Ways to Fix the Brooklyn Nets' Athleticism Problem
With the exception of Gerald Wallace, not one other player in the Brooklyn Nets' rotation last season could be recognized as a player whose game relies somewhat on athleticism. Even saying that Wallace's game relies on athleticism is stretching it due to the down year he had.
The Nets have no players who play above the rim, no players who can truly get out on a fast break with regularity and no high-fliers who can electrify the Barclays Center with an eye-popping throwdown or a cringeworthy rejection.
Last season, the Nets ranked next to dead last in the league in fast break points and only had one player, Brook Lopez, average more than a block per game. They, however, fared well in rebounding, ranking 10th in the league in spite of their lack of athleticism, thanks to the craftiness and battle-for-every-rebound mentality of the undersized Reggie Evans.
Watching Brooklyn play made me forget what an alley-oop even looked like. This team not only made me long for the days of Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles, but even had me feeling nostalgic of the too brief Nets' career of Gerald Green.
I would have been more than fine settling for Green last season. When those teams' energy lapses, and there seemed to be a lot of them, Green or a player like him could have solved the problem with one crowd electrifying dunk or swat.
Not heavily relying on athleticism can be a good thing, especially with an aging roster. For example, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams should be able to be effective for a longer period of time since they can shoot better, have great ball-handling skills and a higher basketball IQ than players whose games solely relies on athleticism. General Manager Billy King needs to find the proper mix that can incorporate both types of players.
Athletic defensive players are needed more than ever in the league today in order to try to contain the likes of Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, LeBron James or the ''almost seven footers'' with the skills to play small forward, like Kevin Durant or even Paul George.
Here are a few ways Billy King and the Nets can fix their athleticism problem.
1. With the 22nd Pick in the Draft
While this year's draft may not have that superstar, franchise changing player, Billy King has had a decent record of finding very serviceable players late in the first round or in the second round through straight selecting or through trading.
For example, he took Samuel Dalembert with the 26th pick in the 2001-02 draft, took Louis Williams in the second round, was able to work a trade for Kyle Korver and most recently was able to snag somewhat promising guard MarShon Brooks with another late draft trade.
Once a highly touted super athletic power forward, Tony Mitchell may just be there at No. 22 in this year's draft. Mitchell's stock has fallen due to a sophomore season in which he regressed at North Texas. With his minutes per game going up, his points, rebounds, blocks and shooting percentages all went down. Still, Mitchell finished averaging 13.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.
Mitchell's regression could be somewhat blamed on a head coaching change. With Johnny Jones coaching North Texas during Micthell's freshman season, the team lost in the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Under new head coach Tony Benford, the team got blown out in this year's first round of the same tournament. So not only did Mitchell regress, but the whole team did.
Despite his down season, Mitchell is a 6'9'' power forward who's athleticism is off the charts. He has incredible leaping ability, rebounding skills and blocking acumen that can be very useful to Brooklyn if harnessed correctly.
Another superior athlete hovering in mock drafts is San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin. Franklin is a 6'5'' shooting guard with a seven-foot wing span. He is a great finisher, can guard multiple positions, is an excellent rebounder for his size and always plays hard with effort.
Franklin's killer instinct attitude alone should be more than welcome on a team who really showed none during this year's playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.
2. Buy Second Round Picks
With Mikhail Prokhorov's extremely deep pockets, King has been given the green light to buy second round picks if need be. During last year's draft, King bought two second rounders: Tyshawn Taylor and Tornike Shengelia. Both look to be at the very least rotation players.
Taylor might even back up Deron Williams at the point this upcoming season if C.J. Watson doesn't pick up his player option.
Shengelia showed off his skills, tearing up the D-League while also showing flashes in very limited minutes with Brooklyn.
Possibly waiting to be bought in the second round this year are Memphis' D.J. Stephens, St. Joe's' C.J. Aiken and possibly Norvel Pelle.
Stephens is another 6'5'' guard with a seven-foot wingspan who just may be the best athlete overall in this year's draft class. The Nets saw him firsthand at their combine where his no-step and max-vertical leap were the highest ever recorded in draftexpress.com's database. He also ran the fifth-best 3/4 court sprint ever. The problem is his limited offensive game.
Aiken and Pelle are those really long, freakishly athletic, almost seven-foot guys who look like they have all the tools to be a great player, but they need a brain transplant to put it all together.
After Aiken's workout in Las Vegas, ESPN's Chad Ford noted that he intrigued some scouts.
3. Scour the D-League
The NBA D-League is filled with hungry players dying to show their skill set in the NBA. Whether these players were failed first round picks who just weren't ready to deal with the rigors of the league, overlooked prospects or late bloomers, some have worked on their flaws and may be ready for another shot.
Two seasons ago, Billy King took a chance on former first round bust Gerald Green. The call up worked out and Green provided a much needed spark off the bench, scoring a career high 12.9 points per game. He also showed that he worked on his game as he was not only a highlight dunker but also a pretty decent three-point shooter.
In fact, Green showed enough improvement in his game that the Indiana Pacers signed him to a three-year $10 million deal, granted he spent most of his time on the bench this season.
Another D-League success story this past season was Minnesota Timberwolves' call-up Chris Johnson. Johnson is the type of athletic big man the Nets can use. Against the Nets, he scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots, all while displaying just how un-athletic Brooklyn was.
If King looks closely enough, he may find a very serviceable athletic big man or wing. It is clear that he is paying attention to the D-League with the late season call up and signing of Kris Joseph.
4. Trade Kris Humphries
Kris Humphries is on a very attractive $12 million expiring contract. It would look even more attractive if last season did not happen.
Coming off two consecutive seasons averaging a double-double, Humphries lost his starting job to Reggie Evans. The result? His 2011-12 season averages of 13.8 points and 11 rebounds per game dropping to 5.8 and 5.6, respectively.
When actually given playing time, Humphries showed that he still could put up good numbers. During the season, he had six double-doubles and a game in which he grabbed 21 rebounds.
With Evans basically having the same skill set with a much cheaper price tag, Humphries is expendable.
The question is when to trade him. Will the new coaching staff want to showcase him more in order to maximize his trade value and wait till the trade deadline, or does Billy King move him ASAP?
Would Minnesota trade Andrei Kirilenko for Humphries? Kirilenko is also on an expiring contract with a player option for next season.
The Russian connection is obvious between Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and Kirilenko. Hypothetically, say Kirilenko decides he wants to play for his former Russian boss and wants to play for a win-now team.
He tells the Wolves' management that he's going to leave the team and if they want to get at least something back for him, deal him to Brooklyn.
Humphries is a Minnesota native and may even welcome the trade.
As long as he's healthy, Kirilenko would greatly upgrade the Nets power forward position with his athleticism.
5. Switch Up the Rotation
Now, granted, the group of MarShon Brooks, Tornike Shengelia and Tyshawn Taylor doesn't exactly scream athletic freaks; however, that is exactly what they are when compared to Jerry Stackhouse, Keith Bogans and even C.J. Watson.
After scoring 12.6 points per game during his rookie season, Brooks saw his minutes dramatically decrease due to his lack of defense. Former head coach P.J. Carlesimo seemed to have a lack of trust in Brooks, keeping him constantly on a short leash. Which, in turn, ruined Brook's confidence.
Shengelia and Taylor never really got a fair shot this season. In spite of lack of playing time, both excelled in their trips down in the D-League and both showed major flashes of what they could become if given playing time.
In 10 games in the D-League, Shengelia averaged 24.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.3 steals and a block per game. His NBA moment came against the Washington Wizards when he had a major impact on the game with 11 points, 11 rebounds, a block and a steal in 25 minutes.
Taylor averaged 24.6 points and 7.5 assists per game in his eight-game stint in the D-League.
Both rookies brought energy and quickness that the regular rotation is missing.
Next season, the new coaching needs to develop Brooks, Shengelia and Taylor. They might have no choice but to play them with the uncertain return of Stackhouse, Bogans or Watson.
With an aging, capped out roster, development of the cheaper, younger players is going to be extremely important to the Nets' future success.