Indiana Basketball: Tom Crean’s Ark and the Genesis of IU Small Ball

Tom Crean eyed the dark clouds on the horizon, smelled rain in the air and knew it was time.

He finished his sacrifice to Dwyane Wade, filled his Dasani bottle with yak blood and returned to Cook Hall. There he gathered his assistants around the burning hearth and told them of his plans.

“Take thine scholarships and go forth unto the country,” Crean said. “Bring back two of each type of guard. Conference play will be here sooner than anyone believes, and we must build an ark and pack it with talent that will save us from the deluge.”

Crean then unfurled his blueprints for the craft—a low-slung wooden vessel of modest dimensions, glued together with zone defense and string cheese. This, he said, would weather the storm. 

“But coach!” his assistants cried. “The ship is too small! The ceilings too low! The centers will never fit in these cabins. How will the big men survive?”

At this, Crean turned from his men and stared deeply into the fire. Gazing intently, a terrifying grin spread across the coach’s face.

“Where we’re going, we won’t need big men.”

All aboard, everyone. 

The S.S. Small Ball is leaving the Port of Necessity, and whether we like it or not, we’re all on this freaky cruise together.

So far, the gods have been kind. The 4-0 Hoosiers weathered their first real storms of the season this week, notching a statement victory over Southern Methodist and avoiding a hangover loss to a Lamar team that wouldn’t quite die.

It was a week of rapturous highs and concerning lows. Troy Williams soared and sputtered in his return. James Blackmon Jr. officially Jason Statham-ed the door on college basketball and Crean’s small ball proved that through active hands and sharp shooting, all things are possible. 

Let’s start by going over the small ball, and a phrase Indiana fans should begin working into their lexicons.

 

Clear Eyes, Quick Hands, Can’t Lose

A recurring trope you’ll hear this year from college basketball pundits will be Indiana “living and dying” by the three. This is not not true. 

If Yogi Ferrell and Blackmon Jr. aren’t hitting triples against a Big Ten opponent, go ahead and pull the trigger on that second Hairy Bear. Become the liability for society that Hanner Mosquera-Perea is at the free-throw line.

So yes, three-pointers will be a main lifeline for this team, but what falls by the unsexy wayside in the perimeter-focused conversation is the importance of jazz hands in Indiana’s game plan. The Hoosiers are going to get out-rebounded and outmaneuvered in the paint most games, making fast hands a pivotal part of making up for the team’s size disadvantage.

SMU scored 42 points in the paint against the Hoosiers, dwarfing Indiana’s tally of 14. It’s a terrifying ratio on its face, but Indiana managed to erase nearly half of the deficit by scoring 19 points off turnovers thanks in large part to active hands on defense.

Think of it this way: Crean built an ark with multiple players of every type but a true center, and that lack of a genuine big man is the hole in the boat. Water is constantly pouring through the hole, and the only way to bail it is strong perimeter shooting and disrupting passes into the zone defense.

So if Blackmon Jr. and company are keeping their hands up and immolating defenses from behind the arc, Indiana has a fighting chance to stay afloat and play with just about anyone.

 

JBJ Rising

Robert Johnson slowly returned to earth over the last two games, proving that Johnsonism—while a near-religious movement—is indeed founded on a mortal being. 

Conversely, Blackmon Jr. continued his ascension to the outer reaches of the galaxy. He is on a mission to save humanity from corn blight and is slinging bunches of three-pointers through wormholes in the process.

The former McDonald’s All-American is currently the highest-scoring freshman in the country (10th highest-scoring player overall), averaging 22.8 points per game through four contests. The next closest frosh is Ball State forward Sean Sellers, who is averaging 22 through three games.

Blackmon Jr.’s ability to napalm the opposing team’s brush line with three-balls is his most jaw-dropping asset, but his burst in traffic is a lesser praised but vital difference-maker in his arsenal. 

BTN analyst Jim Jackson commented during the SMU broadcast that Blackmon Jr. “doesn’t look that athletic,” but can get to the rim. Phenomenal point, Jim.

It should also be noted that every time Blackmon Jr. hustles on defense, a Purdue grad loses a protractor. After dropping 26 points on SMU, the freshman summed up the attitude Indiana will have to bring in order to win games this year.

“They were way bigger than us, but we were way scrappy,” Blackmon Jr. said.

 

Troy Williams’ Linguine Arms

Troy Williams’ limbs are a double-edged sword.

On one hand, they allow him to dunk, block and execute his trademark, this-looks-like-a-bad-idea hook shot. On the other, they get him into foul trouble fast.

The sophomore returned to the court Thursday against SMU and gave the Hoosiers a breath of life from the bench. His length helped Indiana even the size gap against the Mustangs and he contributed 11 points on a night when Mosquera-Perea essentially went out to lunch (three points, zero rebounds and one block in 29 minutes).

But like Mosquera-Perea, Williams sometimes struggles to control his pasta arms, and the result is ticky-tack fouls under the basket. He’s a necessary piece of the defensive and rebounding puzzle. He needs to avoid noodling himself onto the bench.

 

Other Notes From SMU and Lamar Games

  • Mosquera-Perea jump shots and sudden drops on roller coasters feel exactly the same.
  • Stanford Robinson has giant, childbearing hips. Every time he enters the lane he offers that right hip up for contact, and defenders slam into it like birds hitting a bay window. Seventy percent of his body is hips.
  • I forgot how much Indiana fans love shooters. Jump shots draw excitement, but consistent three-point shooting takes Hoosiers straight to the gushing pleasure domes of Xanadu. Indiana is shooting 46.2 percent from behind the arc this year. They’ll have to ban sweatpants at Assembly Hall if this number holds up.
  • If he can tear his head from the cavernous depths of his own bottom, Emmitt Holt can help this team.
  • If an opposing big gets the ball under the basket, it’s two points. Three if Hanner is down there. Accept and come to grips with this.
  • Tyran de Lattibeaudiere is a force of a nature.  

Indiana hosts 3-1 Eastern Washington Monday night. The S.S. Small Ball will have to contend with a relatively rangy Eagles team that includes 7’1” redshirt sophomore Frederik Jorg. Time to bail that water, boys.

 

Dan is a Trending Lead Writer for B/R. Once or twice a week during the college basketball season, he turns into an irrational monster that yells at men wearing candy cane pants. 

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5 Potential Solutions to Los Angeles Lakers’ Obvious Small Forward Problem

The Los Angeles Lakers face a number of problems this season, not the least of which is a lack of quality depth at nearly every position.

Minus a quality starting center, Lakers management loaded up on power forwards with the hope that Jordan Hill, Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre would address that deficiency. Teams are still destroying the Lakers in the paint.

That left a gaping hole at small forward, despite the presence of starter Wesley Johnson and super sub Nick Young. In Johnson, the Lakers have a 27-year-old former first-round draft pick who continues to underperform, most notably on offense.

So far in 13 games, Johnson has spent 32 minutes on the court, scoring less than eight points per game. His 26.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc is the worst of his five-year career.

Having Nick Young back has helped strengthen the bench, especially on offense. In his first two games following rehab on his injured thumb, Swaggy P averaged 16.5 points on 48 percent shooting in 28 minutes.

By his third game, however, Young disappeared, scoring just five points in 19 minutes against the Mavs.

After Johnson and Young, the small forward cupboard looks pretty bare. The Lakers do have Xavier Henry, but he’s been a non-factor who was injured to start the year and has offered little.

In fact, there is reason to believe if and when the Lakers make a roster move, it will be Henry who gets the pink slip.

Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding wrote earlier this week:

No massive talent upgrade is coming, though if 6’9″ forward Quincy Miller fares well in a tryout this week, expect to see him replace Xavier Henry on the team. Miller, who turns 22 on Tuesday and has rare upside despite no sense of how to reach it after two years with the Denver Nuggets, would at least give the Lakers a little more youth and hope in Julius Randle’s absence.

With a recently awarded $1.5 million Disabled Player Exception (DPE) as compensation for Randle’s broken leg, the Lakers have until March 10 to sign or trade for someone to fill that roster spot. 

The pickings are slim, but the Lakers are mining for any help they can get.

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All the Small Things: Kevin Love Keeping Defenders on His Hip

We know a fair bit about how Kevin Love plays basketball. We know that he is a masterful rebounder and outlet passer. We know that he can shoot threes, and that he prefers them from the left wing. We know that he is patient in the post.
“All the Small Things” aims to identify and explore the hidden gems within our favorite Cavaliers’ games.1 What are the little tricks they use to free themselves up on offense or discourage opponents on defense?
One move that Kevin Love employs is driving into defenders rather than away from them. He’s no gazelle, but he uses a long first step to get by his man, and then drives into the defender’s body as he goes to the hoop. This forces the defender to go through or over Love to challenge his shot, which leads to a lot of fouls.
We see ball handlers do this often, especially in the open court. Eliminating airspace limits a defender’s angle and makes it tough for him to gather and rise to block a shot. Taking too wide a path around a defender initially gives the of

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Ranking the Nation’s Top 20 Small Forwards for 2014-15 NCAA Basketball Season

The true small forward is hard to find in college basketball. Many coaches play a three-guard lineup, not necessarily out of preference but rather because there just aren’t many guys in the 6’7″ range who can guard on the perimeter, handle the ball and make outside shots. 

So the pool of players to choose from at this position is smaller than the other spots, but the teams who do have a true small forward have a valuable asset. 

This year’s group has several breakout candidates—the man at No. 4 is my pick for breakout player of the year—and also includes three freshmen who could all end up as lottery picks. 

Let’s get to the list. 

 

Just missed the cut: Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State; J.J. O’Brien, San Diego State; Sam Thompson, Ohio State; J.P. Tokoto, North Carolina; Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut

 

This is the third installment in B/R’s positional ranking series in the lead-up to the 2014-15 season. In case you missed it, here are the top 20 point guards and the top 20 shooting guards. Check back on Friday for the power forwards. The centers will come next Monday, and the series will culminate on November 12 with our ranking of the top 100 players in college basketball.

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C.J. Miles Is Indiana Pacers’ Best Bet to Fill Small Forward Void

The Indiana Pacers desperately need C.J. Miles to be an impact player at small forward this season. 

That desperation was not there when he was first signed this summer to a four-year $18 million deal. At that point, the best-case scenario for Miles was a role as a third wing off the bench behind Paul George and Lance Stephenson. The worst-case scenario was Miles replacing Stephenson in the starting lineup if Stephenson signed elsewhere. 

It turned out there was an even worse scenario lurking. 

Stephenson left for the Charlotte Hornets, and George suffered a catastrophic leg fracture at the end of August which will likely keep him out for the entire season. All of a sudden, the Pacers’ depth on the wings evaporated.

On Wednesday night we got a taste of the Pacers’ new wing rotation in a 103-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Rodney Stuckey was the star, scoring 16 points in 16 injury-restricted minutes, but the game underscored just how much the Pacers need Miles.

After starting the game 1-of-7 from the field, Miles finished with 15 points, making six of his last 10 shots. Although the 76ers are not the scariest offensive team in the league, Miles also played solid defense and helped funnel penetration toward Roy Hibbert—the backbone of the Pacers’ defensive scheme.

There is no way Miles will be able to completely fill the hole left by George, but like George he can contribute positively on both sides of the ball,which will be essential to Indiana.

ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus estimated Miles’ defensive impact at 0.21 points per 100 possessions. While that’s nowhere near the mark of 2.58 George put up last season, it puts Miles on the good side of the defensive ledger. That’s something that can’t be said for the Pacers’ other wing options:

Player DRPM
Paul George +2.58
C.J. Miles +0.21
Solomon Hill -0.84
Chris Copeland -1.93
Rodney Stuckey -3.24

While George was a phenomenal one-on-one defender, the Pacers’ defensive system is good enough to help ease the burden. What they really need from Miles is play within the system, sending penetration toward Hibbert and closing out intelligently on shooters. In those narrow capacities, he’s more than capable of following through.

Miles’ value goes beyond his defense. He was extremely efficient as a complementary scorer in Cleveland last season, finishing with a 56.9 true shooting percentage, shooting 39.3 percent on three-pointers and turning the ball over on just 9.1 percent of his possessions. 

However, Miles’ efficiency came in a very constrained role, much different than the one George played for the Pacers.

Player True Usage Ast Usage Drives per 36min. % of FGA on C&S
Paul George 40.7% 12.0% 4.2 31.7%
C.J. Miles 31.0% 6.2% 2.6 52.5%

True Usage and Assist Usage are more complete measures of offensive involvement that blend additional assist categories from the NBA‘s SportVU player tracking statistics with traditional measures of usage. You can see here that Miles played a much smaller role and created far fewer scoring opportunities for his teammates.

His role was much more centered around the perimeter than George’s—he drove the basketball far less, and more than half of his field-goal attempts were of the catch-and-shoot variety.

You can see from his shot chart from last season how his activity was focused around the perimeter:

Tim Donahue of 8Points9Seconds.com elaborated on Miles’ offensive skill set:

Spotting up and coming off screens. That’s what C.J. Miles does. People like to talk about his ability to put the ball on the floor and make things happen, but he’s a shooter. He’s gonna shoot. If the Pacers can get him good looks, he’ll knock em down. If not, don’t expect much dynamism or creativity, though he did score nearly 10% of his points leading the pick-and-roll, which is encouraging when it comes to a Miles/West two-man game.

Breaking things down into these stylistic categories, it’s clear that Miles will not be able to replicate a significant portion of what George gave the Pacers on offense last season. But he is a good fit for what is left on the roster and the way the team will likely play.

The Pacers will reportedly look to return to their smashmouth roots this season, running much more of their offense through Hibbert and David West in the low post. Stuckey, who will probably take over the starting shooting guard position when his minutes restriction is lifted, will be asked to replace a lot of the shot-creation and penetration contributions that George and Stephenson made. Stuckey is a questionable outside shooter, though.

Between post-ups for their big men and Stuckey’s dribble-drive attacks, spacing is going to be at a premium for the Pacers. The fact that Miles can be counted on for consistent outside shooting makes him extremely important.

Miles is a capable defender, one whose impact should be increased in the Pacers’ system and with Hibbert patrolling the lane behind him. On offense, he may not be a high-usage shot creator who can carry the perimeter scoring load, but he knows his role, doesn’t turn the ball over and is a very good outside shooter. 

He’s no Paul George, but unfortunately beggars can’t be choosers. The Pacers are short on wing talent, and there simply isn’t anyone else on the roster who can provide a reasonable facsimile of George. If the Pacers are going to be successful this season they’ll need positive contributions wherever they can find them.

That means a lot of C.J. Miles.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com/stats.

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Warriors’ Starting Small Forward Decision More Complicated Than It Seems

When your starting five registers a net rating of plus-15.4 over 819 regular-season minutes—as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut did for the Golden State Warriors a season ago*—you think it’d be best to leave well enough alone. 

The Dubs’ golden unit is good enough to single-handedly put them in the playoffs. Given the right breaks, it could be what carries them to an NBA championship.

But when it comes to who mans the starting small forward slot, the truth—as in any seemingly sublime relationship—is a bit more complicated.

This is no knock on Andre Iguodala. As the team’s best defender and foremost emotional leader, the 10-year veteran is the definition of “indispensable.” For the Warriors to reach their full potential, however, head coach Steve Kerr must not merely choose rotational convention over better depth.

The crux of the issue is as follows: By bringing Iguodala off the bench, Golden State would have a proven leader and playmaker to bolster what has been one of the league’s most woeful second units.

Meanwhile, starting Harrison Barnes—whose struggles last season were well-documented—could give the third-year forward a much-needed jolt of confidence. That in turn would help bolster Barnes’ value for any potential trade, something that’s been often discussed in the Warriors’ front office.

There’s certainly something to be said about tethering Barnes to Golden State’s stars as often as possible. Per NBA.com (subscription required), the three five-man units in which Barnes was included and that registered a positive net rating over a minimum of 50 minutes all included at least three regular Warriors starters.

It’s the definition of a “risk-reward” scenario. On the one hand, you know what you’re getting with Iguodala in the starting lineup. On the other, how can you know what you might have in Barnes unless you give him more minutes?

The idea of Iguodala as bench ballast was given an early boost during a recent preseason blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Afterward, Kerr told the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung that he wouldn’t rule out the 2012 Olympic gold-medal winner as a possible sixth-man extraordinaire.

“I thought Andre was brilliant, and I don’t know that (coming off the bench is) the route we’re going to go, but he solidified that unit,” Kerr said. “And our lead went up when we subbed in, which was encouraging.

For his part, Iguodala was a bit more circumspect when asked about the possibility, telling Leung:

It’s just playing ball, you know? You try not to make a big deal out of it. I think we know the depth we have and how many guys we can put out there on the floor, which should help us stay fresh throughout the year. It could be anyone’s night. Coaches continue to reiterate that fact that it could be anyone’s night at any given time, so be patient if that night’s not your night and just go with the flow.

During the 2013-14 season, it wasn’t uncommon see Iguodala serve as a primary ball-handler behind Stephen Curry; that’s how shallow Golden State’s backcourt was (Steve Blake being the only other true point guard in the regular rotation).

The addition of Shaun Livingston—signed to a full mid-level exception of a little over $5 million back in July—certainly changes that equation for the better. Still, beyond Curry and Livingston, Kerr’s only real ball-handler is rookie Aaron Craft, a hard-nosed but physically limited player coming off a woeful stint in the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues.

That’s not to say Iguodala’s only role would be running the reserves show, of course; the installation of Kerr’s triangle offense arguably makes the team’s positional makeup even more moot. Besides, there’s still the matter of that age-old basketball adage: It’s not who starts but who finishes that truly counts.

At the same time, As SB Nation’s Drew Garrison recently underscored, swapping Iguodala and Barnes isn’t a risk-free proposition:

This does represent a long-term trade-off for Golden State, though. Iguodala is one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders and the Warriors will need their defensive stopper as a starter during the postseason. If the Warriors rely on Iguodala leading the bench unit through the regular season, this could cause rotation issues if they shift him back into the starting lineup for the playoffs. He also fits nicely alongside the starting unit, complementing Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry on the wings and providing the kind of defensive support on the perimeter that David Lee and Andrew Bogut need in front of them.

Will Kerr stick with this newfound role for Iguodala? Time will tell, but giving it a chance and seeing how his Warriors respond to the lineup shift is a worthwhile preseason exercise if nothing else.

The idea of leveraging more minutes in order to massage Barnes’ trade value wasn’t conceived in a vacuum. With the team’s salaries already maxed out and both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green—a bench revelation in his own right—due extensions over the next 12 months, it’s incumbent upon Golden State to cleave open as much cap space as possible.

Green adds yet another wrinkle to the Warriors’ small forward logjam, what with the third-year forward already being talked about as a possible replacement for the defensively limited David Lee as the team’s starting power forward.

Still, despite logging only 14 percent of his team’s minutes at the 3, Green’s impact—the Warriors registered a plus-8.2 with him as the small forward according to 82games.com—is enough to at least make Kerr consider what a Green-Lee, Green-Iguodala or Green-Barnes forward duo might look like.

Whatever Kerr’s ultimate decision is, it should be neither pressing nor permanent, which is a luxury one can afford when wielding one of the league’s deeper teams.

Sensational as Golden State’s starting unit was a season ago, it’s impossible not to see the end result—a disappointing first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers—as reason enough for a bit of tweaking and tinkering.

Even if the five that finish—Iggy included—are as much a certainty as Sunday Mass at the Vatican.

 

*Stat courtesy of NBA.com (subscription required).

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Ranking the 10 Best ‘Small Ball’ Lineups in NCAA Basketball for 2014-15

With Kentucky having seemingly every talented big man in the country, VCU, Wichita State and Michigan State headline what figures to be a long list of college basketball teams employing small-ball lineups during the 2014-15 season.

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the ability of the dog to make ample three-pointers and limit turnovers well enough to make up for an inevitably negative rebounding margin on a nightly basis.

In ranking these top 10 small-ball lineups, we put together our best guess at their projected starting lineups and then subjectively graded them in both the “best” and “small” categories.

As you’ll see, it was a delicate balance.

Indiana ended up just two spots behind Michigan, even though we fully expect the Hoosiers to finish at least five places behind the Wolverines in the Big Ten standings. But because Indiana is so ridiculously small this year and because Michigan figures to start four guys who are 6’6″ or taller, they ended up in close proximity to one another.

Any team projected to start two players 6’8″ or taller was immediately removed from consideration. Beyond that, the smaller they are and the better they are, the higher they ranked on the list.

 

All advanced stats via KenPom.com (subscription required), NCAA.com and Sports-Reference.com.

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Breaking Down Brooklyn Nets Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The small forward spot is becoming an increasingly perplexing position in today’s NBA, especially when it pertains to the Brooklyn Nets.

Some small forwards bring the ball up. Others play in the paint. Then there are the three-point launchers who eat and sleep out on the perimeter.

The 3 has really become a wild card in terms of lineup configurations.

Last season, the Nets played small ball after starting center Brook Lopez went out for the year with a broken foot 17 games in.

After that, Kevin Garnett shared center duties with Mason Plumlee, Paul Pierce jumped to power forward, Joe Johnson slid down to small forward and Shaun Livingston joined Deron Williams in the backcourt.

But that was under Jason Kidd, who fled Brooklyn for the Milwaukee Bucks after just one year. Things will be different under new coach Lionel Hollins, who talked to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News about what he expects from his team:

I wasn’t trying to watch what they did because it’s really not the same team and what I want to do is different from what they did in the past. So, it wasn’t like I was trying to figure out what they did (last season). And I had a vision of what this team could look like with the personnel we have.

We’re trying to develop a foundation of what we’re going to be defensively, and what we’re trying to be offensively. It’s all the same. It’s not like I have some special magic that I’m trying to get them to do. You create a mentality, you create a culture of being aggressive and being tough.

Bondy noted back on September 27th that Hollins had already locked in on four starters: Williams, Johnson, Garnett and Lopez.

Johnson, who had played shooting guard for 12 years before last season, could see minutes at both the 2 and the 3 under Hollins.

Outside of Iso Joe, the Nets are looking at a SF rotation that could include rookie Bojan Bogdanovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic and Sergey Karasev.

Now, all those guys aren’t going to play (we’re looking at you, Sergey). And the ones that do aren’t going to exclusively line up at the 3—for example, AK-47 and Teletovic are likely to see a good chunk of minutes at power forward.

Let’s put the Nets’ small forward position under a microscope and really dig in, shall we?

 

Grading Last Year’s SF Performance

Basketball-Reference.com listed Johnson as a shooting guard last year. So did ESPN.

Well…he was, wasn’t he? Yes and no.

As mentioned before, Johnson took Pierce’s place at forward, but still handled the ball a fair amount and took the most shots on the team by a large margin—the next closest was D-Will, who was 302 shots behind JJ’s 1,018 attempts.

Johnson, as he’s always been, was a stud in 2013-14. The 33-year-old scored a team-high 15.8 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting while earning his seventh career All-Star nod. He also led the team in three-point shooting with an average of 40.1 from beyond the arc.

Playing a different position didn’t faze Johnson. Here’s what he told ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo on September 30: “I’ll never complain. I’m a basketball player, so whatever offense you wanna run, I’m capable of running it or adjusting to it. Whether you want me to be more of a catch-and-shoot guy or you want me to be more off-the-dribble, post-up, whatever you want me to do, I can do it.”

After Johnson came Anderson. If Johnson is a designer clothing brand, Anderson is Old Navy—while Double-A is far from glamorous, the 32-year-old veteran is a gritty defender who can knock down an occasional jumper if left open.

Anderson started 26 games for Brooklyn and contributed 7.2 points and 2.2 boards in about 23 minutes a game last year.

Johnson and Anderson were the team’s primary small forwards, with Teletovic mixing in some time at the 3 while mostly lining up as a power forward. In his second NBA season, the sharp-shooting Teletovic gave the Nets 8.6 points a night while hitting 41.8 percent of his attempts.

Finally, there was Kirilenko, whose decision to come to Brooklyn resulted in an investigation. Last summer, the Russian signed a two-year, $6.5 million deal with owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s Nets after opting out of a $10.2 million deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The NBA cleared the two parties of any wrongdoing, though. Just goes to show you that players will do anything to get out of Minnesota.

AK-47 was hurt for much of the year, dealing with some back spasms that just would not let up. He played just 45 games and averaged the worst scoring, rebounding, steals and block numbers of his 10-year career.

Kirilenko is in for a significantly bigger role with the Nets this season, though. If he can stay healthy, he’ll bounce back into the spark-plug utility player that he’s been his entire career.

Grade: B+

 

Will Bogdanovic start?

Hollins is presumably going to commit to a fifth starter in the very near future, given that the season is rapidly approaching.

Bogdanovic, Anderson and Kirilenko have run with the starters in the preseason, though AK-47 suffered a back injury that sidelined him after the second day of training camp.

The rookie from Croatia has started the for the Nets the entire preseason, including their most recent game, which was an experimental 44-minute exhibition against the Boston Celtics. He played a team-high 28 minutes on October 19.

All signs point to Bogdanovic earning a starting role.

Johnson is a significantly better ball-handler than the 25-year-old, so Bogdanovic would presumably line up as a small forward.

“I think he’s got great size, he’s also got great speed and quickness,” Hollins said of the overseas star, per Mazzeo. “He can shoot the ball, but also put the ball on the floor. He can post up. I’m looking for players. Players that have multiple skills and are not just one-dimensional.”

There’s certainly expected to be a learning curve, though. Here’s an excerpt from my recent piece that focused on the importance of Kirilenko early in the year:

In addition to the differences in court dimensions and ball texture, the rookie will be thrust into a new world of frequent traveling and a rigorous, physically grueling 82-game season.

In the meantime, Kirilenko’s play will become so much more important. Alan Anderson is the team’s only other legitimate option at the 3.

Kirilenko won’t necessarily fade as Bogdanovic, who will likely play some shooting guard and some small forward, progresses. He’ll still be an important piece of the Nets throughout the whole season.

The strong, 6’8″ Bogdanovic has looked capable of holding his own on the defensive end thus far, which would be the only area in which he’d lose points to Anderson.

If Kirilenko can stay healthy throughout the whole year—and steady the ship when the rookie’s ride gets bumpy—the Nets are going to be pretty deep at small forward, especially with Anderson working his way into the rotation.

 

Looking Ahead to 2014-15

Hollins is going to have a ton of options in how he handles the small forward rotation this season. If Bogdanovic starts with Johnson at SG, the veteran coach can substitute Kirilenko, Anderson or even Teletovic, depending on the situation.

The coach is determined to establish concrete roles for his players this season, something that Kidd struggled to do in his first year on the sidelines.

Here’s Newsday’s Roderick Boone with more:

In dealing with rookie coach Jason Kidd last season, some players clearly were frustrated by the lack of clarity regarding their role, which became more apparent during these first few days of training camp with Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko mentioning how they were unsure where they fit in Kidd’s scheme.

That doesn’t appear to be an issue under Hollins, who continues to lay the groundwork, getting a feel for his team so he can deliver an edict on precisely what he wants from each of them.

“I think that’s something coach talked about today,” Deron Williams said, “was kind of we haven’t talked about roles specifically this year. But they’ll be defined at some point during the preseason. I think that’s what this time is about, is finding out chemistry and what team we’re going to be like, what guys like to do.”

Obstacles are going to emerge throughout the year. It’s inevitable. Injuries, slumps, controversies, transactions—it’s going to happen.

But that’s out of Hollins’ control. Each player will have a role in Brooklyn, a niche carved out specifically for his own self. And that will provide the team with stability through the turmoil.

For Johnson, it’s likely to be scoring isolation. For Bogdanovic, it’ll be knocking down shots from the outside and providing instant offense. Kirilenko will be a spark plug and a safety net, a guy who’s reliable and can defend. Anderson will serve as a hard-nosed, scrappy defender.

All of Brooklyn’s options are versatile guys who can play different positions and bring a unique ability to the court.

The Nets are going to be just fine at small forward.

 

All stats are accurate courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com

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Marquette must go small in Wojo’s 1st year

Wojo to lean on guards in 1st year at Marquette, though big recruit looms for next year

      
 

 

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Marquette must go small in Wojo’s 1st year (Yahoo Sports)

FILE - In this April 1, 2014, file photo, Steve Wojciechowski speaks at a news conference where he was introduced as the new head coach of the Marquette University men's NCAA college basketball team in Milwaukee. Wojciechowski is dealing with a thin roster in training camp as he prepares the team in his first year as head coach. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Practice for the 2014-15 basketball season at Marquette is barely a few days old and already there is talk about next year.


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