You can never have too much depth! Or so they say, until fan-favorite Yuta Watanabe gets nine minutes of playing time spread across two games, and Cam Thomas, the man of 134 points over a recent, three-game stretch, is relegated to eighth-man duty. All of a sudden, the Brooklyn Nets, a team whose roster felt dangerously thin for much of its bygone superstar era, is overflowing with rotation-quality players. Specifically, wings. Maybe they should have traded a couple of them for future draft picks before this season's trade-deadline, but that’s another topic for another time.
For now, I’m here to focus on the first, most apparent speed bump of this not-quite-rebuilding era: the minutes crunch. Before we figure out this late-game offense, or analyze what the new guys are bringing to the table, or how Brooklyn’s defense should best utilize all the monster wingspans they’ve accumulated, we first have to figure out who should be on the court.
...is that there are no easy decisions here, only ones that we as fans and media will scrutinize endlessly. There are no less than a dozen Nets that have proven themselves to be capable of contributing to a decent squad, and perhaps even more than that, depending on how you feel about, say, Day’Ron Sharpe. That’s how you end up with lineup casualties like Edmond Sumner, who, after right coming off the best stretch of his professional career, has been glued to the pine for three games straight.
Scoring 59 points in 88 minutes doesn’t scream play me, but, knowing Sumner as a defense-first guy, it sure as hell doesn’t scream bench me either.
Or how about Nic Claxton, shining light of this Nets season, on the court for just 23 ticks, less than half-a-game, in his first career-loss to the dreaded New York Knicks. It’s not like he had foul trouble either, which just one whistle going against him in his meager minutes. Sure, it’s not easy for head coach Jacque Vaughn, who’s been thrust into a completely different situation than the one he was lauded for handling up to just one week ago. Still though, there has to be a better way.
My attempt at designing a rotation
Take this with a grain of salt, especially since it’s only been two games with this new, full complement of Nets. If Jacque Vaughn does wind up figuring out a workable, sensible rotation, this pre-All Star stretch will understandably wind up being seen a grace period. A time to experiment. Nevertheless, here’s a rough outline of how I think Brooklyn should move going forward (ignore position designations):
The rotation itself is less important than the total minutes distribution, which I started with and then worked backwards, and that can be seen here:
- Anything more than a ten-man rotation feels superfluous, if not harmful to the guys playing sporadic minutes, trying to get in a rhythm. This is obviously lenient, as the ebbs and flows of a bloated NBA season will dictate. I omitted Seth Curry and Patty Mills from the rotation - I’m just not sure they fit into what the Nets are doing, particularly defensively, anymore - however, either could easily step in for someone like Joe Harris, should cold/hot streaks or injuries befall the team
- I’ll get to Ben Simmons in a fuller article during the All-Star break, but long-story short: It’s February, and there still hasn’t been many encouraging signs. Simmons deserves a chance to work his way back, whatever it may look like, to full strength. The Nets have invested in him. But for a team aiming at some level of immediate playoff success (ahem, not making any deadline deals post-KD trade), Brooklyn just can’t afford to have Simmons out there a ton.
- However, for the minutes Simmons does play, I feel strongly about pairing him with legitimate movement shooters, or guys that can take a hand-off and get to the rim. This could be a great opportunity for Cam Johnson to work on his off-the-dribble game guided by the helping hand of Simmons dribble-handoffs. There were even some, dare I say, positive signs from Simmons + four shooters in Brooklyn’s recent loss against Philadelphia:
BKN's first five possessions of the second quarter was the best any Ben + four shooter lineup has looked this season. It helps when shots are falling, but the pace and spacing was excellent, IMO pic.twitter.com/7l5eU1tEZ2— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) February 12, 2023
- Nic Claxton and Mikal Bridges are the two most promising Nets, with room to grow. They should each get close to 36 minutes a game, because why freaking not? I don’t want to see Cam Johnson under 30 minutes either.
- Edmond Sumner deserves minutes, specifically, in my mind, next to Cam Thomas. Largely staggering Thomas and Spencer Dinwiddie? Fine. But Thomas shouldn’t be the only guy in his lineups that can handle the ball; at least Sumner will get to the paint; what happens next is anyone’s guess. In any case, Sumner should see the court, and will fit right into to a Nets defensive scheme that seems to rely on activity and length all over the floor.
- I think Dorian-Finney Smith and Royce O’Neale are fairly interchangeable. Royce is a better offensive player, having shown an admirable, necessary willingness to fire threes up in Brooklyn, as well as to put the ball not he floor and try to make something happen. Doe-Doe is far less proficient in both areas, but a more hellacious defender. Take your pick, especially in what should be feel-it-out closing lineups.
- Yuta Watanabe deserves minutes, and consistent ones at that. Ultimately, he’s been a better player than each of Day’Ron Sharpe and Ben Simmons this year, and that should matter more than Brooklyn’s potential fear of being too small against opposing second units. Play him at the five to juice a stagnant offense with more spacing if you have to, but just play him. (In addition, Ben Simmons’ lack of rim-protection instincts means that Brooklyn isn’t any smaller, functionally speaking, with Watanabe instead of Simmons.)
- Teams are consistently attacking Joe Harris on defense, specifically with smaller guards that are just too quick for him to keep up with. Ten scripted minutes is enough time to see if he’s on a heater from deep, which should be enough to keep him on the floor for longer.
- I like the idea of playing Cam Thomas and Spencer Dinwiddie alongside each other in the second-half, at least for a little. Brooklyn’s late-game offense has completely slowed down in the second half for two games now, largely with the pill stuck in Dinwiddie’s hands. Get some more shot creation on the floor. (And this should be implied, but...play Cam Thomas. Cat’s out of the bag now.)
Of course, the most important thing is that these shouldn’t be rigid rotations. Jacque Vaughn should, on a team with a ton of similar players, ride the hot hand until it falters. There’s no reason for solid performances to result in a decrease in minutes; there is no talent so overwhelming on this Brooklyn Nets team that he should play ahead of anybody out-producing him.
The beautiful thing about having a versatile roster is that the game’s closing lineup is never pre-determined. Hell, a lineup at any point in the game shouldn’t be pre-determined. Depth is a wonderful thing to have during an NBA season that runs about 24 games longer than it should. Jacque Vaughn and the Brooklyn Nets just have to figure out how to take advantage of theirs.