The Brooklyn Nets left little room for the rest of their roster to receive praise with five All-Stars in the starting lineup. The draft day trade that shipped Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics to Brooklyn boosted the Nets' popularity and chances of reaching the 2014 NBA Finals.
In addition to the three flashy pieces they added, the Nets also found a way to lure Russian swingman Andrei Kirilenko away from the competition. Kirilenko earned just under $10 million last season as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he signed with Brooklyn for only the mini mid-level exception at $3.1 million, with a player option for the 2014-15 season.
Although he's backing up Paul Pierce, Kirilenko should be one of the first men off the bench. With his 7'4" wingspan, head coach Jason Kidd could play Kirilenko at either forward position without leaving the Nets vulnerable on the glass and the defensive end. Those long arms, coupled with his motor and intuitive reflexes, will also allow Kirilenko to block shots, play the passing lanes and initiate fast breaks.
Playing alongside Andrei Kirilenko off the bench will be last year's leading rebounder for the Nets: Reggie Evans. In 2012-13, he started 56 games and averaged 11.1 rebounds in 24.6 minutes. His offensive woes and inability to consistently sink free throws however, shrunk the court for the Nets and ultimately led to the upgrade at power forward.
Having Kevin Garnett ahead of him in the lineup will allow Reggie Evans to play more aggressively, increasing his toughness and rebounding intensity. For under $2 million, Evans added the kind of depth to Brooklyn that separated playoff teams from contenders.
Last season, after the Washington Wizards amnestied him, Andray Blatche emerged as a solid role player for the Nets. He played center for the most part, a position he learned as the year progressed, and averaged 10.3 points and 5.1 rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
At 6'11", Blatche gave the Nets a versatile weapon off the bench. He scored 15 or more points 19 times last year, and was one of the few role players capable of executing within the offense and creating his own shot.
This upcoming season, with the addition of Jason Terry, an energetic scorer that should thrive playing against the opponent's reserves, Brooklyn has three role players that could give them 15 points if called upon in Kirilenko, Blatche and Terry.
But as was seen in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, rebounding and post defense often dictated the course of a game and series. The Indiana Pacers stifled the Knicks with their big men's dominance on the glass and in the paint, and Chris Bosh's rebound in Game 6 of the Finals led to the Ray Allen three-pointer that resurrected the Miami Heat's hope for basketball's most prized trophy.
Down the stretch if Brook Lopez or Kevin Garnett fall into foul trouble, or if simply more muscle is needed, the Nets have the luxury of calling upon Reggie Evans and his physicality to wreak havoc on the boards and bully his opponent fighting for position on the block.
Andrei Kirilenko could wind up being the Nets' X factor, but the most underrated player in Brooklyn was Reggie Evans.