Starting Nets center Nic Claxton joked that his shooting threes could provide the spacing needed to play more minutes together with Ben Simmons.
That, however, isn’t a viable option, no matter how eager Claxton, a career 15% three-point shooter, is to let them fly.
“I wanna shoot [them],” he said.
For now, Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said Simmons will continue to come off the bench as he works his way through offseason back surgery and a swollen knee that he had fluid drained from last week.
The Nets have staggered the minutes Claxton and Simmons play. They have found success in that approach, while giving Simmons more freedom to lead the second unit.
“Especially with the second group, I think he’s done a good job and he finished the game with the first group,” Vaughn said after practice on Friday. “He gives you the flexibility to be able to play fast, have space on the floor, still be big out there, rebound the basketball.”
Vaughn admitted it’s difficult for the Nets to play Simmons and Claxton together because neither are adept three-point shooters, and the team plays best when there is space in the half-court offense.
“The spacing on the floor, especially when teams are double-teaming Kev [Durant], we’ve gotta have shooters out there,” Vaughn said.
Claxton also understands the dilemma.
“It’s tough,” he said. “Teams load up on both of us, and it kind of makes their job easy when both of us are on the court.
For now, the staggering will work because Claxton is playing well and Simmons is still working to get back to his All-Star form.
At some point, however, Simmons will need to be playing 30 minutes a game again.
“It’s a long season, we can work something out and I think we can get to [playing together more] at some point,” Claxton said. “Maybe not right now, but once Ben gets going a bit, maybe we can work it out.”
That means either the Nets need to find a way to play Claxton and Simmons together, or Claxton will end up seeing his minutes decline if Simmons fully finds his game.”
“I think we’ve had some positive results both ways,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn said “hopefully” Simmons’ minutes will increase during the road trip.
After missing four games with a swollen knee, Simmons played 16 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks and 24 minutes against the Knicks on Wednesday.
“That first game, his [minutes limit] was 20-ish, he ended up [playing] 16,” Vaughn said. “He was 20-ish [against the Knicks] and ended up playing 25. So a lot of it is geared towards: anyone who steps on the floor, play hard.”
Vaughn says he is pleased with Simmons’ progression over the last two games.
“He hasn’t played in a long time, and consecutively: four games in five nights, six in nine, so it tests your mental and physical strength,” he said. “I think you’ve seen him start to progress. Last game, more minutes in the game and some positive force that you saw from him. The tip dunk and we’ll continue to see that the more he plays.”
Vaughn says veteran forward T.J. Warren has advanced to playing pickup games against coaches and will be re-assessed at some point in the next two weeks.
Warren has missed each of the past two seasons due to consecutive stress fractures in his left foot. The last time he played, he averaged about 27 points for the Indiana Pacers in the NBA’s Orlando Bubble.
It’s going to take some time, however, for Warren to get back to that point.
Vaughn said Warren looks good in practice but hedged that against the fact that he’s only playing against coaches.
“The read against players is not there yet,” he said before joking: “Coaches are a little slower than the players, a little older.”
Nets starter Royce O’Neale said Warren is “almost playing five-on-five” and is “eager to play.”
“Even if he’s not playing, he’s still talking to us and communicating, so that’s the big thing,” O’Neale said. “It takes everybody as a team.”
Vaughn said reserve forward Yuta Watanabe is likely to miss the first two games of the Nets’ four-game West Coast road trip.
Watanabe wore a brace on his left ankle during Nets practice after sustaining a sprain against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. He was in good spirits during the team’s post-practice open gym session,
“He did do some shooting today,” Vaughn said. “So hopefully that’s trending in the right direction.”
CLIPPERS COMING UP
The Nets are set to embark on a four-game West Coast road trip featuring matchups against both the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers, the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers.
The Clippers, who are without star forward Kawhi Leonard, are the most challenging team on the docket, and they are first up against a Nets team that will be tested after winning three of their last four games.
Even without Leonard, the Clippers are one of the toughest teams in the Western Conference. Paul George is averaging 25.4 points per game, but it’s the depth on a Clipper team with at least 10 players who could start elsewhere that could give Brooklyn issues on Saturday.
“That’s what we talked about today, the depth they have and the different styles the play,” Vaughn said. “John Wall coming in with that second unit is going to be a transition piece that we really have to be concerned about.”