He got off to a rocky start. And he still doesn't look the part. But Jason Kidd may be turning into a pretty good NBA coach right before our eyes.
The Nets started slow this season, seemingly intent on competing with the Knicks for "most disappointing team" status. A very public falling-out between Kidd and assistant coach Lawrence Frank fueled the perception that the rookie head coach was out of his depth, and then Brook Lopez was lost for the season with a foot injury, and Deron Williams' ankle problems re-emerged.
And, eventually, the Nets started playing well.
Iím not suggesting that Lopez' injury was an "addition by subtraction," but the new small lineup Kidd implemented after losing his All-Star center has been effective. Kevin Garnett is manning the middle, with Paul Pierce lining up at the four, Joe Johnson at small forward, and for now at least, Alan Anderson paired with Shaun Livingston in the backcourt. Williams has been coming off the bench as he works his way back into form.
Johnson in particular has been absolutely thriving in his new role, but some fantasy owners have yet to catch on. He's owned in just 85 percent of Yahoo! leagues but should be much closer to 100 percent owned.
Pierce, on the other hand, has been pushed aside in this new alignment. He's still 78 percent owned, but that figure seems way too high. The same goes for Kevin Garnett, who is 64 percent owned despite playing just a hair over 21 minutes per game and regularly getting rested for somewhat random games. With Andray Blatche (34%) playing well off the bench, there's no real reason for Kidd to over-extend KG, and that will further limit the future Hall-of-Famer's fantasy production.
It will be interesting to see how long Kidd keeps Williams on the bench. It seems reasonable to expect D-Will should back in the starting lineup before too long. But who does he replace? The Nets have had some success with Williams and Livingston (7% owned) on the floor together, which allows D-Will to play off the ball and look to score more often. On the other hand, Livingston is proving to be a valuable piece in this rotation, and given Livingstonís injury history, Kidd may opt to be conservative with his playing time and leave Anderson (2%) - a pretty solid "three-and-d" guy - with the starters.
So, where did Kidd get the idea to play two point guards in the backcourt and a small forward at the four spot?
That's more or less what his Knicks ran - very successfully - for much of last year. Carmelo Anthony won the scoring title playing primarily at the power forward spot, with Raymond Felton and either Kidd or Pablo Prigioni in the backcourt together. But for reasons that remain unclear, Knicks coach Mike Woodson has stubbornly refused to play that small lineup much this season, insisting instead on a bigger, more traditional lineup with Anthony at the three and Andrea Bargnani at the four.
That should change now, because Woodson has no other choice. Bargnani tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and is out for the foreseeable future. According to RotoWire injury guru Jeff Stotts, Bargnani will be sidelined for at least six weeks and significantly longer if surgery is required. With Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin already sidelined due to knee and ankle problems, Woodson's only real option will be to slide Anthony back to the four, use Iman Shumpert (19%) and J.R. Smith (72%) at the three, and play Prigioni (1%), Beno Udrih (1%), and/or Toure Murry (0%) alongside Felton (65%) a lot more often.
Will that snap the Knicks out of their season-long funk? Hard to say. On paper, playing a small lineup would seem like a cure for many of the team's ills. The problem is, most of the key players in that lineup - Felton, Shumpert and Smith in particular - have been absolutely awful this year.
Felton seems like the safest gamble for fantasy purposes. With Bargnani out of the mix, he may have more opportunities to run the pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler, and that's where he thrives. A sleeper play would be forward/center Jeremy Tyler (0%), who hasn't gotten much run since being called up from the D-League, but who may be pressed into service now.
A Rondo Trade Seems Less Likely - or does it?
Reports out of Boston this week indicate that the Celtics and recently-returned point guard Rajon Rondo have been discussing a contract extension but that a deal was unlikely to coalesce due to NBA rules governing contracts and opt-outs. One might read that as an indication that Rondo won't be traded, and that the Celtics plan on rebuilding around their All-Star guard.
Or do they?
Obviously, Ainge's comments could be a smoke-screen, aimed at improving the offers he's received to this point. Or maybe it's PR for Boston fans... "Look, guys, I offered him an extension. It's not my fault he didn't want it!"
To me, the more interesting question is, how will Rondo's play over the next few weeks impact his value in any deal? Obviously, he has to prove that his knee is fully recovered and show flashes of his old explosiveness. But I'm also very interested to see how well he plays when he isn't sharing the floor with two or three future hall-of-famers. Even at his best, Rondo had some pretty significant flaws in his game - his outside shot in particular. But opposing defenses couldn't really exploit that weakness in years past; sag off Rondo and dare him to shoot and he'd just hit Ray Allen or Paul Pierce coming off a screen. That might not work as well when he's passing to Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger.
Fantasy owners might be wise to consider selling high on Rondo before we find out how much the injury and overall talent drain hurt his production. That's particularly true in non-keeper leagues, as he might take most of the rest of this season to really work his way back into form.
Danny Ainge might be thinking the same.
Picks for the Week
All percent-owned stats are from Yahoo!
Wilson Chandler (72%) - Playing very well of late. And with Danilo Gallinari (knee) out for the rest of the season, Chandler is pretty much locked in as one of Denver's primary scorers.
Glen Davis (44%) - Nikola Vucevic is still struggling to overcome the effects of a concussion; Friday's game will make it ten straight he's missed. Big Baby will serve as the primary fill-in until Vucevic is completely healthy.
Steve Nash (37%) - Could return for this Tuesday's game against Indiana. Sure, age and injuries make him a questionable option at best - but the Nash/D'Antoni combination is always worth consideration.
Derrick Williams (19%) - Will see a major boost in PT while Rudy Gay recovers from an Achilles' injury. Williams played 40 minutes against the Rockets on January 22, and went off for 22 points and 11 boards in the loss. Gay is in a walking boot and will be re-assessed early next week.
Ryan Kelly (12%) - Mike D'Antoni has always loved bigs that can shoot the three. Kelly hasn't shown true NBA three-point range just yet (29.3% from long range) but he's shown enough to earn three straight starts - and he shot better than 40% from three in his last two seasons at Duke.
Elton Brand (8%) - Pero Antic will be out 2-4 weeks due to a stress fracture, which likely means that Brand will move into the Hawks' starting lineup. Gustavo Ayon (0%) moves up a slot on the depth chart as well.
Timofey Mozgov (8%) - Nuggets coach Brian Shaw has suggested that Mozgov will be given a larger role in the offense going forward.
Draymond Green (1%) - Both Andrew Bogut and David Lee are nursing injuries, which could give Green a shot at a larger role in the short term.
Othyus Jeffers (NA) - There's been a lot of buzz suggesting that D-League star Jeffers will be signed by the Spurs very soon. Makes sense; San Antonio just lost Kawhi Leonard to a broken hand.
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