Kevin Durant
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Kevin Durant’s recent discussion about the mid-range sparked an idea: The Brooklyn Nets could reach new heights on the least heralded part of the court.

Matt Brooks

There’s a lot of fluff, nonsense, and time-wasters on the internet. If you wanted, you could spend the entire day in bed, blinds closed, traveling to the wide corners of the earth on Google Chrome — like the Magellan of procrastinating. I’m sure you’ve done it. I certainly have. We’ve all pissed away a day on the good ole’ internet.

Let’s walk through one of such days. Your morning starts off like any other. You pour yourself a nice cup of Joe and browse that trusty smartphone of yours. Hmm, let’s see what’s going on in the world, you think to yourself as you tap that multi-color Instagram icon. Another night at Tao for Jimmy? But of course. Swipe, swipe. Cora got that Refinery29 job she’s been dreaming over? Good for her. Continued swiping, more vigorously this time. Theo and Eva are PREGNANT? Again?

Enough Instagram for now, let’s get that day started. Best way to churn an active mind? Some morning reading. Pick your poison; maybe you’re a Zach Lowe guy. I’ve been on a real Baxter Holmes kick lately. Whoever it is, you open that baby up and get those eyes a movin’ — left-to-right, left-to-right — as you scour that webpage and suck up information.

Then suddenly, if you’re like me, a name within that wonderful column grabs your attention. We’ll pick one out of a hat… Chase Budinger. You think to yourself, damn, whatever happened to that guy? Only one way to find out: YouTube.

As it turns out, Chase is an absolute stud at beach volleyball. Another hour flies by as you watch the 6-foot-7 former small forward launch spikes at the speed of a Jericho III, his sandy blonde hair enhanced by the bright specks of finely divided stones he’s built his new home on. Your (pointless) research continues, oh right, Budinger was in the dunk contest!

Every Dunk By A White Guy in the Slam Dunk Contest (feat. Lil Dicky)” is next on deck. Some really fantastic names in this one: Chris Anderson, who might still be attempting self-lob passes from halfcourt; the perpetually underrated former Net, Mason Plumlee; Brent Berry, who’s mostly known for his contributions to TNT’s broadcast team, but was once an athletic freak during his playing years. All with Lil Dicky’s screeching voice belting, “I’m dentist paying, tennis playing, smellin on some cabernet.” What a masterpiece.

Okay, seriously, let’s get this day started! Ding. Your buddy Dave just tagged you on a Twitter post. Sigh, okay, what’s up Dave?… what do you want?

As you click on that stupid blue app and that expressionless white bird expands in size, your freedom and productivity concurrently shrinks. But you don’t care, it’s just one notification, you think to yourself. I’ll be off in a minute.

By now, the page has loaded. It’s a Bleacher Report post relaying information from Yahoo Sports‘ Chris Haynes.

Jaylen Brown wants how much?!? ‘Pursuing a bigger offer’???

You’re outraged at this point. Who the hell turns down $80 million? What are others thinking? One way to find out…

A .gif of Stanely Hudson rolls his eyes at you in the comments. Nice. “I’M DISGUSTED!” a video of Stephen A. Smith shouts at you within a quote tweet. You’re entranced. It’s too late now. Welcome to Twitter limbo. There’s no getting out. Another couple of hours go by. Scroll, scroll, scroll.

At long last, you find something that’s actually worth sinking your teeth into: A thread between NBA superstar Kevin Durant and analytics blogger Matt Moore of the Action Network. It’s the personification of “eye-test Twitter” versus “VORP Twitter” — two vastly different viewpoints of the great NBA game, so diverse, it would take a Disney miracle to build a bridge between both sides. You’ve found it, the purpose of your suddenly unfulfilling day. This stupid Twitter thread.

or at least, that’s how I felt as I stumbled upon the now infamous thread in which Kevin Durant ushered these famous words, ‘Who the f— wants to look at graphs while having a hoop convo?”

What once started as a simple conversation about Chicago Bulls’ guard Zach LaVine ended up becoming a pretty spirited debate between a top-15 player ever and a numbers devotee. The subject of such civil discourse? The value of mid-range shots, especially in today’s day and age. In Durant’s words, “I see dudes passing up open shots in the mid-range, like wide open, to force passes to the 3 point line or force up bad finishes at the rim.” If you can’t tell, he’s a big proponent of the mid-range. And he should be; dude canned 55.1% of his total 461 shots between the painted area and the three-point line. God, Durant is a maestro.

However, to me, there was some subtle irony in Durant’s outright rejection of the numbers. His new NBA home? Well…

They’re among the most analytically inclined teams in the league.

Back in March, Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson told ESNY’s very own Danny Small, “if you’re not up to speed on the analytics, then you’re missing the boat. They give us a lot of great information. We obviously have to filter that information but it’s an important part of our game prep.”

Durant’s new general manager, Sean Marks, has said similar things to NetsDaily. “We use analytics on a daily basis, on an hourly basis.”

Marks’ numerically-influenced theologies have infused their ways into Atkinson’s systems, producing a Houston Rockets’ Morey Ball-like product. The Nets have yet to fall outside the top-five in total three-point attempts during the Sean Marks era but have never eclipsed 1,000 middies in a season. Back in 2017-2018, the Brooklyn Nets attempted 823 shots from the mid-range, good for 29th in the association. This, of course, occurred with mid-range aficionado D’Angelo Russell participating in only 48 total games.

With D’Angelo Russell present for 81 games next season and coughing up 304 total mid-range shots, things were surely different in 2018-2019… Or were they?

Even with their first-time All-Star launching shots from the “least friendly” part of the floor (according to analytics, of course), Brooklyn’s total mid-range diet actually dropped to 672 shots in total — good for 28th overall. As Russell took advantage of a possible deficiency, his teammates sloughed their attempts off altogether.

Thus far in the 2019-20 preseason, it appears to be more of the same. Those stinkin’ Nets have attempted 10 total mid-range shots. Ten! Conversely, during those three total games, Brooklyn has hurled 118 total three-pointers and has taken 69 total shots in the restricted area.

Of course, all of this has come without their masked marvel, Kyrie Irving, who attempted 282 total mid-range shots in 2018-2019. Eventually, he’ll be joined by his slim, soul-devouring partner in crime, Kevin Durant, who finished third in the league with, again, 461 total middies.

On paper, Brooklyn’s superstar duo should shoot the Nets up the mid-range frequency hierarchy. I’m not exactly known as a numbers guy so rough math alert, but if we slice Russell’s mid-range numbers off Brooklyn’s 2018-19 total and add Kyrie and KD’s mid-range attempts onto that same figure, Brooklyn could finish with around 1,100 total middies in a season — good for 14th-to-15th according to last season’s rankings.

Is that a number you should clip from this article and post to your Twitter account with the caption, “BROOKLYN NETS WRITER @MATTBROOKSNBA THINKS NETS PLAN TO CHANGE OFFENSE”? No. Please don’t do that. But it gives you a gist of just how much Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant could alter Brooklyn’s offense.

Will Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks adhere to the duo’s offensive preferences? All signs point to this being a big fat yes. When you land an NBA superstar, much less two, you do whatever it takes to keep them happy. Already, Brooklyn has doled out a healthy four-year, $40 million contract to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant’s Team USA buddy, 31-year-old DeAndre Jordan. During media week, Marks shut down the nagging reports of a possible Durant return from his Achilles rupture, stating “Kevin controls the rehab.” That’s putting the star first.

So, what Durant and Irving want on offense, they shall receive. It certainly helps that both players absolutely smoke shots from the mid-range; Kyrie at 49.6%, Durant at 55.1%. Not only will the Nets recognize their star’s preferred playstyles — which typically go against all things analytical — they’ll likely embrace them. Numerically speaking, it’s the right thing to do.

With Kyrie and KD shooting the lights out from the mid-range, Kenny Atkinson’s offense will soon be unstoppable in every shape or form. With a wide-spread flame-throwing attack, defenses will see no such luck when attempting to “load-up” on certain areas of the half-court. Brooklyn will feature league-leading efficiency from almost every inch of the floor.

That spread pick-and-roll offense just became a couple of layers more dangerous; now, there’s a bailout strategy from two Kobe Bryant descendants with superstar tendencies. So yeah, to some, the mid-range may seem a bit outdated. But Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving’s old school attack could unlock that championship window for the Brooklyn Nets.

Unless stated otherwise, stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Follow Matt on TWITTER.

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