New Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson doesn’t have much star power at his disposal. Most of the roster is comprised of young, unproven prospects and stopgap role players during the club’s full-blown reconstruction. But he does have franchise mainstay Brook Lopez and newly-acquired point guard Jeremy Lin, who could form a potent connection.
In a season that will consist mostly of youth development and losses, the “Brook-Lin” duo will at least give the Nets some NBA-ready weaponry and leadership. Neither player is a dominant two-way force at his position, but they both have an elite command of specific skills that will help empower each other.
Lopez is one of the league’s best big man finishers. Considering his massive frame, he has great body control and dexterity on dunks, baby hooks, floaters and mid-range jumpers. He’s also one of the better frontcourt passers in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, for all of Lin’s flaws and inconsistencies, he’s a gifted playmaker who can create offense off the bounce, especially in pick-and-rolls.
Atkinson and assistant coach Chris Fleming, Brooklyn’s “offensive coordinator,” will draw up a steady flow of plays designed to maximize the duo’s strengths. Lin’s shiftiness, vision and patience will give Lopez and the rest of the frontcourt loads of favorable opportunities.
Throughout his career, Lin has kept opponents off-balance by remaining a scoring threat. Even though he’s not an explosive athlete, his ability to hit scoop shots and mid-range jumpers brings variety to his attack.
Watch how he froze the defense with a pump-fake and made them pay for not rotating:
Lin’s patience will help him find Lopez when the lane doesn’t immediately open up. Here he probed the King’s defense and delivered a twisting pass to Charlotte Hornets teammate Spencer Hawes:
If opponents clog the paint, Lin can spring up for a jumper or Lopez can pop out to the elbow or top of the key. Lopez shot 42 percent from outside 16 feet last season, so he’s a solid option in pick-and-pop situations.
Lopez’s shooting skills will enable Atkinson to run his four-out set when a non-shooter like Trevor Booker is on the floor. Having four players on the perimeter at all times will create space for inventive slashers and interior scorers.
Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily.com explained how Fleming’s offense will force defenses to make quick, tough decisions:
IF Lin can penetrate, the defense will have to make a choice: 1) Slide in the paint and leave the perimeter guys wide open. (Wonder why they signed so many shooters?) or 2) Trust the defender to cover Lin in a one-on-one situation. This sets things up wonderfully for the shooters AND big men down low that can do damage on the interior.
Here is an example of how Lin’s patience and Lopez’s shooting skills will make things tricky for opponents. The Knicks are worried about containing Lin, and Hawes slides into the open space for a 16-footer. It’s easy to imagine Lin and Lopez connecting on plays like this:
Atkinson told Brian Lewis of the New York Post that Lin should make life easier for Lopez. Instead of laboring in the post so often with his back to the basket, he’ll attack downhill in pick-and-rolls now that he has a more dangerous point guard:
I definitely think he can help Brook, and Brook can help him. That’s a pretty big target. It’s a guy who can score in the pick-and-roll, and it’s a guy that can make a pass. It’s a nice combination, and relieve a little bit of that [pressure]. Brook was in a lot of [isolation] situations where he had to create his own. Hopefully we can make it easier for him and therefore make him more efficient.
There are limitations to this pairing, however, and Nets fans shouldn’t expect them to carry the club to copious wins. Lin isn’t quite athletic enough to score in every situation; he’ll have trouble maneuvering around the upper crust of defensive point guards. He’s also a somewhat streaky shooter, a career 35 percent from three-land. Lopez has his own offensive flaws, most notably the slow-footedness that prevents him from shaking quick defenders or thriving in an uptempo game.
Defense will be the duo’s biggest problem, particularly in Lin’s case. As Brooklyn’s starting point guard, he will inevitably check lethal point guards when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is preoccupied with talented wings.
Lin showed improvement defensively under Hornets coach Steve Clifford, but he’s still average-to-below average on that end. Although Lopez’s length and timing will protect the rim in many cases, the duo (and the Nets in general) will struggle to thwart attackers consistently.
From a production standpoint, Lin and Lopez should combine for 33-35 points and 8-10 assists. That should account for a third of the team’s scoring and nearly half the team’s passing. With Lin running the point, Lopez will shoot around 52 percent from the field or better. Grooming youngsters like Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Caris LeVert is the main theme of the season, but Lin and Lopez will still be tasked with orchestrating the offense.
If the prospects blossom in a couple of years and the Nets add another star or two in free agency, Lin and Lopez could be part of a playoff-caliber core. For now, they’re the faces of the franchise and leaders during Brooklyn’s gigantic rebuilding effort.