The Brooklyn Nets‘ first regular season dress rehearsal will come on Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers in a potential Finals preview.
The Nets have already announced that Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving won’t play in the game. That’s undoubtedly the right call given the load they’ll be expected to carry on the offensive side of the court this season.
That burden will increase tenfold if Irving maintains his hesitancy with regards to getting vaccinated, but let’s put that conversation on ice for now.
While Durant, Harden and Irving are the centerpieces of this roster, the Nets did an excellent job bolstering their depth this offseason. You could argue they’re 12 deep, which is a far cry from where the rotation was in 2020-21.
That got us thinking about who will emerge as the Nets’ X-Factor this year?
Who will be the Brooklyn Nets’ X-Factor in 2021-22?
If this article was being written right before the playoffs, Joe Harris would be the obvious choice. While the $72 million sharpshooter disappeared in the playoffs, Nets fans pretty much know what they’re going to get from him during the regular season. Last year, he led the league in three-point shooting at 47.5%. That rules him out.
Blake Griffin is a popular choice, but he was surprisingly consistent after Brooklyn plucked him off the buyout market. The 32-year-old should only improve with more viable depth pieces around him in the frontcourt.
That leaves Paul Millsap and/or LaMarcus Aldridge. While Millsap is expected to fulfill the Jeff Green role and Green was the Nets’ X-Factor last season, the nod has to go to Aldridge after he shockingly spurned retirement to resume his career.
Of course, Aldridge felt an irregular heartbeat in just his fifth game for the Nets last year and was forced to retire days later. In an amazing turn of events, the seven-time All-Star was medically cleared to play again over the summer and signed a veteran’s minimum contract ($2.6 million) to pursue a ring with Brooklyn.
At 32 years old, Aldridge is past his prime. However, he’s still very much belongs in the elite conversation as far as big men are concerned. If his medical issues don’t crop up again, he could be a huge difference-maker for the Nets.
We all know how much Brooklyn struggled to get production from their frontcourt last season, right? DeAndre Jordan was unplayable. Nicolas Claxton was solid defensively, but offered very little on offense. The same can be said for Alize Johnson. It’s really no wonder Steve Nash went small-ball as much as he did.
If Aldridge can replicate the efficiency he enjoyed with the Spurs last season — 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds with .521/.360/.838 shooting splits — the Nets’ already-dominant offense will be even more impossible to stop.
Again, all of this hinges on Aldridge’s health. If he’s available, he will produce in spades. If he struggles with durability, the Nets’ front court will be a major liability. If that doesn’t qualify as X-Factor material, then nothing does.