Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Even in the wake of Wilson Chandler's suspension, the Nets have plenty of depth.
First, there's the returning young core of Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris and Rodions Kurucs. Then there are the are the Nets' less heralded offseason additions: Taurean Prince, Garrett Temple, and David Nwaba.
So it would be overly simplistic to say that, until Kevin Durant comes back, this Nets season is largely about Kyrie Irving's fit in Brooklyn vs. how D'Angelo Russell would have fit with the group.
Dozens of different factors will determine whether the Nets succeed in Durant's absence. Irving's play is just one of them.
But it's also fair to see Irving vs. Russell as a point of comparison for the Nets this year. Russell, of course, helped lead the Nets to the playoffs last season. He left the team as a restricted free agent, earning a $117 million contract in a sign-and-trade with Golden State. That transaction made room for Irving, Durant, and DeAndre Jordan to sign with Brooklyn.
Given the sequence of events, it's only natural for fans to wonder how things would have gone in Brooklyn this season if the club had kept Russell (which, of course, probably keeps them from signing Durant).
With all of that in mind, we talked to a few scouts to gauge their thoughts on Irving's fit with Brooklyn as a replacement for Russell, how the Nets may need to adjust to Irving, and how the six-time All Star may have to adapt to his new team.
GENERAL IMPRESSIONS OF KYRIE REPLACING D'ANGELO
WESTERN CONFERENCE SCOUT I: "I think Kyrie's a superstar. D'Angelo's going to be a really good player. But Kyrie is just at the next level. If his head's straight and he's going to be all in, with the core they have, I think (the Nets) have a really bright future (with Irving)….I think (replacing Russell with Irving) is an upgrade. That's nothing against Russell, because I thought he had a helluva year. But Kyrie, when the cylinders are all clicking, he is really, really hard to stop. If he's going to be a willing passer - and I haven't seen anything that would indicate that on a consistent basis, he isn't that - there's going to be a lot of open jump shots for the perimeter players. I think Kyrie is more capable (than Russell) of really getting into the seams and creating and finding people, and really taking things to the rim and scoring. He's a helluva player. He just has that mindset. Again, nothing against Russell - he had a great season. He earned his keep and played really, really well. But I think Kyrie, again, he's at the next level."
WESTERN CONFERENCE SCOUT II: "Obviously, I understand why they signed Kyrie because that's the only way they're getting KD. But I would say for this group, I thought D'Angelo was better, to be honest with you. He was younger, healthier than Kyrie. And just the way (Nets head coach) Kenny (Atkinson) wanted to play, I thought D'Angelo fit better.
"I know D'Angelo can dominate the ball at times. But I feel like D'Angelo does more with less dribbles than Kyrie. And I think that will affect some of the other players, who will end up standing around watching (Kyrie). So it'll be interesting to see if Kenny changes the style of play to fit Kyrie or if they try to get Kyrie to fit what they do."
WHAT MAY BE DIFFERENT FOR THE NETS THIS SEASON UNDER KYRIE?
Spencer Pearlman, an analyst who worked as a draft consultant for the Suns in 2019: "In regards to Kyrie's role, I think it will be really similar to Russell's role last year, only way more efficient and with way more downhill attacks. Russell lived in the mid-range and had far fewer drives and attempts at the rim than Irving. However, they are both pick-and-roll heavy and 'iso' heavy players. Russell had roughly 400 more scoring attempts in the (pick-and-roll), so it's safe to say that Kyrie's number will go up a good amount also in Brooklyn. Given that Kyrie was in the 86th percentile as a PnR scorer last year, that bodes well for the Nets' offense. Even if the efficiency drops a bit (which should happen given an increase in volume and fewer offensive playmakers in Brooklyn this year than in Boston last year), I believe Kyrie's efficiency as a PnR scorer will stay above Russell's. I would also expect to see more downhill attacks off the screens from Irving (including more drive and kicks, rim attempts, and fouls drawn), but fewer shots from mid-range than Russell took last season.
WESTERN CONFERENCE SCOUT I: "I'm not sure (Atkinson's) going to have to make a lot of changes because it's just such a pick-and-roll league. He's got some pretty good perimeter shooters. I've never really looked at Kyrie as being an overly selfish player. I think he'll move the ball. And I think there's times when he, as all players who are at his level, sometimes they roll the dice and say, 'Hey, I wanna win this game for my team (and take a tough shot).' You know, maybe 70% of the time they'll do it (and make a winning play). Then the other 30%, you know, they'll take some bad shots at the end of games. That comes along with being an All-Star, superstar level player, that their mindset is, 'I'm going to take the last shot.'
"I also feel that Kyrie's capable of really excelling in an open court game and I think that Kenny does a great job of getting his wing players out and running hard whether it's Joe Harris or Kurucs. Those guys, they're going to run and Kyrie's going to have people to throw it to - unless he starts getting some sticky fingers. The good thing about that is if the wing players run hard to the baseline and flatten the defense out, Kyrie's going to have some areas to really attack and he could wreak havoc."
WESTERN CONFERENCE SCOUT II: "There won't be as much sharing of the ball (with Irving running the offense). With D'Angelo, he got a lot of stuff after ball reversal and then got into his pick and roles. I think Kyrie is going to want to handle it to start and play out of pick and roll early. And then he'll share the ball late if nothing's there for him. So I think that'll be a little bit different, in terms of the movement and actions that they had in the past.
"I thought because they always had multiple ball handlers (on the court last season), it was kind of passed around equally. With Spencer, Caris and D'Angelo, two of them were on the court together a lot. So it wasn't like a primary ball handler situation (last season). Now I think Kyrie's gonna want the ball in his hands as a primary ball handler. (But for it to work well in Brooklyn this season), everything wouldn't run through Kyrie. Sometimes Caris or Spencer would have it - and then Kyrie would still probably get the majority of it. But (Irving) would have to share more than he did in the past."
Pearlman: "(Something to look at is) catch-and-shoot ability. The Nets played Russell off ball last year a good amount when paired with Dinwiddie and though he was efficient in catch-and-shoot situations (67th percentile), Kyrie was far more efficient (88th percentile) on 10 more attempts. This too bodes well for roster fit (and) Kyrie's replacing of Russell's role. I think Kyrie's shooting form might also lead to some more hard action off ball. Russell's slower release made it more difficult to run him hard off screens for catch-and-shoot attempts. This should further space the court for the Nets if you have Dinwiddie running point with Harris and Irving running baseline actions.
"Passing wise, Russell and Kyrie are close to a wash. Russell probably has an edge in terms of vision, but Kyrie is slightly less turnover prone. With shot selection, Kyrie will drive far more than Russell did, leading to more drive and kicks, shots at the rim, and fouls drawn.
"Kyrie also brings elite shooting ability (39% on 5.7 attempts per game over his career, 40.3 on 6.9 attempts over the last 3 years) and finishing ability (59.5% around the basket, according to Synergy) to the Nets.
"Given the Nets' roster construction and knowing they will be playing without Durant for most of the year, if not the entire season, Kyrie's ability to handle a huge offensive load and stay efficient will be key. In Boston, Irving had a TS% of 60%, which is *incredibly* efficient on roughly 31.6% usage (above the 91st percentile, both stats according to Cleaning the Glass). To maintain that efficiency on that usage is insane.
"(Regarding play types), the Nets and the Celtics had the same four most used plays last season, according to Synergy (though in slightly different order). This bodes well for Irving's transition from Boston to the Nets because even though the systems aren't entirely the same, there are similarities in terms of ball movement and shot selection."
WESTERN CONFERENCE SCOUT II: "(For it to work), Kyrie's going to have to show that he can make the players around him better. I think D'Angelo made those guys around him better (last season) just because he allowed them to play, so we'll see if (Kyrie) can make Caris better and if Joe Harris is going to get the same shots coming off screens that he got (last season). Or if Jarett Allen's going to get as many lobs at the rim as he did with D'Angelo. So it will be interesting."
WHAT ABOUT INTANGIBLES?
WESTERN CONFERENCE SCOUT I: "Overall, I think what Kenny has created there is a winning, likable culture and my sense is that it's a pretty strong foundation. I think Kenny and Sean Marks and those guys have done a great job in the kind of developing this below the radar plan that they've had. They've done a good job molding the team and having an identity, a willing work ethic, moving the ball and running the floor, I think it's all positive. But nothing's ever perfect. You know that. There will always be guys bitching. And if it starts going negative (this year), you know how it is, people are going to start pointing their fingers at Kyrie. A lot of it is on Kyrie to make it continue to work (this season)."
WESTERN CONFERENCE SCOUT II: "Obviously, D'Angelo's personality fit the group better. I don't know how Kyrie's personality is going to rub these guys and if it's Kyrie, KD, and Deandre and then the rest of the group (in cliques, that could be an issue)…. One of the greatest things about last year was how they all pulled for each other. You know, I felt like even guys who felt like they should have been playing and weren't still cared about their teammates and pulled for each other. Now, with some of those guys (like Jared Dudley, DeMarre Carroll and Ed Davis) gone, and if it's a team divided, how do they respond?
"And also, the expectation is different now with Kyrie so does the pressure bother the younger guys? Can they handle the pressure and the expectations that they really didn't have last year? There was no expectation last year. Now it's, there's gonna be a lot of pressure because Kyrie wants them to be better than last year. If they're not, without KD, it's like, 'Well, s--t, D'Angelo is better than Kyrie.' Kyrie is going to have to make the players around him better, which he didn't do in Boston. You're going to have to make Caris better (this season). You can argue that those kids in Boston played better without Kyrie, so that's something to watch. There's going to be a lot of different scenarios and different pressures that these guys have faced that they haven't in the past."