The Brooklyn Nets will be making an adjustment to their starting unit when Caris LeVert rejoins it. Shifting Rodions Kurucs should be considered.
The inescapable truth for the Brooklyn Nets this season has been that their solutions at the power forward spot have been more question than answer.
Jared Dudley, currently out with a hamstring injury, has started 25 games at the problematic 4 spot. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has gotten the starting nod 19 times. Treveon Graham has started 13 of the Nets’ last 14 games in the position.
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The Nets have had a recurring problem as a result — opponents with bigger players at the 4 have regularly chewed up Brooklyn.
Each of the three aforementioned players is a small forward playing as a small-ball 4, which is not uncommon in today’s pace-and-space crazed NBA,
But for the Nets, it’s left them vulnerable against teams with more traditionally sized players at that position.
It’s been a problem all season. In Brooklyn’s loss on opening night, Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons — at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds — dropped 26 points with eight rebounds on the Nets.
In the Nets’ loss to the Chicago Bulls on Friday, Lauri Markkanen — 7-feet and 240 pounds — demolished them with 31 points and 18 rebounds.
And there are many more examples of this problem to be found in the 55 games Brooklyn played between the opener and their most recent outing.
Brooklyn did make one interesting adjustment in their fourth meeting with Chicago by using rookie Rodions Kurucs at times to defend Markkanen.
He was still at a size disadvantage at 6-foot-9 and just 210 pounds, but he was holding up fairly well until he took a blow to the chest and left the game early in the second half. When Kurucs came back in the game in the fourth quarter, he was not assigned to Markkanen.
In looking at Kurucs this season, it’s easy to project him as a potential answer to the Nets’ 4 question for the future, even as he lacks the bulk one might ideally hope for at the position.
But add 15-20 pounds to his frame and suddenly he becomes a more formidable answer there.
However, given the struggles that Dudley (6-foot-7, 237 pounds), Hollis-Jefferson (6-foot-7, 217 pounds) and Graham (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) have had with players who were simply bigger and stronger and could shoot right over the top of them, the Nets could have an opportunity soon to make an adjustment.
Caris LeVert returned to the active list Friday after missing the previous 42 games with a dislocated right foot.
He played just 15 minutes, but his workload should be increased incrementally now that he’s back and he could rejoin the starting unit as soon as when the Nets face the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 21 to kick off their post-All-Star break schedule.
LeVert returning to the starting five will require some adjustments. He started the first 14 games at the 2, with Joe Harris at the 3, before his injury. Harris then shifted to the 2 and has started 38 of the last 43 games there.
LeVert was replaced in the starting unit by Allen Crabbe, who made 15 straight starts at the 3 spot before he was also injured. That led to Kurucs starting the last 28 games there.
If LeVert is brought back at the 2, with Harris shifting to the 3, coach Kenny Atkinson could opt to take a look at Kurucs as the starting 4.
Though he’s struggled with his outside shot of late, hitting just 20 percent on 2.7 attempts per game in the last 15 games after setting a career-high with five made 3s in a Jan. 7 loss to the Boston Celtics, Kurucs mostly shows signs of having his the so-called “rookie wall.”
The rookie from Latvia, who just turned 21 on Thursday, has played 840 minutes this season.
According to RealGM, Kurucs logged just 1,232 minutes at all levels across his last four seasons in Europe and he’s blown by his previous career-high of 512 minutes that he played for FC Barcelona’s first- and second-division squads in 2016-17.
An eight-day break after Brooklyn’s road game Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers should help remedy that situation, even with Kurucs scheduled to play in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge during the kickoff to All-Star Weekend.
Kurucs has shown himself to be an able defender, with quick feet and active hands. At the 4, he might be susceptible to bigger, stronger players backing him down, but that wouldn’t be any different than when those players have confronted Dudley, RHJ or Graham.
But with his 7-foot-2 wingspan, Kurucs might be able to challenge shots more readily than his smaller teammates have been able to, with the added bonus of his ability to swipe the ball potentially increasing against slower ball-handlers.
The buyout market looks thin at the 4 — some Brooklyn fans have been getting excited about the prospect of potentially adding former Charlotte Hornets lottery pick Frank Kaminsky if he is bought out by Charlotte, a possibility reported by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer on Saturday.
Kaminsky is a career 34.7 percent shooter from 3-point range, but has only been able to find 271 minutes in 24 games for the Hornets this season under first-year coach James Borrego, who values players who can also be competent on the defensive end.
Kaminsky has been buried on the depth chart in Charlotte behind Cody Zeller, Willy Hernangomez and Bismack Biyombo at the 5 and by Marvin Williams and converted small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the 4.
He would bring the necessary size at 7-feet and 242 pounds. But defensively, Kaminsky can run into trouble when asked to guard anything with more quickness and moves than a folding chair. Would that really be much of an upgrade?
It might be more beneficial for the Brooklyn Nets to bridge the gap to their future at the 4 by giving Kurucs an opportunity to show what he can do.