One year ago, with three of the best offensive players this league has ever seen, the Brooklyn Nets were the favorites to win the NBA championship in NBA.com’s GM Survey, receiving 72% of votes from the league’s decision-makers. Things are much different this time around, and there’s no team with more questions as the 2022-23 season tips off.
Since that prediction last year, Kyrie Irving missed 53 games because he wasn’t vaccinated, Joe Harris was lost 14 games into the season, James Harden forced his way out, Ben Simmons arrived and never played, the Nets got swept in the first round, Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and then he made a them-or-me ultimatum regarding general manager Sean Marks and head coach Steve Nash. What was once a contender had seemingly fallen apart with the Nets having three stars available (Durant, Irving and either Harden or Simmons) in just 16 of a possible 158 games.
But Durant, Marks and Nash are, somehow, all still here. And the Nets, with Harris and Simmons returning to health and with some offseason additions, have as much talent as any team in the league. Still, things aren’t exactly settled as they enter their fourth season since their big free agency haul of 2019. If everything goes right, this is a title contender. But the chances of everything going right appear slim.
Is Ben Simmons ready? The bigger long-term question is about Durant’s commitment to the franchise. Irving, meanwhile, remains an enigma. But when the season tips off on Oct. 19 with a game against the New Orleans Pelicans, we can (somewhat) safely assume that those two will be in uniform and ready to play. We can’t as easily make that same assumption about Simmons, who hasn’t played in more than 15 months and had multiple false starts last season. The preseason will certainly provide some hints, but we won’t know that Simmons can contribute until he’s out there doing it, and it will be fascinating to see just how confident and aggressive he is in his role.
How do you predict what’s going to happen with this team over the next nine months? The “everything goes right” scenario would put the Nets in contention for their first NBA championship, but the “everything goes wrong (again)” scenario seems more likely. Maybe they fall somewhere in between, where they can’t necessarily count on their stars to play more than 50-ish games apiece, but they’re still good enough to reach the postseason and then hope it all comes together in April, May and June. Projection: Playoffs
1 KEY STAT TO KNOW
2 — The Nets were the only team with two of the nine players – Seth Curry and Kyrie Irving – who shot 50% or better on at least 250 2-point attempts and 40% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Kyrie Irving: An elite shooter and scorer, but defense remains an issue, and he couldn’t step up when Durant was swarmed in the Boston series.
Joe Harris: One of two Nets – Curry is the other – who ranks in the top five all-time in 3-point percentage. An amazing 47.4% over the last two seasons.
Kevin Durant: His inability to figure out Boston’s playoff defense was the first sign of weakness in his offensive game. Would be good to reduce his minutes/load.
Ben Simmons: Will defend and get his teammates open looks in transition, and his lack of shooting will be less of an issue with all the offensive talent around him.
Nic Claxton: Brutal free throw shooting (4-for-22) in the playoffs overshadowed his contributions as a mobile defender and vertical spacer. Still just 23 years old.
Seth Curry: His ridiculous shooting numbers over the last two seasons (effective FG% of 60.3%) should remain ridiculous given whom he’s playing alongside.
Patty Mills: Like Durant, he needs to carry a lighter load this year. Has seen post-All-Star drops in his shooting numbers in each of the last three seasons.
Royce O’Neale: Wing defender the Nets have needed. Has taken 69% of his shots from beyond the arc over the last three seasons, shooting 38% on those 3s.
Cam Thomas: 20-year-old bucket-getter shot 52% on pull-up 2-pointers as a rookie, but the Nets were not good in his minutes. Needs to improve passing, defense.
T.J. Warren: Has played just four games since averaging 31.0 points on an effective field goal percentage of 66.4% over six games in the 2020 bubble.
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
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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