In many ways, Kevin Garnett on Tuesday looked like the same player Celtics fans came to know and love the last six years.
Garnett turned down a wide-open layup to attempt an unnecessary pass that went out of bounds, then crossed up young big man Derrick Favors for a highlight-caliber drive to the basket a short while later. In less than 14 minutes of game action, the full Garnett arsenal was on display — for better or for worse.
At 37 years old, Garnett clearly is still capable of playing high-level NBA basketball in stretches. His 18-foot jump shot looked to be as deadly as ever during Brooklyn’s 104-88 win over the Jazz on Tuesday night, and he still looked to be a heads-up help defender, even if his team is not yet as cohesive on the defensive end as his best Celtics squads. Whereas Garnett’s scoring predictably has dropped off now that he is sharing the floor with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, his rebounds, assists, steals and blocks are about on par with what he produced last season.
Yet Garnett still has not appeared completely comfortable in his new surroundings, a reality he has admitted may have something to do with the Nets’ unique lineup rotations.
“I’ve got to get better with what I’m doing, making my minutes more productive,” Garnett told the New York Daily News. “I’m just being a little more passive, trying to be the glue, if you will. I need to be a little more aggressive at times. I don’t really think about the offense. Defense is where I’m trying to make sure that we’re cohesive.”
If it were as simple as having Garnett focus on defense and having a different big, like Brook Lopez, focus on offense, the Nets would be set. But it is not that simple. Rookie head coach Jason Kidd did not distinguish himself in his debut loss to the Magic, and the victory over the Jazz does not offer much in the way of bragging rights, because the Jazz are terrible. (OK, the Magic are terrible, too, but the Jazz look terrible-er.)
Even though the Nets did not need Garnett after halftime on Tuesday, one wonders at this point whether such limited playing time actually helps or hurts Garnett in the long run. He is getting less than 25 minutes of court time per game, the fewest of his career, and the fewer minutes he plays the fresher he will stay, presumably, as the season wears on. Having Garnett fresh won’t be much use, though, if he does not feel comfortable, and right now only playing as much as possible with his new teammates will help Garnett establish that comfort.
The Nets have two off days following the game against Utah, followed by a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday. Kidd has already said he may sit out Garnett entirely on one leg of back-to-back sets, so come next Wednesday’s game against Sacramento, Garnett conceivably could been coming off a nine-day period in which he plays just 40 minutes of meaningful basketball.
The Nets, at 2-2 with a rousing win over Miami to their credit, obviously are a long way from worrying about Garnett — or anything else, for that matter. In the unlikely event the Nets do not go on an extended winning streak fairly soon, the mob would come for Kidd first. But the clock was ticking on the Nets from the moment they agreed to the draft-night trade with the Celtics. Paul Pierce is only under contract for one more year and the 47,000 minutes of NBA mileage on Garnett’s legs make him older than his years.
In short, the Nets need to reach peak efficiency sooner rather than later. It’s up to Kidd and his coaching staff to realize that a rested Garnett is nice, but an effective Garnett is even nicer.