Kenny Atkinson
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson has been tinkering with his lineups as of recent. Will there be more changes to come?

Prior to the start of the heartbreaking loss against the Philidelphia 76ers, The Athletic’s Michael Scotto broke the news of an important lineup modification. Rondae-Hollis Jefferson was replacing 11-year-pro Jared Dudley in the starting lineup for the Brooklyn Nets. This was only Hollis-Jefferson’s second start of the 2019 season. On the flip side, Jared Dudley would be moved the bench for the first time all year.

The lineup change makes sense. With Caris LeVert out for the foreseeable future, not only have the Brooklyn Nets been playing without their best offensive player, but they have also been playing without their best on-ball defender.

When healthy, Caris LeVert was repeatedly tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player. He excelled in this role, utilizing his high defensive IQ, quick lateral movement, and 6-foot-10 wingspan to deter opposing stars.

Since losing LeVert, the Nets have frantically searched for his replacement on both sides of the ball. Hollis-Jefferson’s entrance into the starting lineup shows that Coach Kenny Atkinson believes that he may be that player … at least on defense.

Hollis-Jefferson is similar to LeVert in that he has an immense 7-foot-10 wingspan for his 6-foot-9 stature. His combination of size and footspeed makes him one of the team’s most versatile defenders. Hollis-Jefferson’s stocky frame is so strong that Kenny Atkinson has felt comfortable enough to slide him into the five-spot in small ball lineups. These lineups have even been used in crunch time, as seen against the Dallas Mavericks.

Hollis-Jefferson’s 30 minutes of playtime against the 76ers was a whopping eight and a half more than his season average of 21.6. Slotting Hollis-Jefferson (still only 23-years-old) into the starting lineup gives the Nets more youth and versatility on the floor, and it gives them another plus defender next to Jarrett Allen.

Hollis-Jefferson’s vaunted role also means less playing time for Jared Dudley. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

Even before losing his starting job, Dudley was in the midst of a minutes decline. After receiving less than 20 minutes in only three of his first 18 games, Dudley received 18 minutes against the Mavericks, 15 minutes against the Timberwolves, a season-low of 14 minutes against the 76ers, and only 18 minutes against the Jazz.

Dudley, a career 39% three-point shooter, has been shooting a career-low 30.8% from outside the arch. Shield your eyes from this statistic: he’s also shooting 37.4% from the field, which is a truly awful mark for a big man.

Not only has Dudley been catastrophically bad on offense, but he’s also been a huge liability on the other side of the floor.

Dudley has been getting killed in transition, as seen in these two plays against the Mavericks.

Notice how, in both plays, Dudley sags back too far from the three-point line. This allows for both Devin Harris and Harrison Barnes to pull-up for wing threes. Dudley, once a plus defender, no longer has the footspeed to keep up with either one of these players should they drive to the rim. As a result, he allows both players to sink momentum-changing transition buckets in his grill. Mistakes like this are part of the reason why the Nets rank 23rd out of 30 teams in opponent points off of turnovers.

Dudley, who turned 33 in July, also struggled to stay with the Warriors sacrificial lamb, Harrison Barnes. Notice how he lethargically attempts to get around a half-hearted Dorian Finney-Smith screen.

Harrison Barnes takes full advantage of the lethargic defensive pressure and leaks to the right corner for an open shot. Barnes uncharacteristically misses (he’s shooting 50% from the right corner) and the Nets get away with 1st-degree murder on this possession.

Considering that Dudley has been a liability on defense and a non-factor on offense, it comes into question: what exactly does he do for this team?

This answer may be found off the court, rather than on it.

As someone who attended the matinee game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, I was shocked to see just how vocal Jared Dudley was during timeout breaks.

The Nets, by nature, are a pretty quiet team. They rarely have off-court drama, as most of their players (outside of Spencer Dinwiddie) are pretty soft-spoken. Although it makes for a drama-free lockerroom, the combination of hushed personalities can sometimes hurt them on the court. The team will have defensive lapses where they fail to talk, and it’s one of the reasons why the team only ranks 24th in defense.

The Nets were unable to get into any type of rhythm for a majority of the second half against the Timberwolves. During a timeout, the Nets huddled up, and it was Dudley who screamed at his teammates in motivation. Dudley’s assertiveness was surprising to see, given that he has only been with the team for a quarter of the season. However, what followed was a huge run by the Nets, as the team cut the Timberwolves doubt-digit lead down to four points.

Even if Dudley brings value to the team in veteran leadership, it doesn’t merit playing time on the court. Kendrick Perkins stretched an 11-year career into fourteen by simply being a locker room guy. The Nets should consider bringing Dudley into a similar role and cut his minutes altogether, should they want to remain competitive.

There are other players on this roster that warrant playing time over Dudley. Rodions Kurucs, in particular, comes to mind. In limited minutes, Kurucs has put up strong numbers, shooting 51.4% from the field and 42.9% from three. Kurucs is also second on the team in net rating. He’s a somewhat awkward player to watch, combining a thin 210-pound frame with dangling arms and legs. Make no mistake though; even with his Slenderman stature, the second-round pick is an exceptional athlete with an insatiable hunger to turn offensive boards into huge dunks.

Perhaps he will be given a longer look by Coach Atkinson, given the lack of depth at the power forward position on the Nets roster.

Outside of Dudley, there is another Brooklyn veteran who has looked like a shell of himself.

After starting all 82 games last season, DeMarre Carroll has come off the bench for the Nets for the first time since the 2012-2013 season. This, in part, is because of his injury-riddled off-season. Carroll made his season debut just 20 days ago, after being sidelined with surgery on his right ankle.

The results have been anything but pretty since his return. Carroll is shooting a career-worst 32.3% from the field. His performance behind the arch hasn’t been much better, as he has posted a 32.4% average from long range. To understand just how bad the team has been with Carroll, take a look at his on/off numbers.

NETS w/ Carroll ON COURT106.2111.7-5.649.4
NETS w/ Carroll ON COURT110.0111.2-1.259.8

With DeMarre Carroll off the court, the Nets offensive rating sits at 110, which is right in line with their 10th-ranked season average. With him on the floor, that rating drops to 106.2. Over a full season, this would place them in the bottom third of the league. Interestingly, we also see the team’s assist percentage fall nearly 10 percentage points while Carroll is on the floor. While Carroll has never been a particularly gifted passer, it’s interesting to see him have such a strong effect on the Nets motion-heavy offense. It’s worth noting that Carroll is a free agent this summer, so he may be hunting for big stats to ensure a healthy pay-day.

Carroll’s struggles were on full display in the second quarter of the game against the Dallas Mavericks.

With eight seconds remaining on the shot clock after a messy possession, D’Angelo Russell took the ball to the cup. The gravity of his tenacious drive sucked in three Mavericks defenders. Russell, who was well-renowned for gifted passing during his solo season at Ohio State, made a gorgeous off-balance, one-handed dish to a wide-open Carroll. Carroll is given all of the time in the world to spot up but is unfortunately off the mark with his shot. Miraculously, the ball ends up in the hands of D’Angelo Russell, who yet again makes another spectacular no-look kick out to DeMarre Carroll.

With plenty of time on the clock, DeMarre Carroll barricades to the hoop and … !

… crashes into two Dallas Mavericks players. Offensive foul.

This disastrous possession is, sadly, representative of Carroll’s 2018-19 season. He was listed as unavailable against the Jazz, and according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post, it was because of soreness in his right foot.

One has to wonder if the pain in his right ankle is still prevailing, given his tumultuous start to the season. To the naked-eye alone, it appears that he isn’t 100%, as seen by his struggles to get up and down the floor. Per Brian Lewis, Coach Atkinson had this to say about Carroll’s performance:

“DeMarre’s still getting back to the DeMarre of last year. I don’t think he’s there. It’s just evolution of him coming back from that injury. We gave him minutes in doses, but I don’t think he’s in peak form right now.”

For the second straight season, Carroll’s name has come up in trade rumors. This time, however, it’s for all of the wrong reasons.

Even with Carroll’s age (32) and his decline in performance, he is still a trade asset. He is a stabilizing force in the locker room and could be valuable, in this regard, to a team like the Washington Wizards or the Houston Rockets. Both of these teams have struggled to meet expectations so far due to issues with personnel. Although his defense comes and goes, he can still stay in front of top players if given spot minutes. The Nets should look hard at dealing Carroll, especially considering the favorable nature of his expiring contract. They may receive solid young players in return.

If the Nets do end up dealing Carroll, it’s unlikely that Coach Atkinson will venture far from running a 10-man rotation. Atkinson prefers to dig pretty deep into his bench, so expect another player to step up. I personally like Treveon Graham a lot as a replacement for DeMarre Carroll. He’s a much better shooter (career 43% from long-range), is much younger (25-years-old), and is a solid defender. Graham has only logged 27 total minutes this season, which is surprising. He’s the perfect fit for the Nets system of volume three-point shooting, considering he’s such a three-point marksman.

Unless the team is embracing the tank this early in the season, the coaching staff needs to do something to break this four-game losing streak. It’s time for Kenny Atkinson to the validate the claim that he’s one of the brightest young minds in the league and tighten up these rotations.

An NBA fanatic who specializes in the advanced analytics of the game. I cover the Brooklyn Nets here in the city. Follow me on Twitter for semi-witty basketball tweets. @MattBrooksNBA