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Chris McCullough moves in all the right directions

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Remember Chris McCullough?

The Brooklyn Nets first-round draft choice in 2015 that recovered from a torn ACL, played sporadic minutes at the end of this year and the beginning of this one, and was recently sent to the D-League?

Well, he’s been killing it lately, averaging 19.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest with the Long Island Nets. In 22 games with the younger Nets, he’s achieved a valued and consistent level of experience that he hasn’t seen in about two years.

Since tearing his right ACL on January 11, 2015, McCullough has been drafted, rehabbed, and played 12.3 minutes over 34 NBA appearances. He didn’t even debut on February 8, 2016 – less than a year ago for you mathematicians. In Long Island, McCullough’s logging over 32 minutes a night, playing time he hasn’t been able to get since high school.

The evidence shows up on the court, as these highlight reels attest...

“I needed it…I definitely needed it,” McCullough said in this exclusive sit down with Netsdaily, discussing the significance of his D-League opportunity. “Before I got here I watched maybe one…maybe one D-League game on TV before – but basketball is basketball to me, I try to look at the positive side of it – this is a confidence builder.”

McCullough, who dropped 37 points in a win over the Greensboro Swarm Thursday, has utilized the D-League experience wisely. His career, once only about injury and rehab has re-emerged. More significantly, it’s given reassured hope to a franchise that is looking for reassurance its plan is working somewhere, even if it’s still the only NBA team with single-digit victories.

The 21 year-old Bronx native and Syracuse product has worked tirelessly to improve so that he is ready when receiving a call-up that actually keeps him in the NBA. McCullough, who prides himself on being an effective stretch-four, says he draws inspiration from a pair of NBA greats whom he models his game after.

“I read something about Rasheed Wallace and him being the best pick-and-pop player so I’m just trying to do the same thing, like him and Kevin Garnett,” he said. “I guess (it came from) a competitive thing. Rasheed Wallace was better than him at pick-and-pop, and Kevin Garnett wanted to be better and be ahead of him, and he set out to do that.

“I want to do that too. My jump shooting from mid-range, I’ve always liked to pick and pop and I’m trying to be the best pick and pop player I could, that’s something I’m working on daily.”

McCullough, who also says he watched a lot of Chris Bosh growing up, says constant production on the boards is also primary focus for him.

“The biggest thing for me is rebounding,” he told NetsDaily. “A game and a half ago I had 16 rebounds, that’s something I’ve got to do on a daily basis is be consistent with it, that’s the main thing.”

L.I. Nets head coach Ronald Nored has witnessed McCullough’s growth since coming on board last April. The near National Champion with Butler agrees with his 6’10” potential-packed 4 on the notion of him needing the D League to make such progress.

Of said progress, Nored offered a glowing review.

“Chris got to play a little bit at the end of last year, so playing in the D-League and not playing for the Brooklyn Nets was difficult at first,” coach Nored said. “Chris has done an amazing job. He did okay in the summer, was pretty solid in the pre-season, and now he’s taken off. He understood his role, understood how he needs to play on a given possession, much better than I’ve ever seen.

“I think the thing people don’t see is how much he’s grown as a person, Nored continued, raving about McCullough’s rapid development. “He’s been unbelievable to be around. He and I will text about games, he’s great around the guys, and he’s kind of dropped his thoughts about himself and put his thought on the team – becoming more selfless and everyone has benefited because of it.”

While the senior Nets have had their struggles, one slight edge they’ve had this season is a tight knit culture throughout the organization. The Brooklyn and L.I. Nets share practice facilities, home courts, everything, you name it, and so, players throughout organization have subscribed to one philosophy.

For that, all of that, McCullough is truly appreciative, and he certainly is not alone.

“I thank God for everything being in the same building,” he said with a smile. “All the coaches have the same message, the same standards, and everything we focus on. It’s the same philosophy; it makes it easier, I’m thankful for that. The coaches are here in Brooklyn so they still get to see me come to the games. It’s easy for me just to come out here, practice and work hard.”

Given the Nets’ currently place among NBA squads, we’re nearing a time when the Caris LeVert’s, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s, and Isaiah Whitehead’s of the world will be seen more than they already are. The door will open for McCullough; it’s just a matter of when.

Last week, Kenny Atkinson talked where he needed to be.

"I think really physically he’s got a ways to go," Atkinson said. "Just strength. He’s still a young guy with not a lot of experience. He had that knee injury in college. Just understand what we’re trying to do in our system. Defensively, there’s definitely improvement [that] has to be made."

Nored believes that with his D League experience, the 2015 29th overall pick is in a much better place when the NBA opportunity (permanently) presents itself.

“Whenever he has the opportunity to play in the NBA again I think he’s going to be far more ready than he would’ve been prior to the D-League,” Nored said. “He hasn’t had an opportunity to play this much since high school. Just the idea that he’s gotten to play makes him that much more ready. Does he still have stuff to improve on? Yes, he does. But is he more ready than before his 20 games with the Long Island Nets? Yes, he is.”