I’m not proud of it, but I went through a sneakerhead phase in middle school. Looking to keep up with my friends on blacktop, there was nothing I wanted more than a pair of D Rose 2.5s, LeBron 9 Aways, or the original KD 4s. For me, those were the shoes that got away.
You see, every time I scavenged up enough cash for a pair of hot kicks, I was greeted with the same excuse when requesting the money from my mother. Being 12, 13, or 14 at the time, I was growing roughly an inch every six months. I was frequently reminded that I would soon grow out of any shoes that I bought, rendering them useless. It was an honest and fair point which I had no rebuttal for. Well played mom.
For the past two years, Brooklyn Nets fans of all ages, shapes, and sizes have faced a similar issue. Although it has nothing to do with one’s adolescence, it’s been equally annoying.
Leapfrogging from shoes to apparel, buying Brooklyn Nets jerseys that will stand the test of time has become quite a task. Like my sneakers, most Nets uniforms have grown outdated after one or two seasons due to the team’s insane roster turnover from year to year.
While hardcore fans might still find a place for them in their wardrobe, who wants a Brooklyn Nets James Harden, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Caris LeVert, or Jarrett Allen jersey at this point? Although stylish, they are oh-so outdated. They were all hot commodities at one point or another, but are now all on clearance for a reason. “Useless” is not the right word, but they are much like a pair of sneakers that no longer fit.
Since the 2020-21 season began, continuity has been something completely alien to the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets welcomed 10 new faces through the doors of HSS Training Center to begin the season last year. The season before that they welcomed eight. By season’s end in each of the last two years, 24 players wore the black-and-white.
Just looking at last year alone, in a 10-month period, the team had replaced two-thirds of its roster. While the Nets had a laundry list of other issues that led to their demise last season, all this new blood and the lacking chemistry from it certainly did not help.
Now, the Nets seem done with flip-flopping players at such a rapid pace. Heading into the upcoming season, the Nets are trending back in favor of continuity, with 10 players set to rejoin the team this year beside just five new faces (six if you count Chris Chiozza, who played two years in Brooklyn before spending a fruitful season with Golden State.)
This goes deeper than just the names on the roster. The best way to build continuity within an organization is by assembling and developing young players. The Nets will do that this year as well, bringing in a flurry of second year guys coming off rookie seasons which they spent in Brooklyn.
Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe, Kessler Edwards, and David Duke Jr. are all back, Duke on a second two-way. The last time Brooklyn had a rookie and brought him back for a sophomore season was when they did so with Nic Claxton in 2020.
Granted, the Nets still remain a team split up into three “factions,” determined more by salary than anything else. At the top you have the stars in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons. Below them you’ll find the returning role players in Patty Mills, Seth Curry, Joe Harris, Claxton, Sharpe, Thomas, Edwards, and Duke Jr. Next come the newbys in Royce O’Neale, T.J. Warren, Edmond Sumner, Markieff Morris and Alondes Williams, the other two-way.
Brooklyn’s success during the 2022-23 season will hinge on how these three “factions” learn to play beside each other and eventually merge into one collective unit on and off the court. Accomplishing this in some facets of the game should come quite easily, while others may require some work. Let’s begin with the stars and weave our way through the roster.
Look first and foremost at Ben Simmons. Building chemistry begins within the transition game, followed by drive-and-kick actions in the halfcourt. Thankfully, Simmons’ supporting cast carries an excess of basketball tools to help him do so.
Along with Harris, Curry should be one of Brooklyn’s most lethal returning role players ... and someone familiar with Ben10’s game as a former teammate. With the Nets last year, he shot a blistering 46.8 percent from downtown on 6.5 attempts per game. These deadeye shooting skills make him arguably Simmons’s most lethal weapon. Harris was shooting 46.6 percent last season when he went down, 47.5 the year before. They’ve never played together.
We’ve all seen that infamous graphic of Simmons passing while all his surrounding teammates rise up for shots, but with all jokes aside, Simmons, with his size and speed, drives through the lane like a steam engine, drawing defenders in. His court vision does the rest, allowing him to find open teammates who can hit from range.
Curry always played better with Simmons on the floor during their days in Philly. His 3-point volume rose by 0.7 attempts per game during games with him compared to without, as did his percentage by 4.3 percentage points in their previous season together. We can expect that to continue in Brooklyn.
On the topic of 3-point shot creation, you can also nod in the direction of Nets Harris, Irving, Durant, O’Neale, and Mills, who all shot north of 36.0 percent on catch-and-shoot triples last season. That inferno burning between Simmons and Curry should extend to them all as well.
Edmond Sumner missed last season due to injury, but did shoot 39.8 percent although on a meager 1.5 catch-and-shoot threes per game. I’m not sure if that qualifies him as a potential Simmons weapon, but keep him on your radar. Watch out for Kessler Edwards to become a Simmons-sniper as well. He sneakily averaged the fifth most made catch-and-shoot triples on the Nets last year despite averaging just 20.4 minutes per game. He also showed improvement in the Summer League, hitting better than 40 percent in Vegas.
While this all makes Brooklyn integrating Simmons into the starting lineup look exciting, there will be challenges as well. Finding floor spacing with lineups including Simmons and either Nic Claxton or Day’Ron Sharpe will take some maneuvering. Running Simmons as a small ball center might answer that riddle. However, that might be a bumpy road to travel down, as Simmons only played 9.0 percent of his minutes at the five during his last season in Philly.
An improved jump-shooting Claxton could help solve the issue as well, but offseason workout videos and G League archival material are one thing and a competitive NBA game environment is another. Steve Nash will have his work cut out for him.
Claxton may find his stride with Simmons in the transition game. Clax often excelled as a rim runner who most NBA bigs could not keep up with last year. He rarely missed on such rack attacks as well, finishing third the entire league for scoring frequency on transition possessions.
Sophomore David Duke Jr. could also ally himself with Simmons here. His speed and bounce made him a threat on the break even during his limited run last season. For DDJ, 28.3 percent of his points came on the break, a team-high mark.
Sumner also loves to run and gun. During his last healthy season, 30.8 percent of his points came on the break, which was the highest rate among all players that season who averaged at least 15 minutes per game.
Well, what about iso ball? The Nets led the league in iso scoring last season and with Durant and Irving your best players, that’s not surprising. Compare that to Simmons who possesses more “team ball” skills. So how will that work this season? Let’s begin with Irving.
To start with, Irving is as deadly on the run as anyone. He averaged the most transition possessions per game on the Nets last year and the 13th most across the entire league.
But in the halfcourt, shooting off screens and handoffs is the name of the game for Kyrie.
Being such a gifted shot creator, Irving’s ability to navigate the pick-and-roll often gets forgotten. Ex-Net James Harden was seen as that guy for Brooklyn before his departure, but last year, Irving averaged just 0.3 fewer pick-and-roll possessions per game than The Beard. With that noted, he’ll want to develop some rhythm with Sharpe who has only played 11 games with Irving and unlike the team’s other roll-man in Claxton.
Irving is not known for throwing the kind of lobs that Sharpe used to catch from Harden, but he does frequently maneuver his way around screens to rise up for shots. Where exactly to step, how long to stay attached on the hip, and where to explode for shots will take time for Irving and Sharpe to iron out.
O’Neale, Warren, Simmons, and Morris will likely be involved in the pick-and-roll game as well and will need to develop chemistry in a similar way. O’Neale and Irving might be able to find something earlier than the rest, as the former Jazz forward tallied 98 screen assists last season, clocking in third behind centers Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whitside.
Those assist screens involved Donovan Mitchell, a 3-level scorer — just like Irving. So with that knowledge, there’s reason to believe he can replicate that production in Brooklyn.
When looking at hand offs, Irving ranked in the top 15 in field attempts on such shots per game last year. You can stick Patty Mills beside him as well, who ranked ninth most last year.
Irving and Mills clearly like swinging around teammates to get their mitts on the rock and rise up for shots. Such plays work similarly to screens, or a ghost screen for that matter, so smoothing out the kinks there take time as well and should be monitored as the seasons progresses.
Durant’s tendencies — and potential for chemistry with his supporting cast — are similar to Irving’s. Last year, the Slim Reaper cracked the top 40 in field goal attempts on handoffs per game. Again, timing and positioning will be key for Durant and his teammates to get down this coming year.
Although they remain similar plays, shots off screens proved to be Durant’s forte. He averaged the third most field goal attempts shooting off the screen in the league last year. Being the efficient scorer that he is, KD also averaged the third most points.
With him taking a liking to the mid-range shots, Sharpe, O’Neale, Warren, Simmons, and Morris will need to be on time with their picks and handoffs to keep Durant rolling.
Durant’s dominance in the halfcourt often leads the average fan to overlook his skills in transition, where he stacks up well beside Irving and Simmons. KD ranked 26th in transition possessions per game last year. He averaged the 18th most points, converting here at a high rate, too.
We should be looking at three F1 Ferrari engines in Brooklyn for next year and possibly beyond. Simmons is under contract for three years, Durant for four. As for Irving, he’s only under contract for this season, but that could change.
This will all play out, but the resurgence of continuity on the team and Simmons fit should help with that and therefore assist in tying the team’s three factions together easier. Now I can get to cataloguing my shoe collection.