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Long Island’s Will Weaver, on verge of playoffs, talks up his players and their potential

Chris Milholen spoke to Long Island Nets head coach Will Weaver about the potential of Dzanan Musa, Theo Pinson and Alan Williams, the bond he has with Mitch Creek and his impact with Long Island, and more..

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The Long Island Nets and the Brooklyn Nets are two tight-knit franchises who have found a measure of success this season. Brooklyn is in the playoff race —currently the sixth seed —while Long Island is on top of the G League Eastern Conference, having clinched their first playoff berth last week.

One huge reason to both teams success has been the common calls and schemes, both offensive and defensive, between the two teams. The guy charged with keeping it all straight is Will Weaver, Long Island’s head coach. His big responsibility is developing the Nets youth. Winning is important, but secondary.

“We do trust our body of work in the same way as what has gone on in Brooklyn and credit to my coaching staff, who work tirelessly with every guy on the roster,” Weaver told NetsDaily.

“There’s one-on-one, two-in-two, three-on-three and hard individual, we call vitamins, going on before games, after the games, there’s more in during team practice, during shootarounds, and that pays off,” says Weaver in explaining the depth of the commonality.

Of course, the job of a G League coach is unique. His job is to not only develop players and win games. It also is about a shifting roster as players go up and down and others fill in both long-term and short term. Theo Pinson goes up. leaving an offensive hole ... that Jordan McLaughlin fills.

“We have guys that stay ready and stay healthy so when a guy goes on assignment or faces an injury unfortunately, they have to fill in those bits and have players recognize that there is opportunity with help on the team.

“These young players are the cream of the crop, that why we chased them so hard. I think everyone recognizes its not just a matter of playing big for week or playing good for a game, they are all trying to build a career on a stable ground. We hope to add to that.”

Weaver has a unique background. In addition to serving as an NBA assistant coach with the 76ers and Nets, Weaver also spent two years as an assistant coach at Sam Houston State University and is currently an assistant on the Australian national team. The Austin, Texas, native has a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and a Master of Education in kinesiology from the University of Texas, where he served as a graduate assistant and then as a special assistant with the men’s basketball program.

Now, he’s added the G League to his resume. He has three NBA players who are the team’s top priorities. Dzanan Musa, the 6’9” swingman who’s on the Nets 15-man roster and as a first round pick, he’s guaranteed for two years with the Nets holding his option for years three and four.

Plus, they have two players on two-way deals, Theo Pinson and Alan Williams. Both players were G League All-Stars this year and have contributed to both teams whether it’s dancing on the bench in Brooklyn or racking up G League double or triple doubles.

Weaver has called Musa, the Bosnian star taken at No. 29 last June, the best passer in the G League. He has certainly shown an ability to facilitate at a very high level and despite injuries at the beginning (ankle) and middle (shoulder) of the season.

The second youngest player in the G League, Musa is used to be the youngest guy. He’s been a professional basketball player since he was 15 years old. the ninth-youngest player to make their debut in the EuroLeague. He’s also the seventh youngest player on an NBA roster this season. At 19, he is indeed very young but has quite the professional basketball experience compared to his Long Island teammates.

Weaver admires the multiple roles Musa fills with his team and how he is developing into a good NBA player.

“He has a huge desire to be great,” Weaver told NetsDaily. “Especially given the talent that we have, he has had to play off-the-ball, on-the-ball, he has had to play huge minutes, and he has had just to be a piece.

“The thing you always get from him is competitiveness and when he has the ball in his hands it’s not just about the pass, it’s the accuracy on his passes, the touch on his passes, and the way that he can be going full speed, get fouled, play through it and still be able to find a pass that no one could have seen on the court or on the bench.”

“That all leads to It being an NBA skill down the line for this young man,” Weaver added. “It’s fun to have a blend of guys that are from all parts of the world that have had different experiences that led them here and creates a close bond, especially for an assignment guy. Credit to him for being a teammate and a big part of what we have accomplished when he has been healthy, I think the sky is the limit for him.”

Pinson has shown great potential in his rookie season as a undrafted signing making him a favorable candidate for the nets final roster spot. Coach Will Weaver believes the 23 year-old is the best two-way player in the G League, meaning a player who can play defense as well as offense and is simply a great talent for his age.

“He reads the game in a way that consistently surprises me when I remember how old he is because there are veteran NBA guards and international guards that do not have the ability to see the game the way he does,” Weaver told NetsDaily. “The impact he has as a scorer, as a passer, with his vision & unselfishness. He has tools you can not find often. He recognizes that there is some work to do on the defensive end to grow, especially as an off-ball defender but everything else is there.”

“He is not one of the best two-way players in the league but he is the best two-way player in the league,” Weaver told NetsDaily, referring to players on two-way deals in the G League in the first instance and well-rounded players in the second.

“I think the way he fits into our environment and the willingness to play a style that he was not used to, listening to coaching, fixing his body with his nutrition and his sleep, is the whole thing. We love him and we are glad he is ours.”

Williams, also known as Big Sauce, has NBA and international basketball experience before signing his two-way deal late in free agency.

After bouncing around in the 2015 NBA Summer League, earning All-NBA Summer League Second Team honors, Williams signed a one-year deal with the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association. Big Sauce played in 35 games averaging 20.8 points, league-high 15.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.6 blocks.

His play in China reopened the NBA doors leading him to signing a 10-day deal with the Suns followed by a multi-year deal. Big Sauce produced good numbers and split time with Phoenix and their G League team, the Northern Arizona Suns in the two seasons he playing in his home state. He suffered a meniscus injury in his right knee sidelining the rising center for six months leading to the Suns waiving him in July of 2018.

After he signed a two-way contract with the Brooklyn Nets and his career has blossomed.

Weaver praises Williams skillset and referred to his impact with the Nets as an identical impact Dwight Howard makes when he is on the court. The Long Island head coach sees nothing but bright lights in Big Sauce’s future.

“He does not just have a remarkable basketball IQ but the level that he sees and talks the game is elite,” Weaver told NetsDaily. “There will always be a market for players who do that but specifically players that have his kind of tools: Elite screen setter, incredible roller, someone who can catch everything and impacts every play.

“You can feel him when he sets screens, that’s probably, in my opinion, the most underestimated and most underappreciated feel of the NBA; great screeners and he absolutely one of them. Although he can go to the block and post, which in particular in a G League environment, can overwhelm people with his size and skill set but what I get really excited about is his screen setting and dynamic rolling, almost Dwight Howard-type impact even though he does it differently the way he collapses the defense, he can finish all types of ways, he can draw fouls, and he can really pass the ball.

“So I think he’s shown NBA teams how he can impact through that screen-and-roll and I think he’s worked tremendously hard, especially since coming off injury, to manage the sixty or so pick and rolls he faces on a night-to-night basis. That is from our development work and the work he has put in.

“Today, NBA centers are defenders and that’s where their value lies, to protect the rim, and and have these velociraptors come at you night after night after night,” Weaver told NetsDaily. “I think those two areas he has made strides in and what I’m excited about is his screen setting and dynamic rolling and made his strength even stronger. I’m excited what’s ahead for him. Not just in the NBA but a Brooklyn environment as well.”

In early January, it looked like Williams was headed back to China. He agreed to a deal to play with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association, a far more lucrative deal than a two-way NBA contract. A couple days later, Williams announced he was rejoining the Nets.

Weaver spoke on his initial reaction when he heard his star big man was heading overseas and how his team handled the situation.

“Well first, it’s an incredible opportunity for him and the jobs in China are some of the highest paying jobs in the world so everyone is running to that environment to create opportunities for themselves and for him to get what was offered, you are just excited for him,” Weaver told NetsDaily. “You respect him for the work he’s put in and the way he handles it all then you find out that some type of administrative craziness goes on and then you are excited that he is coming back to join the team and his teammates, who played well during his absence.”

Like any coach Weaver has a great connection and bond with his players but there is one player that he has a special connection with; Mitch Creek. Creek, a star of the Australian league, fulfilled his dream of playing in the NBA when the Nets called up the 6’6” forward on a 10-day contract.

Weaver knew Creek and how he plays from his time as an assistant basketball coach for the Australian national team. It’s clear that their connection is very strong, like a friend talking about their best friend. Weaver talked about recruiting Creek to the Nets and his value.

“It was an easy process to recruit him because of what I know the Brooklyn Nets are about and what he (Mitch) is about,” Weaver told NetsDaily. “His personality, approach, and his craft fits into what we do on the floor. He is so versatile and he is so willing to play himself out for what the team needs.

“There are very few teams on this earth that couldn’t use a guy like Mitch. In the locker room, on the plane, in a bus, or in a hotel environment, there just aren’t any better guys. To have a guy that understands his craft and cares deeply like he does, understands this whole thing through relationships and creating energy that can support team goals and he does it better than anybody. He really is one of the best leaders on our team.”

It can be surprising for a team that has went through numerous roster changes over the course of the season to not just be a playoff team but a contender to win it all. Weaver credits his coaching staff on working with each and every player individually so when a assignment, 10-day deal, or injury comes their way, there are always reinforcements.

One assistant coach in particular has won praise from the three players on the Nets roster: Musa, Pinson and Williams. It’s Shaun Fein’s job as “player development coordinator” to make they are getting the special attention needed to make them valuable on the NBA stage. Fein, an American, was a French league star for more than a decade so he has that European connection.

“We work a lot on my shot so I feel very comfortable shooting three’s and long distances, thanks to (assistant coach) Pablo (Prigioni) and Shaun Fein, all those guys that work my ass everyday,” said Musa with a smile recently.

”If I have words, I would say that guy is amazing. Amazing. He always stays calm. When we are nervous, anxious, he gets us up. He’s a guy you want to have around all the time. Most important thing from the player-coach relationship is trust. So every guy on the club trusts him. Me personally, I am very thankful that I have the guy (working with me).”

The Long Island Nets success maybe shadowed by what Brooklyn have accomplished this season but it can not go unnoticed. Long Island are currently riding a ten-game winning streak, tied for the longest winning streak in the G League this season, accomplished by Windy City.

Weaver is surprised that no one has won more than nine straight and credits his guys for playing as a team.

“I’m surprised that no one has won more than nine games in a row this season,” Weaver told NetsDaily. “We can see the balanced scoring. If we have multiple guys scoring in double-figures and the willingness to push, pace, be aggressive, and have that not drift into settling for something bad, it will be great. Our guys have the ability to create efficient shots for themselves or others. It’s much easier to create for others than themselves so we have been talking about that.”

With Long Island clinching their first ever playoff appearance last week, it is clear Long Island should be considered a contender. So what are the expectations for the Nets? Weaver appreciates that his guys want to win it all and credits his returning players from last season on signing back up after coming just shy of making the playoffs.

“The reason these guys were picked and were brought here was because they care about winning and they see the game through an unselfish way, which is not common based on my conversations with other G League coaches and decision makers,” Weaver said “I appreciate that they care a lot about winning. We have a good amount of returners, Shannon (Scott), Tahj (McCall), Karami (Murphy), Thomas (Wimbush). Those guys all signed back up to come back here, at least in part, because they were disappointed to not punch a ticket to the playoffs last year and so this year we want to accomplish a goal and make a run at this thing.”