Is Andray Blatche the best backup center in the league?
While most of the focus on the Brooklyn Nets has been on Deron Williams and the talented starting five, what may give the Nets an edge over the other second-tier contenders in the Eastern Conference is the team's depth.
The Nets suffered little in a 97-96 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, despite resting their starters and the still-recovering MarShon Brooks, the team's likely sixth man.
Leading the charge in the Nets' win, over a Celtics team playing at full strength, was Andray Blatche, who is rapidly making the case as one of the best value pickups of the offseason.
Blatche had 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting Tuesday night, along with nine rebounds, five on the offensive glass. It is the kind of game that represents a best-case scenario for the Nets, who brought in Blatche on a one-year, veterans' minimum deal this summer after Blatche was let go by the Washington Wizards.
The hope was that Blatche would take the release as an insult, and come to Brooklyn with something to prove. So far, he's done just that, serving as one of the brightest spots in a preseason filled with them.
The fact is, prior to Blatche's poor 2011-12, he'd been a very productive player, putting up P.E.R. seasons of 15.5, 15.0, 17.6 and 16.9 in the previous four seasons. A return to that level of play for the 26-year-old would make him, in all likelihood, the best backup center in the league.
Among centers last season, Blatche's career P.E.R. of 15.5 would have ranked sixteenth in the league. That's not among backup centers; that's among centers, period, with the fifteen ahead of him all serving as starters. Only Robin Lopez of the Phoenix Suns came close to that level of production as a backup; the next-best showing for a backup center came from Josh Harrellson of the Knicks (now the Heat), at 13.7.
If it comes to pass, the luxury of Blatche as an offensive weapon could have carryover effects on the rest of the roster, too. The Nets' starting center, Brook Lopez, played in just five games last season due to a foot injury. With a productive Blatche, the Nets could rest Lopez more during games, without a significant drop in production.
The second unit, too, could use multiple looks. It was presumed Mirza Teletovic, a score-first power forward, would need to serve as the primary backup to Kris Humphries. But having Blatche as an interior threat would mean the Nets could use Reggie Evans, a defense and rebounding specialist more at the power forward spot as well.
This is not to suggest that Blatche's production is a given now, based on three preseason games. His attitude, his injury problems and his poor 2011-12 season, made it an easy call for the Wizards to utilize the amnesty provision in the N.B.A.'s collective bargaining agreement, and get Blatche's contract off of their books.
But if the Blatche who showed up in October is the same Blatche the Nets get all season, he'll be yet another reason for optimism in Brooklyn.