Kevin Ollie will take over as Brooklyn Nets head coach Thursday against the Toronto Raptors after the team fired Jacque Vaughn. Following an 8-23 stretch that has dropped the Nets to 11th in the Eastern Conference, the former UConn head coach will attempt to lead a playoff push over the final 28 games of the regular season.

To Ollie's benefit, the Nets have the NBA's second-easiest remaining strength of schedule. After the trade deadline and All-Star break, they also have a cemented roster and a clean bill of health for the first time this season.

Ben Simmons, Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Lonnie Walker, and Day'Ron Sharpe all returned from injuries during the weeks leading up to the break. Brooklyn also welcomed Dennis Schroder, acquiring the point guard from the Toronto Raptors for Spencer Dinwiddie. With the Nets at full strength, Ollie will face several difficult lineup decisions, something Vaughn was preparing for before his dismissal.

“It’s gonna be a Rubix cube,” Vaughn said of the rotation. “I got 240 minutes… You just go down the list and there’s only a certain amount of minutes to go around. That’s what our group has to understand is that these 30 games we’re gonna try to put whoever out there is gonna help us win. And some nights it’s gonna be your night, some nights it’s not gonna be.”

“I would love for it to be consistent. I know every athlete loves that: You’re gonna check in this time of the game, this amount of minutes, this time of the week. It won’t happen. We’re trying to win games… But I want them all back healthy, and then we’ll figure out how those minutes will go.”

Is it time to move on from the Ben Simmons-Nic Claxton pairing?

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) dribbles against Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton (33) and guard Ben Simmons (10) during the second half at Smoothie King Center.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Ollie's first decision will be to determine a starting lineup. Vaughn ran with a starting unit of Simmons, Cam Thomas, Mikal Bridges, Finney-Smith, and Nic Claxton in the week leading up to the break. With Johnson returning, Finney-Smith is the most likely candidate to slide to the bench, a move that would sacrifice defense and rebounding in favor of three-point shooting around Simmons and Claxton.

However, the fit of Simmons and Claxton as non-shooters in the starting unit remains problematic. The duo has posted a -23.8 net rating in 70 minutes this season. They've posted a 100.0 offensive rating, nearly eight points below the Memphis Grizzlies' league-worst offense (107.7).

Brooklyn is forced to play a completely different offensive style when using the pairing, with one, if not both, clogging the paint at all times.

The ever-changing nature of the offense has strained the team given Simmons' inability to remain on the floor for extended periods.

“It's tough offensively because a guy like Ben [Simmons] who plays and is [now] not here, it’s a different dynamic when he has it,” Mikal Bridges said after Simmons sat Brooklyn's 50-point loss in Boston Wednesday. “And even when we have Ben, it’s not really a super offense we’re running; he gets it, goes, and we play off him, and guys back up so he can dribble handoff. But we don’t have him out here, so [now] we can’t play like that.”

After missing the second half of last season due to a nerve impingement in his surgically repaired back, Simmons has been limited to 12 games this year due to the same injury in a different area. Because of this, Bridges said the Nets need one offensive game plan with Simmons and another without.

“We got to know what we’re doing, we got to come as a team, as coaches, and figuring out a game plan. It can’t be the same with everybody. It can’t be the same, everybody’s different,” he said. “With Ben out there, it’s different. He could dribble handoff and stop because of how teams guard him. But now we got four guards out there with [Nic] Claxton and it’s a different game. So just kind of knowing how to play that way and adjust off that.”

Ollie may continue implementing the same tactic as Vaughn, starting Simmons and Claxton then splitting them for extended stretches. However, deploying Simmons as a change-of-pace option with the second unit, allowing him to play as a point guard in transition and center in the halfcourt, presents the cleanest fit.

But Simmons' need to play without a traditional big man presents other questions, particularly for backup center Day'Ron Sharpe.

Sharpe was one of the Nets' most pleasant surprises early this year before he was sidelined for over a month by a knee injury. The 2021 first-round pick has solidified a rotation role for the first time in his career, averaging 7.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks in 15.7 minutes per game, all career-highs. Sharpe has posted a 9.6 net rating swing (points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions), ranking first on the Nets and in the 91st percentile among NBA centers, per CleaningTheGlass.

But Brooklyn's pedestrian numbers playing Simmons alongside traditional centers presents the question: Is there a role for Sharpe in the rotation?

What about the bench?

Kevin Ollie faces several other questions surrounding the bench. Jacque Vaughn consistently ran a nine-man rotation during the first half of the season. Outside of the projected starters, Sharpe, Finney-Smith, Schroder, and Walker have earned a rotation spot.

That leaves Dennis Smith Jr. and rookie Jalen Wilson to compete for a potential tenth spot. Both have made convincing cases for playing time. Smith has been Brooklyn's best point-of-attack defender while providing consistent rim pressure in transition. However, his lack of three-point shooting (27.4 percent on 1.9 attempts per game) is a problem in a rotation featuring Simmons, Claxton, and Sharpe.

Wilson, the 51st pick in this year's draft, has exhibited the well-rounded game he flashed during four seasons at Kansas. The 2023 Big-12 Player of the Year is shooting 52.4 percent from three (11-of-21) while playing stout defense. He's also provided a boost on the boards, averaging 3.4 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, the most on the team among non-centers.

During his short time with the team, Ollie has garnered respect in Brooklyn's locker room. He'll now be tasked with optimizing the roster General Manager Sean Marks assembled for the second half of the season. And as was illustrated by Vaughn's first-half struggles and abrupt firing, it will not be an easy task.