The Brooklyn Nets are considered the favorites for the NBA championship next year, mainly because their unbelievable Big Three is (expected) to return to the team. Kevin Durant is fresh off an Olympics win with Team USA and will be ready to add more silverware to his cabinet.
But what are the biggest challenges facing the Nets for the upcoming season? While they might be the most talented team in the NBA, it is not a foregone conclusion that Brooklyn will run away with the championship. Here are the 10 major questions that the Brooklyn Nets will face all season long.
10. Is The Bench Good Enough?
An NBA team cannot win without a deep bench. Even when looking back to the 2013 Miami Heat, that squad had veteran players such as Shane Battier and Mike Miller stepping up to hit big shots in the Finals. For Brooklyn, they need to analyze if their bench is good enough.
Kyrie Irving and James Harden will likely miss some games next season, and no one can realistically prepare for COVID-related suspensions. The Nets need backup players because their entire season could depend on it.
Patty Mills is expected to lead the team's second unit and provide scoring when the Big 3 is on the bench. The Australian point guard is a very capable scorer, which makes him a terrific addition to Steve Nash's team. Bruce Brown had the chance to be a starter last season when the team played small-ball. He did a more than decent job during that time, but this campaign things will be different.
Signing Paul Millsap can be a great decision for the Nets. The big man is a veteran that can't provide as he used to on the offensive side. Yet, he is a capable defender that can help a team that doesn't have many good defenders at this moment.
Blake Griffin will initially start on the bench for the Nets. Nicolas Claxton is expected to take the starting center role this upcoming season, but he'll likely split minutes with the dunker. The former Clippers, Pistons player had a very good season with the Nets last year, and this one he will try to confirm that and perhaps finish the regular season taking more minutes than 3rd-year center Claxton.
Last but not least, LaMarcus Aldridge wants to get revenge after the abrupt end of his 2020/21 season. The big man announced his retirement last April, but fortunately, he was cleared to play again a couple of weeks ago. LMA is ready to win a title with Brooklyn and he'll do anything he can to do so. However, he's not the same guy that thrived in Portland and San Antonio, so his contribution might not be as big as fans want.
9. How Much Do Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, And Paul Millsap Have Left In The Tank?
Out of all the bench players, the focus will be on Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Paul Millsap. Griffin will be 33 years old next season, and attrition has already taken a toll on his game. No longer a star, Griffin will have to keep healthy and contribute 25 MPG to be effective.
Otherwise, LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap must be available to give Brooklyn the size they need. Aldridge is fresh off an early retirement, but can still be a good player. Millsap is almost 37, so he must be ready when his number is called.
8. Can The Nets Usurp The Defending Champions?
The Milwaukee Bucks are the biggest threat to the Nets in the Eastern Conference. They are the reigning NBA champions and have found a formula for success. Giannis Antetokounmpo is arguably a top-2 player in the game right now, and he has a ton of help.
Khris Middleton is one of the best two-way players in the NBA, and so is Jrue Holiday. The Bucks will also welcome back Donte DiVincenzo, a player who will boost Milwaukee's depth. The Nets will have a massive hurdle getting over the Bucks, a team that defeated them last year in the playoffs.
7. Do The Nets Have Enough Size?
Brooklyn Nets have a ton of scoring talent with their Big Three, and some other offensive talents such as Joe Harris who can heat up from the perimeter. But what about their bigs? The best teams in the NBA, including the Bucks and Lakers, have tremendous size down low.
Matching up against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, Anthony Davis, and Dwight Howard is a problem the Nets cannot ignore. We already saw how the Lakers won the championship thanks to their size in 2020, so the Nets need to analyze whether their veteran bigs and a young Nicolas Claxton is enough.
6. Can Steve Nash Take His Coaching To Another Level?
Steve Nash did relatively well last year with the Nets considering the circumstances surrounding him, and he is trusted to be the man leading the franchise going forward. But can Nash take his coaching to another level?
There are no more excuses for team chemistry as the team does not have to incorporate James Harden off a whim anymore. Rather, the Nets have a full season under their belt and Steve Nash will need to learn quickly to get this team ready for the Finals.
5. Will Key Players Step Up In Big Games?
While there is a question on Brooklyn's bench as a whole, the key role players on the team must show up. Last season, they didn't. Joe Harris cannot go cold in the playoffs again, especially when he is making $75 million over 4 years. Harris was a putrid 1-7 in Game 3, 2-6 in Game 4, 1-7 in Game 5, 1-4 in Game 6, and 3-9 in Game 7 in the series against the Bucks.
Clearly, this is unacceptable for a player whose job is to space the floor. The Nets need Harris to make big shots, and also need Bruce Brown to show the same kind of effort he put forth last year. Brown was a surprise for the Nets off the bench but the defensive wing must prove that was not a fluke and add different dimensions to his game.
4. Is Brooklyn's Big Three Better Than The Lakers Big Three?
The Los Angeles Lakers created their own Big Three when they traded for Russell Westbrook this offseason. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the roster, Los Angeles are the best team in the Western Conference and it really isn't close.
But can the Nets trio usurp that of the Lakers? Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving fit better than LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. Brooklyn's stars can all space the floor and have no weakness on offense, while Westbrook is a poor shooter and Davis cannot always bring the ball like everyone else. Brooklyn have a better Big Three than that of the Lakers, they just need to prove it.
3. Is Kyrie Irving Ready To Play Basketball Or Not?
Nobody really knows what goes on in Kyrie Irving's head. He is one of the most talented guards to ever play the game, but he is not consistent with his ability to show up for games. Whether it's personal issues, injuries, or potential vaccine requirements; Irving needs to be reliable for his team.
There are too many good teams around the NBA right now, and a player of Kyrie Irving's talent is essential for a championship squad. Irving also brings championship experience because he hit one of the biggest shots in Finals history in 2016 to secure his only NBA championship. The Nets need to make sure Irving is ready to play basketball because if not, there could be problems ahead.
2. Will James Harden Remain Healthy In The Playoffs?
If Kyrie is motivated and willing to play basketball, the next most important factor is getting James Harden healthy. Durant and Irving were considered a dynamic duo before Harden's arrival, but The Beard makes the Nets one of the most talented teams we have ever seen.
Without James Harden, there is little chance the Nets will defeat the Milwaukee Bucks or Los Angeles Lakers. They simply do not have enough to compare with those team's Big Threes, but with Harden, they actually usurp them. If Harden is healthy and playing at his normal level, Brooklyn is the absolute favorite for winning the championship.
1. Can Kevin Durant Prove He Is The Best Player In The World?
Kevin Durant witnessed how Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks took care of business last year by getting through the Nets and winning the championship. Despite a valiant effort by Durant, the Nets did not have enough without Kyrie or Harden healthy.
But Kevin Durant has heard all the criticisms throughout his career, whether it was his inability to show leadership to control Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City or joining a team that didn't need him in Golden State. Durant now has a chance to prove he is the best player in the world, and if he can play like an MVP in 2022, he will set the tone for his team that a championship is underway.