Playing without Kyrie Irving and with a hobbled James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets were inches away from beating the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals. So logic has it that the Nets, in the first full season with their three stars together, would be the favorites to win the 2022 title. They had the most efficient offense in NBA history and it would probably have been better if their three stars played more than 202 regular-season minutes (over just eight games) together.
The Nets have made changes to the supporting cast, with Patty Mills their big offseason acquisition. Questions remain about what was the 22nd-ranked defense last season, but the bottom line is that Harden, Irving and Kevin Durant are three of the best offensive players in the world, and their health in May and June may be all that matters.
Can they take care of business? The Nets could do a better job of putting games away than they did last season, when they ranked third in number of games within five points in the last five minutes. They could also be better against bad teams; they were 11-7 (with the league’s worst defense — 113.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) against the seven teams that finished more than 15 games below .500. Doing a better job of taking care of business would keep Harden, Irving and Durant fresher for the postseason, while reducing the risk for injury.
The Nets’ stars will certainly miss some games. But they’ll likely play more than 202 minutes together. With a capable supporting cast (including two of the best catch-and-shoot guys off the last five years), they should set a new record for offensive efficiency. And given the talent, anything less than a championship would be a disappointment. The regular season is just the runway. Predicted finish: 59-23.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
James Harden: Carried a heavy load (ranked second at 36.6 minutes per game) before his initial hamstring injury.
Kyrie Irving: Registered the 13th 50-40-90 season in the 42 years of the 3-point line, shooting an elite 54% from mid-range.
Joe Harris: Elite shooter struggled (13-for-49, including 8-for-33 on 3-pointers) over the last five games of the Milwaukee series.
Kevin Durant: Might be the best player in the world, but couldn’t do it by himself against the Bucks. Now signed through 2025-26.
Blake Griffin: Revitalized upon arriving and shot well in Brooklyn, but didn’t hold up defensively in the playoffs.
Patty Mills: Saw a drop-off after the All-Star break last season. Should complement the stars with movement and shooting.
Bruce Brown: A 6-foot-4 guard/center. Will defend opponents’ best perimeter player and score as a roll man.
Paul Millsap: The 36-year-old saw a huge drop in 3-point percentage last season. Can still help on defense.
Nicolas Claxton: A 22-year-old shot-blocker, he’s played just 910 career minutes. Can help keep the older bigs fresh.
LaMarcus Aldridge: Back after a heart scare in April. Shot a career-best 51.2% from mid-range last season.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Nets have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
STAT TO KNOW
+23.1 — In the first round of the playoffs, the Nets outscored the Boston Celtics by 23.1 points per 100 possessions in 130 minutes with Harden, Irving and Durant all on the floor, scoring 136.9 per 100. The trio played just 43 seconds together in the conference semifinals, with Harden re-injuring his hamstring on their first offensive possession and Irving spraining his ankle in the second quarter of Game 4.
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