The story of Chris Chiozza began when the Brooklyn Nets announced they were signing the 5’11 guard to a two-way deal on January 3. The 24-year-old point guard had been playing for the Capital City Go-Go, the Wizards affiliate, after a 10-game stint with the parent club that ended two weeks earlier. Once all the formalities were taken care of,, Chiozza literally rolled into Uniondale, home of the Long Island Nets, for their game against the Wisconsin Herd.
Coming right from the airport, all he had was his rolling luggage and what he was wearing. Not an auspicious arrival, but he was back on an NBA contract, even if only a two-way deal.
He sat on the end of the bench in a blue team sweatshirt that night watching his new team. Chiozza was engaged in all the Nets timeouts, cheering on his new teammates, and following the Nets win, he rolled his luggage into the locker room and set up shop.
Shaun Fein, Long Island’s head coach and a former point guard himself, did not get the chance to meet with his new two-way guard that night but he provided media with a preview of what the Nets, and particularly what Long Island GM Matt Riccardi, saw in him.
“His leadership,” Fein said of Chiozza’s greatest advantage. “He can control the game, control the tempo and has a great feel for the game. He is a big time competitor. He had a lot of success in college, a lot of success last year, and even this year in the G League.”
“Someone on the defensive end who can get into people, make people uncomfortable, and run the team on the other side. I am looking forward to working with him.”
Three days later, the 24-year-old guard made his Nets debut in a matchup against the Pistons G League affiliate. His debut was not a flashy one, finishing with nine points, eight assists, and four rebounds in 37 minutes. He did not have a good shooting night, going only 3-of-13 overall and 1-of-8 from deep.
Following the game, Chiozza spoke about how his playmaking, defense, and leadership would be his biggest contribution to the Nets. The two-way also noted he’s actually a good shooter despite his early struggles.
“I have not shot the ball well since I got here but I am actually a good shooter.” Chiozza said. Leadership as well.”
Chiozza also credited the Nets for helping him adjust easily after going from the Wizards to Go-Go to Long Island in a matter of three weeks.
“They have been great,” Chiozza said. “Welcoming me and letting me go out there and telling me not to worry about being the new guy. Just come out and play.”
It did not take the two-way guard long to heat up for Long Island, making quite the name for himself at Nassau Coliseum. One thing the Nets wanted out of him was a bias towards shooting.
In his first few games in Long Island, Fein said his two-way guard could be a little too unselfish and wanted him to look to score rather than making the extra pass if he has an open shot or a lane. Indeed, Chiozza, in a short stint with the Rockets last season and with the Wizards this season, the Florida product had shot better than 40 percent but hadn’t taken a lot of shots.
That quickly changed as Chiozza had a couple of 20+ point games.
“I have been a scorer in the past,” Chiozza said. “It has never been a problem for me to score. As coach said, I can be a little too unselfish sometimes so they just told me, my teammates, to score the ball. When everyone is telling you to score the ball, it is not hard to go out there and shoot the ball so it is just a matter of the shots going in so I have been working on my shot a lot.”
Chiozza played only 10 games for Long Island posting averages of 13.3 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.8 steals in 31.8 minutes per game, but his play in Uniondale wasn’t about big scoring nights.
His speed, decision making, and flashy passes showed the Nets brass that he could be a floor general for the Brooklyn team, which suddenly became a Nets need once Kyrie Irving’s shoulder injury put him first on the bench then on an operating table. Initially, Chiozza was getting only garbage time minutes. Between January 18 and February 18, he played in six games, but never more than a few minutes. He played nine minutes in the Nets blowout of the Warriors on February 5.
Then came March and like Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot before him, Chiozza passed and shot his way into the parent club’s rotation. Kenny Atkinson may not like small guards, but he liked Chiozza.
With Irving’s absence and Spencer Dinwiddie’s funky stretch in early February, Chiozza quickly became the team’s second unit floor general, seeing a slow climb in minutes.
With the chatter slowly rising around Chiozza, on March 3, the Nets two-way guard made his first strong impression for the parent club and the legend of The Chiozzen One began.
Brooklyn trailed the Boston Celtics 56-43 at halftime, coughing up 13 turnovers and in need of a spark. In came Chiozza in the third quarter.
The 24 year-old provided that spark Atkinson and the Nets were searching for. Chiozza provided a huge boost on both ends of the floor, highlighted by two huge three-pointers, ending the night with eight points, four assists, three rebounds, and two steals in 20 minutes.
“I was a little shocked actually, but I was ready,” he said post-game. “That’s my mindset is to try to stay ready because you never know what’s going to happen.”
He also recounted what he, a two-way, told Caris LeVert, on his way to a 51-point performance.
“Let me bring the ball up, and you’ve got to score,” Chiozza told LeVert. “When you get to your spot, you just put your hands up, and I’ll get you the ball.”
Chiozza continued to keep a consistent level of play, highlighted by a career-high 14-point performance in 24 minutes during the Nets loss against the Grizzlies, a 13-point performance in the win over the Spurs and 11 points and six rebounds in the Nets last game vs. the Lakers.
The Nets two-way now has 11 games under his belt for Brooklyn, averaging 5.2 points, 1.8 assists, 1.8 rebounds, and 0.5 steals in 11.5 minutes per game. But in five games in March, before the league went dark, the numbers are far more impressive. He’s averaged 10 points, 2.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 0.6 steals in 19 minutes ... with a staggering shooting line of 56/53/100.
Everyone seems happy with him. Fans are already comparing him to Fred Van Vleet, the Raptors undrafted find to whom he bears a bit of a resemblance, both physically and stylistically. Too soon? Too crazy? Of course, but Chiozza’s play has started to excite the Nets fanbase, just as Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie did during their early, post-G League days.
There is one thing, however, assuming the league comes back for the playoffs.
Despite playing well for Brooklyn, Chiozza is currently not eligible to play for the parent club come playoff time, whenever that is. Players on a two-way contracts can’t play in the post-season. In order for Brooklyn to have the 5’11 guard available, the team will need to waive a player and sign Chiozza to a standard NBA deal.
Aside from his eye catching play in his recent stretch with Brooklyn, Chiozza has two specific goals for the season: to get better and build relationships.
“Just take everything day by day,” Chiozza said early on about personal goals. “Try to get better everyday and build a relationship with these guys and build a good relationship with the guys on the Brooklyn Nets.”
So far, so good.