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Sean Marks: D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor have matured since joining Nets

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In a wide-ranging, pregame interview Monday with WFAN’s Chris Carlin, Bart Scott, and Maggie Gray, Sean Marks talked about how his two big acquisitions this season, D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor, have matured since joining Brooklyn.

But at the same time, the big theme, as it has been for the last two years, is that the Nets are at the beginning of their rebuild and the fanbase will have to be patient. “We know we have a long, long way to go here,” he told the Afternoon Drive hosts.

Regarding the two 2015 lottery picks, Carlin asked if he’s seen a new maturity level from Russell and Okafor, Marks said indeed he has.

“I absolutely have and I give all the credit to the people surrounding them here, not only agents and family members, but it’s the system and they’re coming into our environment,” said the Nets GM.

“Whether it’s D’Angelo or Jahlil, they come here and they’re around a Jeremy Lin, a Quincy Acy, an Allen Crabbe, the rest of these guys and the list goes on and also our coaching staff. They see this is how we’re doing things here. Maybe it’s a little different from other places, I don’t know, but we’re going to do it and they’re around high character guys.”

Marks declined to suggest that Okafor was handled badly in Philly, but said he’s happy to take a shot at someone with the No. 3 pick’s talent, noting Okafor had been “humbled” by his experience.

“I think I have to be very cautious and I would never want to jump to conclusions as to why things didn’t work out in certain places. We’ve seen guys move on from various teams around the league who’ve had success elsewhere,” he told Carlin.

“So different programs, different systems, different styles, whatever it may be and a lot of it is just the timing, maturity and so forth. So for us, with Jahlil here, he’s been humbled, he’s worked hard, worked himself into shape and he continues to do that and he gives us another swing at that. When you have a 21 year old, you want to roll the dice with that.”

As for DLo’s imminent return, Marks and Kenny Atkinson, who was being interviewed by beat writers around the same time, were on the same page: Progress, but no timetable.

“D’Angelo is progressing really well. He’s worked hard and he’s been diligent with his rehab. I would like to think it’s sooner rather than later. I’d never want to say it’s tomorrow or it’s three days or it’s five days or whatever it may be, but at the same time he’s anxious about getting out there and I know his teammates want to get him out there as well. So if things go well, I think we’ll see him in the short-term future here.”

Marks also heaped praise on the two point guards who have filled in for Russell and Lin.

“The misfortune of having a couple of guys going down with injuries, I guess you’ve got to flip that and look at the bright side of that,” Marks said.

“You’ve had a few guys step up and embrace that opportunity. Spencer Dinwiddie is one of those guys who have played well. We’ve now seen Caris LeVert play more backup point guard, so Kenny and his staff have been able to figure out some things and put some people in different positions and it’s been great. We’re going to say fluid and we’re still working some things, but at the same time, we’re intrigued about getting our guys back healthy.”

Carlin and Gray also asked Marks about free agency strategy, with Gray noting he’s talked about having “internal dates for when you want to go after those big fish.”

Marks wouldn’t go into specifics about those “internal dates,” but he recalled how the Nets approached last year’s free agency.

“It will be again adding the right strategic pieces in free agency at the right time. I think you saw it this summer,” he pointed out. “We went after ONE guy. It wasn’t ‘Hey, if we don’t get Otto Porter, we’re going to go after 50 different players and spend the money elsewhere.’

“It’s about being strategic and being systematic in our approach and thankfully, we’ve got an ownership group that has bought in completely and they’re 100 percent supportive and a group of front office guys that are very creative in how they’ve taken the approach.”

Asked what his message is to fans, Marks emphasized patience.

“The fanbase here has to understand there’s going to have to be a little patience. We’re going to build this thing and hopefully, we’re going to build this thing with a foundation --and a strong one-- something that can stand the test of time here. This isn’t going to be something [where there’s] a fleeting moment, ‘Hey, let’s go get some veterans. It’s going to take six months here.’”

He also emphasized that the Nets like what they have in their young players and want to see what they can get out of that group.

“This is going to take time. We want to develop our own. We’ve got a group of young guys out there and some key vets. The young guys it will be intriguing for us to see what are they going to look like in three, four, five years when we have an opportunity to extend them, sign them to new contracts, pick up options on rookie scale deals, and so forth.”

When asked about how do you assess a coach’s job performance during a rebuild, Marks said it’s about developing the culture, particularly open, honest discussions of the situation, noting as well that “we’ve gained some respect around the league.”

“Kenny has done a nice job. His entire staff has done a nice job,” Marks said, adding, “but I think nobody is sitting here relaxing, saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got 16 wins. Look we’re ahead of schedule of where we were last year.’ That’s the least of our concerns here. We know we have a long, long way to go here.”

He added that Atkinson and the staff are building “sweat equity” with the players by participating in practices, running “suicides,” etc.

The GM also praised his analytics and scouting staffs for finding diamonds in the rough.

“We use analytics on a daily basis, on an hourly basis,” he said. “We’re trying to compare the European guys, the college guys, the pro guys, and see which may be the best system fit, how Kenny wants to play, what fits the current roster.

“Obviously for us, it’s trying to find the use, maybe the overlooked guys. We’ve seen a couple of guys for the D-League, now the G League, that we’ve brought up. Sean Kilpatrick, Spencer Dinwiddie, Quincy Acy. To have guys like that, now they’re rotation guys for us. Not only is that scouts looking at talent, but that’s the analytic minds that run the numbers and make sure they check buckets there.”