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Is D-League working? It’s early, but Nets think so

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets two teams —Long Island and Brooklyn— play another double-header Monday, the D-League team faces off against Sioux City, the Heat affiliate at 1:30 p.m., the NBA club goes up against Washington at 7:30. (The D-League game is closed to the public but will be televised on Facebook Live.)

Brooklyn and Long Island now have 20 games in the NBA and 10 games in the D-League to judge how it’s going. Although both teams are at or near the bottom of their respective standings, the front office and coaching staff seem happy with the arrangement’s development aspect, particularly with their two young power forwards, Anthony Bennett, age 23, and Chris McCullough, age 21.

In fact, Kenny Atkinson believes Bennett’s decision to play two games with Long Island last week —as a fourth year player, he didn’t have to— was a big reason why the 6’8” Bennett played well, snagging 14 rebounds, vs. Milwaukee.

“That’s great when a guy can work like that. I will give credit to him by going to the D-League and playing 34 minutes and [35] minutes and getting his rhythm,” Atkinson told Greg Logan. “That’s part of our program and helps our players be ready when they do play with us.”

Bennett agrees. Minutes help. He averaged 18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals in the two games.

“I got my confidence and got a rhythm going down there and playing a lot of minutes,” Bennett said. “It definitely does help a lot . . . Just to go down and play free definitely built my confidence up.”

Last week, McCullough talked to Filip Bondy about the experience of having the two teams play and practice in the same buildings, both near where he lives. He’s now averaging 19.4 points and 7.4 rebounds in 30 minutes per game.

“We run the same offense, the same defense, in the same building, so it’s practically the same feeling,” he told Bondy. “It’s like a family, a brotherhood,” McCullough said. “We push each other, compete to the highest level. That’s what it is.”

Sean Marks likes the teams’ unique arrangement, which has a one-year shelf life. Next season, the Long Islanders move into the new Nassau Coliseum and will probably practice closer to Uniondale.

“We’re very fortunate to have the D-team based in our building,” Marks told Bondy. “Our coaching staff watches them. Our front office is able to watch practices. They’re really under our noses.”

There have been other successes among those players not on the NBA roster. Trahson Burrell, a 6’7” swingman out of Memphis, has had four double-doubles in the last five games, averaging 16.8 and 10.5 over that span. And Boris Dallo, a 6’6” point guard from France, has shown flashes.

Right now, it’s about small steps both for the players and the organization. The D-League is decidedly not the NBA but it’s a confidence builder.

“Chris came out of college having played half a season. I look at him as this is his first year in the league,” Marks said. “It’s about building him up, giving him meaningful minutes. Then we’ll see where we go from there.”

And of course, that comment came before the Nets tendered an offer sheet to Donatas Motiejunas. If Houston fails to match, those minutes that Bennett and McCullough are looking for in Brooklyn will no doubt drop. But the rebuild, as we’ve noted before is long and even small steps are worthwhile.