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NetsDaily 2023 Roundtable: Tempered expectations with a flare of hope

The NetsDaily staff is back for its annual roundtable — hot takes, cold takes, lukewarm takes, and educated predictions!

Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat Photo by Eric Espada/NBAE via Getty Images

Happy Hoops! Talk about an interesting scenario, the Nets coming off a few seasons filled with superstars, championship expectations, drama, and ultimately disappointment. Entering the 2023-24 season, there’s much less of all that. Can Brooklyn reboot this thing?

Here’s what the NetsDaily crew has to say...

1) What are you most excited about with this team?

Net Income: The opportunity to see a group of relatively young players gel as they enter their individual primes. Simmons, Johnson and Bridges are 27, Claxton 24 and Thomas is 22. Oh yeah, no drama.

Anthony Puccio: I want to see the blue-collar identity Sean Marks and the Nets have longed for after a couple years of superstar culture. Playing with heart and effort is more than half the battle these days — win some games on top of that and it’ll be fun watching these guys grow together.

Lucas Kaplan: Ben Simmons. Why else did we cover his offseason, training camp, and preseason so breathlessly? Why else did I sheepishly ask Jacque Vaughn questions about the team’s spacing, the pace, the half-court offense, and screen navigation centered around Ben? He’s the biggest question on this team, the theoretical mystery box that could elevate an otherwise decent roster into something more. And, on top of that, a great story waiting to happen.

Brian Fleurantin: Cam Thomas. I think this season is essential to figuring out what the franchise has in him, and it’s imperative they give him as much opportunity as possible for him to learn on the job.

Collin Helwig: The defense. With Nic Claxton and Mikal Bridges the Nets have two A+ defenders in their starting five. If Simmons returns to full form you can throw him in there too. The same can be said for Dennis Smith Jr. if you’re buying his advanced metrics from last year. They’ll also be backed by Dorian-Finney Smith, Royce O’Neale, and Cameron Johnson, who are not scrubs by any means at the defensive end either. I think Brooklyn has to be a top five defensive unit with that much firepower and it’ll be fun to watch them give teams fits all season.

Alec Sturm: I’m most excited to see Ben Simmons, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise, I don’t think. His preseason has been interesting in that he looks physically very impressive but statistically incredibly similar to last year’s regular season. On a roster full of role players and without many true unknowns, Simmons remains the most captivating player whose range of outcomes this year can propel the team unlike any other player on the roster.

2) Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

NI: Will go out on a limb a bit since we still don’t know when he’ll get back on the court or in what role, but I’m going with Dariq Whitehead. If he hadn’t had foot problems, he would’ve been a top 5 pick. So I’m again trusting in the Nets medical and performance teams ... It’s worked before.

AP: I think the Nets just barely play well enough to be buyers midseason.

LK: Team trades Nic Claxton at the deadline, although maybe it won’t be such a surprise when it happens. After all, Claxton is a free agent after this season, and the Toronto Raptors have made it very clear to us all that you don’t lose valuable players for nothing, if you can help it. The Nets can certainly help it, if they get a sense that Clax isn’t long for Brooklyn by the time Groundhog Day rolls around. Given that I’ve been beating the Clax-is-a-top-5-defender drum for a while now, this indeed sounds surprising. Maybe it shouldn’t.

BF: I’ll say Ben Simmons. I’ve been joking with some friends of mine that I’m ready to fall for the pump fake, and I’m ALL IN! He’s looked more spry and comfortable this season compared to last year, and I think he’ll shock people in a major way

CH: Lonnie Walker won’t just be an option off the bench, but a necessary part of their rotation as the season unfolds. Although Brooklyn’s defense should stay top tier, their offense will struggle in my opinion. I’m especially worried about their spacing with Simmons and Claxton on the floor. They’ll need Walker’s ability to fill it up.

AS: I think the biggest surprise will be Cam Johnson. He may have missed out on training camp due to an injury, but it appears he is ready and rehabbed for the beginning of a new season and I believe that his shooting, spacing, and gravity will prove invaluable on a team that lacks those talents in many spots and sent away players with similar strengths (ahem, Joe Harris and Patty Mills.)

3) Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

NI: Health is my big worry. It is hard to imagine Mikal Bridges and Nic Claxton going another season missing only one game to injury combined. Bridges of course didn’t miss any games and of the six games Claxton missed, only one was due to injury. Four others were about rest and the other was a personal day to attend a family member’s funeral. If either of them go down for a month, fuggetaboutit.

AP: This team is not going to be as good on defense as people expect. The advanced stats look nice, the personnel is there, but in my humble opinion they haven’t played together long enough to be an elite defense. Didn’t look that way in the preseason either.

LK: Is “half-court offense” too depressing of an answer? Should I change it to “clutch-time offense” instead? Because while Mikal Bridges’ growth has been impressive and fun to watch, he doesn’t resemble an engine. Cam Johnson is 27 and entering Year 1 of being asked to do more than receive a couple handoffs a game. Ben Simmons, in some form, has returned, but the fit with Nic Claxton is awkward, it just is. Point being, much of the Nets roster is fun and talented, so they’re not the disappointments. It’s just, this roster isn’t set up to crank out points, and just look at how good offense around the NBA is now. The Hawks are going to score a bajillion points this year and nobody cares.

BF: Hmm, I don’t really have a good answer for this. If I had to guess, I’d say the team’s three point percentage won’t be as high as they’d like it to be, which will make a lot of games tough sledding.

CH: I think the cards are really stacked against Jacque Vaughn. Depth is a good thing to have, but also with so many options, it can be difficult to find the right formula where everyone is being used adequately. I also haven’t been a fan of seeing Brooklyn experiment with the drop coverage on defense this preseason. They have several switchable players (maybe more than anyone in the league), so I don’t understand why they’re going away from that strategy now. There’s so many moving parts and questions going into this year. It won’t all be his fault, but I foresee Vaughn struggling early on to juggle it all and drawing some criticism.

AS: Dorian Finney-Smith. In a team already stacked with premier defenders (Nic Claxton, Mikal Bridges, Ben Simmons, Dennis Smith, Cam Johnson) his contributions on that end will prove redundant and his offensive impact will be minimal without being force-fed easy looks at corner three balls. I’ll continue to push for a Buddy Hield trade for this team, and he’d make sense as the swapee.

4) Predict Brooklyn’s record/seed.

NI: I’m going with 42-40, the same record I (accurately) predicted for the 2018-19 Nets. I could be persuaded to add or subtract three wins. Six seed.

AP: 39-43 | 10-seed play-in.

LK: Based on my previous answer...I’m sorry, but 38-44. 9-seed (The West is going to slaughter The East this season), and a loss in the second play-in game. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Do you remember what it was like watching Brooklyn in the playoffs last year?

BF: Record: 42-40 and seventh seed. I think they win the play in game and make the playoffs.

CH: 43-39. Seventh seed.

AS: I think I’ll go a bit lower to be safe and predict 38-44 and the 9th seed. They could definitely win a play-in game or two, though.

5) If you had to pick one player to win a post-season award, who would it be and what for?

NI: Ben Simmons, Most Improved Player. He’s starting over and although the Comeback Player of the Year was ditched in favor of Most Improved Player years ago, voters seem to love comeback stories more than straight statistical improvements.

AP: I’m saying Cam Thomas or Spencer Dinwiddie for Sixth Man of the Year.

LK: The now-defunct NBA Comeback Player of the Year Award was handed out from 1980-1986, with Micheal Ray Richardson of the New Jersey Nets winning in 1985. I’d bet all my money on Ben Simmons winning that award had it still existed. Since it doesn’t I’ll go Mikal Bridges for Most Improved, although that feels pretty bogus, since I predict he’ll be less efficient than he was at the end of last season, but the volume will hold up, and voters:shiny numbers = moths:light. Anyway, Nic Claxton should have a better chance at winning DPOY, but since we’re predicting what will happen, rather than what should, well.

BF: For post-season award, I think Mikal Bridges gets Most Improved Player. Feels like he’ll be able to build on his second half run + FIBA showing and stretch it out for a full season. Wouldn’t be surprised if he made the All Star team as well.

CH: Nic Claxton as DPOY will be a popular one, but I’m going with Cam Thomas as Sixth Man of the Year. Again with Brooklyn lacking a whole lot of ammunition on the offensive side of things, I think Brooklyn will be forced to give Thomas big minutes off the bench. Being the offensive talent he is, I think he’ll lead the league in scoring off the bench and take home that hardware.

AS: Ben Simmons for All-NBA. I think he’s the only one with that ceiling. Nic Claxton could win DPOY if Victor Wembanyama didn’t exist.