The Nets have only three players taller than 6-8, and it’s beginning to look as if two of them will attract more attention in hotel lobbies than on the basketball court.
In their last game against Boston, 7-foot center Timofey Mozgov was replaced in the starting lineup by 6-8 power forward Trevor Booker, 7-foot backup center Tyler Zeller went unused and 6-11 center Jarrett Allen played only nine minutes after coming off the injury list.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said after Thursday’s practice that the Mozgov benching resulted from an unfavorable matchup against Al Horford and added that matchups will determine the starting lineup, including against Utah on Friday night at Barclays Center.
“We’re still trying to figure out the whole ‘big’ situation and how we can be the most efficient,” Atkinson said. “Even [Friday] I haven’t made a definite decision yet how we’ll go. [The Jazz] go small a lot.”
Atkinson used a combination of Booker and Quincy Acy at the five against the Celtics and mixed in Allen. Starting power forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also can cover centers. Allen might see his minutes increase because of his shot-blocking, but Atkinson likes going small with Booker and Acy. “I liked their speed, especially against athletic teams, very fast teams,” he said. “I’m thinking of Golden State [Sunday’s opponent] going forward and those teams that really have four, sometimes five, guards out there. It’s just the reality of the NBA. Obviously, Trevor and Quincy and Rondae are a little more equipped to guard at the three-point line.”
Part of the problem with Mozgov has been frequent turnovers, especially on the pick-and-roll. He had four turnovers in 18 minutes in a win at Portland in which he added nine points and five rebounds. But in 11 minutes during a loss at Utah, he had three turnovers with just three points and one rebound. “We have to do a better job of getting him the ball on the roll,” Atkinson said. “He’s rolling and we’re missing him or getting it to him late. We have to give it to him in better positions. But yes, he’s fumbled a few. He’s got to improve in that.”
Mozgov was surprised to lose his starting job, but he handled it well. “I still have to do my work, still have to be ready and come ready on the court and do my best,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s starting five or not.”
Booker provides energy, defense, rebounding, speed and skill close to the basket. “I’m down for just being on the court,” he said. “With us going small, we can get up and down the floor a lot faster, so I think there will definitely be some advantages to it.”