During an 11-game stretch that bridged January and February last season, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was out with a strained groin. The Nets suffered too, winning only one game (surprisingly against Philadelphia) while RHJ recovered.
For the most part, the Nets used a gerry-built line-up that featured two stretch-4’s, Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham, at power forward with Cunningham even playing a little 5! They were decidedly out of place and over and over again, the Nets got killed on the boards and on defense.
Maybe it was Kenny Atkinson begging Sean Marks to find him legitimate big men but in the midst of clearing cap space and adding draft picks, Marks signed Ed Davis to the $4.4 million room exception, took on Kenneth Faried’s $13.8 million expiring contract and added Alan Williams to the roster using one of the Nets two-way contracts. (Atkinson thinks we should also include Treveon Graham signing a vets minimum deal among the “big” additions.)
All three are known for their rebounding skills. Davis is a legitimate 5, the other two big 4’s. Each predicts big things under the basket, with Davis saying, “I definitely feel we should be a top-10 offensive and defensive rebounding team.” That would be a significant improvement, as Greg Logan writes Sunday.
The Nets improved by eight wins last season to 28-54, but it might have been much better if they hadn’t been beaten up on the boards so often. They ranked 25th in the NBA with a rebound differential of -2.4, a .487 rebound percentage and 10.4 offensive rebounds allowed to opponents, and they were 28th in allowing 13.5 second-chance points.
But the Nets did lose something in the exchange of Acy and Cunningham for Davis, Faried and Williams. None of them are three-point shooters who can stretch the floor. Acy shot 35 percent from deep last season; Cunningham 38 percent. After the All-Star break, both shot an even 40 percent.
Davis doesn’t even make a pretense of wanting to shoot three’s. He’s taken two in his eight year career.
“They knew before I signed here that my game is not shooting threes,” Davis said. “It’s understood. But I feel coach is going to find a way for me to be on the floor. I can help this team win games.”
Faried, who has been seen shooting three’s in practice, thinks the advantage he brings in spreading the floor is his quickness.
“If he wants me to space the floor to bring bigs out so they won’t be able to rebound the position, that gives me an unfair advantage with my quickness and the way I’m able to get to the ball faster than most bigs,” said Faried, who’s 2-of-20 from three in his career.
And what about Rondae? Can he add a three? He has improved a bit in mid-range, but last year hit only 24 percent of his three’s. He’s still recovering from an adductor (hip) strain suffered in Jeremy Lin’s charity game so his opportunities to work on deep shooting has been slowed. He says the Nets are working with him.
“They’ve been on me,” Hollis-Jefferson told Brian Lewis. “A lot of times [if] you’re a good player, they don’t correct you on some things. They let you do what you want and work you out for the most part. For these guys, it was about trying to find out who you are and what you do well and just add on to it.
“Also corrective criticism, trying to make you better all the time. I feel like for the most part they’ve done that. They’ve been extremely patient, open, all the things you need to help be successful.”
What’s the bottom line? It could be that the Nets will use their two new stretch 4’s more than the fans expect. Graham, whose nickname is Freight Train, can rebound and has a 43.8 percent career average from deep. And of course, Jared Dudley has the 15th best three point percentage (39.6 percent) among active NBA players, just behind Joe Harris and Allen Crabbe.
“Jared balances that,” Atkinson said Friday when asked about his new rebounders’ lack of shooting. “You know I like to have, everybody in the NBA likes to have, four shooters at least on the court now. It’s a little different. I think we’re one of the few teams that have started in the past kind of two traditional bigs with Rondae and not necessarily stretch bigs. With Brook we had the stretch 5 and Rondae as the 4.”
So expect a lot of preseason maneuvers upfront, including regular doses of small ball, as Atkinson tries to handle his newfound wealth in rebounding, while compensating for the loss of three point shooting.