Ever since taking over the Nets, rookie coach Steve Nash has preached a need for defense. To win — really win, not just games but titles — they will have to guard.
The top three teams in the league last season in defensive rating also finished with the top three records, including the champion Lakers. The top five ended up either in the top three seeds in the East or top two in the West.
Though Brooklyn ranked a respectable 10th, that was with a somewhat different lineup and entirely different head coach. It could end up a different chemistry, as well.
“We realize that we’re trying to compete for a championship, and we have to be excellent defensively,” Nash said earlier this week. “It’s going to be a process.”
The process technically started last season in the Orlando bubble. Then-interim coach Jacque Vaughn tweaked the defense to get by with his shorthanded roster, finishing ninth in net rating and 18th in defensive rating. But by the time COVID-19 and injuries had them down to a skeleton crew in the playoffs, they were dead last in both.
Still, Vaughn has not only been retained as associate coach but also will serve as defensive coordinator.
“The defense last year changed in the bubble. Jacque started to put his imprints and adjustments into the defense in the bubble,” Nash said. “I think that many of them were similarly aligned with the way I see things, so we’ve had a really enjoyable process going through the film and looking around the league and figuring out what suits our team and the game the way it’s played nowadays.
“There will be some commonality with the roster, and there will also be some differences and adjustments. But I think JV’s adjustments in the bubble were going toward where we’ve landed with it, and at the same time, it is a work in progress. It’s something we’re going to build all year.”
Jarrett Allen’s rim protection, DeAndre Jordan’s strength and rebounding, and Bruce Brown’s backcourt defense will all be plusses; but they will need 3-and-D forwards to step up. With Taurean Prince coming off a down year and Rodions Kurucs an inconsistent one, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot has a chance to earn a rotation spot. That’s why his mandate from Nash has been a clear one.
“Get better in defense, stay ready, stay focused every single day get better on defense, be ready to guard the best guys across the basket — and that’s what I’m gonna do,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “We haven’t talked much about what’s going to happen in the upcoming season, but he did talk about that.
“I’m just trying to fit in and bring all the energy I can bring. I know I can help this team win. I think I’m pretty different than everybody else on this team. I run, I play defense, I can knock down shots, and I think I’ve got a good opportunity with this team, and I think I can help. I can be next to those [stars] and compete.”