Best Nets lineups surrounding Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons
Training camp is just two weeks away and the Brooklyn Nets head into the 2022-23 season with a new-look rotation. The additions of Ben Simmons, Joe Harris, Royce O’Neale, T.J. Warren and more offer extensive lineup versatility as compared to last season’s injury-depleted team.
In this article, we offer projections for Brooklyn’s starting and closing fives, as well as their best offensive and defensive lineups.
Simmons, Irving and Durant are locks to be in the starting lineup. Claxton is highly likely to join them as the team’s only experienced center. That leaves one open spot on the wing.
The top candidates will be Seth Curry, Joe Harris and Royce O’Neale. It would not be surprising to see Curry move to the bench this year after starting all 17 of his games with the Nets last season. The Nets struggled defensively with Irving (6’2”) and Curry (6’2”) sharing the floor. While the overall size of Simmons, Durant and Claxton could ease those concerns, Brooklyn would likely prefer more length on the wing.
That leaves Harris and O’Neale to battle it out for the final starting spot. O’Neale is a better defensive option while Harris is the better shooter. The Nets could go either way, but Harris should be seen as the favorite with the team extremely high on the six-year Net.
A lineup of Simmons, Irving, Harris, Durant and Claxton offers the combination of length, perimeter defense and shot creation that Brooklyn was missing during last year’s playoffs. Simmons, Durant and Claxton will anchor the defense. All three are high-level perimeter defenders at nearly seven feet tall. Harris has also proven competent on that end in recent years while emerging as one of the top three-point shooters in the league.
The fit of Simmons and Claxton as non-shooters alongside one another could present issues. However, having three outstanding spacers in Irving, Curry and Durant should ease those concerns in the short term. Overall, the size and offensive firepower of this starting unit should compete with that of any team in the Eastern Conference.
The closing lineup is where the Nets should feel O’Neale’s value. The wing replaces Claxton in this group.
At 38.9% from three on 4.0 attempts per game last season, O’Neale in place of Claxton will open the floor for Irving, Durant and Simmons. The 29-year-old also presents another exceptional perimeter defender alongside Simmons. That duo should match up with the opposition’s top two scorers, allowing Durant to focus a larger portion of his energy on offense.
Simmons slides to the five in what should be a “point center” role with this group. At 6’11”, the former number one pick’s size and athleticism allow Brooklyn to replace Claxton with a shooter to maximize offense. Surrounding Simmons with four spacers will open the floor for him to attack the paint and utilize his incredible passing ability.
Shooters surrounding Ben Simmons in Brooklyn:
If you combine numbers from each of their last full seasons, that group shot 41.6% from three on 2,457 attempts.
Not bad around a guy who can pass like this: pic.twitter.com/FNtayLlM8p
— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) September 14, 2022
This lineup should play at an extremely high pace with Simmons orchestrating the transition offense. Brooklyn should also use the 26-year-old as a screener in the halfcourt with Irving and Durant handling the ball. The spacing and shot creation of this group does not leave defenses with many options in the pick and roll.
Teams will avoid going under screens given Durant and Irving’s ability to pull up from three. Conversely, both will exploit drop coverages with their mid-range game. Blitzing screens would leave Simmons at an advantage in the short-roll with Durant/Irving, Harris and O’Neale open on the perimeter or cutting to the rim.
If healthy, Brooklyn’s closers should be one of the highest-rated offensive lineups in the league.
Best Offensive Lineup
This lineup also features Simmons in a “point center” role. It is the same as the lineup above, but with Curry replacing O’Neale to offer maximum shooting and shot creation.
Irving, Curry, Harris, and Durant would place four 40% three-point shooters around a 6’11” playmaker in Simmons. If you combine numbers from their last full seasons, that group shot 584 of 1,357 (43%) from three. The lineup also features three premiere ball handlers in Irving, Durant and Simmons flanked by two of the league’s top spot-up shooters in Curry and Harris.
T.J. Warren was the next man up when assembling this five. Curry and Harris get the nod over him as better shooters with Irving, Durant and Simmons as the primary ball handlers. However, inserting Warren would add high-level shot creation ability at four of the five positions. And while not as proven as Harris and Curry, Warren is still a solid shooter at 42.1% on catch-and-shoot threes in his last two seasons. Most importantly, Warren would make the lineup more capable defensively. Sliding Harris to shooting guard in place of Curry and inserting Warren on the wing would add to the size and athleticism of the group.
Both iterations of the lineup would offer incredible offensive upside and should be able to survive defensively against certain matchups.
Best Defensive Lineup
This lineup features five players who can all defend the perimeter at a high level— three near seven-footers in Simmons, Durant and Claxton, Warren at 6’8”, and O’Neale the smallest at 6’5”. And those who have seen O’Neale play would agree he plays bigger than that measurement.
Phenomenal on-ball defense here by Royce O’Neale pic.twitter.com/MvPOKhJ8CT
— Michael Jagacki (@Mike_Jagacki) June 17, 2021
This group posts an average height of 6’9” with an average wingspan of 7’1”. That length and athleticism will close driving and passing lanes all over the floor. There should not be any mismatches on the floor with this five. The group’s switch ability will make off-ball screens and pick and roll sets less effective, forcing teams into heavier isolation.
Simmons, O’Neale, Durant, and Claxton were obvious choices. All four can defend on the perimeter at a very high level with Claxton offering some rim protection. The final spot was between T.J. Warren and Kessler Edwards. Both offer the same size with Edwards likely the better defender of the two.
However, with Simmons and Claxton on the floor, Brooklyn would need to maximize shooting at the other positions. Warren is a more proven three-point threat than Edwards, shooting 41.4% from deep over his last two seasons. He also offers ball-handling and three-level scoring ability to complement Durant.
This five has enough shot creation and shooting to be competent offensively. And led by a two-time NBA All-Defensive First-Team selection in Simmons, the lineup would dominate on the defensive end.