ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Nets led the NBA in pace of play at 103.6 possessions per game, and that was with center Brook Lopez often holding the ball and posting up down low. Now that Lopez has been traded to the Lakers, it seems clear from the scrimmage that ended training camp on Saturday at the U.S. Naval Academy that the committee of three centers replacing Lopez will allow the Nets to play even faster.
Although 7-1, 275-pound Timofey Mozgov, who was acquired in the Lopez deal, provides a physical presence close to the basket, 7-foot free agent Tyler Zeller and 6-11 first-round draft pick Jarrett Allen showed they really can run the floor with a degree of athleticism Lopez lacked.
Allen missed summer league play with a hip injury, but coach Kenny Atkinson liked what he saw of the rookie in his first real NBA action. “I see him mature beyond his years,” Atkinson said. “I don’t want to make any predictions yet, but [from] early returns, he’s going to help us sooner than I thought. He’s really a deterrent at the rim. Just get a little stronger.”
Zeller is entering his sixth season and spent the past three playing a similar style offense with the Celtics. He has adjusted quickly after being signed just two weeks ago.
“He’s got experience, started in the playoffs,” Atkinson noted. “He does a god job of understanding what we want right away.”
In addition to his speed running the court, Allen showed obvious athleticism around the basket. “The game’s a lot quicker than college,” Allen said. “I’m a mobile big, so, going up and down the court, I’m fine with that. Personally, I think I fit in well.”
Asked about his biggest adjustment, the 234-pound Allen smiled and said, “Trying to guard Mozgov. Obviously, there’s not a lot I can do. I have to be able to do the little things to beat him on defense.”
At the same time, Allen can outrun the bulkier big men in the NBA to score easy baskets in transition. Zeller also flashed that ability in the Saturday’s scrimmage. “They were No. 1 in pace of play last year, and I love to play fast,” Zeller said of his new team. “That is something that fits me well.”
One thing the Nets will miss about Lopez is the three-point skill he developed last season to help space the floor. Allen was 0-for-7 from three-point range in his one college season at Texas, and Zeller is 0-for-6 from three-point range in his NBA career and has taken only two threes the past four seasons. But Atkinson is encouraging all the big men to work on taking corner threes.
Zeller’s been working in practice to extend his range for the past year and a half. “Taking it about two or three feet [farther] back is a big adjustment, but the form is the same,” Zeller said. “Honestly, the biggest thing is getting over that stupid line. Something about stepping behind that line, you want to do some funky things. Once I calm down and consistently shoot it, I can shoot the ball very well.”