The Brooklyn Nets love to play three guards at a time, maybe more so than any other team. Last year it was D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert. All three are still there, but we’re going to focus on Russell, Dinwiddie, and newly added Shabazz Napier. The three of them are all traditional point guards but can play off the ball as well. Napier has experience in three-guard lineups, playing with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the Portland Trail Blazers. It will be interesting to see how head coach Kenny Atkinson manages each of the guards’ minutes, and how he chooses to play them together. Here is what to expect from the three Brooklyn Nets guards.
The former number two overall pick got a fresh start with the Brooklyn Nets last season after two up and down years with the Los Angeles Lakers. Russell started strong averaging 20.9 points, 5.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds on 46 percent shooting from the field. Then he hurt his knee and wasn’t quite the same.
Russell played 48 games averaging 15.5 points, 5.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds on 41% shooting from the field.
He posted a career-high assist percentage and rebound percentage.
Russell also spent time on and off the ball showing his versatility. In particular, his playmaking took a big step as his assist percentage was one of the best marks in the league ranking in the 89th percentile, according to cleaning the glass.
As a scorer, I like him off the ball a little more. Even though he only shot 32.4 percent from three last year, Russell is a pretty good shooter; he takes a lot of bad ones. He can get hot though, and as a spot up-player, he ranked in the 77th percentile, according to Synergy Sports. When he spots up, he is excellent at using a pump and drive game to get to the rim or make a play for a teammate. He is an above average finisher at the rim, but he is best in the mid-range. His pull up jumper is lethal.
To improve his efficiency, Russell must get to the line more and improve his free throw percentage. He is too good of a shooter to shoot only 74.0 percent from the line. If he improves his shot selection especially from deep, he can get to the 36-38.0 percent range from deep.
Defensively, there are tools to work with. He is a good defensive rebounder, a good shot-blocking guard, and a low foul player. His pick-and-roll defense is underrated as well, as he has the strength to fight through screens. Where he struggles is more off the ball and with rotations. His effort comes and goes. I thought last year was his best defensive year yet, though, and I think he will be even better this year.
Dinwiddie had a breakout season last year for the Brooklyn Nets, and now is one of the best value contracts in the league. He averaged a career-best 12.6 points and 6.6 assists per game. The downside was he only shot 38.7 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from deep.
Dinwiddie’s best feature is his passing. He had one of the best assist-to-turnover percentages in the league, and his assist percentage is in the 95th percentile.
His passing gives him value on offense, and he needs it as he struggles to hit threes, finish at the rim and score in the mid-range. The good news is he can draw fouls and make free throws at a decent clip at 81.3 percent.
As a scorer, he is crafty and an underrated isolation player. Even though he is a poor shooter, he can spot up as he is good at attacking closeouts and using his in-between game to score or make plays for others.
Defensively, he is slightly below average. He fouls too much and doesn’t get a lot of steals or blocks. His rebounding is below average as well. Dinwiddie does have size though, and he competes. He can be an average defender. The main problem is his lack of quickness and poor defensive instincts. Dinwiddie is the worst defender among the Brooklyn Nets point guards.
Quietly Napier had a breakout season last year. He proved capable of playing on or off the ball and being a quality defender. Napier ranked in the 76th percentile in spot-ups and shot in the 37th percentile from deep. He can also run the offense in a pinch proving to be a capable pick-and-roll scorer.
Napier is a poor passer and struggles to get to the rim, but he is a good enough shooter from deep and in in the mid-range to make up for it. Plus he is excellent at attacking closeouts.
Defensively, Napier is underrated. He is one of the few guards who is a master of getting steals without gambling too much. He rarely ever fouls, either. Napier is undersized and can struggle in pick-and-roll defense, sometimes getting smashed on screens. The plus side is he is good off the ball.
Napier can fit alongside both Russell and Dinwiddie, and at times all three of them will play together.
Last year this duo was a disaster. They had a net rating of -9.6 in 353 minutes. Offensively they were alright; defensively it was a dumpster fire. The two of them had a 113 defensive rating, which is abysmal. Despite the poor start, I would not give up on playing these two together. Both of them are young and should be better this season. Theoretically, they have the size to guard both guard spots and be at least average defensively.
The keys will be either Russell or Dinwiddie stepping up to guard two’s. My pick is Russell. Offensively they can make it work; they need to be able to tread water on defense. Don’t give up on these two together yet.
Three guard lineups are all the rage these days. Last year Napier thrived in a three-guard lineup in Portland. The three of them had a +22.5 net rating together in 233 minutes together. That is preposterous. Now, it won’t be the same in Brooklyn, but it shows Napier can play along two star guards. If the three of them do play, I would probably have Russell defend the ball, Napier defends the two and Dinwiddie the three. Dinwiddie has the size for most threes. Russell is the best pick-and-roll defender of the group.
Napier, although undersized, is good at chasing through screens, a good skill in defending a lot of twos. On offense, Dinwiddie will have the ball the most, as Napier and Russell are better off-ball shooters. All three will get a chance to attack though depending on the matchup. Kenny Atkinson may only try this lineup in spots, but you will see it at some point this season.
Napier will probably play more with Dinwiddie off the bench. His shooting will help Dinwiddie, and he doesn’t need the ball. The question will be Brooklyn’s starting lineup. My guess is it Russell, Jarrett Allen, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, and Caris LeVert. Either way, I am high on all three of these players this year and that is why I think the Brooklyn Nets will be better than people think.