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Rodions Kurucs pushes envelope on transition to 5

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Before he was drafted in 2018, Rodions Kurucs was described by one draftnik as a “3-and-D wing in the body of a small-ball center.” In light of Wednesday night’s scrimmage, that now seems prophetic.

Kurucs, who’s 6’10” in sneakers and a 7’2” wingspan, is the Nets back-up 5 at least until Donta Hall, who’s finally out of quarantine, gets acclimated to the Nets system and practices a bit. On Wednesday, the Latvian finished the game with 10 points, five rebounds, three steals and a neat pocket pass that Jarrett Allen converted easily. He was 4-of-8 overall and 2-of-5 from deep. At one point in the third quarter, Kurucs hit five straight points with a dunk off a steal and a three from the top of the key. His coach liked what he saw.

“I give him a ton of credit,” said Jacque Vaughn. “He’s shown a lot of positive steps in that direction. A lot of times a player doesn’t speak because of how they’re going to be perceived or whether or not they know the information to talk to their teammates.

“Multiple times throughout this togetherness as a team, Rodi has been challenged with a question and the other day he was able to get on the board and draw up two plays that were implemented two days prior. So his ability to do the work in between sessions has been extremely pleasing and also his communication. I think he can play multiple positions and you saw his activity level, hopefully we can continue to take advantage of.”

Communication, Kurucs admitted, was a big part of the challenge he faces. Although he doesn’t see the 5 as his natural position, he’s happy playing the back-up in a pinch.

“It’s been pretty good. I adjusted pretty quick. I just had to learn little things, what the bigs have to do, communication,” Kurucs told reporters on the Nets daily Zoom call. “We just have to communicate to the guards and tell them everything, what to do on defense. That was the hardest part, because I’m not used to talking as much in the defense because the bigs were talking. I have to get used to that, adjust to that.

“I don’t think it’s my position, but you always can learn from things. I learned a lot of communication, how you play pick-and-roll, how hard it is for the big guys to do everything, like box out and get the rebound. … I don’t think it’s going to be my position going forward, but I’m definitely making the best out of it.”

For the Nets, having a center who can drive the lane, switch hands and finish AND hit the three AND run the floor is a positive. Allen said he’s been trying to help the 22-year-old survive and thrive.

“He’s been with me and the bigs — well, I guess there’s no big group: There’s only me — but he’s been with me running through defensive schemes, offensive schemes,” Allen said. “I try to give him a tip from a player’s perspective now and then that the coaches can’t give him, just from having experience on the court and knowing where I need to be or where a hand position needs to be just to get the upper advantage.”

Garrett Temple also liked what he saw from Kurucs.

“Rodi was really good,” Temple said. “He’s going to have to play a lot of 5 because of the team we have, and having him at the 5 with his energy, his ability to rebound, set good screens and shoot the 3 like he is, he’s going to be good for us.”

Indeed, a rebound by Kurucs in the “bubble” would be a positive for both his career and the Nets. After a solid rookie year, Kurucs fell out of favor. Errant turnovers and indecision with the ball in his hands plagued much of Kurucs’ sophomore performance, resulting in 25 DNP-CDs in the Nets 64 games and a brief stint with the Long Island Nets.

On top of that, he was arrested on domestic abuse charges back in early September and endured five court appearances. He will face another in late November, then possibly a trial.

It wasn’t all lost. Kurucs 3-point shooting improved in the games he did play, rising from 31.5 percent to 38.5.

“You always can learn from things,” said Kurucs.