The Brooklyn Nets have had to deal with unexpected change this summer. With the seemingly random exit of Jason Kidd and the departures of veteran swingman Paul Pierce and mercurial big-man Andray Blatche, the Nets have legitimate holes to fill and are looking to stabilize the organization. Bringing in Lionel Hollins is the first step in that direction. His reputation as a no-nonsense, defense-first coach precedes him. The last time we saw him on an NBA sideline, he led an offensively challenged Memphis Grizzlies squad to 56 wins and a spot in the Western Conference Finals, despite losing his leading scorer to a midseason trade. But how will Hollins translate past success with Memphis to future success with Brooklyn?
The first thing Hollins will bring to Brooklyn is a commitment to defense. Last year, the Nets only ranked 20th in the league in defensive rating (107.7) and 17th in opponent field goal percentage (45.8%). This is mediocre at best. In his final season in Memphis, he led the Grizzlies to the second best defensive rating in the league (100.3). If the Nets buy in to his defensive scheme, the Nets will be able to compete at a high level on a nightly basis.
Another characteristic of a Hollins-coached teams is the grinding pace at which they play. In his last year in Memphis, the Grizzlies had the slowest pace in the league, only using 88.4 possessions per game. This will fit right in with the half-court players on his roster such as Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson.
The biggest question marks for Hollins will be how healthy his stars will be going forward. Deron Williams is coming off of ankle surgeries and it remains to be seen which version of Williams comes back. If he is healthy, he can be one of the best point guards in the league. Brook Lopez is coming off of season-ending foot surgery and his case will determine what expectations for the team will be. When healthy, he is the best offensive center in the NBA. His skill set coupled with his elite size makes him a rarity in the NBA. If Lopez can stay healthy this season, it will be much easier for Hollins to achieve early success.
In 3 of his last 4 years as a head coach, Hollins has outperformed his team’s Expected Win/Loss record. Look for the Brooklyn Nets to consistently be a top-5 team in the Eastern Conference. He may not be the “Championship or Bust” bravado that the Nets had when they first moved to Brooklyn, but stability in the NBA can be invaluable. Building the franchise with Hollins on the sideline all but guarantees that the emphasis will be about what’s going on between the lines rather than off the court.