After scoring 33 points in the Nets two big wins over Boston and Houston, Rodions Kurucs remains in the top ten of the NBA.com and CBS Sports rookie rankings. NBA.com has him just outside the top five and CBS at No. 9.
Here’s what Drew Packham of NBA.com wrote of the 6’10” Kurucs...
Kurucs has scored in double digits in four of his last five and was huge in helping the Nets win against the Celtics (19 points on 7-for-11 shooting) on Monday and Rockets (14 points on 7-for-12 shooting) on Wednesday.
Similarly, Colin Ward-Henninger at CBS Sports says Kurucs played well last week...
Kurucs didn’t shoot as well from 3 this week (2-for-7), but he continued to contribute in big minutes for a red-hot Nets squad. Here’s a crazy stat, courtesy of Synergy Sports Tech: Kurucs hasn’t missed a shot in isolation situations the entire year. Granted, he’s only had 11 attempts, but that’s still pretty impressive, and bodes well for his scoring ability beyond being a spot-up shooter.
But the biggest praise of the week didn’t come in the rookie rankings. Zach Lowe in his “10 things” column, credited Kurucs with playing an under appreciated role in the Nets 15-5 run.
Calling Kurucs “skulking,” Lowe points to how clever the 20-year-old Latvian is...
Kurucs is clever moving without the ball in all the usual ways -- cutting backdoor, and crashing the boards when rotations leave no one to box him out.
What separates Kurucs -- what elevates his skulking into the realm of art -- is the way he plays upon the expectations of the defense
He feigns a screen for Spencer Dinwiddie in the left corner. That’s a typical action, and Kurucs correctly guesses that his defender (Julius Randle), having guarded said action thousands of times, will retreat as if Kurucs will follow the standard path. Wrong. Kurucs moonwalks into an open triple.
This Kurucs special also cuts against the usual patterns of NBA offense:
(Yes, that’s an air ball. But it’s an open air ball!)
Shooters opposite a pick-and-roll don’t often cut across the baseline and onto the strong side of the action. Doing that risks getting in the way.
That is precisely why this kind of corner-to-corner cut works in the right dosage: Defenses rarely anticipate it. Danny Green sidled his way into so many open 3s during the Finals in 2013 and 2014 that the Heat -- San Antonio’s opponent in those unforgettable series -- nicknamed this the “Danny Green cut.”
Kurucs is shooting 35 percent from deep and holding his own on defense at both forward spots. The Nets needed to fill minutes across the positional spectrum with Caris LeVert, Allen Crabbe and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson injured. Kurucs improbably soaked up time at every spot. The Nets -- the red-hot Brooklyn freaking Nets -- might not surge to the same degree without him.
And for those who have forgotten, this kid who’s now rated a top 10 rookie was taken at No. 40 with a pick the Nets got in their July 2017 trade of Justin Hamilton for DeMarre Carroll and the Raptors’ first and second round picks in 2018.