It was Brooklyn’s first summer league practice Thursday, one day before they take on the Orlando Magic at 5 p.m. on NBA TV in Las Vegas.
Jacque Vaughn lined up his seven international players across from their eight American-born counterparts and asked them to walk across the space between and introduce themselves to one another. It’s his tactic to increase cohesiveness with a motley crew who’s had little to get to know one another and less to practice.
Vaughn, an assistant under Kenny Atkinson, is head coach for the Nets summer league team. He has been a vital piece in Brooklyn’s team of coaches. He was a 12-year veteran, an NBA champion at San Antonio and most importantly for this venture, the former head coach of the Magic. He needs to get as much as he can out of his team in a very short amount of time.
One of Vaughn’s biggest tasks is to get the most out of Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. It isn’t just about statistics with them, but rather the leadership with the younger players on the team.
“The challenge for both of those guys is to continue to grow leadership-wise, to have a voice. That’s the great challenge with this group right here, is [with] new guys put together, can you still put your stamp and voice on the group?” Jacque Vaughn told the Post, in reference to Allen’s maturation.
This isn’t a coincidence that both are playing, despite both dealing with past injuries. This will be the 23-year-old LeVert’s second summer league and the 20-year-old Allen’s first. Both missed summer league play in their rookie seasons.
The combination is intriguing and it lets us into how the Nets value the two. Prior to drafting Dzanan Musa a few weeks back, LeVert and Allen are the only first-round picks taken by Sean Marks since arriving in 2016.
They showed good chemistry on the court this season when LeVert handled the point guard duties, particularly in the pick and roll where they troubled defenders with their length.
Both have high expectations on them. Will they dominate their opponents? Friday will be a big test for Allen. He’ll be up against the overall No. 6 pick —and the center who replaced him at Texas— 7’1” Mo Bamba. However, the big summer league issue is that Nets will be testing their two foundation pieces as leaders.
They want to see how they handle the leadership role on a young team made up of seven international players. It’s the ideal opportunity for them to build on the chemistry and get a taste of being considered the ‘vets’ on a team.
A key aspect to Allen’s growth is becoming more vocal, particularly on defense. He’ll need to step out of his shell and get loud if he’s going to become the defensive leader the Nets hope he can be. And for the first time Friday, he’ll be up against a player with similar measurements and athleticism.
“Quiet is an understatement,” said LeVert in talking with the beat writers. “He was damn near mute. … For sure [he’s] more vocal, talking guys through possessions, talking to me after possessions. We’re trying to get our chemistry down. We found good chemistry halfway through the season. We’re just trying to keep that up,”
Allen understands his role.
“I’m trying to be able to be like a leader and try to teach the first-year people how to be able to be a pro,’’ he said. “I’m trying to be able to come out of my comfort zone, and this is the perfect place to practice to be a leader.
It isn’t worth putting too much weight on summer league. After all... it’s summer league. Still, it’s the intangible things the Nets are looking for, and they want LeVert and Allen to lead by example.
Other players worth keeping an eye on:
- Rodions Kurucs: Brooklyn’s second-round pick was much higher than No. 40 on their internal board. The kid needs to build some strength but he can shoot the lights out of the ball and play multiple positions at 6’9”.
- Milton Doyle: The Nets just secured the rights to the two-way point guard. Despite a logjam in the back court, Doyle has been a standout on Long Island’s roster and will eventually find himself on an NBA roster, whether it be with Brooklyn or somewhere else.
- Ding Yanyuhang: Ding is a 6’7” shooting guard from China. He’s been the Domestic MVP in the China Basketball Association the past two seasons, averaging 26.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game this year for Shandong. This will be his second year playing in summer league — last year playing with Dallas and coining the nickname “Dinsanity”. Perhaps he’ll be motivated to perform in front of his friend and idol, Jeremy Lin.
- Juan Pablo Vaulet: FINALLY! Three years —and two surgeries— after he was drafted, Vaulet will finally give fans a glimpse of what he’s made of. The Nets traded two second round picks and $800,000 to secure his rights in the 2015 Draft. He’s still only 22, the third youngest player on the roster and a month younger than DLo.
- Theo Pinson: The undrafted four-year player out of North Carolina gives the Nets a look at what he’s got before he begins his development process with the staff. They took a shot on him, giving him a guaranteed $50,000 while preserving his G League rights. He’s a versatile player with upside, averaging 10 points, six rebounds and five assists during his senior year at UNC.
- James Webb III: Webb suited up for Brooklyn 10 times last season, but didn’t cause too much damage in the 120 total minutes he logged. The Nets like his potential as a stretch big. They will be watching him closely, as will Long Island Nets coach Will Weaver.
- Jordan McLaughlin: Reports are that the 6’1” combo guard with the deadly three point shot —40 percent over his four year career— has both a summer league and training camp commitment from the Nets. He led USC to 68 wins during his four-year stretch with the Trojans, more than in any four-year stretch in the program’s history.
- First-round pick, Dzanan Musa, is on the roster but will not suit up.
The Nets will open up with a 5 p.m. matchup against the Orlando Magic on Friday, followed by games on Saturday and Monday. They’ll play at least two playoff games with the schedule depending on the outcome of the tournament.
It’s only summer league, but it’s an important part of current growth process.
- Nets calling on two young players to become leaders - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ summer league roster is melting pot of cultural diversity - Greg Logan - Newsday
- 3 questions for the Brooklyn Nets heading into NBA Summer League - Mike Scotto - The Athletic New York