Sergey Karasev may have seemed like an after thought in the Nets trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers this past summer. Jarrett Jack was the centerpiece of the deal, but Russian ownership had long coveted Karasev, who some see as the future of Russian basketball. They wanted him. Now, just past the quarter mark of the season, and after a small sample of Karasev in the starting lineup, it seems that the young Russian is the most desirable asset the Nets acquired from Cleveland.
Since becoming the starter at shooting guard nearly two weeks ago, Karasev has played 29 minutes per game, scoring nearly nine points per game. While his overall numbers -- 42% field goal percentage and 31% three-point percentage-- are underwhelming, they've jumped considerably in December as he's gotten more minutes. Beyond shooting, Karasev has filled in nicely with the Nets starters, cutting off the ball, making the correct pass and staying out of the Nets ball dominant guards way. One telling stat: He's averaged only one turnover in his starts.
Karasev, who just turned 21, has surprised many with his ability to come in suddenly and be a positive contributor on the floor. When starting, the Nets are +20, and he has already played more minutes this season than last season in Cleveland, so his sample size this season is already bigger than last year.
Cleveland acquired the No. 19 pick in the Draft last season, three places ahead of Mason Plumlee. After playing just 22 games for the Cavs last season supplemented by a lot of time in Canton with the Cavs' D-League team, Karasev was getting antsy sitting on the bench in Brooklyn, sometimes in street clothes, before Lionel Hollins inserted him in the starting lineup. So, this is his first shot at significant minutes.
Where the clever guard has stuck out is his ability to move off the ball.
Karasev has good awareness and vision on the floor; he knows basic fundamentals of the game such as keeping the floor spaced and staying within his limitations. This may come from his genes. His father was a former Russian point guard, and coached him for a while. (Vasily has advocated for his son to get minutes. It looks like he was right.) Karasev isn't super scary with the ball, with a higher dribble and he's not extremely quick with it either but he has that BBIQ. And with his jumper, he gains some respect.
The player Karasev replaced in the starting lineup, Bojan Bogdanovic, also does a fine job as a complementary player for Brooklyn, and Karasev has filled the rookie's role quite well. Bogdanovic was in a shooting slump when he was benched and Hollins wanted him to know he has to be more aggressive on the floor. When you come off the bench, there's no doubt about what everyone wants you to do: Shoot.
Karasev's has long had a reputation for possessing a deft shot and good range. Even when his shot is not falling, the mechanics are there. He has a quick trigger and gets into his stroke well so he can't be left open. In December, he's played seven games, six of them starts. He's averaging nine points a game, shooting a respectable 46 percent overall and 35 percent from deep, both way up over what he had been shooting in limited minutes.
By the video above, Karasev's shot is there and IT IS fluid. If Karasev can get more confidence in his stroke, remain unafraid to pull it with a defender closing out on him, he can be the knockdown shooter the Nets need. (While some in Russian hoops think his upside is a Russian Kyle Korver, he says his model is Manu Ginobili.)
His offense has all the pieces needed for him to prosper -- he can pass, shoot and move. He posts an offensive rating of 107 this season (up from 86 last year). His defense, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. We're being kind.
In the Nets game against the Heat last week, Karasev was matched up with Dwyane Wade. The second-year pro was abused by the former Finals MVP. When Karasev was on the floor (more than 22 minutes) he was more times than not guarding Wade, and the young guard allowed 124 points per 100 possessions, a horrific mark.
Karasev is still too frail to bang around with stronger guards and isn't too quick laterally. With more playing time and more time in the weight room, he can build into a competent defensive player. He has a wingspan greater than 6'9" and averages nearly two steals per 36 minutes. The potential for him to use his lanky arms is there, but he just isn't there yet. That's fine for a kid who just had his first legal drink in the US.
Some were shocked that Sergey Karasev got placed in the starting lineup this early in the season (me included), but there is no denying that he has impressed in his time. Bogdanovic showed he can still shoot. He had 14 points in 13 minutes against Detroit, hitting 3-of-4 from deep and basically doing what Hollins wanted him to do, be the scorer on the second unit.
In a time of uncertainty for Brooklyn, and questions clouding their future, Karasev has shown that he can be developed and integrated into Hollins' system with time. And the fact that he's Russian doesn't hurt either.