The unassuming size of Chris Chiozza might be his secret weapon. ZING - he’s already sprinted with the ball to the other side of the court after a rebound. ZOOM - he’s hurling a fast break pass to Caris LeVert for an easy layup. BANG - he’s snuck over to an open spot on the wing for a catch-and-shoot three. He’s every short point guard you’ve ever played against in pickup at the local school yard —a quiet, poised killer in sneakers. But as he showed us in his brief 2020 stint with the Nets, he can do it on the big stage when he gets the chance.
Chiozza is cut from a familiar mold, his skill set is what you see in your classic backup point guard: ball handling, passing, and some shooting - think T.J. McConnell or Monte Morris, or if we take it retro, a shorter Jose Calderon or a (slightly) taller J.J. Barea.
In his last five games before the season was postponed, “Cheese” put up 10 points, 2.6 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game with 56/53/100 shooting splits. He wasn’t missing!! But it is important to first understand who Chiozza is on the court before diving into his context within this Nets season ... and perhaps within the Nets of the future.
Is Chiozza ever going to be an All-Star? No. It’s unlikely he will ever progress past being a backup point guard, even though on this roster he is currently third on the depth chart when and if everyone is healthy. In a vacuum, he may never be an impact player, but the important thing to remember is that basketball does not happen in a vacuum. It happens in real life, and that’s where Chris Chiozza starts to get interesting.
Take a trip back in time and space with me to December 1st, 2019. Simpler times! The Nets and the Heat were playing in Barclays, and it was during that time when both Kyrie and Caris LeVert were out with injuries. The starters for that game were Spencer Dinwiddie, Garrett Temple, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, and Jarrett Allen. Fine. Okay. Gotta play who’s healthy.
Oh who was the bench unit, you ask? Well it was some combination of DeAndre Jordan, David Nwaba, Iman Shumpert, Theo Pinson, and Dzanan Musa. As an exercise, please think to yourself who should be handling point guard or even just on-ball duties out of that bunch. You can, if you wish, even include any non-Dinwiddie starters. Got your answer? Well, whether you went with Joe Harris or David Nwaba or even Dzanan Musa, you probably aren’t too excited about it. Not only was there no clear ball-handler to take the reins when Dinwiddie got some much needed rest, but no matter who the choice was there it was a huge compromise.
Want Joe Harris to run some pick and roll? Great! You just lost your best off-ball shooter and cutter. Want to keep trying out the Theo-Pinson-As-Point-Guard Experiment? Enjoy, it’s going to continue to be a struggle on both ends of the court. Unsurprisingly, the Nets lost that game by three points despite leading with fewer than two minutes left. The late-November through December stretch was sometimes brutal to watch as now ex-head coach Kenny Atkinson did everything he could to try and patch together solid minutes while his one and only ball handler Spencer Dinwiddie was off the court. Enter: Chris Chiozza who the Nets signed a month later.
It’s funny to consider someone who was bouncing around the G-League to be essentially the human embodiment of manna from heaven for a team that employs Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert, but Dammit, it was nice seeing the Cheeseman out there as the backup point guard.
In addition to his skillset we’ve covered, Chiozza’s best quality might be his ability to create order out of chaos. It’s called poise. With a game that screams this man is TRYING out here, Chiozza can find himself disorienting the other team in a way that becomes a delight to watch and translates to buckets on the court. He will go grab his own rebound. He will sling that weird pass across the court. He will take that pull-up transition three. And he’ll do it with tight handles, a balanced center of gravity, and just a little dash of some healthy F.U.. It felt like the Nets had been missing a real edge this season, one they had ever so profoundly last season, and Chiozza brings some of that back in a meaningful way.
Something I have always believed about basketball is that no matter who you are in the NBA, the defining trait of your game is how hard you try and how much you care. We have seen some of the most talented, gifted, and set-up-for-success players flame out because they just did not consider playing basketball really hard to be a priority of theirs.
In the scheme of the universe, I have no issue with that. Happens. I am also in no way saying that the 2020 Brooklyn Nets didn’t play hard. If anything, they played their asses off trying to make up for so many roster shortcomings and demoralizing injuries to the likes of LeVert, Irving, Nwaba, and of course the looming figure that is Kevin Durant, the sleeping monster.
At times, it felt like a slog to get through the year and move onto the next one, you know, the one-that- really-matters, and all of a sudden here comes this backup-backup point guard with absolutely everything on earth to prove. Someone who needs to play for right now because if he doesn’t show up, he might not get another chance. He was a shot in the arm for a team who quite frankly needed one. It is no coincidence that in the last five games before the postponement of the season, when Chiozza had finally gotten his sea legs and was playing 19 minutes a game, the Nets went 4-1 including the Celtics comeback where he played a major part in Caris LeVert’s 51-point masterpiece.
It’s an odd comparison, but he has a bit of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in him in the best possible way. He will come in, play as hard as he can, do his job, and go take a seat on the bench when the starters are resting.
Chiozza’s performance might not matter much in a season that’s quite possibly done in a world that has been turned upside down and on a team that quite frankly has much bigger things on the agenda. It is, however, absolutely worth considering what his future with the Nets might be and what his success means to the team going forward.
At this point, Kyrie Irving has earned the dubious title of “Injury Prone”. He played just 20 games this season, and has played more than 70 just three times in his nine-year career. Spencer Dinwiddie, on the other hand, didn’t miss a game all season. Ideally, that would continue, but health is fickle and fragile and unpredictable, and as we’ve all been forced to learn over the last month of our lives, the best you can do is be prepared for the worst. The Nets this season were not, and they paid the price with an offense that just did not feel like it was able to find it’s rhythm.
Having a third-string point guard feels like an absolute necessity now, whether that person ends up being Chiozza or not. (I hope it is.) Brooklyn will be strapped for cap space for the foreseeable future with over $142 million on the books for next season. They will need to fill in the cracks with cheap talent who can bring as much impact as possible, an outsized salary-to-production ratio, if you will. If that doesn’t sound like Chris Chiozza, I don’t know who else does.