clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Debuts: A bit of a surprise and a lot of relief

New, comments
NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Before Friday night’s game, Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas had played a total of 70 minutes this season: 25 for Okafor and 45 for Stauskas. In their first game, the duo racked up 51 minutes, 23 for the center, 28 for the shooting guard.

At the end of the night, despite the Nets devastating loss, the team had to be happy with what they saw, particularly from Stauskas, who scored 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 5-of-7 from three, more three’s than any Nets player ever had in their debut.

“It just felt great to be back on the basketball court,” Stauskas said. “I hadn’t played that much in Philly, so it felt good to run up and down again. And to see the ball go in a few times is always a great feeling as a player.”

Okafor, who turned 22 on Friday, was more rusty than his 24-year-old teammate. And while Staukas fits neatly into the Nets 3-point game plan, Okafor may take a little more integration. Still, he broke double figures, scoring 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including two misses from deep. He also grabbed two rebounds.

The 6’11” big didn’t play in the first four games since he was traded along with Stauskas (and the Knicks 2019 second rounder) from Philly to Brooklyn. He said he had been watching the Nets closely in that time but once he knew he would play, things changed.

“Just the feeling you get before a game, I haven’t had that in a while,” said the third year player. The jitters and the nerves that you get, that’s my first time having that in a while, because I knew I wasn’t going to play so I was just chilling before the game. So to have that, having to focus and feel that again was great.”

Okafor showed some conditioning issues, having played only three minutes in the past five weeks. He sometimes seemed a bit lost, particularly on defense, but he was thrilled to be out from under the 76ers’ exile.

“Anything I can get helps. I had the last six minutes of the fourth quarter and I was treating it as if it was a tie game, just working on everything, talking on defense. Everything for me helps,” said Okafor, whose first two points came on a euro-step, not what you expect from a near 7-footer.

Their coach wasn’t promising big returns just yet, but he generally liked what he saw.

“They’re going to help us. There were definitely flashes of talent and some good stuff out there,” Kenny Atkinson said. “Again, it’s going to take time. It’s a process, they have to integrate into the group and we have to help them integrate.

“They don’t know our system yet. They’re learning. But there was some good stuff and some mistakes, which is normal for two guys who’re just starting out with us. But there definitely were a few bright spots, especially on offense. They made some nice moves. Stauskas showed real pop in the pick-and-roll, hit some good shots.”

The native of Toronto admitted he had additional motivation playing not far from he grew up before heading off to the University of Michigan.

“Maybe it a little bit. But for me, it was more excitement to be back out there,” Stauskas admitted. “I don’t think I played more than seven, eight minutes this year in a game. Just to play meaningful minutes in a game back home was really exciting for me. Once I saw the first one go down, that’s when my confidence started growing, and I just let them fly from there.”

He had four three’s and 15 points in the first half. Defense got tighter in the second, but he showed a more diverse game in the second half, scoring seven more points, including his fifth trey, the most any Net had ever scored in his debut, besting four other first night, the most recent on Opening Night when D’Angelo Russell hit four.

Expect both to get more minutes, with Okafor likely biting into Timofey Mozgov’s and even Tyler Zeller’s time on the court and Stauskas competing with Joe Harris, who’s in a bit of a slump, hitting only two of his last 15 3-point shots.

In addition to Okafor and Stauskas, the Nets also received a second rounder —the Knicks 2019 pick— in the deal, completed last week.