Many doubted the Brooklyn Nets' ability to field a competent offense after trading away Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at last year's trade deadline. Yet, 19 games into the 2023-24 season, the Nets rank sixth in offensive rating, scoring 116.7 points per game. They've accomplished this despite extended absences to Cam Thomas, Ben Simmons, Cam Johnson and Nic Claxton.
Head coach Jacque Vaughn prioritized his players' understanding of Brooklyn's offensive philosophy throughout training camp, so much so that he admitted he hadn't installed any set plays during the preseason. While that admission drew ire from Nets fans, the coach pointed to that early conceptual focus when detailing his team's offensive success.
“I really think the time that we spent early in the year talking about and preaching and practicing conceptual basketball has paid dividends for us,” Vaughn said Tuesday. “Just how to figure out some answers when it doesn't look exactly how you thought it was going to look. That’s with guys in and out of the lineup, which will continue to happen because that’s just basketball.”
“I think our guys have wrapped our heads around how we wanna play, what makes us successful playing on the offensive end of the floor, and making the sacrifice behind it. So it was definitely the early effort of being locked in on conceptually how we wanna play.”
Nets' top-rated offense
Fast-paced and 3-point-heavy is how Brooklyn wants to play. The Nets rank sixth in 3-point attempts (39.1 per game) and second in 3-point percentage (39.0). They have six players — Lonnie Walker IV, Dorian Finney-Smith, Royce O'Neale, Johnson, Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie — shooting above 35 percent from beyond the arc on high volume.
Vaughn's squad ranks sixth in fastbreak points (16.6 per game) and ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.93), frequently pushing the pace off rebounds or made baskets and spraying to the perimeter.
“I think an element of it is guys playing free and playing for each other. Just getting quality looks and shooting it with confidence,” Johnson said when asked about Brooklyn's offensive success.
Vaughn frequently emphasized his desire for Brooklyn to attempt 40-plus triples per game late last season. General manager Sean Marks has built a roster in that vision, surrounding ball-handlers with high-level spot-up threats.
The early results have been encouraging. Finney-Smith and O'Neale are having career-best starts from deep, shooting 45.4 and 40.5 percent, respectively, while each attempting over six threes per game. After singing for the minimum, Walker has emerged as one of the NBA's top bench scorers, with his blend of red-hot 3-point shooting (46.3 percent on 5.6 attempts per game) and driving ability being the main reason why.
Bridges (35.7 percent) and Johnson (37.7 percent) have shot well below their career averages from three thus far but still present elite spot-up threats.
Dinwiddie has been the primary beneficiary of Brooklyn's league-best shooting. The 10-year veteran has averaged 7.8 assists per game over his last nine appearances, the 11th-most in the NBA. His 3.89 assist-to-turnover ratio during that span ranks sixth among 19 players averaging seven or more assists.
“I just think the guys that we do have playing — Royce, Dorian, etc. — are some of the best veterans and three-point shooters in the league,” Dinwiddie said when asked how Brooklyn's offense has succeeded through injuries. “I think their ability to adjust has been phenomenal.”
Marks has complemented Brooklyn's 3-point arsenal with high-level shot creators in the backcourt. Cam Thomas has emerged as one of the NBA's top scorers early this year, averaging 26.1 points per game on 46.4 percent shooting. After a slow start, Bridges is beginning to regain the elite offensive production he flashed after joining the Nets last season, averaging 25.9 points on 49/41/83 shooting splits over his last 10 appearances.
Cam Thomas was scorching in Brooklyn against the Bucks 🔥
51% FG pic.twitter.com/zI4dLmDjSJ
— NBA (@NBA) November 7, 2023
Mikal Bridges put on an absolute SHOW in Brooklyn's win over the Magic 🔥
42 PTS / 5 REB / 3 BLK / 60% FG pic.twitter.com/DXDg2uxrYp
— NBA (@NBA) December 3, 2023
Walker is averaging a career-high 14.5 points off the bench, leading the NBA among players playing 24 or fewer minutes per game. After showing flashes last season, Nic Claxton continues to push himself into the “shot-creator” category as a short-roll playmaker and transition threat, shooting 68 percent from the field.
Lonnie Walker IV scored a season-high 23 points last night. He's now averaging 15.7 points in 21.6 minutes per game.
That leads the NBA among players averaging 26 or fewer minutes per night. pic.twitter.com/1fYG1K9m8m
— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) November 17, 2023
Nic Claxton: good offensive player (and getting better by the day) pic.twitter.com/1mht50Fdjo
— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) November 29, 2023
“Obviously, you know, Cam (Thomas) and Lonnie have been two the most explosive scorers in the league per 36 (minutes). And Mikal is playing his way into an all-star type of conversation,” Dinwiddie added. “Nic and Ben (Simmons) obviously haven't really been able to play together, but overall they give you that rim pressure. Nic's rolls and Ben’s speed really help us out a ton, so that's how I think the offense has been able to be so potent so far.”
The Nets' potent offense has led them to a 10-9 record despite poor injury luck and a difficult schedule. Brooklyn has won four of its last five games, posting the NBA's best net rating during that span.
Vaughn's squad will look to build upon that momentum in matchups with the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards before departing for a five-game West Coast trip.