Nets: Without Kevin Durant, the Brooklyn Nets dropped their next four matches while going through 11 games without Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons.
They are 29-17 in the Eastern Conference standings and one game behind the second-place Philadelphia 76ers.
On January 9, the Nets had the second-best record in the NBA until they announced that Durant had hurt his MCL.
After 18 victories in 20 games, they were only one game behind the league-leading Boston Celtics thanks to their offense and solid defense.
If the Nets had all of their players, they could win the championship with ease.
Durant, however, is not the cause of their current predicament.
Instead, they should be grateful for a plan that came to fruition.
In the first round of the playoffs in May 2022, the Celtics beat the Nets in four exhilarating games.
The team president, Sean Marks, said they needed to bolster their squad with more strength, flexibility, and intellect.
He underlined the importance of having players that wanted to make a difference with the team.
Kevin Durant requested a trade prior to signing with the Brooklyn Nets because they lack adequate resources at their disposal.
But given that the regular season is now halfway through, it is clear that their summer purchases were a series of bargains.
The 23-year-old player they re-signed showed remarkable development.
The glue player who cost them a first-round pick later in the draft is settling in..
The Nets’ versatile forward, who they snatched, is now the NBA’s top three-point shooter.
The gunslinger is getting back into the form he was in just before his surgeries.
Nic Claxton is making the progress that many envisioned last year because of his increased strength as the anchor of the Net.
As a result, he is a candidate for the All-Defensive team.
Claxton has been consistently neutralizing threats in addition to contesting more shots and fouling less.
“The more reps that I’ve gotten in the NBA, just guarding guys, picking up on tendencies, knowing where I need to be,” said Claxton of his refinement.
“It’s really taken my game to a different level on the defensive end.”
“I’m more confident,” he continued. “I’m not worried so much about just messing out there, so I’m just able to try more things and be more creative.”
“And I just have a better feel for the game, just with the experience that I’ve gotten.”
The Nets signed Royce O’Neale because they were in dire need of a shooter who could also guard wings.
He was lauded for being a reliable 3-and-D player.
But his proclivity for passing the ball, attacking close-outs, and supremacy in pick-and-rolls and dribble-handoffs surprised them..
“It felt good,” said O’Neale. “I mean, I’ve always kind of been able to play with the ball more.”
“Just reading different situations, and then becoming more comfortable with it, confident.”
When he initially joined the team, he intended to perform all tasks the Nets demanded of him, including ball handling.
Nic Claxton was quite kind in his praise of his teammate.
“He just comes in every day, just works, plays his role, doesn’t have a huge ego,” said Claxton.
“He just wants to come out and play basketball at a high level and win basketball games.”
“It’s always good to have glue guys like that on the roster who can bring that every single night. And he plays extremely hard defensively, can knock down shots.”
O’Neale believes he can do any job in any setting, notwithstanding the fact that any club could employ him.
“As long as I get to play basketball, I’m cool.”
The signing of Yuta Watanabe caught everyone off guard.
When he was a player with the Toronto Raptors, he struggled with insecurity and always put pressure on himself to do more.
Watanabe had a leg injury while working out with the Raptors in the preseason, and while making recovery, his playing time was restricted.
However, Brooklyn experienced a positive change.
“At this point, it’s a mental game. No matter how bad or how good I shoot before the game or in practice or whatever, I’m always in the present,” he said.
“I always focus on the shot right in front of me. I think that’s the biggest difference between in Toronto and here.”
“Having an experience like that in Toronto is really helping me right now.”
Since joining the Nets, Yuta Watanabe has attempted 84 shots altogether, giving him a shooting percentage of 59.2% on open three-pointers.
“I was kind of surprised how much I’ve changed. Nothing really changed, but like how I’m shooting now. This didn’t happen overnight or like over a day,” said Watanabe.
“This is a process of going to the gym every day, getting shots up every day, and it’s a process of years.”
When he hit 17 points in 21 minutes during the December contest in Toronto, his confidence reached an all-time high.
“Every time I catch the ball, I feel like my shots are going in.”
TJ Warren experienced a nightmare after his 2020 season.
Due to his history of several surgeries and stress fractures, he decided to sign a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with the Nets.
Prior to his injury, Warren was a well-known shooter, but since joining the Nets, he has grown into a reliable backup.
Despite not being in the same shape as in the past, TJ Warren has shown to be a crucial element of the attack.
“He’s going to be a big help for us,” said O’Neale. “As he already is.”
“I think just him being confident on both ends, knowing what he’s capable of doing, it’s going to help us in the long run.”
“Our depth that we got, he’s a big part of it.”