player during Hollins’ time as Grizzlies’ coach. With Kirilenko having an even greater skill level and the ability to guard all five positions, he should quickly become a favorite of the new coaching staff. The only question is on which side of Lopez he will be lining up.
The Nets could experiment with multiple lineups next season until they find the right combination of players. If Lionel Hollins and the rest of the coaching staff solves the puzzle and utilizes the players the correct way, the Nets’ depth and versatility could drive them into the top 3 in the conference standings. What that correct way is remains to be seen, but the combination of Lopez, Garnett, Plumlee, Teletovic, and Kirilenko should keep the entire frontcourt fresh for the playoffs while not giving teams a break on the defensive end.