If the Nets have shown one impressive asset during the preseason, it has been their improved depth and talent level thanks largely to the additions of D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll and Allen Crabbe on the perimeter. The practical effect this season is that coach Kenny Atkinson can play two-platoon basketball because his bench is so strong.
For most of the preseason, Atkinson went with a second unit of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert at the guard spots, forwards Trevor Booker and Crabbe and Quincy Acy as an undersized center who can stretch the floor with his three-point shooting. When Acy comes off the floor, Booker can move to center with wings Joe Harris or Sean Kilpatrick entering for even more scoring.
“With the bench, we’re going to come in and keep the ball moving, play at a high level, run up and down,” Booker said recently. “I feel like that second unit could easily be the starting unit. We’re going to pick up where the first unit left off.”
In three preseason wins, the Nets’ bench averaged 61.0 points, outscored the opposing bench and helped build double-digit leads in the first half. Booker, LeVert and Dinwiddie all got extensive starting experience last year but have thrived in roles with the second unit.
“I just feel like I’ve got to make an impact,” Booker said. “If I’m playing with a lot of energy and locking up [on defense] and getting deflections, my teammates feed off it, and we really start to go on runs. That’s something I really take pride in.”
Atkinson prefers to manage playing time for his starters to avoid wearing them out. That creates more time for his reserves, and it keeps his players fresh enough to play at the NBA’s fastest pace on offense while also sustaining a strong effort on defense.
Last season, Atkinson didn’t worry much about offensive rebounding because it was more important to get back in transition defense. But the Nets have mobile big men this season, and the coach plans to allow them to go harder to the offensive boards.
“Last year, we had one, two and three get back when the shot is taken,” Booker explained. “This year, he’s giving everybody the freedom to hit the glass if you’re in the right vicinity. He’s made an emphasis on hitting the glass pretty hard and getting an extra possession.”
The result in the preseason was a strong defensive showing and improved rebounding in their three wins. The trick is to build on those assets when the regular season begins Wednesday night at Indiana.
“We’re very optimistic,” Booker said. “We see the work we’ve put in, and we see the potential on this team and how much talent we have and how hard we play. We’re pretty excited.”