Breaking Down How Nets Frontline Must Improve for Them to Contend
The Brooklyn Nets' frontline is comprised mostly of "specialists," which is to say players who each excel at doing one or two things, but who are also liabilities at other areas of the game. That doesn't bode well for the Nets, considering that some of these players will have to play more than 30 minutes a night against elite NBA starters.
There is reason to be hopeful that the Nets' frontline will actually improve on their weaknesses. Because most of their frontcourt players are young and will be playing their first season with a quality Nets squad, there is still upside to be attained.
Avery Johnson stated at a recent Brooklyn Nets presser (via the Washington Post) that he intends to cultivate a Nets squad that is ready to win an NBA championship by April 2013. To do so, the responsibility will be on him to guide his frontline toward that upside, particularly with respect to interior defense.
Andray Blatche: Mental Focus and Maturity
The 6'11", 26-year-old power forward proved that he could be a productive player when he averaged 17 points and eight rebounds a game as a starter for the Washington Wizards in 2011.
However, Blatche is also considered one of the most mercurial players in the game. After the Wizards refused to re-sign him in June, the Washington Post provided a scalding albeit humorous account of Blatche's on- and off-court exploits.
As it stands, Blatche comes onto the Nets as a wild card. Ideally, he can be an invaluable scoring option off the bench; he's a necessary scorer in the low-post on a Nets squad that is lacking in this capacity.
On the other hand, if Blatche does not enter into his prime with the requisite veteran's mentality for success, he will be an empty roster spot that takes ill-advised shots and rebounds poorly.
The choice for improvement is entirely in Blatche's hands. Hopefully for the Nets, Avery Johnson and a team comprised of otherwise well-regarded NBA citizens will help Blatche make the right decision.
Reggie Evans: Man-on-Man Defense
Evans has built an NBA nomad's career by performing two responsibilities in limited minutes: rebounding and playing physical interior defense that involves taking charges.
Nevertheless, if there is an element of game the Nets may be able to tweak at a late stage of the 31-year-old power forward's career, it's an improvement in man-on-man defense.
Evans may be a physical defender, but that doesn't necessarily translate into making strong defensive stops. Evans struggles in this regard (if he didn't, he could be a starter).
The good news for Evans is that he will have the benefit of playing under Coach Johnson, who had success in developing a strong interior defensive scheme with the Dallas Mavericks.
During Johnson's three-year tenure in Dallas, the Mavericks were amongst the league leaders in blocks, rebounds and points allowed per game.
Mirza Teletovic: Low-Post Scoring and Rebounding
The 26-year-old Bosnian rookie was a fairly strong low-post scorer and rebounder during his Euroleague career.
Having said that, Teletovic's interior scoring and rebounding skills didn't exactly "wow" scouts over the last few years, which bolsters the inference that he will struggle with these tasks at the NBA level.
There will be nights where Teletovic will be relied on for his principal strengths, which is to hit jumpers off the high post, the baseline and from three-point range. As the above video indicates, Teletovic is a natural in these areas, and he should excel at them at the NBA level.
However, the backup power forward will also be expected to play substantial minutes in the low post, particularly when the Nets pair him off with Gerald Wallace at small forward and Brook Lopez at center.
If Teletovic has the versatility to perform competently in the low post, then this frontcourt trio could bolster the Nets' title hopes considerably.
Kris Humphries: Stretch Defense
Humphries' low-post game is one of the best in the league. He had a breakout season in 2011-12, where he averaged a formidable 14 points and 11 rebounds a game on 48 percent shooting.
The Nets' starting power forward's penchant for doing dirty work off the glass—including put-back scores from around the rim—will be an asset to the Nets on nights when they have to play a slower pace against some of the Eastern Conference's better perimeter defenses.
Still, Humphries is an old-school player at a position that has evolved quite a bit over the last few years. In the Eastern Conference alone, the power forward position includes a litany of players who love to spread the floor on offense.
These elite players will require Humphries to address his area of weakness, which is defending away from under the basket. Humphries will have to become a better defender across the baseline and in the high post if the Nets are to successfully contain some of the star power forwards in the NBA.
Brook Lopez: Take on Conventional Responsibilities as a Center
Brook Lopez is an unorthodox center. Unlike more traditional big men who focus more on rebounding and scoring near the rim, Lopez's comfort zone is in the high post where he is more apt to settle for a mid-range jumper than he is to jostle for an offensive rebound.
Lopez's career rebounding average (7.6 a game) is solid, but the Eastern Conference is teeming with centers who will dominate the boards against the Nets if Lopez doesn't play a more physical low-post game.
Roy Hibbert, Andrew Bynum and Tyson Chandler are all aggressive, defensive-minded big men on teams the Nets may face in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Lopez must be prepared to put a body on each of them and do some requisite dirty work for the Nets to compete come April.
Gerald Wallace: Get Back to 2009-10 Form on Defense
In 2009-10, Gerald Wallace was at the height of his game. He averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and two steals a game, and he won an NBA All-Defensive First Team honor.
Since then, Wallace has lost a step, in part because his former teams—the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trailblazers—have required him to shoulder too many burdens at both ends of the floor.
For a player who relies on unusually intense, high-energy play to succeed, the 11-year veteran's energy and athleticism has waned.
Fortunately, on the Brooklyn Nets, Wallace will be asked to focus a majority of his energy and focus on the defensive end of the floor. In a more limited role, Wallace should be able to resume his status as one of the elite defenders in the league.
Wallace's aggressive defense on the baseline and in the corners will be integral to the Nets' success come playoff time. The Nets small forward will be asked to defend the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Luol Deng and LeBron James, and his ability to contain these threats will determine if the Nets can advance deep into the playoffs in 2013.