With training camp starting Saturday, optimism is at a premium throughout the NBA. Brook Lopez is no exception, and he likes what he sees from second-year small forward Sergey Karasev.
"I think Sergey surprised me a lot," Lopez told Mike Mazzeo. "I didn't get to see him a lot last year, I don't know how often he played. And just hearing that [he played 22] surprises me from what I've seen of him."
It's true, Karasev saw very little playing time with Cleveland last year. He averaged only 7.1 minutes per game and started one game; an early-season bout against the Detroit Pistons on October 17.
Karasev was drafted 19th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft (three picks ahead of Mason Plumlee) and the Nets see potential first-round talent in the 20-year-old. (The Russian ownership was sorely disappointed when Cleveland took him. Some would have had Billy King trade Plumlee's rights --and maybe Bojan Bogdanovic's too for Karasev!)
The left-hander had already been selected to the Russian national team at the ripe age of 18 and won a bronze medal during the 2012 Olympics, playing behind his hero, Andrei Kirilenko. He has even been called "The future of Russian basketball."
For a player at such a young age, Karasev exudes confidence on the court. One reason may be that he's the son of veteran Russian point guard --and coach -- Vasily Karasev. Sergey Karasev isn't afraid to drive to the rim, and he is quite proficient at it. He's not explosive, but he's crafty. He's also a terrific downtown threat; shooting 49% from beyond the arc two years ago with his Russian squad, Triumph Lyubertsy, then 41.6% in the D-League last season.
Karasev is also versatile in the sense he can play multiple positions. Karasev is listed as a small forward but because of his shooting ability, he is able to play shooting guard. And because of his passing skills, can play a bit of the point.
David Blatt, his coach in the Olympics --and now the coach of the Cavaliers, thinks he can play all three positions.
"He’s a special talent, a three position player. He doesn’t look athletic, but he does athletic things," Blatt told Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress. "He still hasn’t grown into his frame. He will improve his strength. He’s a quick and attentive learner. He held his own on defense better than I thought he would."
The video below, from his only start with Cleveland, showcases his range and his creativity around the rim:
Kirilenko, Karasev's Olympic teammate, told NetsDaily at Media Day that the model for Karasev is Manu Ginobili ... "if he continues being aggressive."
"That's my favorite player. That's my favorite player. I like his game," Karasev told NetsDaily, then seemed to draw a parallel between him and Ginobili. "He came here, he had a tough couple of seasons, didn't play a lot. and then because of his work, he just improved every time his game. Now, he wins championships for the San Antonio Spurs and he's very important player for his team. And every year, he's just one of the best players."
As with any player, Karasev is rough around the edges. Though he has the height (6'7") of a small forward, Karasev is rail thin. He's listed at 196 lbs, but upon looking at him, it's apparent those numbers might be exaggerated a bit.
Karasev's defense is also a liability. He has little lateral quickness so smaller, quicker forwards can blow right past him. His slight build also leaves him vulnerable to bigger, traditional forwards. Brawnier forwards like Paul Pierce can bully him in the post. Karasev will have to bulk up to maintain defensive position.
So what can the Nets expect? The front office -- and particularly ownership -- is eager to develop Karasev and rightfully so. Because of his age and inexperience, growing pains are expected and it won't always be a bed of roses with Karasev this season. Head coach Lionel Hollins should implement a strong defensive scheme that Karasev could excel in, so look for him to improve on the defensive end.
The Nets haven't specified where Karasev will play. Considering his thin stature and shooting ability, it wouldn't be surprising to see Karasev play the majority of his minutes at shooting guard. Whether he gets minutes and fulfills Lopez's expectations, that's another story.
- Lopez plays five-on-five; impressed by teammates - Mike Mazzeo - ESPNNewYork.com