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Nets new two-way strategy producing results

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Remember Yacouba Outtara? How about Jacob Wiley? Probably not. They were the first two-way contracts the Nets signed back in 2017. Neither made it. Outtara, a 6’4” guard, is playing for Monaco in the French League. Wiley, a 6’8” power forward, is playing for Panathinakos, a Euroleague team in Greece.

Since that initial foray, the Nets have slowly changed their strategy with two-ways specifically and the G League in general. Just this season, the Nets have found two rotation players, Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot and Chris Chiozza and they like Jeremiah Martin, a younger 6’4” point guard who played only 16 minutes with Brooklyn.

The difference between 2017 and 2020? Instead of using their two-ways to take a chance on an international prospect or a player who went undrafted, the Nets are instead looking for diamonds in the rough, players with a level of experience who they can slot into the roster more or less seamlessly. It’s no surprise since the Nets have moved from development to contention.

Luwawu-Cabarrot is the poster boy for that shift. TLC had 171 games of NBA experience with three teams and had been cut by a fourth. The Nets signed him to a two-way deal in October, eight days after that fourth team, the lowly Cavaliers, had waived him at the end of training camp.

After playing 24 games with Long Island (and averaging nearly 20 points a game) and a couple of games of garbage time in Brooklyn, TLC was brought up for good at the end of December. He essentially replaced David Nwaba who went down on the 19th.

“They gave me that role and I embrace it: I love it. I love to go out there and compete and play super-hard,” Luwawu-Cabarrot told Brian Lewis. “We want more than what we have right now. We’re hungry. We really, really want to compete and prove ourselves and prove a lot of things.”

Indeed, TLC has seen his minutes —and his role— jump as the season has gone on. In December and January, he was a bit up-and-down and at the end of January, he had four games where he played less than seven minutes a game — including a DNP. But once the schedule turned to February, he found his way into the rotation. He averaged 7.2 points in 17.7 minutes for a plus-3.1 and after manipulating the restrictions on two-ways and 10-days, the Nets signed him to a two-year, team-friendly deal on February 7.

After making a prorated veteran’s minimum of $654,468 this season, he’ll make $1.8 million next season, with the Nets holding his Early Bird Rights after that. (His contract is non-guaranteed through August, then partially guaranteed until January.)

Still just 25 years old, the native of Cannes, France, is happy being a Net, happy with the culture.

“We think we can win [against] everybody, so we just come out and play hard,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said after scoring 13 points in the Nets’ last game, including 11 in a 17-5 third-quarter run that helped power the big win over the Lakers. “We really think we can beat anybody … We don’t focus on what they did before: We just focus on us.”

March was big for TLC. He had 16 points and eight boards in the OT win over the Celtics — Boston reporters disgustedly referred to him as “Love Carrot” in the Celtics press room, we’re told. He also had 19 vs. the Spurs and 13 against the Lakers. He averaged 11 points and 27 minutes a game in the five games last month.

Back in November, he told our Chris Milholen he could have made more money overseas but chose the two-way deal because he trusted the Nets system and his former teammate at Antibes, Shaun Fein, Long Island’s coach.

Chiozza was not as experienced as Luwawu-Cabarrot when the Nets signed him to a mid-season two-way on January 4, mainly as point guard insurance for Kyrie Irving. He played in seven games for the Rockets last year and 11 for the Wizards earlier this season.

Like TLC, he had a great March, averaging 10.5 points in 19 minutes per game with a 56/52/100 shooting line. It’s fair to say that without those two, the Nets wouldn’t have gone 4-1 in their last five games before the break in play.

“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.”

Unlike Chiozza, his contract status remains uncertain. He’s still on a two-way deal and IF the league comes back and IF they want 24-year-old in the post-season, they’ll have to offer him a standard contract at some point. That would mean someone else would have to be waived. The casualty in that process might be last year’s two-way, Theo Pinson, who inked a multi-year deal —with a team option next year— a week after “The Clean Sweep.”

Beyond the two two-ways, one would have to think the Nets will find a place —a camp invite perhaps— for at least one other Long Island player, Justin Anderson who had a 10-day contract with the Nets in mid-season. Anderson, a powerful 6’6” wing, was one of the G League’s best players before the league shut down play.

The Nets, in fact, went out of their way to keep him in the Brooklyn system after that 10-day expired, trading Henry Ellenson’s G League rights to Toronto for Anderson’s G League rights on January 21. Anderson has 219 NBA games to his credit.

The Nets haven’t given up development within the G League system either. The Nets have retained their draft rights to Jaylen Hands who’s still only 21. As noted, Martin has played well in Long Island and before that, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, averaging 17.7 in 37 games. He’s only 23.

It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but the Nets now have four rotation players they signed off G League rosters, their own or others. In addition to Luwawu-Cabarrot and Chiozza, Spencer Dinwiddie was called up from the Windy City Bulls in December 2016 and Joe Harris’ last game before he hurt his foot in January 2016 was with the Canton Charge, Cleveland’s affiliate.