Brook Lopez will probably remain in Brooklyn, but the team around him will look very different next year. Image Source: foxnews.com
Free agency unofficially begins tomorrow, despite the moratorium remaining in effect until July 7th, and the Brooklyn Nets will need to be buyers. Brooklyn is currently projected to have between $41.4 million and $55.2 million in cap space per BasketballInsiders.com (pending decisions about Jarrett Jack and some other cap holds) and only eight players under contract for next season.
After trading away their starting power forward Thaddeus for #20 pick Caris LeVert, the Brooklyn Nets will turn to the free agent market for a replacement. Although last year's first-round draft pick Chris McCullough will be able to play some more PF minutes after an injury-plagued rookie season, Brooklyn will still need to sign another power forward. Young was a decent player during his Brooklyn tenure, but his below-average defense and size were not complementary to the weaknesses of star center Brook Lopez.
The next starter at PF should be a player who can play above-average defense and rebound at a high rate; while Lopez is a better than average defender despite his below-average speed and athleticism, Brooklyn as a whole needs help at the defensive end. The power forward market is not particularly deep this off-season, but the three players discussed below could help Brooklyn fill both short-term and long-term needs and would work well alongside their franchise centerpiece.
The best fit for Brooklyn on this year's market is Toronto big man Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo is an almost perfect complement to the weaknesses of Brook Lopez and the Nets team as a whole. If Brooklyn were to sign Biyombo away from the Raptors, he would likely start alongside Lopez in the frontcourt while also playing significant minutes as a small-ball 5 whenever Brook rests.
Biyombo is an energy player and an athlete, both of which make him a great fit for Brooklyn. He grabbed a remarkable 20% of all available rebounds while he was on the court last season, a number that jumped to 21.7% during his playoff run with Toronto. In comparison, Thaddeus Young grabbed 15.6% of available rebounds, and the 20% mark Bismack posted during the regular season was 9th among centers who averaged more than 15 minutes per game. Biyombo also sported a 100.6 Defensive Rating, which outpaced Toronto's overall number by 2.1 points per 100 possessions. Opponents also shot 2.6% worse from the floor on shots contested by Biyombo, who also averaged 1.6 blocks per game in just 22 minutes per game during the regular season.
Biyombo's greatest weakness is his limited offensive game--he shot a miserable 34% on all shots taken more than five feet away from the basket, and 73.7% of his made baskets were assisted. However, if he were to sign with Brooklyn, he would get a lot of offensive help from Brook Lopez. Lopez is an excellent passer from the center position that also has a strong mid-range jumper. Biyombo doesn't seem to clamor for more touches, and Lopez could set him up with backdoor feeds generated by his post-ups.
While Biyombo is likely to command a contract in the 4-year, $60 million range, Brooklyn should offer him a max contract for two or three years (at a little over $22 million a year) to pair him with Brook Lopez. The combination of a great frontcourt pairing and a starting role is not something that Biyombo can get in many other places, and Brooklyn has the cap space to give Biyombo far more money than the Raptors can (given their situation with DeMar DeRozan). The money and playing time, combined with the allure of the NYC market, may well be too much for Bismack Biyombo to pass up.
Another good choice for Brooklyn is former Knicks lottery pick Jordan Hill. Hill was a solid rebounder for Indiana in limited minutes, grabbing 16.1% of all available rebounds while he was on the floor. His overall Net Rating was +1.2, but his Defensive Rating was slightly below the Indiana team average. That number is not entirely fair to Hill, however, because Hill spent a lot of time with the defensively weaker bench unit and not enough time with the starters and defensive stalwart Paul George. Opponents shot 43.2% from the floor against the Pacers in units containing both Jordan Hill and George, a strong defensive number and better than the Pacers' defensive shot percentage overall.
Myles Turner and Ian Mahinmi may have limited the minutes that Hill was able to play with the starters, but playing on the Nets would allow Hill to play more minutes at his natural position of power forward. Hill is also likely to garner far less interest than Biyombo, and may be obtainable for a salary closer to the $4-$7 million range. Brooklyn can probably grab him on a short-term deal (say, 2 years and $20 million), pair him with Brook Lopez, and tell him to rebound his position and get out of the way on offense barring easy put-backs and backdoor cuts. If Hill can focus on defense and rebounding, Brook Lopez could take care of the rest.
Alternatively, Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson could simply decide to go with Chris McCullough as the starting PF, and look for a veteran role player to back him up. McCullough was injured for much of his rookie season but showed stretch-four potential by shooting 38.2% on 3-pointers while averaging 1.4 attempts per game. McCullough also has shown flashes of great defense--his 105 Defensive Rating was nearly 6 points better than Brooklyn's overall 110.9 rating, and he nabbed an incredible 1.2 steals per game in just 15.1 minutes per game of playing time. Although his shooting overall was relatively weak (just 47.0% True Shooting) and his rebounding was poor for a starting PF (his 10.7% Rebounding Percentage last year is concerning, especially alongside a weak rebounder in Brook Lopez), McCullough showed flashes of why he was drafted in the first round.
Brooklyn could decide to go for a youth movement and start him right off the bat, and they would be hard-pressed to find a better backup than Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Mbah a Moute at this point in his career is basically a defensive specialist forward; however, he's good enough at just that to make up for the obvious deficiencies in his game. Despite a poor 49.8% True Shooting Percentage last year, Mbah a Moute still managed to piece together a Net Rating of 11.5 for the year. He allowed opponents to shoot just 35.6% from the floor, an outstanding 9.5% worse than league average. Mbah a Moute is not going to turn any heads with his shooting stroke, but he will not turn 30 until a month before the season and can help a team through just his defensive presence. Brooklyn would love to have someone like Mbah a Moute to spend 12 minutes a game hounding the opposition on the defensive end of the floor. He received only $1.2 million from the Clippers last year, and Brooklyn could probably snag him for a contract in the range of 2 years and $5 million.
If they managed to secure his services, Mbah a Moute would allow the Nets to give Chris McCullough big minutes from the start of the season without much concern. Anything that could accelerate the growth curve of their prized young big man would be a definite positive for the Nets, and while playing McCullough big minutes is a little bit risky, Luc Mbah a Moute would be really helpful in mitigating that risk.
The Nets will have quite a lot of cap space to play around with this summer. While they have a strong need at point guard as well, the Nets also have to find a way to fill the PF minutes previously occupied by Thaddeus Young. Brooklyn could opt to promote from within and give Chris McCullough a starting role, but they can also find some good PF options on the open market and give McCullough more time to develop. The addition of Bismack Biyombo, Jordan Hill, or Luc Richard Mbah a Moute would allow Brooklyn to find a good fit alongside Brook Lopez or give them an opening to develop a young piece in Chris McCullough. In an off-season full of uncertainty, any one of those three players would be a great start.