Saturday night’s game between the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors was the archetypal example of how outdated traditional centers have become. With DeAndre Jordan out due to personal issues, Steve Nash decided to move Kevin Durant to center, making 6-4 guard Bruce Brown a nominal power forward alongside James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Joe Harris.
Against a Warriors team that was alternating 6-7 Draymond Green and 6-6 Juan Toscano-Anderson at center due to the absence of No. 2 pick James Wiseman, this was a matchup of two teams who would happily give away size and rebounding in exchange for some speed and shooting.
The Nets completely eviscerated the Warriors, taking them down 134-117 in a game that was not as close as the scoreline indicated. With every player on the team except new addition Noah Vonleh scoring at least eight points, this win was one of the most balanced efforts of the season so far from the much-maligned bench.
This game also underscored the fact that the Nets are the best team in the league whenever they decide to break out smaller lineups.
The Brooklyn Nets are better when they don’t have a traditional center.
As weird as it may sound to put Durant at center, how many seven-foot players can handle that combination of speed, shooting, and basketball IQ? Jordan might give them some added bulk and rebounding, while Jeff Green gives Brooklyn a reliable veteran, but Durant will have a mismatch every time he comes down the floor at center.
Having a 6-5 point guard in Harden, a 6-2 shooting guard in Irving, and a 6-4 power forward in Brown might sound odd. However, given Harden’s ability to pass the ball at a record-setting clip, Irving’s sweet shot and ability to play off-ball, and Brown’s tough defense on the perimeter and interior, this odd lineup could work beyond just one game.
Golden State pioneered playing small and shooting the ball as quickly as they can get it, and Brooklyn beat them at their own game. That bodes well for their eventual playoff push.
While this lineup might not be as successful against teams like the 76ers and Bucks, who can throw seven-foot freaks like Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo at Brooklyn, the Nets’ ability to run and shoot is unmatched across the league, and the lineup configuration Nash unveiled against Golden State should become a fixture of their future game plans.