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Don’t Sleep on Chris McCullough

Chris McCullough with muscles Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have found interesting ways to make up for the picks they lost in the infamous deal with Boston.

This past June, they squeaked their way into the draft and picked Caris LeVert out of Michigan. LeVert is seen as a steal IF he can get healthy (and stay healthy) after foot reconstruction in March. He will have missed summer league, training camp, preseason and likely much more in his rookie season. And even when he is ready, it’s going to take time to get back into game shape. He hasn’t played since March.

Sound familiar?

The Nets selected Chris McCullough in the 2015 draft, a freshman out of Syracuse who was projected as a lottery pick if it wasn't for a torn ACL. Most players, but not all of them, recover. So it was a risk. The Nets old regime referred to McCullough as their 2016 pick since they (thought) they wouldn’t have one, having surrendered their own in the ill-fated Celtics trade. The Nets pick in 2015 was in fact another reminder of some bad deals. The Nets had to swap picks with the Hawks as part of the Joe Johnson deal..

Well, time has moved on and McCullough is hungry to prove that he IS that lottery talent without the ACL tear. He got some of the growing pains out by playing in the last 24 games last season.

The Bronx native showed his ability to stretch the floor and play either the four or the five on offense. His lankiness proved to be a weapon in the passing lanes on defense. He averaged nearly two steals in the final seven games of the season, highlighted by a five-steal game – the highest by a Nets reserve since Courtney Lee in 2009. By April with Thaddeus Young mostly resting and CMC acclimated, he averaged 8 points, 5 boards, 2 steals and a three in 21 minutes a night.

He often uses the hashtag, #TheySleep, on his Twitter fed. In fact, McCullough hopes to wake folks up and show them he’s ready for the big show. Unlike last season, this year he will have summer league, training camp and in just a couple of days, preseason under his belt. He couldn’t say the same last season.

"It’s just been a grind. Me and my team getting in the gym, working hard every day," he told Leo Sepkowitz of SLAM back in late June.

Workhorse McCullough and gym-rat head coach Kenny Atkinson hit it off from day one. He told Sepkowitz, ""Yeah! That’s my dude, man. Once he got there, we clicked. I’m working with him all the time, and he’s always in the gym, working hard. He reached out to me when he got hired, so we’re well connected now."

On day two of training camp, McCullough posted a video of him at the quiet HSS Training Center practicing his moves with a personal trainer ... at around 11:30 o'clock at night. The video has been taken down since, but let’s give credit where credit is due. McCullough has been hooping all summer, whether it be at a local city Park or at the HSS Center.

He’s hungry. And he should be.

McCullough is fighting to be a featured player in the lineup. With Thaddeus Young gone, the starting four spot is up for grabs. Many believe that it’s Trevor Booker’s spot (for now) but if ‘CMC’ impresses this training camp/preseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him steal the starter’s role next to Brook Lopez or at least get more time as the season wears on.

"That’s a spot that’s open," Kenny Atkinson said of the four at last Tuesday’s press conference, adding that the Nets have ‘versatile bigs’ in guys like McCullough, Luis Scola, Justin Hamilton and even Anthony Bennett.

The Nets are pushing him to be great but he’ll have to fight for what’s his. He’s still only 21 and they have him locked up for two more years (if they want). They'd like to see him take a big step this year, which he appears ready to do so.

As for the team’s expectations, he seems grounded like the rest of us…

If he's okay with it, so are we.