Although there is not nearly as much hype around the Brooklyn Nets as there has been in recent years, fans are still feeling optimistic going into the regular season. There is a solid core in place consisting of Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Nic Claxton, with a balanced and underrated bench behind them. In fact, the roster might be so deep as to create quite the intriguing training camp competition.
The Nets' official preparations for the 2023-24 campaign begin in early October. Multiple questions should be answered during that time. Most will center around Ben Simmons, arguably the biggest X-factor on the team.
The embattled Australian has apparently devoted himself entirely to reclaiming his past All-Star form this offseason. Simmons says he is feeling better physically and mentally than he has in years. The tumultuous start to his Brooklyn tenure will be all but forgotten if the 27-year-old can back up the positive vibes on the hardwood.
But Simmons is not in much danger of losing his spot in the starting rotation. The organization has invested too much to give up on him just yet. With that being said, there is another Nets player who could legitimately be bumped to the bench after training camp.
And it would probably divide the fandom. Let's get into it.
Good to see Ben Simmons back on the basketball court in great spirits 🙏 pic.twitter.com/OHTsi5gjDj
— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) September 21, 2023
Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie could lose starting job
When healthy, this squad has length and multiple competent defenders. An argument can be made that it is low on offensive firepower, though. Moving veteran guard and fan favorite Spencer Dinwiddie to a sixth-man role might make that potential weakness even more glaring.
However, if one of Brooklyn's most reliable wing defenders displays a strong offensive game leading up to the season, then head coach Jacque Vaughn might be inclined to make a change. Royce O'Neale earned plenty of trust from the Nets last year, starting in 55 games. He is consistent on both ends of the floor and can play bigger than his 6-foot-4 frame. Dorian Finney-Smith struggled in his 26-game regular season stint (strong postseason, though) with Brooklyn after being traded in February, but he was a crucial contributor for a Dallas Mavericks team that reached the Western Conference Finals in 2022.
Either player can justifiably be slotted into the starting five. But with Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Nic Claxton all locked in, and Ben Simmons likely to be given point guard duties, Dinwiddie would be the odd man out. The 30-year-old can dissuade Vaughn from making a lineup switch, however, just as long as he can produce without being the primary ball-handler.
How Spencer Dinwiddie can maintain prominent role
Mavs fans can attest to Dinwiddie's ability to be a quality off ball contributor. He was his most efficient self while in Dallas, averaging 17 points on 46.6 shooting from the field and 40.4 percent from beyond the 3-point line in 76 games. Luka Doncic did not hinder him at all. On the contrary, the Slovenian superstar helped unlock the former Colorado star's full offensive powers.
When Dinwiddie returned to the Nets in the Kyrie Irving trade, he was tasked with being the lead guard. It did not go well, at least not from a shooting standpoint. His 3-point percentage dipped below 30 percent, as he exercised poor judgement in shot selection. The nine assists per contest are undeniable, but when you factor in the poor defense, Brooklyn cannot survive any other shortcomings in Dinwiddie's game.
Fortunately, Simmons might be the facilitator he needs to recapture his Mavericks form. The three-time All-Star's chronic injury problems prevented him from sharing the court with the nine-year guard last season. How they develop their chemistry in training camp will be essential to nailing down the opening night starting lineup.
If the offense stalls with this duo on the floor, O'Neale's 38.4 career shooting percentage from downtown becomes more difficult to ignore, as does Finney-Smith's grit and defensive physicality. The regular season is heavily predicated on getting buckets, but Spencer Dinwiddie knows as well as anybody how chemistry can trump talent.
Nets have tough decisions to make
Jacque Vaughn must quickly identify the best version of his team. This franchise can no longer be bogged down by outside distractions and lack of continuity. Those excuses should be invalid going forward, unless the Simmons saga resumes its downward trajectory. Despite playing sub-.500 basketball and being swept by the Philadelphia 76ers, this group still has playoff potential. And possibly beyond, if it reaches its full potential.
The Brooklyn Nets don't exactly have an abundance of riches, but they possess enough talent and intangibles to keep the Eastern Conference on alert. Whether it's Spencer Dinwiddie, Royce O'Neale, Dorian Finney-Smith or even Cam Thomas who fills the last starting slot, next year offers fans a favorable path ahead.
And that can't be taken for granted after all the hardship they have endured.