With more than 200 media scattered about the gym in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Friday, there was a palpable buzz. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were speaking for the first time as Nets.
Rightfully so, this year’s Media Day was all about the two superstars. However, there were more than a few new players —eight plus camp invites— who ultimately could prove pivotal, rounding out the team or headed to Long Island. The hope in the front office and among the coaching staff is that they’ll aid a jump in team fortunes.
Taurean Prince is at the forefront of this discussion. The new forward has gotten rave reviews from teammates and others in the organization all summer with many believing he’s primed for a breakout.
On Tuesday, without hesitation, Sean Marks told reporters, “Taurean had a really good summer,” when sharing his thoughts on potential breakout candidates.
Spencer Dinwiddie was the first Net this summer to buy stock in Prince’s rise, telling Brian Lewis of the Post last week, “(Prince’s) going to be to a pleasant surprise, somebody a lot of people are discounting. He can really, really, really shoot it.”
Dinwiddie doubled down at Media Day, telling YES Network’s Ryan Ruocco and Sarah Kustok of how impressive Prince has been in workouts.
“Phenomenal shooter. I think his shooting has even surprised me… He’s a next level shooter. Probably right now second to Joe [Harris] (on the team).” That’s lofty praise.
As a perimeter sniper, he’ll likely be more open that he has ever been before. Defenses will be worried about Irving, Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert’s dribble penetration while being cognizant of ferocious rim rollers like DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen. Prince and Harris should certainly should be beneficiaries of the drive-and-kick action.
But Prince is more than just a shooter. He told NetsDaily at Media Day that one of his goals this season is to solidify himself as a true two-way player.
“I think my first two years I was definitely on my way to being a great defender,” said Prince. “There was an injury situation halfway through the season - came back a little too early. I played pretty much hurt the last 25-30 games. I never made an excuse, but now I’m 100% healthy. I’m going to demand guarding every All-Star we play, every best player on the floor at every time, no matter the position.”
David Nwaba is another player on Brooklyn’s bench whose talents many are neglecting.
At Media Day, Kenny Atkinson highlighted Nwaba’s ability to play the four – where he played the majority of his minutes last season for Cleveland.
Despite being listed at just 6’4’’, Nwaba is big-framed and long-armed with a 7-foot wingspan. He expressed confidence in guarding bigger players, “Taking those defensive match-ups at the 4 position… I’m strong down there in the post against those big guys and I can hold my own. I have no worries about playing that position.”
On what else he can bring to the team, Nwaba described his game:
“I do the little things on the court whether its defending or making cuts to the basket, I try to make the game simple. It’s just to defend and knock down the open three… I’m excited to do that and bring that motor, that energy on the court.”
For Dzanan Musa, its year two and after a year of paying his dues in the G-League, he feels ready and deserving of a spot in Brooklyn. Musa told NetsDaily that his goal for the season is to lock up a rotation spot. As a multi-dimensional ball-handler and a crafty scorer, Musa could help provide the bench with some scoring punch.
Atkinson noted how Musa had both filled out physically and matured.
Nic Claxton is the sleeper. The common belief is that he’ll spend a lot of time in the G-League this season similar to how Musa spent his time last season. However, that was the plan for Jarrett Allen’s rookie season as well ... and Rodions Kurucs’ last year. With a shorthanded frontcourt, could the rookie big man crack a spot at some point in Brooklyn’s rotation? Don’t rule it out.
Claxton told NetsDaily that the Nets haven’t spoken to him yet about their plan for him this season, just letting him play and add to his slight frame. He believes his versatility is a strength, saying he feels comfortable at either frontcourt spot. He added he “feels a lot stronger” after the off-season regimen he followed. Watch out for him, he could surprise.
Rodions Kurucs, for all his problems, showed up and took questions. He said he was under instructions not to talk about his September arrest for domestic assault against a former girlfriend.
Asked if he expects to get suspended, Kurucs replied: “No, I can’t tell you anything about it because I don’t know myself what’s going to happen. We’ll see.”
He was ready to talk about where the Nets see him fitting in their new line-up, assuming he can play. He said the Nets told him they would like him to take on more of a playmaking role at the 3 and pointed to Draymond Green of the Warriors as a model.
Noticeably bigger across the shoulders and upper chest, the 6’10” Kurucs said he now weighs “227, 230 pounds.” That’s almost 20 pounds heavier than he was a year ago.
He said he wasn’t troubled by the Nets bringing in extra bodies like ex-Knicks Lance Thomas and Henry Ellenson as well as Prince.
“That’s why you have camp, to compete and prove you’re a roster player. That’s what I’m about to do,” said Kurucs. “Everyone is fighting for a spot trying to prove we can play.”
Finally, there’s Theo Pinson – the presumed third-point guard and leader of the notorious Brooklyn Bench Mob (shoutout Playboi Carti).
Have any reservations about Pinson’s playmaking ability? Don’t. Sean Marks has seen him as a point guard since the Nets turned him from an undrafted swingman to second in G League Rookie of the Year voting
Pinson told NetsDaily his favorite player growing up was Magic Johnson and throughout his entire basketball career, coaches have actually gotten on him for being too unselfish and willing to pass. He agreed that passing was his greatest offensive skill, something that intrigued the Nets as well in last year’s draft process.
Perhaps the most impressive development in Pinson’s game as a rookie was the growth in his three-point shot.
While at UNC, Pinson shot just 25.7 percent from the college three and just 23 percent his senior season. As a rookie in the NBA, with the Long Island Nets, Pinson’s three-point numbers remarkably shot up to 38.9 percent on a gaudy eight attempts per game.
Asked how he made such an improvement, Pinson told NetsDaily it was just about putting the work in.
“I think it’s just repetition and confidence, they preach threes and layups here… I knew if I wanted to stay and be a contributor in the league, I needed to shoot at a high level.”
Pinson, who Atkinson also called out, added that in high school and the NBA, like many amateur standouts, he really didn’t need to develop a jumper. He was able to get to the rim at will and thrived in other areas, using his athleticism and offensive wiles.
Beyond shooting, though, the question on everyone’s mind is how will Pinson and the Nets can replicate last year’s bench celebrations and replace those that have departed?
Pinson told NetsDaily of his philosophy, “If I’m just sitting over there, it’s boring. You got to get involved… It’s okay if those guys want to do it with me, but I don’t care doing it by myself.”
C.J. Williams, the 6’5” guard who was brought in as an Exhibit 10 contract, joked that he hasn’t yet mastered the dance moves but noted that he and others in the league recognized the moves as evidence the Nets were together.
The Nets have eight new faces this season, the most since the team’s second year. In the past, the turnover was all about development. Now with those two superstars at the top of the roster, Atkinson is going to be looking down the bench to see who he can trust.
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