When you think of the Brooklyn Nets, you probably first think of their trio of superstars in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, but as we've learned in years past, it takes more than just a Big 3 to attain the ultimate prize of an NBA title.
That, of course, is where the supporting cast comes in.
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In the 2021 NBA Playoffs, Brooklyn's supporting cast was put to the test, given the near-impossible task of stepping up to replace the production of Harden and Irving, who each missed time during an Eastern Conference Semifinals series that the Nets still came within inches of winning. Much of Brooklyn's success in that series can be attributed to Durant going supernova, but players like Blake Griffin and Jeff Green starred in their respective roles to provide the necessary support to keep the Nets alive.
While Green has since moved on in free agency, the Nets enter the 2021-22 season with a supporting cast that's arguably even better than last year's, featuring a blend of established veterans and young players looking to make a name for themselves early on in their careers.
From the veterans to the rookies, explore the ways in which Brooklyn's revamped supporting cast can help propel this team to hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy in June.
Returning to Brooklyn from last year's playoff roster are Griffin, Joe Harris, Bruce Brown Jr. and Nicolas Claxton, each of whom appeared in all 12 of the team's postseason contests.
It begins with Harris, who enters the second season of a four-year, $75 million deal signed with the Nets in 2020. The sharpshooter led the league in 3-point accuracy last season, connecting on 3.1 triples per game at a 47.5 percent clip, adding a terrifying dynamic to an offence that features three elite scorers in Durant, Harden and Irving.
The other feature member of the returning veterans is Griffin, who has rejuvenated himself in Brooklyn, making his presence felt as a small-ball five with his defence, scoring and playmaking ability. Last postseason, Griffin was looked upon to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo at times, a role he will likely reprise if a rematch between the Nets and Milwaukee Bucks is truly inevitable in 2022.
Brown and Claxton might see their roles reduced this season, but the two are on the younger side of things and bring plenty of energy - Brown with his rebounding and perimeter defence, Claxton with his size, rebounding ability and activity.
With that mix of veterans in place, the Nets have also added a new crop through free agency in LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre' Bembry, James Johnson, Patty Mills and Paul Millsap, and they also added fourth-year guard Jevon Carter via trade.
While Aldridge returns to the roster after a five-game stint (and brief retirement) with Brooklyn last season, he will provide an offensive punch alongside Mills, as the two are reunited after playing together in San Antonio and Portland.
Earlier in the offseason, NBA.com's Scott Rafferty outlined the ways in which Mills will help this team's second unit, which becomes even scarier due to his ability to score in bunches. Given the availability issues that both Harden and Irving have dealt with in the past, the Nets now have a starting-calibre guard in Mills, who can step in as an off-ball guard or a lead guard in the backcourt to spell either one of the superstars, or play alongside them in a three-guard lineup.
Millsap, a savvy veteran, will essentially step in to fill some of the void left by Green, while Bembry and Johnson each have an opportunity to improve Brooklyn's defence with the grit and effort they each play with on that end of the floor. It's unknown how large of a role Carter stands to play, but he is the definition of a defensive-minded guard that can help shape this team's defensive identity.
After Harris and Griffin, who are solidified starters, that's a group of seven legitimate reserves that this Nets team can call upon depending on circumstance.
It's slightly uncommon to see teams with a win-now mentality look to build through the draft, but Brooklyn did just that, using its own first-round pick to select the prolific scoring Cameron Thomas from LSU and acquiring the 29th pick in the draft, which was used to select Day'Ron Sharpe from North Carolina.
In addition to the two first-rounders, the Nets have signed second-round pick Kessler Edwards to a two-way deal and acquired third-year forward Sekou Doumboya from the Detroit Pistons. Doumbouya gets looped in with the rookies as he won't turn 21 until Dec. 23, making him younger than three of Brooklyn's draft picks in Edwards, Marcus Zegarowski (49th overall) and RaiQuan Gray (59th overall).
It's not easy for young players to carve roles on title contenders, but of the above group, Thomas has an elite scoring ability that he brings with him to the next level from the jump. During his lone season at LSU, Thomas led all freshmen in the NCAA with 23.0 points per game, turning in 10 games with 25 or more points for the Tigers.
This scoring ability translated to the Las Vegas Summer League, where he earned co-MVP honours by posting averages of 27.0 points on .423/.360/.846 shooting splits over four games.
Soon to be 20, Thomas has a chance to provide another scoring punch from the Nets' second unit. One could argue that there won't be as much opportunity for the rookie given the number of scorers on this roster, which is a take that holds some validity. However, it's pretty scary to think that a naturally gifted scorer has an opportunity to learn from the daily examples set by Durant, Harden, Irving and Mills.
Sharpe is intriguing in that he was one of the nation's best high school products in 2020, meaning his potential talent is through the roof, and Doumbouya is extremely interesting in that he is two years removed from being the 15th pick in the draft, essentially making him lottery-level talent.
These young players might not have the biggest role on a nightly basis, but they're skilled enough to play alongside some of the more established veterans on nights where others might not be available. Should they maintain a solid level of development throughout the 2021-22 season, don't be surprised if there's a playoff game in which you see one of them trusted in a key situation. Thomas as the fourth or fifth scoring option on the floor is quite terrifying.
Possessing a blend of veterans and youth, the Nets are ready to compete now and are creating a pathway to build for the future, as each of the aforementioned young players can grow into the supplementary pieces to the Big 3.
With Durant committing to the franchise through the 2025-26 season, this focus on developing young talent can extend the team's championship window even further than it already is.
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