5 Changes to Expect with Lionel Hollins' Nets Versus Jason Kidd's
The Brooklyn Nets have gone from spilling soda to dripping sweat.
With Jason Kidd walking to Milwaukee after failing to force an internal promotion in Brooklyn, the Nets have brought in the tough-minded Lionel Hollins as his replacement. And a new coach means change is on the horizon.
Hollins posted a 196-155 win-loss record (.558) with the Grizzlies after taking over as coach in the middle of the 2008-09 season and not having his contract renewed in 2013. The team improved its winning percentage during each of his five years in Memphis, topping out with a 56-26 season and a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2013.
The Grizzlies offense was never a pretty watch, but the defense made sure to beat the beauty out of opposing attacks as well. No makeup was going to save you against Memphis, and that's a mentality Hollins infused—one that's carried to Dave Joerger's reign that began last season.
Now Hollins takes over for the recently departed Kidd, and the Nets, who underachieved early last season and finished the year at 44-38, have a chance to improve with a disciplinary, defensive-minded coach.
Here's a look at some of the adjustments we could stand to see under Hollins.
The Nets almost never ran the pick-and-roll last year. It simply dropped from the offense, especially as the season progressed.
Hollins, though, ran the pick-and-roll a decent amount during his time in Memphis, even though everyone tends to remember those Grizzlies offenses for their high-post sets through Marc Gasol.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the Nets finished in the bottom five in percentage of pick-and-rolls run last season under Kidd. But that may not have been completely on the first-year coach. Brooklyn finished dead last by a wide margin in percentage of pick-and-rolls run two seasons ago, before Kidd even got there.
Remember, we're talking about how often the Nets are running the screen-and-roll, not their effectiveness, which has also been relatively poor over the last few years.
Deron Williams has become hesitant to run the pick-and-roll in recent seasons, and it's probably not a coincidence he's turned tentative in his actions when dribbling around screens also. That's part of why the Nets' pick-and-roll attack hasn't worked all that well. Williams is late to make decisions.
Because of that, he'll let his screener come over, and before even attempting to turn the corner, he'll back up and pass out of the play. Of course, it's significantly harder to run that set when you lose Brook Lopez, arguably the most skilled offensive center in the league, due to a broken foot last December.
With Lopez back for the year (hopefully), maybe Hollins has the Nets set some more ball screens than we've grown accustomed to seeing over the past few years.
An Unconventional Offense by Today's Standards
You hear some people say Hollins hates threes. That seems a little harsh—and unrealistic, too, along the lines of hating cake.
A better choice of phrasing would probably be that he doesn't prioritize threes.
Hollins' Memphis teams didn't really shoot the long ball, though it was tough to tell at times if they were missing and deferring because of an aversion to the long ball or simply personnel.
The former Grizzlies coach has never really been a booster of analytics, which promote lots of threes and shots at the rim. He's made that fact abundantly clear, part of why he butted heads with the numbers-crazed Memphis front office during his time there. But still, it's not like the guy had much with which to work.
Tony Allen is far from a shooter. Tayshaun Prince stopped attempting threes altogether after he was traded to the Grizzlies. Rudy Gay lost any semblance of efficiency during his last couple of years in Memphis. And even with the decent amount of pick-and-roll the Grizzlies were running, they weren't creating many corner-three attempts.
The corner-three attempt can mold an offense. It's an almost-always assisted shot usually created on a drive-and-kick or swing around the perimeter. When Mike Conley bounced around those ball screens, his teammates often failed to align properly in the corners for potentially open looks.
Memphis finished 26th in corner-three attempts during Hollins' final season as coach. The Nets attempted 47 percent more corner threes in 2013-14 than the Grizzlies did during Hollins' final season in Tennessee, though Memphis' corner-three attempts remained constant with Hollins gone this past season.
In a league that is going to three-point-heavy offenses all over the place, that made the Memphis offense more condensed than your average NBA attack. Actually, it looked somewhat like a college offense: 21 feet and in.
Of course, Brooklyn has more long-range shooters than Memphis ever did, but don't be surprised to see the three-point shot drop a little on the Nets' to-do list.
A Better Defense
Defense is where Hollins makes his money. There's a reason why we didn't often criticize the Grizzlies offense, which never finished in the top half of the league in points per possession during Hollins' four full seasons as coach.
The final three years ended in the postseason, and that was mainly because of what Memphis did in preventing scoring.
The Grizzlies didn't finish outside the top 10 in points allowed per possession in any given season during that three-year stretch. Of course, playing with Gasol, the NBA's 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year, didn't hurt.
Gasol clogged up the middle of the floor, cleaned up the mistakes of his teammates and checked guys seemingly every time they came across the lane—and he continued his bullying ways with Zach Randolph this past year under Joerger.
In Brooklyn, Hollins doesn't have that safety net. There isn't a Gasol to fill holes as arguably the league's best anchor. But there should still be some optimism for the Nets defense.
Brook Lopez Improvement
Remember back when the Grizzlies acquired Gasol? That trade was a joke at the time, and Gasol was the punch line, the out-of-shape little brother traded for a star of the same bloodline. Now we're not laughing anymore.
Gasol's game grew in Memphis, and it would be stubborn to give none of that credit to Hollins, who clearly helped turn the 7-footer into the defender he has become.
Back in the day, Gasol couldn't move well. As he's trimmed down and gained some agility, he's maintained that same elbow-loving style.
Yes, Marc Gasol loves the elbows. He loves passing from them on offense. And he loves throwing them on defense. But he isn't just bumping guys as they run through the paint anymore.
He blows up pick-and-rolls as well as any other big in the league. He recovers after jumping up to defend a screen. He intuitively knows the game. And though we weren't there to learn exactly how much that has to do with Hollins, we have to give the former Memphis coach some of the credit for overseeing one of the more shocking player transformations of the past seven years.
Now Hollins gets to work with another slow-footed center in Lopez, who has never been a defender but has improved as a rim protector from where he was at a few years back.
Lopez struggles recovering on pick-and-rolls. He often uncertainly lumbers to incorrect spots on the court when he tries to drive the dribbler to the baseline because of that. But maybe with Hollins he can learn.
The Nets implemented a similar system last year to the one Hollins ran in Memphis, but clearly Hollins knows how to communicate defensive principles to his team. Lopez's never going to become Gasol, but there's a bunch of room for him to improve. Maybe he can start to fill some of it.
The defensive scheme that Hollins installed with the Grizzlies isn't all that different from the one so many other teams around the league use: Tom Thibodeau's strong-side zone defense.
Hollins did add his own ripples to the strong-side zone. Gasol basically improvised his pick-and-roll coverage, sometimes sagging back and sometimes covering up high depending on how he read the play, though Lopez likely won't understand screen-and-roll defense as intuitively as Gasol (because who does?).
Hollins' Grizzlies teams swarmed the ball like crazy and aggressively went after steals. But of course, it's easier to play a high-risk (at times) fashion of basketball when you have defenders like Allen, Gasol and Conley at your disposal.
As Ryan Carbain of the Brooklyn Game explains, the coaching transition on defense may not be a huge one for the Nets:
The Nets are not new to this zone. Lawrence Frank, as assistant coach, defensive coordinator, and pre-reporter last season, tried installing Thibodeau zone principles with little success. The Nets hit their stride later in the season, after Lopez went down due to injury, utilizing some of the zone’s concepts while playing a much more aggressive pick-and-roll defense.
As Carbain noted, we shouldn't necessarily expect the Nets to replicate those Grizzlies defenses completely. After all, there is a serious difference in caliber of personnel:
While the Nets guards and wing defenders can fit the Thibodeau system, their abilities project them as more conservative than Hollins's Grizz-n-Grind. Few rosters boast an on-the-ball agitator like Tony Allen, and losing Shaun Livingston marks the loss of a Conley-type on defense -- a rare guard who can gamble for a steal and recover in time to erase a mistake. No guard on the roster makes up for that: Andrei Kirilenko is the closest, an able defender who can cover multiple positions, but lacks the foot speed to compete with guards up top that closely.
Hollins mended a dominant scheme in Memphis, no question. But he also had three All-Defense-caliber starters, something he seriously lacks in Brooklyn. But that said, the Nets defense was inconsistent last year, finishing 19th in points allowed per possession without Lopez for much of the year, and if Hollins can teach his starting center, who did average 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes in his last healthy season, to become somewhat of an anchor, that's a game-changer.
Hollins didn't just turn Gasol into a player; he also became the first coach to get Randolph to play actual defense, though Gasol polished himself into the perfect complementary defender for Z-Bo's physical and sometimes overly aggressive style in the post. And if Lopez improves, the team defense probably will with him.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.
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