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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Nets center Nic Claxton. (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
Nets center Nic Claxton. (Adam Hunger/Getty Images) /

Brooklyn Nets starting center: Nic Claxton

Nic Claxton emerged as one of the best defensive anchors in the NBA last season. If it weren’t for the Durant trade and the Nets’ subsequent late-season plateau, he probably would’ve made an All-Defensive team — maybe even competed for Defensive Player of the Year. The Nets have no real choice but to start him next season.

That said, the Simmons factor does complicate the matter. Simmons and Claxton did not work offensively last season. Part of the reason was Simmons’ singular lack of aggression, but even full-strength Simmons will not demand attention on the perimeter. Claxton operates exclusively as a rim finisher and he will spend the majority of his time stationed in the dunker’s spot or setting screens and rolling to the rim.

Defenses will comfortably plant Simmons and Claxton’s defenders in the paint, which will make it harder for the likes of Dinwiddie and Bridges to put real pressure on the rim. Any time Simmons gets downhill he will face two bodies instead of one, which has historically been a recipe for disaster. The only slight reason for optimism is Claxton’s penchant for running the floor in transition. He and Simmons, at full strength, could torch defenses on the fast break.

That said, the Nets need to beat set defenses in order to win games. Claxton and Simmons might not be enough of a problem to tank the season, but it does call into question the long-term viability of the current group if Simmons truly does return to All-Star form. If Simmons doesn’t return to All-Star form, then it could behoove the Nets to really hammer the Simmons trade market (whatever remains of it) to better balance the roster. Claxton’s rim protection and switchability in the frontcourt were invaluable last season.

Primary backup center: Ben Simmons

The Nets experimented a fair amount with Simmons as the small-ball five last season. It didn’t work, and frankly, Simmons at center wasn’t very successful during his prime in Philly either. But, the Nets are short on experienced center options and there’s definite theoretical appeal in Simmons as a small-ball five if he can continue to evolve in his approach.

Simmons has to become a more willing screener. He has to move without the ball, to offer more flexibility beyond straight-line drives and passes. We saw glimpses of Simmons as a DHO partner with Durant and Irving last season. He could thrive in similar actions with Bridges and Dinwiddie in the new year. Simmons rumbling downhill as a Draymond-style roll man has long been hypothesized as the next step toward stardom for the former No. 1 pick. Maybe he can finally embrace it with Brooklyn.

Other players who could receive minutes at center: Day’Ron Sharpe, Noah Clowney

Day’Ron Sharpe was quite good in his limited opportunities last season. The UNC product is a hulking presence in the paint capable of finishing efficiently on offense and blocking shots on defense. His outlook really depends on whether or not Simmons is playing 35 minutes per game or 25 minutes per game.

Noah Clowney was Brooklyn’s No. 21 pick, right before Dariq Whitehead. The Alabama product is another extremely young freshman who, at 18 years old, probably won’t contribute much as a rookie. Still, he’s a lanky, versatile defensive center who should learn a lot in Claxton’s shadow.

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