BROOKLYN — The Nets’ blockbuster move to acquire Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry stole headlines, but it says here the bench unit will be the steal of the summer at the season’s conclusion.
Garnett is the team’s elder statesman, ranking sixth all-time with 47,801 minutes played over 19 seasons. Paul Pierce, Garnett’s counterpart, will be 36 when the season starts.
However, Brooklyn boasts the league’s only bench unit with four double-digit scorers and one double-digit rebounder from last season.
“The bench is going to be huge for us,” said Deron Williams. “I think that’s one of our strengths right now, how deep we are. We have so many different lineups that can be put out on the floor, we can go big or small. You’re only going to be as good as your bench can take you and with the guys we have, the older guys we have, with their minutes being monitored. Garnett might not play back-to-backs and that’s where our bench is really going to be key for us.”
Besides the advanced ages of Garnett and Pierce, even the younger stars have dealt with injury issues. Brook Lopez’s right foot has required surgery three times in less than two years, Deron Williams was plagued by ankle trouble for the first half of last season, while Joe Johnson battled plantar fasciitis, a bruised quad and heel injuries last season.
“Our bench is going to be just as important as the starters,” said Johnson. “I think we have, if not the deepest, one of the deepest benches in the league. We’ve got guys who have put up big numbers in this league and played significant minutes. There may be times when they have to fill in the starting role and I’m sure they’re capable of doing it.”
Terry, Andrei Kirilenko, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson bring a combined 56 years of experience and 1,864 starts.
With that in mind, Pierce believes Brooklyn has the veteran depth to properly blend with the team’s star power to win the title this season.
“I think all the ingredients are in the locker room,” said Pierce. “I think you have youth, size, veterans, experience, and we have depth. I think all the things that you need for a championship caliber team are in that locker room. It’s just about how we come together, how we sacrifice and do the necessary things we need to do to make this an elite ball club.”
Terry, a former Sixth Man of the Year winner in 2009, is most excited about the addition of Kirilenko due to his versatile skill set.
“Andrei was tremendous for us because it gives us depth at that position, another lockdown defender, and another playmaker,” said Terry. “A lot of people don’t realize Andrei’s skill set when it come to offense because he’s so unselfish and because he can handle the ball. I think that’s what makes him a great player in this league and that’s why he’s been around as long as he has.”
Garnett also alluded to Kirilenko’s value as a multi-dimensional player, especially as his possible replacement on back-to-back scenarios.
“I will say that having Kirilenko here I thought was a huge signing,” said Garnett.
Terry feels Brooklyn now has three legitimate contenders for Sixth Man of the Year with the addition of Kirilenko and the re-signing of Blatche.
“It gives you a healthy competitiveness and you never know, maybe you get two (winners) off the same team,” said Terry. “It’s never been done before and maybe it happens this year.”
When asked if Brooklyn has the bench unit in the NBA, Blatche didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, it is now,” said Blatche.
On paper, Blatche’s claim is accurate based on last season’s performances. However, according to Kirilenko, Brooklyn’s bench unit is the best for a different reason.
“I think what we have right now is pretty unique for the league when you have about seven or eight guys who are at the same level of the game,” said Kirilenko. “I think it’s good when the coach has the opportunity to change the lineup and save somebody or give rest to somebody. I think it’s going to save people’s legs and Deron is one of those guys who we need to be fresh. It’s a tough season when you look at it; it’s more than 100 games you play. I think because we have great depth, it’s going to help us a lot.”
Essentially, the only concern with this unit is if there are enough minutes to go around. However, that concern will be nullified according to Terry.
“It’s going to be very fun to lead the bench and we have a lot of talent, young and old, but that makes for a great mix,” said Terry. “The chemistry is not going to be an issue. The roles will be well-defined by coach.”
After seeing a reduction in Boston, expect Terry’s usage and shot attempts to increase under coach Kidd, his former teammate on Dallas’ championship team in 2011.
Kirilenko will spell Garnett and Pierce while providing the defense with a rangy and athletic wing to guard the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, etc.
Blatche should continue to anchor the frontcourt scoring load if he continues to reduce his inefficient field goal attempts from the perimeter.
Evans may not reach the same rebounding totals from last season thanks to a decreased workload, but he’s proven he makes the most of his minutes after ranking first in defensive rebounding percentage (37.76) and total rebounding percentage (26.67) last season.
Livingston will be counted on as the floor general of the bench unit thanks to his superior court vision at 6-foot-7 while Anderson provides lethal 3-point shooting from the corner pocket to round out the bench.
If Brooklyn’s lives up to it’s hype on paper, the Nets will be knocking on the championship door.