Nets December Recap: Taking a Deep Dive Into What Led to One of the Best Months in Franchise History
Since December 1st, the Brooklyn Nets have been the best team in the league. Despite entering the month of December in 8th place in the East with a 12-11 record, they’ve managed to climb six spots in the standings in just four weeks to 2nd overall in the East with a 24-12 record. A lot of different factors can be considered the catalyst for this dominant stretch. Here are the biggest ones, in my estimation (all Stats below are as of January 1st, 2023.)
Patty Mills Being Replaced In the Rotation by TJ Warren
The Nets took a jump as a team when they cut Patty Mills from the rotation and replaced him with T.J. Warren. Mills was and has continued to be one of the least impactful players in the NBA so far this year. Substituting the 11 minutes per game that Mills averaged in the 20 games that he played before December with the 20 minutes per game that T.J. Warren averaged in December made them a significantly better team by default. When Patty was a member of the rotation, he usually played at the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters and at the beginning of the 2nd and 4th quarters with another small guard who could either space the floor (Seth Curry/Kyrie Irving), or alongside another shot creator (Kyrie Irving or Cam Thomas).
The idea of those lineup combinations was to maximize perimeter shooting with shot creation around Ben Simmons when Nic Claxton wasn’t in the game, knowing you would give up a lot defensively. Mills’ sole value in these lineups was supposed to be in his floor spacing since he can’t guard the Point Of Attack and is too small to offer any resistance on a wing that can put the ball on the floor. However, in a 213 Possession Sample Size when Patty Mills played in lineups with Ben Simmons they only produced a 98.1 Offensive Rating, which would be by far the worst in the NBA, and a -19.7 Net Rating which would also be by far the WORST in the NBA (as of January 1st, 2023.) When Patty Mills is on the court, the Nets have a -7.5 Net Rating, which ranks 29th out of 30 teams.
In comparison, in the 467 Possessions TJ Warren has been on the court this season, the Nets have the best Net Rating in the NBA with a +11.5 Net Rating. Warren gives the Nets the same amount of spacing Patty Mills gives them while being a better self-creator, better at attacking closeouts as a scorer and a passer, as well as a more versatile defender. Both the advanced stats and eye tests support this.
Nic Claxton’s Continued Emergence
December 2022 was the best month of Nic Claxton’s career. His finishing at the rim, passing in the short roll, conditioning, and rim protection have all been the best it’s been in his NBA career.
An improved offensive arsenal around the rim has led to him taking shots with an added degree of difficulty, making his 79.2% Field Goal percentage in December and 74.7% Field Goal percentage for the season all the more impressive. While he’s always been one of the better-switching bigs in the league, his increased strength has allowed him to become a better post defender and rim protector. His 3.2 Blocks Per Game can best highlight this in December and the fact that the Nets have the 8th best defense in the NBA with him on the court (112.1 Defensive Rating).
Claxton’s play on the court so far this season should warrant him strong consideration for Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defensive First Team.
It would be negligent not to highlight how great Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were in December, especially with how much criticism they got during Brooklyn’s early season struggles.
Offensively, Kevin Durant put together a 28.3/7.5/5.3 Slashline (points, rebounds, assists) on 68.8% True Shooting in December, while Kyrie put together a similarly impressive 28.3/6.2 /5.3 Slashline on 63.7% True Shooting.
The most impressive part about their offensive production and efficiency is that they are starting alongside two non-shooters in today’s NBA when almost no other contender does that (the Cavs and the Warriors are the only others that do). Kevin Durant has played All-NBA level Defense all season, thriving as an on-ball defender and help defender (especially as a weak side rim protector). Kyrie’s commitment defensively during this stretch shouldn’t go unnoticed either. This is by far the best stretch of basketball they’ve played as a duo on both ends of the floor in their three seasons together, and not coincidentally, it’s showing up in the Wins and Loss column.