The Brooklyn Nets are still one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the last 5 weeks, with a 13-5 record, but their stretch 4 problem hasn’t gone away.
The improved Brooklyn Nets are playing better than they have at any point during head coach Kenny Atkinson’s tenure with 13 wins in their last 18 games to climb into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
But there is one thing that hasn’t changed throughout Atkinson’s tenure — the search for a viable stretch 4 for his pace-and-space system remains a work in progress.
More from Nothin' But Nets
- Nets star Mikal Bridges labeled top ‘trade target’ for serious title contender
- LAST CHANCE: Get $2,500 Bonus for Any NBA Draft Bet Before FanDuel Promo Expires Sunday
- Bet365 New Jersey Bonus: Bet $1, Win $200 GUARANTEED on ANY NBA Finals Bet Tonight!
- BetRivers NJ Promo: Bet $500 on the NBA/NHL Finals, Get a Bonus-Bet Refund if You Miss!
- DraftKings New Jersey Promo: Bet $5, Win $150 INSTANTLY on ANY NBA Playoff Game!
Neither of them is a natural power forward and Dudley spent significant time earlier in his career as a shooting guard, but finding a fit for that position might as well be an attempt to locate Bigfoot.
With both Dudley and Hollis-Jefferson out with leg injuries Friday night, Atkinson turned to 6-foot-5 Treveon Graham — another natural wing — at the 4 spot. In the 122-105 loss to the Toronto Raptors, Graham was just 2-for-7 from the floor and converted only one of his six 3-point tries.
He finished with five points, two rebounds and no assists. It was just Graham’s fifth game back after missing more than two months with a hamstring injury of his own and his shooting touch seems to have gotten lost somewhere between Charlotte and Brooklyn.
In two seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Graham was a 43.8 percent shooter from deep, but he is hitting at a 13.6 percent clip this season, 3-for-22.
But it’s not as if Dudley or Hollis-Jefferson were setting the NBA on fire with their displays of long-range shooting. As a starter, Dudley is hitting just 31.1 percent from behind the arc.
In his 18 starts at the position, RHJ was 7-for-19 (36.8 percent), but is shooting only 24.2 percent on the season.
In Atkinson’s revamped 5-out system, the 4 man is asked to space the floor and set off-ball screens for shooters. When that 4 man doesn’t have to be guarded at the 3-point line, the lanes for penetrators get messy and the offense can get stagnant.
The stretch 4 dilemma is not a new one for the Nets under Atkinson, however. Last season, they tried Trevor Booker at the 4 (not a stretch player by any stretch), Dante Cunningham got a start and Quincy Acy started eight games before Atkinson settled on Hollis-Jefferson.
RHJ shot 24.1 percent from deep last season. In his 22 games with the club, Cunningham was a respectable 38.3 percent. Acy fell off to 34.9 percent after a solid season the year before and Booker made only 3-of-12 before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
In 2016-17, Atkinson’s first in the borough, it only seemed there was a cast of thousands tried at the stretch 4. But it was a definite revolving door.
There was Booker (32.1 percent), Justin Hamilton (30.6 percent), Acy (43.4 percent in 32 games), Luis Scola (34 percent), Anthony Bennett (27.1 percent) and Andrew Nicholson (2-for-11 after being acquired from the Washington Wizards).
One answer in 2016-17 was to loose Brook Lopez on the perimeter (he hit 34.6 percent in his first season taking volume attempts from deep) and using the 4 as the screener in the pick-and-roll in what was then a 4-out system.
The problem is that in the new spaced-out NBA offensive styles, everyone wants a stretch 4 and if they have one, they are either not willing to part with him or they want everything up to and including three of your next five first-round picks and potentially a kidney.
While Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans plays the 5, his preference has been to play at the 4 and he would be a dynamite stretch 4 in Atkinson’s system.
Davis has been mentioned ad nauseum in trade rumors, but (a) all of them involve the Los Angeles Lakers and (b) the Pelicans have never indicated a willingness to part with their franchise centerpiece.
Kevin Durant will be a free agent this summer and Brooklyn — and the New York market — could be attractive to the former NBA MVP and two-time Finals Most Valuable Player, but until he’s taking meetings, there is no real way to gauge that interest.
So for the time being, the Nets will make do with what they have.
Then again, newly re-signed Alan Williams has made 3-of-10 from 3-point range for the Long Island Nets in the NBA G League this season …