Dzanan Musa, the Nets first round pick, practiced for the first time on Monday after sitting out training camp with a right ankle injury he sustained playing for the Bosnian national team in FIBA competition.
And it was good. In talking to reporters afterward, Musa said he’s happy to be back, and that the ankle is fully healed. He also showed some of that confidence that the Nets liked when they picked him at No. 29.
When asked whether he knew whether the Nets planned to ease him back, Musa said he didn’t know but had a message for anyone who doubts him. ‘I don’t know. You have to ask them that. But whatever, whenever I get a chance, an opportunity, I will make sure that they will remember me.’
Kenny Atkinson told reporters he liked what he saw and considering Musa is so young —the seventh youngest player in the NBA this season— any contribution would be a big deal.
“He definitely showed some pick-and-roll ability today,” Atkinson said of Musa, who he later compared to Mike Dunleavy. “I’m not ready to put him at the starting point guard, but I think he could eventually be a secondary or third ball-handler.
“He’s pretty skilled, more skilled with the ball than I thought. I see him as a 2 or 3. The 2 is probably his position. That’s a nice size. I think I referenced Mike Dunleavy. He’s 6’9”. He’s tall. He’s got to get stronger obviously, but is eventually 2, 3, 4, which is where this league is kind of going with the multiple positions. The versatility.”
Atkinson was positive as well about Rodions Kurucs, the 6’10” forward who has said he thinks he can play the 2, 3, or 4 as well.
“Skill level is the first thing that jumps out. They’re skilled. They’re not just catch-and-shoot guys,” Atkinson offered. “I think there might be a perception that they’re spot up guys. Both drive to the rim, both are pretty good passers, both are competitors. Their competitive defensive spirit has been really good. I don’t want to get carried away, it’s early, but good so far.”
So maybe they won’t spend a lot of time out on the Island. Physically, Musa said he feels fine.
“I’m jumping from it, so it was hard for me to kind of move with it, but now I’m good. One hundred percent,” he said.
During training camp, the 19-year-old did lots of watching, saying that not being able to play was a frustrating experience. But he said, he was helped through it by two vets, his locker room neighbor, Jared Dudley, and Shabazz Napier.
“It was helpful a lot (to watch). But I was so frustrated that I couldn’t sleep at night because I wasn’t practicing. I was watching training camp, and the guys were fighting, the coaches were all-in, the intensity and stuff, and I was on the bench watching. That was so hard for me,” he said.
Enter Dudley, in his 12th season in the NBA, and Shabazz Napier, in his fifth year.
“I’m a neighbor in the locker room with Jared (Dudley), so we’re talking a lot. During my injury he was talking to me, like, ‘Just calm yourself down,’ because I was frustrated. ‘Just calm yourself down; your time will come; you will be back in practice pretty soon.’
“Shabazz Napier was telling me the same thing, D’Angelo (Russell); so I had my vets during this injury behind me. So I’m happy – as I said – that I’m here. That I have these kind of vets and teammates.”
New Net assistant coach – and former NBA and Euroleague point guard – Pablo Prigioni, has also been a help to Musa.
“It’s crazy; I was watching him five, seven years ago, watching him play with my teammate Mirza Teletovic in Europe and in the New York Knicks,” said Musa. “I was speaking with Mirza about him, and he said, ‘Whatever he is telling you just be like a sponge, you know? Take everything from him.’ And I’m so happy that I’m working with that kind of guy, and he helped me a lot. How to manage the game, how to see other players on the court, how to play defense, my positioning. So I’m happy that I have that coach on my side.”
Still, as he noted, it was all very frustrating, even if it lasted only a week.
“Like I said, again, I was frustrated,” he confessed. “I just want to be on court, you know? I just want to be interacting with the guys, fighting; that’s what I do.”
As for his head coach’s description of his position, Musa agreed with the versatility part, adding he believes he can play the 1 as well. He did in FIBA games last month.
“I can play whatever coach wants,” he said. “I can play point guard, I can play 2, 3 or even 4. So I’m a guy who is capable of doing multiple things on-court, so that’s kind of an advantage for me.”
And of course, he can’t wait for Wednesday, when the Nets open up pre-season against the Knicks at Barclays Center.
“Every game for me is like finals,” he said with a smirk. “I play every game like it’s my last. So I’m excited about that. We’ll see what’s going to happen. I’m sure that if I get a chance I will give my 100%.”
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