How the Nets created one of the stingiest defensive lineups in the NBA

Between anti-vaccine stances and trade lawsuits, suspensions and star insurrections, it’s hard for the Nets to surprise anyone. Or themselves.

But here is a surprise. Brooklyn, undone in recent years by a sieve-like defense, has arguably the most effective defensive lineup in the entire league.

Not seriously.

“In fact?” said Nic Claxton, the man who actually anchors that quintet. “I did not know that. Solid!”

Yes, they have been. Surprisingly so.

Claxton joined superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and forwards Royce O’Neale and Joe Harris to come into Friday’s game with a devastatingly effective defensive rating of 94.1 in their 116 minutes together on the court. That was the best of any NBA lineup that has logged at least 75 minutes.

“I just try to keep a defensive mind, doing all the little things here that [wins]Harris said. “Offensively for us, having Ky and Kev, obviously they’re going to be able to score and carry us that way against whoever we play; so as long as we’re locked in defensively, that’s where we’re really going to win a lot of games.

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7), forward Nic Claxton (33) and forward Joe Harris (12) embrace after a basket by Harris against the Portland Trail Blazers during the second half of a basketball game in the NBA on Sunday, November 27, 2022, in New York.
Kevin Durant, Joe Harris and Nic Claxton help form one of the best five-man defensive lineups in the NBA.
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“I think just the ability to get guys guarding from one to five. when we have [that] In the lineup, you can really put a lot of pressure on the ball handlers, because we have guys who can switch, [and help]. Then we are covering all the gaps, communication has been good. When you have five guys that are that versatile, it just keeps everyone [in tune]. The synergy is good. I think that’s one of the main reasons why we’ve been able to be effective.”

How exactly have they been so effective? Especially on a Nets team that has often seen the defensive side of the court be the Achilles’ heel undoing their dominance on the other side?

“[It’s] the effort with which we played on the defensive side of the ball,” Durant said. “I think we figured out what kind of team we want to be on that side of the ball.”

Brooklyn ditched their old-school drop coverage when Steve Nash replaced Kenny Atkinson, going to a more tradeable defense. They’ve leaned further toward that approach since Jacque Vaughn replaced Nash on Nov. 1.

To make up for opponents trying to punish their lack of size, they have relied on ‘red’ tactics. In simple terms, it’s when they face the low post and have a second defender coming in from the weak side and double-teaming.

Look closely and you’ll see a lot of cheating in the baseline to try to negate his size disadvantage. Over the years, the best in the NBA at ‘redding’ have been Gregg Popovich’s former San Antonio teams. it’s no coincidence that Vaughn spent six years with Popovich as a player, scout and assistant coach.

Kawhi Leonard helps Manu Ginobili against the Grizzlies with net tactics.
Kawhi Leonard helps Manu Ginobili against the Grizzlies with net tactics.
Via Zak Boisvert YouTube

Then the Golden State Warriors adopted and adapted it. With Claxton super tradeable, and Ben Simmons, who we’ll talk to later, it makes sense that the Nets would also take elements of what the Warriors do.

waiting for a hero

Shifting defenses have a tendency to entice teams to look for mismatches and tempt them into isolating plays. And that’s exactly what the Nets want, since most players, frankly, aren’t very effective at going off script and playing the heroes.

“Honestly, it’s like a trap; because we’re changing … so much, and teams want to play iso basketball, and not everyone is equipped to score one-on-one, especially for a full game like that,” Claxton said. “I think sometimes it throws teams off their pace.

“When we’re all on the same page and accurate with our changes, that really causes a lot of problems for teams, because a lot of times they just want to isolate themselves, and that’s what we want, especially when they’re trying to iso against me. I always like our chances,” Claxton added with a smile.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Josh Hart (11) drives to the basket against Brooklyn Nets forward Nic Claxton (33) during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Sunday, November 27. 2022, in New York.
Nic Claxton said he’s been reacting to the Nets’ attempts to tempt opponents into isolating the offense by “trying to do a good job of contesting every shot, no matter who I’m guarding.”
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A quality quintet

It misses the fact that NBA coaches can’t just pick a starting lineup and stick with it all night, they have to rearrange five-man units overnight like a con man playing three-card deck.

But when the Nets can get their big five defenders on the floor, they’ve been hard to beat.

“Yeah, I think it’s complete,” Vaughn said. “You take Ky’s ability to stay in front of the basketball, which starts the defense. Then you have Joe and Royce, two worker bees who don’t mind getting mixed up and covering up each other’s sins. Then you have Nic’s ability to play inside and outside, guard the rim but also guard 30 feet of the bucket.

“And I think with that group, it really turns Kevin on, his ability to make plays at the rim for us, you see. [in his] blocked shots [and] his ability to fix some of our changes and end up in a bigger player. So it’s been like a [fit], as it works together; that has really developed a very good defense.”

Claxton has always scoffed at the potential to be one of the league’s most tradeable centers and best perimeter bigs; what he never demonstrated was the ability to stay healthy and on the court. Once he finally proved that, this career-breaking season was a fait accompli.

Atlanta Hawks guard Trent Forrest is defended by Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, in New York.
Alongside Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Nic Claxton and Royce O’Neale, Kevin Durant has been able to excel as a defensive stopper.
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Durant has a 7-foot wingspan and has received votes to the NBA All-Defense Team. O’Neale is a 3-yD end, and while he wasn’t as disruptive as he was early in his career coming off the Utah bench, he’s still solid enough on that end of the floor that the then-jazz star Donovan Mitchell regretted the offseason. decision of change it to brooklyn. And Irving has always had quick hands when he tags.

Harris has been more of a surprise. Simmons was twice named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team and was the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year in his last healthy season. But in the 130 minutes with him filling in for Harris, the Nets’ most-used lineup going into Friday’s game against the Raptors, Brooklyn’s defensive rating skyrocketed to 117.3.

“Probably just one level of aggressiveness,” Harris said of why he thinks he’s been effective on defense. “We changed everything, so when you change to defend some of these dynamic ball handlers, just try to get them to pick up the ball or lose their rhythm a little bit. Just be aggressive defensively.”

Simmons has excelled defensively in less-used lineups surrounded by shooters (posting a 98.1 defensive rating along with Durant, Irving, O’Neale and Seth Curry).

Memphis Grizzlies forward Santi Aldama (7) dribbles against Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Harris (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game on Sunday, November 20, 2022. , In New York.
Joe Harris’ aggressiveness on defense, especially in pick-and-roll coverage, has helped his teammates fill any space behind him.
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But of the club’s two top fives, it’s Harris’s, and his vast improvements in both boxing and pick-and-roll coverage, that have taken the club to a new defensive level.

“You notice … his ability to be more aggressive in pick-and-roll coverage,” Vaughn said. “There’s an element of pick-and-roll coverage where there’s a brief second where no one has an advantage, and it’s your chance to take advantage of that situation or be the recipient of this pick-and-roll.

“Joe is learning to dictate, and he has that split second (where) he can be the aggressor and then allow his teammates to fill in behind him. So he’s learning that process that has allowed him to be a better defender in the pick-and-roll.”

And Brooklyn to be a better pick-and-roll defense. And that five-man lineup to be the best in the league so far.

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