Nets projected lineup and rotations heading into 2023-24 season

Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /
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Mikal Bridges (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Mikal Bridges (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Brooklyn Nets starting small forward: Mikal Bridges

Mikal Bridges was the centerpiece of Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant trade return. While the Nets’ short and long-term goals aren’t terribly clear, it’s impossible to deny how impressive Bridges was with his new team. In 27 regular season games with the Nets, he averaged 26.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists on 60.7 TS%.

The Nets have no real incentive to tank after sending the bulk of their own draft picks to Houston in the James Harden trade. That means Bridges is there to stay unless a true godfather trade offer is made. Bridges proved rather quickly that he can operate as the team’s primary offensive weapon, but there’s still room for growth in his first full season with Brooklyn.

Bridges dominated the mid-range for the Nets, comfortably prodding the middle of the floor before beating even the tightest defense with his sky-high release point (a pale but nonetheless impressive imitation the player he was traded for). He’s a nimble interior finisher, capable of contorting his body and extending to avoid contests at the rim, and he’s a well-documented 3-point threat.

The next step for Bridges is creating for teammates. He’s a dynamic scorer on and off the ball, but his ball-handling possessions often come at the expense of teammates. His 2.7 assists per game with Brooklyn weren’t great when one considers the volume of his offensive workload. Simmons and Dinwiddie are comfortable setting the table — Simmons may be only comfortable setting the table — but Bridges won’t make the leap from star to superstar without elevating his playmaking instincts.

Primary backup small forward: Royce O’Neale

Royce O’Neale started 53 of 76 appearances for Brooklyn last season, but the roster squeeze will probably limit him to a bench role. There was a lot of head-scratching when the Nets swapped a first-round pick for O’Neale last summer (and that was with Durant and Irving still on the roster), but he lived up to his billing.

O’Neale was a perennial starter in Utah before his arrival in Brooklyn and he’s a highly useful do-it-all wing. He provides positional size and versatility on the defensive end. Offensively, he’s a 38.9 percent 3-point shooter who can connect dots with his quick decisions and underrated passing chops.

Even in a reserve role, O’Neale will play significant minutes for the Nets and potentially close games when the Simmons-Claxton duo becomes too cramped for space. He showed a real capacity for stuffing the stat sheet in unexpected ways last season and he elevated himself above the crowd on many occasions despite the Nets’ mountain of depth on the wing.

Other players who could receive minutes at small forward: Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Lonnie Walker IV, Dariq Whitehead

The Nets wisely selected Duke’s Dariq Whitehead with the No. 22 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Whitehead spent much of his freshman season with the Blue Devils limited by injury and he underwent his second foot surgery of the year prior to the draft, but he is expected back at full strength for Nets training camp.

Whitehead shined as an isolation scorer in high school but completely lost his burst due to lingering foot maladies at Duke. Still, he shot 42.2 percent from 3-point range as one of the youngest players in college basketball. The positive indicators from Duke, combined with his high school tape, landed him No. 9 on the final FanSided draft board.

His youth is a limiting factor so early in his career, not to mention the potential rust of returning from yet another surgery, but Whitehead has a lot of natural talent and he could pop sooner than expected for the Nets.