Nets still looking for how to unlock the best Taurean Prince

Part 16 of a series analyzing the Brooklyn Nets.

Before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, no Net had logged more games than Taurean Prince. He didn’t take a single contest off, availability being arguably his best ability.

That makes it at least somewhat concerning that shortly before Kenny Atkinson parted ways with the franchise, the deposed coach admitted Prince still needed more time for the Nets to get the best out of him.

“IM TRYNA HOOP!” Prince tweeted Monday, with the season still on hold indefinitely due to the pandemic. While the 26-year-old forward has hooped well for the Nets at times, he hadn’t yet found the consistency or shooting stroke he or they would’ve liked.

Taurean PrinceNBAE via Getty Images

Prince found himself pulled from the starting lineup by Atkinson in the deposed coach’s final game, and was still used as reserve by interim coach Jacque Vaughn until the season was shut down.

“I’m a grown man, it’s fine,” Prince had said. “Do I want to come off the bench? Completely not. But do I want to do whatever it takes to help the team get to where we ultimately want to go? Any day of the week.”

But how can the Nets best use Prince to get where they want to go when — or if — play resumes? Or next season when Kevin Durant returns?

Prince averaged 12.1 points and a career-high six rebounds, but his 37.6 shooting percentage was the worst of his career and lowest of any Nets rotation player. And after inking Prince to a two-year, $29 million extension in October that kicks in next season, the Nets need a more consistent Prince.

The Nets sent Allen Crabbe and a first-round pick to Atlanta for Prince in a salary dump that helped them land Durant and Kyrie Irving. With Durant hurt, Prince had to switch positions. After logging 93 percent of his minutes as a small forward last season, according to Cleaning The Glass, he spent 91 percent of this season as a stretch four.

At his best, Prince was an X factor and third scorer who made the difference between winning and losing. But he was a streaky shooter, his 33.9 percent shooting from deep the worst since his rookie campaign after hitting 38.5 percent and 39.0 percent the previous two seasons in Atlanta.

After starting the first 61 games and never finding his 3-point stroke, Prince was moved to the bench in Atkinson’s March 6 swan-song victory over San Antonio. Vaughn kept him behind Wilson Chandler on the depth chart until the season was halted March 11.

“You look at what it does to the second unit with Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Chris Chiozza, the ability to play faster with that second unit, we want to see that as a coaching staff,” Vaughn said.

“There is not really a difference,” Prince said. “Still being aggressive offensively and flying around defensively, just doing whatever it takes to win.”

The Nets must discern how best Prince helps them win, presuming he’s not a trade casualty as they chase a third star this offseason.

Prince could move back to small forward; but after having shot so poorly but still hoisting a team-high 431 3s, he might be a poor fit with Durant and Irving. He could serve as Durant’s backup and second-unit scoring punch, with Joe Harris, spacing the floor for the starters.

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