In a normal year, as the regular season winds down, Jacque Vaughn would want to begin increasing his starters’ minutes for the playoffs.
It appears he started that process a bit early this season.
The 2022-23 campaign has been anything but normal for the Nets.
Brooklyn has leaned heavily on its starters and sixth man Royce O’Neale the last couple of weeks, and Vaughn has repeated that the approach is “definitely something I’m cognizant of” as he pieces together a lineup with four new starters following the trade deadline.
In Sunday’s win against the Hornets, Mikal Bridges played 40 minutes, 58 seconds, which was still less than what he logged against the Celtics (42:45) two nights prior.
“In the past … we’ve played our guys not as many minutes, and then as the playoffs start to come around, we wanted to ramp those guys up so they can play, quote-unquote, playoff minutes,” Vaughn said. “I’m trying to hedge that a little bit with the short time between regular season and this group being together and playoffs.”
Outside of O’Neale, Brooklyn has trimmed its rotation, and that has led to limited court time for Seth Curry, Joe Harris, Yuta Watanabe and Cam Thomas, among others, with the exception of blowouts.
Thomas, who compiled three consecutive 40-point outbursts leading up to the trade deadline, has been on the court for only 13:47 the last two games.
Watanabe, with the exception of Sunday when the Nets built a 30-point lead, had disappeared from the rotation altogether.
“I’m cool playing a lot of minutes,” Bridges said Sunday. “If you ask anybody when I was in Phoenix, got nothing wrong with it at all. I just want to go out there and just do the best I can, help the team win.”
It took nearly a month, but Cameron Johnson has finally started to settle into a rhythm for the Nets.
The 27-year-old guard, who will be a restricted free agent after the season, has topped 20 points in three of his past five games, while also recording a double-double against the Hornets — Johnson’s first since his rookie season and third of his career — with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Johnson said he has figured out where his shots in the Nets’ offense will originate from.
“He’s shown a little bit of everything,” Vaughn said. “His ability to handle the basketball, play pick-and-roll. His ability to shoot the ball off the bounce in transition. So some things that I’m growing to understand and learn about him. “I feel comfortable putting the ball in his hands.”
The Nets ruled Ben Simmons out for Tuesday’s game against the Rockets, though Edmond Sumner who had missed three games for the birth of his child, and Nerlens Noel, who signed his 10-day contract Monday, aren’t listed on the team’s injury report, meaning they should be available.