Brooklyn’s biggest rivarly: Starters vs. Backups
Veteran Keith Bogans was coming off what might have been his best season. The 6-5 shooting guard started every game and even netted a 2010-2011 NBA Defensive Player of the Year vote playing opposite Derrick Rose in the Chicago Bulls’ backcourt.
And since the lockout delayed the start of the 2011-2012 season, Bogans wasn’t feeling any effects of minor offseason knee surgery when camp rolled around in December. In Bogans’ mind, he was possibly preparing for a championship season.
And then he got cut.
The Bulls waited until he had already arrived at camp to decline Bogans’ $1.7 million option and he eventually ended up signing with the New Jersey Nets, playing five games before breaking his ankle and ending his season.
But something happened in those five games with the moribund Nets.
“I wanted to come back here even before they started the rebuilding process,” Bogans told HOOPSWORLD. “From the time my ankle broke through the rehab and all the way back, I haven’t been treated the way I’ve been treated here in my whole career.”
Bogans was being treated better with a broken ankle in New Jersey than he was when he started on a title contender in Chicago. He said he “can’t thank the Nets training staff enough” for the way they handled his rehab and was pleasantly surprised to hear coach Avery Johnson telling reporters that he expected to have Bogans back on the team in 2012-2013, the inaugural season in Brooklyn.
When the season ended, Bogans, a free agent, told Johnson and general manager Billy King that he was going to get healthy and come back strong. The Nets could only offer a minimum deal, but by treating Bogans like a veteran — instead of someone who gave them five forgettable games last year — Brooklyn adds nine years of experience and a skilled defender to a second unit that should have no problem scoring in 2012-2013.
All the talk surrounding the Brooklyn Nets has focused on Jay-Z, Barclays Center and a starting five that includes three All-Stars and will cost over $72 million this season alone.
Understandably, the bench isn’t the sexiest topic, but for the Nets, it could end up being the biggest difference maker.
Armed with only the bi-annual exception, minimum contacts and the lure of playing with Deron Williams, King and Co. added the reigning Euroleague scoring leader Mirza Teletovic, center Andray Blatche, point guard C.J. Watson, power forward Reggie Evans as well as swingmen Josh Childress and Jerry Stackhouse. The Nets traded for rookies Tyshawn Taylor (15.5 ppg in the summer league) and Tornike Shengelia (10.6 ppg in the summer league) at the 2012 draft. And, since they didn’t deal for Dwight Howard, Brooklyn still had shooting guard MarShon Brooks, who averaged 12.6 ppg as a rookie.
Whereas Johnson couldn’t find enough capable starters during the Nets’ 22-44 campaign a season ago, now he’s wondering how to limit his rotation.
“Do you go with a 10-man rotation, or do you go with nine?” Johnson asked at the team’s media day on Oct. 1. “Do you go with an 11-man rotation? Because then you’ve got guys like Reggie and my young boy, Toko [Shengelia].”
Whatever the depth of the rotation, Bogans already feels strongly about the bench.
“I think the bench is going to be what makes this team go,” he said. “Honestly, the bench is going to kick the starters’ ass in practice. That’s normally what happens in an NBA practice anyway. All good teams are good because the starters get their asses kicked in practice. So I’ll tell the second team, ‘that’s going to be my job, kick their ass every day.’”
Obviously the starters include Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, so that’s going to be easier said than done. At least the backups arrived to camp prepared.
Teletovic is in shape because he spent his offseason with the Bosnian National Team and Blatche looks better than he has in years, thanks to an extensive offseason program that included three days of three-a-day workouts and two days of two-a-days every week.
“I lost like 25 pounds,” said Blatche, who is noticeably skinnier than he was before being amnestied by the Washington Wizards.
“Blatche is impressive,” Bogans said. “That’s all I’m going to say right now. From the time he walked into the gym, I’ve been impressed with him.”
Blatche provides scoring, although he’s taken criticism for relying too heavily on his midrange jumper. At least he, Brooks and Teletovic can score in different ways.
Brooks is a one-on-one scorer, who isn’t particularly adept at perimeter shooting (31.3 percent from 3-point range), but can take defenders off the dribble and finish in any number of ways within 18 feet of the basket.
Teletovic, on the other hand, describes himself as a “stretch four” because of his impressive shooting ability.
“I’m the only guy with lots of range, shooting, so I think that will help a lot,” the 6-9 Teletovic told HOOPSWORLD.
Teletovic connected on 43.1 percent of his 3-point attempts in Euroleague play as a member of Caja Laboral Vitoria last season.
Even the Nets’ backup point guard can score. Bogans, who shared a uniform but rarely any playing time with Watson in Chicago, is fond of telling people about the time former Tennessee Volunteer started for Derrick Rose against the Denver Nuggets in December of 2010.
“We always laugh,” said Bogans, “because [Watson] didn’t pass, but he had 30 points.” (33 actually)
Watson has become more of a passer, posting a career-high 6.9 assist rate (percentage of possessions that end with an assist) a season ago. That’s not amazing for a point guard, but Childress registered his own career-high in that category last year (23.8) and should be able to help carry the distribution load. Childress’ turnover rate also dropped to a career-low 6.3, so he certainly offers more as a point forward than he does as a scorer (just2.9 ppg with the Phoenix Suns last year).
On paper, the defense doesn’t seem to be a strength for the bench, but Bogans is fine with that. He knows if he sets the example defensively, eventually everything will fall in line, just as it did with the Bulls, who led the league in defensive efficiency with Bogans in 2010-2011.
“Every year I come into camp with whatever team I’m going to and that’s what’s going to be my niche,” Bogans said.
The real wildcard might be Taylor, a St. Anthony (Jersey City, NJ) alum who is still developing as a point guard, but already provides athleticism and defense.
“[Coach Johnson] wants a guard that can defend,” Taylor told HOOPSWORLD. “A guard that can play fast and be able to score if he needs to and I think I’m capable of all of that.”
Taylor showed off a 40-inch vertical at the NBA Draft Combine and benched 185 pounds 15 times, which was also promising.
And of course, Evans is still the player he’s always been. The former Iowa Hawkeye is undersized (generally listed at 6-8) but he still posted a rebounding rate (percentage of missed shots a player rebounds) of 25.6 last season, which was a career high.
The Nets’ bench isn’t going to sell tickets. That job will be left up to the starters and if they don’t validate their big contacts, fan interest will inevitably dip.
But the bench doesn’t have to worry about any of that. King and Johnson had specific roles in mind for each and every backup they brought in this season, and as Bogans said, all those guys have to worry about is kicking “the starters’ ass.”
“If we do that, when they get to the game, it’s going to be easier than practice,” Bogans said.