Jim Mancari, ContributorWe knew it would be a just matter of time before Deron Williams rejoined the Nets’ starting lineup, because, unless his name is Amar’e Stoudemire, you don’t pay a guy a max contract to be a reserve player. But how that would impact the Nets’ lineup was still to be determined.
We got our answer when Williams returned and, in both subsequent contests, Williams and Shaun Livingston – both point guards – started together in the same backcourt, a combination that was good for more than eight points per 100 possessions better before Williams’ injury. That trend has continued, and it could be the spark the Nets need down the stretch.
One of the major reasons for the Nets’ turnaround has been the team’s depth, mainly Livingston, Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko and Mirza Teletovic. It’s tough to imagine where the Nets would be this season had it not been for the emergence of this bench, especially Livingston. He’s playing so well right now that Jason Kidd has to continue starting him, even though it shortens the menu options.
There’s no ideal situation behind Williams if Livingston is starting at the two. Alan Anderson and Jason Terry have handled the bulk of the point guard play on the second unit, but both are not natural point guards, and it shows. Brooklyn traded for second-year point guard Marquis Teague, and he saw time there on Monday, but he’s viewed as an emergency option. But with the way the Nets’ offense responds to D-Will and Livingston on the floor at the same time, it’s not much of a dilemma.
Livingston is a unique talent, whose game is much different than that of Williams. At six-feet seven-inches, Livingston can rebound well and is most effective in the paint driving to the hoop. His pull-up game has also been spot on lately, and his length makes it nearly impossible for opposing guards to defend him. In the new year, he’s averaged more than 30 minutes per game and has shot 47 percent from the floor.
Meanwhile, Williams — who is still struggling with confidence and ankle issues — can benefit by not having to always run the offense. He’s prone to falling victim to thinking he has to make an extra pass and winds up turning the ball over. The Nets have had a habit of over-passing at times this season, so they don’t need Williams further forcing the issue. When on, D-Will’s long-range shooting ability almost makes him more of a shooting guard. But the Nets would still have the added bonus of being able to run sets either through Williams or Livingston, which could create problems for opposing defenses.
Plus, with Livingston attacking the rim and Williams stretching the floor, that opens up opportunities for Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The latter two have really stepped up their game as of late, and that’s a direct result of Livingston’s strong play.
Kidd has to be smart to find enough rest throughout the course of a game for both Livingston and Williams so that they both can be on the floor in the fourth quarter. A few quick spurts of Anderson, Terry or Teague would be necessary, but even having one of D-Will or Livingston on the floor makes the Nets better. The team has won 11 of its 15 games in 2014, and for that streak to continue, Brooklyn will need consistent contributions from both Williams and Livingston. The best option is to play them together as much as possible.