Brooklyn Nets big man and future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett is hardly the player he used to be, but that doesn’t mean he’s expendable. The 38 year-old’s playing status has been unknown since the Nets were eliminated from the playoffs in May, and conventional wisdom said the departure of longtime teammate Paul Pierce to the Washington Wizards in free agency increased the chances that Garnett will retire. All recent reports have indicated otherwise despite KG’s silence, however, and yesterday’s sentiment of new Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins is the latest evidence that supports the idea Garnett will return to play at least one more season.
B/R: Staying in the frontcourt, what’s the latest with Kevin Garnett? Has he talked to you yet about returning?
LH: No, I haven’t talked about that with him, but all reports that I have [from team management] is that he’s coming back. It’s his right to make that decision or change his mind if he has decided to come back or not come back. I’m not worried about that. That’s out of my control. That’s a decision that KG and his family have to make, and I’ll leave it with him.
It’s honorable that Hollins isn’t trying to persuade Garnett to return. As he says, retirement is a decision not taken lightly and one that should be made irrespective of any peripheral influence. Kudos to Hollins for letting Garnett take his time.
KG’s raw numbers last season suggest his impact would be limited going forward. He averaged career-lows in points, rebounds, and minutes per game in his debut with the Nets and shot an uncharacteristic 44.1 percent from the field. But Garnett’s influence – even at his MVP-winning peak in the mid-2000s – has always belied box score analysis, and Brooklyn’s wholesale turnaround midway through 2013-2014 is a shining example of that fact.
The Nets went 35-20 after Brook Lopez was lost for the season and Garnett shifted to center on December 23. The drastic two-way struggles of November and early December that had many wondering if Garnett still had a place in the league all but vanished entirely upon Brooklyn’s stylistic shift, a surprising development supported by his improved basic numbers and sterling on-off statistics.
KG shot 55.6 percent from the field with Lopez out of the lineup, and his 31.4 defensive rebounding rate led all qualified players. More impressive? The Nets allowed 9.7 points fewer per 100 possessions with Garnett on the floor from December 23 to the end of the regular season. Basically, Brooklyn was the league’s best defensive team with KG in the lineup and its worst when he sat on the bench.
That efficiency and all-encompassing defensive worth is what we’ve come to expect from the twilight of Garnett’s career, and the Nets can count on a similar impact from him in 2014-2015. What will be crucial for Hollins, though, is finding a way to incorporate Garnett, Lopez, and promising sophomore Mason Plumlee.
KG’s days chasing around perimeter-oriented power forwards are long gone, and Lopez has always been ill-equipped to do so. Playing any two-man combination of that trio poses nearly as many problems on the other end – Garnett and Lopez are capable outside shooters, but hardly space the floor like Ryan Anderson.
This is where a minutes and games concession from Garnett, pushing 40 years-old, would be so helpful to Hollins and the Nets. Garnett shouldn’t be playing extended minutes let alone back-to-backs anymore, and Brooklyn’s depth at center affords him the opportunity for ample rest. It would be even better if KG would agree to coming off the bench.
Either way, the Nets no doubt hope recent reports and Hollins’ belief that Garnett will return prove accurate. We certainly do, too. The league just wouldn’t be the same without KG.
What do you think?
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