There will be plenty of storylines to keep an eye on when the Nets tip-off against the Boston Celtics on Thursday and kick off the final stretch of their season.
From Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons’ return to new players in new roles, the Nets will not be short of intrigue. All of this will be going on as Brooklyn tries to return to form from earlier this year as they make a push for the playoffs.
“We’re excited,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said last Thursday. “We have 23 games to come together as a team. Kevin (Durant) returning, Ben (Simmons) returning. Hopefully, we have a good run of health where we can really build something in a short period of time and get a better seed and also more cohesion going into the playoffs.”
Here are three storylines to watch once NBA play resumes.
Andre Drummond’s increased role and the addition of Goran Dragic
Even during the NBA All-Star break the Nets couldn’t help but make some news. They added Goran Dragic on Monday after weeks of speculation that they had an interest in adding the point guard. Drummond had already been seeing an increase in his role at the center position since coming over from Philadelphia in the Ben Simmons trade.
Both additions helped shore up some question marks in key positions for the Nets, who have dealt with a season filled with roster inconsistency.
Dragic gives the Nets a deeper backcourt and a veteran presence that can help them in several different ways. His addition can help take some of the pressure off fellow guard Patty Mills and he can play major minutes at home if Kyrie Irving remains ineligible to play in Brooklyn because of New York’s vaccine mandate. Dragic’s past relationship with Steve Nash came into to play as the Nets coach led the charge to recruit the former All-Star to Brooklyn.
Drummond has seen his playing time jump to 21.7 minutes per game during his first three games in a Nets uniform. He had been playing a career-low 18.4 minutes as Joel Embiid’s understudy. That is sure to only increase once Thursday rolls around and e continues to get back into shape to play a bigger role for the Nets.
Drummond joked that he was “tired” after his first three games in Brooklyn.
“He fills needs that our group is looking for,” Nash said. “And we’re excited for him to continue to get more comfortable in the way we play and also really get in great shape. He’s going to play more minutes for us as far as the way we project things to go, so he’s used to (backing up Embiid), but we’re asking him to play more.”
The Nets’ Health
The question remains when will Kevin Durant play, when will Ben Simmons play, and will Joe Harris return to the court this season. When it has come to health. the Nets have not had the best luck this season, despite sitting near the top of the East as recently as January.
The Nets are counting on their health improving over the final stretch of the season and the return of key pieces helping to stabilize the ship. That will start with Durant, who suffered an MCL sprain. His absence eventually led to an 11 game losing streak and compounded an already tenuous situation with James Harden.
Durant’s return will mean the return of a player that holds an important role on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. When that return occurs is not entirely clear, but should come within the first few games after the break.
A recent report on Simmons appeared to indicate it would still be another few weeks before he is back on the court and Joe Harris remains a major question mark still. His return has been marred by setbacks and the possible need for a second surgery on his ankle.
And even when everyone does return, how will the Nets’ new “Big 3” mesh well in such a short span of time.
Ben Simmons’ adjustment to life as a Net
There was nothing but smiles when Simmons was introduced to the New York media last week following the trade from Philly. The hard part comes now as he works to get back in game shape and get to know the new system he’ll be playing in.
One aspect that will face plenty of scrutiny once he hits the floor will be his shooting. Simmons is not known for his shooting ability and it became a sticking point in his time in Philadelphia. For now, at least, that won’t be a concern of Nash’s.
“Ben does a thousand things on the basketball court,” the Nets coach told reporters recently. “Shooting is not one that I’m dying to see. He is an amazing basketball player, and that’s without shooting the ball. So to me, there’s not a conversation there at all. If he gets better at shooting, great. But he’s an All-Star basketball player and has an incredible potential to affect games with all the other things he does. So to be honest with you, it’s not a huge concern of mine.”