On most nights, the Nets are going to get outrebounded.
And on most nights, they’re not going to care.
That’s because the Nets are leaning all the way in to playing small. That means Nic Claxton will play a large chunk of the minutes at center, but after him, there will be an unorthodox, pseudo-big man playing at the five.
On some non-Claxton minutes, that means Ben Simmons at center. In other minutes, that could mean Markieff Morris as a stretch five, and on rare occasions, star forward Kevin Durant is at center.
The Nets rarely go big because they don’t have the personnel to do so. The only other true big man, second-year center Day’Ron Sharpe, quite frankly isn’t ready for prime time, and Nets GM Sean Marks didn’t sign another center bigger than Morris this past offseason. The roster’s biggest shortcoming has become a hurdle that could define how successful the team can be in yet another season riddled with championship aspirations.
Let the players and head coach tell it, however, the challenge of going small is helping the team get tighter as a unit.
The Nets don’t have a player who’s going to average 12 rebounds per game. They also don’t have a player who can stop an opposing big man from getting double digit rebounds at will.
That makes it a committee deal: Multiple smaller players have to tag-team box-out the big. Instead of prioritizing running in transition, the Nets — who are a dangerous team with pace and space — crash the glass.
“It’s going to test us as a group collectively,” said Durant. “We’ve got to all be in there to rebound and to help with drives, so that means we got to do everything as a team. A lot of teams have one guy that can control the boards, one guy that can defend and do his thing but we have to do everything as a group. We all got to do everything as collective that’s making us a tighter group and making us more connected.”
“(Going small) requires us to do all the little things and hold each other accountable, despite the height differential,” Kyrie Irving added. “So we know that sometimes that can be our Achilles heel, but we’ve still gotta do the little things like boxing out and just double teaming on guys that are going to the rim and just being smart about how we utilize our fouls when we get in a bad way.”
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said going small is creating a mentality for his team, even if they inherently face a disadvantage because of their lack of depth at the five.
“It’s the mentality of this is the group that’s out there,” Vaughn said. “They might be small but you guys gotta figure it out, how you’re gonna make it work, how you’re gonna cover for each other.”