The Brooklyn Nets are re-living their worst nightmare. Kevin Durant is out for a month (or so) with an MCL sprain, and his squad is going to have to forge ahead without him in the interim. However, as we’ve written this week, Brooklyn is in better shape to handle that burden than last year’s squad thanks to an improved roster.
Jacque Vaughn said at practice Wednesday that the group is approaching play with a “no excuses” mentality and expanded on that thought:
“I think this group has shown they have resolve and they have the ability to fight, and the belief. You just take the finish of the game [in] Miami. We’re down nine and we end up winning the basketball game without Kevin on the floor,” said Vaughn. “So I think that’s a direct reflection of this group. I think they’re looking forward to playing and trying to win and figure it out together. So hopefully this group is in a better place mentally and physically to handle this challenge.”
Brooklyn’s first challenge sans-KD comes on Thursday, a home game against the Boston Celtics. Yeah, talk about being thrown into the lion’s den! The Nets will immediately have to figure out how they’re going to play without Durant and solve some of the more minute rotational issues—who is going to play with who, redistribution of minutes, etc.—on the fly against the best team in the league.
Vaughn, who has preached simplicity all season, assured reporters during Wednesday’s practice that Brooklyn will largely keep its schemes the same—improvement will just have to come at the margins.
“Our schemes won’t change. We’ll need to do things better, whether that is rebounding the basketball better because Kevin can make a shot for us and cover up some of our sins. So the shot discrepancy can’t be the same. We can’t turn it over the same. So all the things that increase or decrease your margins, we just got to be better at. Nothing changes for our group,” said Vaughn. “We play extremely hard and let everything else fall where it may.”
Vaughn did not disclose who his starters will be against Boston nor who could be looking at a role increase going forward. Vaughn has Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Yuta Watanabe, and T.J. Warren to choose from when picking his fifth starter to replace Durant. Harris and Curry offer similar shooting gravity to Brooklyn’s fallen Slim Reaper; Warren and Watanabe can at least replicate some of Durant’s ranginess at the wing position.
However, based on his comments on Wednesday, it’s fair to say we can cross Warren, still making his way back from missing two full seasons due to foot injuries, off that list. Vaughn’s focus with Warren is to keep him fresh for when it matters: the postseason.
“Again, I said from the beginning, the thing is keeping T.J. healthy to the end of the year,” said Vaughn. “Do I see him playing 40 minutes? No, not happening.”
It’d be foolish to expect any wholesale changes to Brooklyn’s trajectory going forward. Kyrie Irving can still create his shot at will against just about any NBA defense at near-50/40/90 shooting proficiency, and the team’s roster makeup will almost assure that Brooklyn can remain atop the league in 3-point shooting efficiency. Plus, with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Nic Claxton manning the backline alongside a cadre of wings, the defense should be in good shape as well.
The main question that comes to mind pertains to how Brooklyn survives the minutes that Kyrie Irving sits on the bench. Can Ben Simmons maintain the requisite aggression to help his Nets stay afloat without Irving? Will certain combinations and plays help Simmons in this setting? Running Simmons next to Curry comes to mind, a great opportunity for both players to display their dribble-handoff chemistry.
These are questions that will soon be answered. Again, Boston is quite the opening test.
- Jacque Vaughn’s message to Kevin Durant-less Nets: ‘no excuses’ - Peter Botte - New York Post
- Kevin Durant’s injury doesn’t change Nets’ plan for T.J. Warren - Peter Botte - New York Post
- Nets won’t make excuses, will adapt to Kevin Durant’s absence - Denis P. Gorman - Newsday
- What changes for the Nets with Kevin Durant out? - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Without injured Kevin Durant, Nets must forge ahead as mid-season mark approaches - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic
- Nets coach says mission ‘doesn’t change’ without Kevin Durant - Nick Friedell - ESPN
- NBA Insider says Nets will survive Kevin Durant’s two-week absence - Ian Begley - SNY
- Practice Report: the mood and the plan without Kevin Durant - Chris Milholen - Sports Illustrated