There’s no major drama heading into Nets training camp this week. But a quieter training camp doesn’t mean it’s less intriguing.
Ben Simmons is healthy after an injury-plagued season. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson got Team USA experience this summer. All but three Nets players are 27 years old or younger.
Instead of championship expectations, the Nets are in reset mode but still looking to compete after last season’s first- round playoff exit. For coach Jacque Vaughn, it’s a chance to handle his first full training camp after taking over last season following a 2-5 start.
Here’s five key things to watch with preseason play starting Oct. 9 against the Lakers in Las Vegas.
1. How does Ben Simmons look?
Simmons hasn’t played in an NBA game since Feb. 15 because of back and knee injuries. It’s one thing to be healthy, but how he looks on the court is more important.
Will he be aggressive or remind fans of the player who’s a shooting liability? There’s hope around the former All-Star point guard, but hope has to translate into something tangible for a Nets team that can benefit from his facilitating and defense.
2. Potential lineups?
Simmons played only three games as a reserve after last season’s trade deadline, so the preseason means Vaughn has work to do meshing Simmons with Bridges, Johnson and others.
Eyes will be on what lineups Vaughn tinkers with. This will be a defense-first team, so will there be lineups with Simmons, Bridges and Nic Claxton, given that all three have All-Defensive Team potential? How will newcomers Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV fit in after productive seasons last year with the Hornets and Lakers, respectively?
3. Is a Thomas breakout year coming?
Last year, it was Claxton breaking out in his fourth season. Is this the year Thomas puts it all together? He can score in bunches, but to earn minutes, Vaughn said he’ll need to show more on the defensive end. In his third season, Thomas is a thrilling spark plug, but with more veterans around him, he can take a step forward to make teams respect him for other reasons besides his scoring touch.
4. How soon can newcomers build chemistry?
The Nets didn’t add big names this offseason as they looked to remain under the luxury cap. But the players they added on one-year deals can make an immediate impact.
Smith is a wing defender who can be another point guard off the bench. Walker is a scoring playmaker. How both play will have a key effect on the second unit, which needs more offensive punch.
As for Darius Bazley and Trendon Watford?
They’re on non-guaranteed contracts, so preseason will be their auditions for a place on the roster.
As for the rookies, they’re on different paths. How much will Dariq Whitehead play after offseason foot surgery?
Will Noah Clowney get much preseason run after a tough Summer League? Can second-round pick Jalen Wilson’s good Summer League play carry over in preseason?
5. How will rebounding/shooting issues be fixed?
The Nets still have questions with rebounding and perimeter shooting. Johnson will be encouraged to shoot more and Bridges is a reliable shooting threat.
But who else will step up?
Keep an eye on Spencer Dinwiddie. If he’s used more off the ball, can he return to the 40% three-point shooter he was in Dallas? This could be a benefit with a healthy Simmons because Dinwiddie struggled with his shooting after last year’s trade deadline. For rebounding, general manager Sean Marks said some of it will be done by committee. That’s concerning, but he trusts his team’s length to help ease things a bit. Keep an eye on forward Day’Ron Sharpe to contribute as he’ll look to improve in his third season.