There Nets have three rookies: Rodions Kurucs, who is looking like he has lottery level talent despite being taken at No. 40; Theo Pinson who proved on Friday that his newfound offense can transfer from G League to the Nets despite being undrafted; and Dzanan Musa their first round pick.
Musa, still 19 years old, has to be frustrated with his season so far. He’s been injured twice, both as crucial junctures in his development: He hurt his right ankle while playing for Bosnia in the FIBA Europe World Cup Qualifiers back in September, then again in December after a string of highly efficient games with Long Island, he separated his left shoulder. It’s kept him on the bench both at Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum for five weeks.
It looks like he’s getting close though. The Nets sent him to Long Island this week to practice with the G League Nets.
“The Bridge,” the YES Network series on Long Island Nets prospects, caught a glimpse of Musa’s frustration as he talked to Matt Riccardi, Long Island’s assistant GM and a longtime Nets scout,
Musa told Riccardi he’s always looking for feedback, “just to remind me that somebody’s watching me.” Riccardi assured him that indeed he’s being watched.
“They’re watching. They might not say it to you all the time, but they say it to me ... often. Not just Kenny, Pablo, Chris Fleming, even Tiago. All those guys say, ‘hey, Musa played really good the other night. I watched the game against Lakeland.’ Besides those two plays where you got caught back door... It’s good they’re watching. It’s all positive stuff.”
“Everybody believes you’re going to have a really long NBA career. You’re making steps in the right direction,” Riccardi adds. “Keep it up, man.”
In that Lakeland game Riccardi mentioned, Musa recorded 27 points, six rebounds, a game-high six assists and a steal while shooting 10-of-15 overall including 6-of-9 from 3-point range.
Still, as the exchange between player and assistant GM showed, players like Musa need encouragement and positive re-enforcement, as Riccardi notes in another clip. Nothing says that more than assuring players that the brass is watching them, even if they like Musa feel separated from the big club.
Before he got hurt, Musa —one of the G-League’s youngest players at 19— was playing well. He was averaging 20.1 points, seven rebounds, three assists , shooting 43/36/80. Moreover, he’s shown he can play multiple positions, including point guard ... at 6’9”. The Nets don’t regard him as a PG but want to push his playmaking skills and he’s shown he can play it and with some panache. Like this beauty from November...
“I’m waiting for my shot in Brooklyn,” said Musa at another point in “The Bridge.” “So this helps me a lot to build myself and be around the guys who are trying to build themselves as well. So, I am very, very thankful for this opportunity because let’s say I came here 10 or 15 years ago, there is no G League so there’s no reps, there’s no games. So I’ve very thankful for that. “
Musa’s development isn’t limited to the G League. He also gets specialized treatment from Pablo Prigioni, the Brooklyn assistant coach.
Of course, even without the injuries, Musa faced an uphill battle for minutes. He plays the wing where Brooklyn (when healthy) has a surplus of skilled NBA players. Kurucs may have jumped ahead of him in development, but as Riccardi noted, the Nets remain very high on him. They saw him as lottery level talent before last June’s draft and were afraid he might not last until they picked at No. 29.
In the meantime, despite his frustration, Musa is on the bench, enthusiastically cheering on teammates. After Mitch Creek got his chance the other night, Musa greeted him with a big smile and a high five.
“He deserves his opportunity and he’s a humble guy and a guy who deserves everything he gets,” said Musa. “He’s a very efficient player. He can bring to the table a lot of things; defense, aggressiveness, offense. He can score when he’s open. I think he’s an NBA player and he will prove that.”
So what’s next? Nets aren’t saying and he’s still listed as out, but the practice stint this week on Long Island suggests that Musa will be back on the court soon, probably first in some G League games.
There’s no rush (except for Musa!). He may not be generating headlines or putting up numbers, but Musa remains a talent ... and not forgotten.