Brian Fleurantin from our friends at NetsDaily reached out to exchange questions and answers with us in preparation for the Celtics - Nets first round series. Here are the questions that I sent him and his answers back. Look for our answers to their questions on NetsDaily.
1. This has been a very eventful season for the Brooklyn Nets. Between Kyrie’s vaccine related availability issues, the James Harden trade (and drama surrounding it), and the usual injuries, it is hard to get a feel for what this team is going forward into the playoffs. What is your take on the identity of this team?
That’s such a great question. It feels like there have been so many different versions of this Nets team since last season, it’s hard to keep track of it all. There haven’t been many moments when we could comfortably say we’re seeing the fully fleshed out vision of the Brooklyn Nets. This is gonna sound like such a copout, but I don’t think we’ll see the full version of the team until next year. Of course, everyone has to stay healthy from beginning to end and that’s been a problem for the Nets going back to even before Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving came to the franchise.
With that said, I think we can say their identity is that they want to play up-tempo, move the ball around to get wide open looks and when all else fails, get everyone the hell out the way and let Durant & Irving cook. The Harden trade changed the vibes of the team and took a huge burden off of all their shoulders. They play looser, move more on offense, and They still have bad habits like turning the ball over too much and getting complacent once they get big leads, but they’re still getting all the way acclimated with each other and the play-in game ought to help with them getting on the same page.
2. Every fan understands and respects what Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving can do on the basketball court. I think most understand the deep threat that Seth Curry is and the threat that Andre Drummond represents down low. Who else do we need to be aware of? Who are the X-factors on the Nets?
There are a few guys I think fit that criteria. The biggest one right now and the guy who got himself in the news with his comments about Horford and Theis after was Bruce Brown. The Harden trade and later release of DeAndre Bembry helped get Brown back on track after he had such a rough start to the season. He plays bigger than his size and has been their third best player this season. Brown is so comfortable in the short roll and when opponents try to blitz Durant and Irving, having a safety valve like Brown that always makes the right play is incredibly important and opens things up for Brooklyn.
Patty Mills is another X-factor for the Nets. One thing Nets fans were concerned about was his struggles as the season went on. Mills had to take on a lot due to Irving’s absences, Joe Harris’ injury, and Harden’s struggles, and wound up playing the most minutes of his career (and he was coming off of a bronze medal run in the Olympics!) and his game struggled as a result. His three point shooting fell off a cliff in the second half, but he’s started to turn it around in recent games and if he can be good to great from deep, the Nets can live with their three - four guard lineups they like to run. If he’s not making his threes, he doesn’t provide enough elsewhere and will sink the Nets’ chances.
Last person I’m gonna go with is Nic Claxton. Like Brown, Claxton was out of sorts in the first half of the season, but turned it around down the stretch. For a Nets team that loves to switch on defense, he’s the perfect big for it. He’s a pretty good rim protector and is a perfect alley oop recipient when they’re on the break. In close games when the Nets don’t run Durant at center, Clax will be the big man on the court and he’ll be crucial if they want to get the series win.
3. What can we expect out of Steve Nash in terms of gameplan, game management, and overall teaching style?
In terms of game management and gameplan, he’ll rely on his dynamic duo for much as possible. Considering how much he learned from Mike D’Antoni, it’s no surprise he rides his stars for long stretches. Durant doesn’t mind, but it’s something Nets fans are always mindful of. They’ve struggled when Durant is on the bench and it’s the Kyrie, two other guards and one big lineups. The Nets have this habit of taking their feet off the gas when they jump out to sizable leads and it leads to their stars exerting more energy than they should when they ought to be cruising. With rotations getting even tighter, we might see Nash make a few lineup tweaks to ensure they’re on top of their game for all 48 minutes and not slacking off.
As it relates to his teaching style, he’s very patient with his players. Even with all the pressure and chaos surrounding this team, he’s created an environment where guys can be comfortable and play freely. Guys like Brown and the rookie, Kessler Edwards, have been given opportunities to shine and have delivered under tough circumstances. Publicly, Nash rarely chastises his players and will cover for them, even when we all know everything is spiraling out of control(see all of his comments prior to the Harden trade).
4. On a scale of 1-10 with “1” being Ben’s 3 point shooting percentage and “10” being a slam dunk (that he didn’t pass out of), what are the chances that we see Ben Simmons in this series?
Honestly, I would say it’s a solid 7. The Nets never tell us anything about injuries, but from everything you hear, he’s inching closer and closer to getting back. The team never shares videos of guys when they’re far away from returning, but they’ve started to show Simmons more and more in recent weeks. It seems like all the signs are pointing in the right direction and if/when he makes his debut, it will boost the Nets immensely. But like you alluded to, the questions about Simmons on offense are still there and when the game is tight, will he be out there and if he is, can he be trusted to get to the free throw line and make his foul shots? If he can, then the Nets will be in tremendous shape. If not, the job becomes a lot harder for them.
5. Give us your series predictions and who you expect to be the series MVP.
I have it as Nets in six with Durant as series MVP. Think the series is gonna be really close and the best first round series, but I tend to go with the best player and I feel Durant will do just enough to get by Tatum and the C’s. KD has been playing at the peak of his powers over the past month and I think he’ll be the difference in this series for Brooklyn. I fully expect Kyrie Irving to be aggressive in attacking the basket and attacking downhill as much as possible. I think Simmons will be back by Game 3 and will play around 15 minutes a night.