Nets Rehash Joe Johnson at the Four in Game 2
In last night’s Game 2 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Nets head coach Lionel Hollins went back to a lineup configuration that was abandoned back in early March. With Thaddeus Young struggling on both ends of the court, Mirza Teletovic rusty after missing three months of action and Earl Clark listed as inactive, Joe Johnson spent a lot of time at power forward for the first time in a little over a month.
The Nets traded for Thaddeus Young during the All-Star break but brought him off the bench for his first eight games. With Kevin Garnett being dealt and Young needing time to get affiliated with Hollins’s schemes, Brooklyn started and heavily relied on Johnson at the four. Johnson alongside Deron Williams, Markel Brown, Alan Anderson and Mason Plumlee made up the Nets’ seventh-most played lineup on the season. The unit played 74 minutes and outscored opponents by 1.9 points per 100 possessions, allowing 4.1 fewer points than the season as a whole but surrendering rebounds at a wild rate. It collected just 41.7% of available rebounds, which would rank dead last in the league by a 6.1% margin. The grouping also turned the Nets into a fast-paced team, with a pace of 99.75 that would rank second in the NBA, and a 38.1% three-point shooting team, a 5% uptick on their season average.
Once Young jumped into the starting five, the team’s rebounding saw a return to form, the defense regressed and the Nets made their Playoffs push. But now the lineup has made a comeback early in Brooklyn’s first-round series, appearing for 13-and-a-half minutes on Wednesday night. The lineup was a -8 as a whole, playing in these increments of the game per PopcornMachine:
You’ll notice that Johnson played the four in the final 4:26 of the contest, in which the Nets made a last-ditch effort at stealing a game in Atlanta and fell a Deron Williams jumper short of overtime. The Nets played both Williams and Jack together in that run, but the most popular Johnson-at-the-four lineup of the game was Jack-Bogdanovic-Anderson-Johnson-Lopez, which appeared for about six minutes. The Nets only scored .73 points per possession with this lineup, didn’t attempt any corner threes, but rebounded well against a Hawks team that isn’t known for crashing the boards. The pace wasn’t all that quick and the Hawks managed to score 1.09 points per possession.
So what does all this mean? For starters, it’s too small a sample size in the context of this series to draw many conclusions from the stats above. However, the Nets being able to rebound despite the smaller lineup is a plus if Hollins plans on using it in Games 3 and 4. The lineup can also open up more for Lopez in theory, but in his 11:18 of floor time with Johnson at the four he got just two good looks that weren’t thanks to an offensive rebound. Brooklyn’s poor three-point shooting has a lot to do with this, but with how well their small-ball lineup shot the deep ball in the regular season it’s difficult to expect the Nets’ rough shooting to continue if they continue utilizing this lineup. With all this in consideration, I’m all for continuing to play Johnson at the four despite the +/- numbers, if only to see if a larger sample in this series paints a different picture.
But whether or not Johnson playing the four works well against the Hawks or any other team, it’s still a great thing. Lionel Hollins arrived in Brooklyn with the label of failing to adapt to the current NBA landscape. Many thought he was too reliant on traditional lineups of two non-shooting bigs, not willing to be even a bit progressive in his coaching. Yet here he is playing a long-considered shooting guard at the four in the heat of a Playoffs series. It doesn’t solidify Hollins as the Nets’ coach of the future, nor will it win this series, but it’s a good sign for the franchise moving forward.