In his first season coaching the Nets, Kenny Atkinson shockingly turned 7-foot center Brook Lopez into a dynamic three-point shooter who spaced the floor for his spread offense. But this season, it appears Atkinson must adapt his system to accommodate veteran big men Ed Davis and Kenneth Faried, who can help solve the Nets’ rebounding and interior defense problems but absolutely have no three-point shooting ability.
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.
Even in backup roles, 6-10 center Davis and 6-8 power forward Faried can change that and make the Nets a better defensive team in the process. “Rebounding is just what I do,” said Davis, who ranked fifth in the NBA with an offensive rebound percentage of 13.9. “It’s second nature.”
Faried had an even better offensive rebound percentage of 15.5 but didn’t qualify for the final rankings because he played only 32 games for Denver after losing his starting job to Paul Millsap, a solid three-point shooter. “For me, it’s exciting to come to a team that actually needs me and wants me to play and do what I love to do and that’s rebound the ball and get extra possessions or stops, or getting hustle points and giving effort,” Faried said.
As a seven-year veteran in survival mode, Faried has been working on his three-point shot since last season, but he is 2-of-20 from three-point range in his career. Davis, who is 0-for-2 from three-point range in eight seasons, doesn’t even pretend he’s going to turn over a new leaf.
Asked if he needs to develop a three-point shot to fit the Nets’ offense, Davis said, “Not at all. Everyone can’t just stand at the three-point line and fire up threes. You can’t say you need more help on the boards and expect everyone to be on the three-point line.
“I definitely feel I have a role here, and I’m definitely going to help this team. It’s not going to be me spacing the floor, but I’m going to be effective when I’m out there.”
Davis said general manager Sean Marks and Atkinson knew exactly the type of player they were getting. “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 said Atkinson’s message was to play his game and not worry about three-point shooting. “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,” Faried said.
Atkinson sees a role for Faried to drive from the perimeter or run the pick-and-roll. “It’s almost like the spread offense in football,” Atkinson said. “You can space your alignment out and still block and hit and still get to the boards. Within our system, we’re going to guide them into the right spots and they’re going to find spots that we didn’t know about. It’s a learning process where exactly that is, but we have given them guidelines.”
Not only should Davis and Faried improve the Nets’ offensive rebounding percentage, but they can provide a defensive presence in the paint to help the perimeter defenders and to protect the rim. Davis suggested improvement by second-year starting center Jarrett Allen and free agent forward Alan Williams, a strong rebounder on a two-way deal, also will help. “I definitely feel we should be a top-10 offensive and defensive rebounding team,” Davis said.
If the Nets reach that goal, more wins should follow.