Nets’ possible lineup strategy with Kyrie Irving lingering

The Nets will come out of the All-Star break having already played nearly two-thirds of the schedule, and still trying to figure out their best rotations and lineups for the final third.

Once Kyrie Irving returns from his latest injury, it will give the Nets an enviable trio of lead guards to work with — and coach Kenny Atkinson some decisions to make. One could be going with a small-ball lineup, if not to start games, at least to turn them … and maybe finish them.

“There’s just a lot of ways we can go,” Atkinson said. “We’ll just have to make the best decision for the team, for the Nets going forward.

“The big question, the big thing is who’s going to finish; that’s the one, how do you finish? We have opportunities to play small, really small, too. That’s within our possibilities. We’ll just figure it out. It’s hard to know until you have it in your hands what exactly you’re going to do.”

Atkinson has rarely had a remotely healthy roster in his hands. Kevin Durant hasn’t played, with Irving and Caris LeVert appearing in just 48 of a possible 106 games.

The result is Atkinson has juggled numerous five-man lineups. But of all the combinations and permutations, by far the best included Irving with both Dinwiddie and LeVert in a three-guard setup, along with center Jarrett Allen and replacing struggling stretch four Taurean Prince with Joe Harris.

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson
Nets coach Kenny AtkinsonCorey Sipkin

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see more small lineups. It’s just the trend now,” Harris told The Post. “Even now I’m setting screens in big actions. I never would’ve thought I’d be a screener either, but that’s just like how it is. I’m like picking and popping all the time.”

Irving has sat the past five games with a knee sprain. After a week off for the All-Star break, the Nets resume play Thursday in Philadelphia.

While Irving’s status for Thursday is up in the air, he is expected back eventually. And the aforementioned quintet has produced the best Net (plus-16.7) and Offensive (133.3) Ratings of any Irving-led lineups that have logged 15 minutes.

Of 29 different combinations Atkinson has used for at least 15 minutes, it’s by far the most effective with Irving. The lineup has outscored foes by 20.5 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference with the next-closest being a plus-9.2.

Granted, it’s a small 18-minute sample size, but expect it to get bigger.

“I would’ve never thought in my life I’d be playing power forward in the NBA, but that’s the direction the NBA is going,” Harris said. “And as the year wears on, teams are doing whatever it takes to win games. Sometimes that’s going with a smaller lineup.”

Harris is just 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. But Houston uses 6-5, 245 pound PJ Tucker at center with 6-7, 209-pound wing Robert Covington at stretch four. The Nets closed out the last four minutes of Wednesday’s win over Toronto with 6-8, 235-pound Wilson Chandler at center.

“Guys are not posting up a ton. It’s just the way analytics plays into it,” Harris said. “Anytime you get a post-up, always the points per possession is lower. It’s more difficult shots. Guys are strong enough, athletic enough, long enough where they can defend in the post, where guys are just not [posting up].”

Harris has only spent 5 percent of his court time at power forward this season, per CleaningTheGlass.com. Team sources say that could rise after the break, especially when the Nets need to change a game, or close one out.

“I’m starting to discover this team. I know, it’s the All-Star break, coach, you should know your team. It’s not that easy,” Atkinson said. “The new guys, I’m starting to get to know these guys better. That’s why the longer we’re together the better we’re going to get. … The talent is there.”

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