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Rodions Kurucs — the stretch... 5?

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Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

After an up-and-down sophomore campaign, Rodions Kurucs has entered the “bubble” with a vengeance.

Kurucs is off to a scorching hot start in Orlando. Across three scrimmages, the second year Latvian is shooting a boiling 8-of-12 from downtown — doing much of his damage from the top of the arc as the Nets backup stretch 5. Stretch what!?!

Kurucs’ hot shooting in Orlando continues one of the few positives for him this season — he seems to have become a pure shooter. In 39 games before the league’s suspension, Kurucs shot a strong 39 percent from behind the arc. With all that he can bring with his activity, defensive physicality, and knack for cutting and diving, Kurucs can be a very valuable player if those shooting numbers are for real.

The “bubble” experience has provided a new wrinkle for Kurucs, though. A chance to make his game more versatile — as well as valuable — by proving he’s capable of handling small-ball stretch 5 duties. It wasn’t his deep shooting either. Playing an average of 22 minutes in the three games, Kurucs put up 13.3 points and 5 rebounds a game. Overall, he shot 58.3 percent. And he was his usual annoying self on defense.

Garrett Temple was bullish on the match-up problems Kurucs can cause for other teams while playing the 5:

“Having (Kurucs) at the 5 with his energy, his ability to rebound, set good screens and then shoot the three like he does, he’s gonna be good for us. He’s been playing really well in practice for us at the five...”

For Kurucs, the position adjustment has been relatively seamless, but he acknowledges he needs to talk more defensively as the anchor of the defense.

“I adjusted pretty quick. I just had to learn little things, what the bigs have to do, communication,” Kurucs said after practice last Thursday. “We just have to communicate to the guards and tell them everything what to do on defense. That was the hardest part for me, 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.”

Uniquely (and contrary to the norm), Kurucs seems to thrive when he’s more involved from the top of the arc down out to the wings, rather than operating as a threat in the corner, the shortest distance between player and 3-pointer.

Kurucs has said he doesn’t believe the 5 will be his position long-term, but with so many of the league’s teams going small for points or the entirety of games, the 6’9’’ (and a 7’2” wingspan), Kurucs can be a major weapon for the Nets if he proves capable of handling a new job. (One question is how much time will he get at the back-up 5 once Donta Hall gets his legs under him. The Nets would like to see Hall develop into a similar role, but he still needs to develop Kurucs’ strengths at deep shooting and playmaking.)

Regardless of the position he plays, the second year pro has been one of the Nets biggest strong points in the early going, providing a strong case to be on next year’s expected contender. He remains a bargain. After being drafted at No. 40 (with a Raptors pick) in 2018, he signed a four-year, $7 million deal. After this season ends, he’s owed $3.6 million over the next two. The Nets have a team option in 2021-22. Not bad.

Keep an eye on Rodi throughout the rest of this “bubble” experience for Brooklyn. He seems like a player with a chip on his shoulder looking to salvage his sophomore season. The Nets are going to need him and so far it seems like Kurucs is up to the task.