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Brooklyn Nets Defined By Their Depth

by Steven Simineri | Posted on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
Andrei Kirilenko (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Andrei Kirilenko (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

82,403,823 is the number of millions of dollars that the Brooklyn Nets opening night starting five will collect this season — which is more than the entire payroll of every single team in the NBA. In the summer when the Nets acquired the Hall of Fame bound duo of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from Boston to join All-Stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez it was thought to be a good idea.

Mikhail Prokhorov’s expensive team was the talk of the league during the off-season and his newly constructed starting five immediately put rookie head coach Jason Kidd’s group in the Championship conversation. However, the video-game lineup that entered the season accounting for 36 All-Star appearances didn’t last very long, and in the time that they were together they flat out stunk.

Due to injuries the much heralded group amazingly only played eight games together, going a pitiful 3-5. Things could not have started off worse for the Brooklyn, as Williams left ankle continued barking, Pierce fractured his hand, Lopez broke his foot and the losses kept on piling up. The Nets were quickly on pace to become the priciest punch-line in NBA history, but they improbably righted themselves after Lopez went down and Kidd shifted to a small-ball lineup.

With the turn of the calendar to 2014, the Nets turned the page on all their struggles and have played the best basketball in the Eastern Conference, winning 30 of 43 games – including a 20-2 mark at Barclays Center. During the stretch and current 14-game home winning streak the trio of Williams, Pierce and Johnson have been playing great basketball. But while Lopez sits out for the season and Garnett continues to nurse back spasms, the Nets have found out that they’re a team of depth.

“That’s who we are. If we’re going to go anywhere in this playoffs were a team full of depth,” the former Celtic Captain Pierce told reporters over the weekend.  “We got a number of guys that can beat you on any given night. It’s not really surrounded around one particular guy. Tonight I was our leading scorer, but then it can be someone else tomorrow and that’s what makes us so dangerous and tough to scout.”

Teams surely wouldn’t be forgetting to scout the Nets second unit as they are in the top five in the NBA per game in bench points (38.1), rebounds (17.0), steals (3.6) and three-pointers made (3.4). Each month, the Nets have finished in the top 10 in the NBA in bench scoring and the group has outscored opponents benches by a 39.7-33.5 margin since Jan. 1. Additionally, they have done this while averaging 20.1 minutes per game for the season, second in the NBA to Gregg Popovich’s notorious backups in San Antonio (21.2).

Ironically, after owning the headlines for their lavish spending, it has been general manager Billy King’s bargain shopping pickups that have helped lift the Nets back into contention. When Andrei Kirilenko signed for the mini mid-level exception it caused a bit of an uproar, but nobody took much notice when journeyman Alan Anderson or veteran guard Shaun Livingston signed on for the minimum.

The 28-year old Livingston has turned Brooklyn into a different team since being inserted into the starting lineup and he is easily one of the biggest bargains of the off-season. Last year King unearthed another one of the league’s best bargains after taking a flier on the troublesome Andray Blatche.  And for a second straight season the former Washington Wizard is helping anchor one of the league’s better bench units, averaging over 11 points.

He has gotten help with the trade-deadline addition of sharpshooting Marcus Thornton and the development of Bosnian forward Mirza Teletovic. The group of Livingston, Blatche, Kirilenko, Anderson, Thornton and Teletovic may make less than $20 million combined, but that doesn’t make them feel as if they aren’t as important as the guys making the big bucks.

“We feel like we’re just as important as the first unit,” Thornton said. “The first unit goes out and does their thing and we feel we have to go out and match their energy or be better and boost the lead up so when they come back in, everything’s in place.”

The Nets, expensive in sum, are an actual team and you can thank the other guys.

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