THE NEW YORK Like he was in January of last year, Kevin Durant is out with a sprained MCL, but this time it’s not quite the same thing. This time, the Brooklyn Nets had a clear injury report on the night when Durant was hurt. The previous game featured two rookies in the starting lineup and five players with injuries, including Kyrie Irving, who was unable to compete at the Barclays Center due to his lack of COVID-19 vaccination.
When Durant got hurt the last time, Brooklyn dropped 16 of its next 21 games. The coaching staff had to put together a fresh rotation almost every game before and after the James Harden-Ben Simmons blockbuster trade, which took place at that time. The Nets are in a far less dangerous situation this time. After practice on Wednesday, Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn stated that the same players who have been playing the most of the minutes will continue to play the majority of the minutes. The ones who are on the periphery of the rotation may be given opportunities, but it will depend on the circumstances.
The train will continue to run, Vaughn assured.
The Nets want to reduce fouls, restrict turnovers, and increase rebounds without Durant. We simply need to get better at all the things that either improve or lower your margins, according to Vaughn. These were already stressed points, but now they’re much more crucial since Kevin can score for us and atone for some of our transgressions.
According to Vaughn, “there won’t be any significant philosophical shifts in how we’re going to handle this thing.” To compensate for Kevin’s midrange shooting, Brooklyn will probably play “a little faster and [take] a few more 3s.” Naturally, there will be more touches given Durant’s average of 29.7 points and usage rate of 31.1 percent.
The Nets’ big man Nic Claxton stated, “The best player in the world is out, but guys gotta step up.” We have experienced this situation before.
Irving will take over as the Nets’ top option for scoring. Simmons should naturally handle more of the playmaking duties given that his usage rate has fallen to 14.2 percent this season. The next step for Simmons, according to Vaughn, is to “play every possession with force,” and he added that the tempo and simple shots he generates are now essential.
Vaughn used the matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday as an illustration. Early on in the contest, Simmons pulled up CJ McCollum full court and repeatedly went for the hoop.
Can you perform it at the 18-minute, 24-minute, and 40-minute marks now? stated Vaughn. “But that’s the stage of the process we’re at now—you can see it occasionally, but it’s still the same thing. Because with Kevin being away, we most definitely need that.”
Vaughn opted not to reveal Durant’s replacement in the starting lineup. T.J. Warren, who has a 52 percent midrange shooting percentage according to Cleaning The Glass, is the player who fits the offensive skill set the best. Before returning in early December, Warren had, in reality, missed two seasons. In 16 games, he has played 19.9 minutes on average, and he has only gone over 27 minutes once. Warren won’t be playing 40 minutes, according to Vaughn, who stated that the Nets’ top aim is to keep him healthy for the remainder of the campaign. However, it’s unclear whether they believe that 30 to 35 is excessive.
Durant and other superstars simplify things. He poses a challenge for the defenders each time he emerges from a pindown, runs a pick-and-roll, or catches the ball in the post. He can make a shot for himself or attract a second defender on his own when a halfcourt possession isn’t working. He is also a serious All-Defense contender, and the Nets can’t just replace him with another player and expect him to have the same help defense at the rim, length, and switchability. It is hoped that they will be able to survive thanks to their combined playmaking, shooting, size, and adaptability (and that Durant won’t be away for too long).
Brooklyn’s success this season has been greatly attributed to Royce O’Neale, especially since Joe Harris is still getting used to the team. Claxton has improved as a finisher and could be selected to the All-NBA team. The two best value additions any side made last summer may have been Yuta Watanabe and Warren. Only the Boston Celtics have a better record in the NBA this year than the Brooklyn Nets, whose previous 20 games have seen them win 18 of them. In comparison to last season, Claxton claimed that they are “absolutely” better prepared to handle Durant’s absence due to “our spirit, our energy, our vibes, and the way that we’ve been defending.”
Similar to Vaughn, who was upbeat, cited Brooklyn’s thrilling victory on Sunday, when Durant departed the game early and the team trailed by nine points in the fourth quarter. The most important thing for this group, according to Vaughn, is “no excuses.” He then began to say something about the team from the previous season but stopped in the middle of it. I’ll just state that I won’t accept any excuses from this gang.
Can Simmons-Claxton lineups be successful without Durant? Will the Nets be able to stop enough shots without them? Who can provide the second unit a scoring punch if Warren starts? If they want to find more offense, will they have to increase Seth Curry’s minutes? Will they give up their size and flexibility to play with Curry and Irving? In the coming weeks, Brooklyn must provide answers to these concerns, beginning with its home game against Boston on Thursday.
In this case, that is not the best opponent to have, but hey, things could be worse. Harden was technically still on the roster when Brooklyn played the Celtics last year while Durant was out of town; nevertheless, he sat on the bench after tip-off and would fly to Houston the following day as the rest of the team headed to Washington. Irving was prohibited from entering the venue. Patty Mills, Bruce Brown, DeAndre’ Bembry, Kessler Edwards, and Blake Griffin began for the Nets, who entered the game with an eight-game losing run. Off the bench, they added Jevon Carter, David Duke Jr., Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe, and James Johnson. Boston triumphed 126–91.