When the 2023-24 season begins, the goal for the Nets won’t be the same as in previous years. Without one of the best on-paper rosters assembled, the team can’t quite pursue that ultimate goal of winning a championship.
Still, they’ll fight like hell to make the playoffs and be competitive there, but not without strong individual performances from each member of their squad. Any one of Brooklyn’s players could swing a series or the whole season, so here is one goal each rotation piece should strive to achieve this season…
Nic Claxton: Shoot above 60 percent from the free throw line
Claxton cemented himself as one of the best defensive rim-runners in the league last season, but faced a familiar struggle when hacked in the paint. He only converted 54.1 percent of his free throws, one of the worst marks in the NBA, negating some of his positive impact.
Cam Johnson: Average 20 points per game
If the roster stands as-is, Johnson will once again be the second option offensively. That comes with the burden of being the primary outlet and picking up the slack when others have an off night.
Johnson has shown the ability to step out of his catch-and-shoot, quick look off-ball game, even averaging 18.5 points in the playoffs against a staunch 76ers defense. He should be able to bump that number up for a full season in Brooklyn with enough improvement off the bounce.
Mikal Bridges: Average four assists per game
In case the second half of last season wasn’t enough for folks, the FIBA World Cup all but validated Bridges’ rising star status. There should be no doubt left that he is a legitimate two-way All-Star who can hang 25 at a moment’s notice.
What still needs to be seen is how his playmaking develops under that new leadership role, as he averaged under three assists a game as a Net last season despite the increased usage. Having a full training camp to build chemistry and FIBA to hone his game should help boost his creation for others.
Ben Simmons: Regain his confidence
There’s no good place to start with Simmons, a former multiple-time All-Star and all-league defender who hasn’t looked the same with recent injuries, mental health issues and a holdout with his former team. He didn’t look right at all his first season with the Nets, afraid of confrontation at the rim and not impactful defensively.
Whatever aspect of his game it comes from, Simmons needs to build back his edge and confidence. He doesn’t need to plow through defenders for tomahawk jams again, but attacking with enough force to make defenders think he might would be a start.
Spencer Dinwiddie: Shoot above 38 percent from three
Dinwiddie was the victim of needing to take on too much of a creation role for this stage of his career last year, hurting his efficiency. With some added options at guard, he should step back into more of a complementary role, and try to bring that 40 percent three-point marksmanship he displayed in Dallas.
Most expect Finney-Smith to shoot around 38 percent from deep with the right catch-and-shoot looks, and he should despite last year’s slump in Brooklyn. It’s his sub-50 percent shooting from two that really hurt, and will need correction if he’s gonna be a central piece of the rotation.
Dennis Smith Jr.: Build on last season
If the Smith Jr. comeback story is real, the Nets will be very happy with this signing. After a rocky first few seasons, he went to Charlotte and became a dependable defender and penetrator, keeping them afloat in many games they shouldn’t have been in.
Cam Thomas: Earn a steady rotation spot
To this point, Thomas’ career has been lived in flashes — brief stretches where enough guys were hurt or out that he got minutes and the freedom to do what he wished with them. They resulted in fun scoring outbursts, but we’ve yet to see him function in a winning team concept, something he will have to prove he can do in order to earn a permanent spot.
Royce O’Neal: Shoot 50 percent from two-point range
Another victim of the midseason reshuffling, O’Neal’s usual off-ball scoring efficiency took a hit last season as he tried to do more in the paint with less looks created for him. This year should go somewhat smoother, and a return to form from below the arc would be big in getting him back on track.