Without a traditional big man in the rotation, the Brooklyn Nets have found a way to hold their own down low.
Ever since Brooklyn dealt long-time Net center, Brook Lopez, away to Los Angeles in exchange for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov, the Nets have been missing a legitimate big-man presence.
Brooklyn isn’t used to having a frontcourt problem. Players like Lopez, Kevin Garnett, Derrick Favors and Reggie Evans have held things down in the past, and they expected Mozgov to fill the hole Lopez left.
But Mozgov has not even come close to fulfilling the expectations of head coach Kenny Atkinson or the fans. The Russian big man, who held a starting center job for Brooklyn in the beginning of the season, is currently on the bench.
Maxim Sharifyanov, Mozgov’s agent, recently spoke with Semen Galkevich of Russian website R-sport. In the interview, he says that the Nets are resting the big man, who after the FIBA European Championships this summer, needed rest and more conditioning work.
Mozgov played in a total of 20 FIBA games for his native country, Russia, and was among the team leaders in minutes played.
The Nets are currently using Mozgov off the bench, hoping that limiting his minutes and resting the big man can slowly improve his play.
Without him in the rotation, the Nets have opted to go with a plan of playing small-ball and man-to-man defense, which has resulted in many players stepping up.
Trevor Booker has had some trouble staying healthy, but when on the court he competes at an elite level on both ends of the floor. Booker is currently averaging 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
The Nets have also increased the minutes for Jarrett Allen. Allen has been a defensive force for Brooklyn. The Nets still have a minutes restriction on the rookie big man but Allen is developing at a prosperous rate.
Tyler Zeller has broken out of his shell and shattered expectations. The former Boston Celtic has revived his career and is performing at a career-high level. He can shoot confidently from mid-range—he’s even shot a couple of threes this season—spreading the floor for the Nets. On the defensive end, Zeller is not afraid to play hard, physical defense. The only flaw Zeller has on the defensive end is that his aggressive play gets him into foul trouble.
On the offensive end of the floor, the Nets’ small-ball offense has worked well. Shooting has been a consistent strength for the Nets. Players know what shots they should take and what their roles are. Brooklyn has also been very patient, moving the ball until the right shot becomes available.
Defensively, the Nets are slowly fixing and patching the big-man hole. Having Mozgov as a rim protector would help, as players like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic have had big nights against the Nets by attacking down low.
When the ball goes into the paint, the Nets collapse and double-team, which often leads to open shots for players on the perimeter. When they can keep the ball out of the paint, the Nets do a solid job of forcing opponents into taking bad, contested shots.