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For Nets young bigs, a chance to impress has arrived

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Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

As Jamal Crawford says of the “bubble,” it’s “an opportunity for young guys to establish themselves.” And in the case of Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs, RE-establish themselves.

Just before the NBA went on hiatus, both Allen and Kurucs, both 22, had fallen on hard times. After Kenny Atkinson was dumped, Allen was sent to the bench in favor of DeAndre Jordan, whose FOK (Friend of Kevin or Kyrie) credentials are unsurpassed. Truth be told, he had been inconsistent for several weeks, the big criticism leveled against him. Kurucs wasn’t even in the picture at the 4, getting few minutes behind Tauran Prince and then Wilson Chandler. In the five games before the shutdown, he had played 40 minutes in three games and scored a grand total of seven points.

Then, Jordan and Prince tested positive for coronavirus, ending their seasons, Chandler opted out of the “bubble” and substitute Michael Beasley failed his physical, also the result of a positive test for the virus. Allen and Kurucs became the only bigs on a depleted roster, Donta Hall, another 22-year-old, was signed as a substitute but as of Monday, he hadn’t practiced yet.

Suddenly, a perceived weakness has become a strong point, Allen and Kurucs, along with Caris LeVert and Tyler Johnson, became big positives in the Nets final two scrimmages, as the Nets beat writers explained Wednesday. Both showed that they could do what was expected of them before the season began. Allen averaged a double-double —13.0 and 10.3, shot 77 percent overall and played well against Rody Gobert. Kurucs averaged 13.3 and five, shooting a staggering 67 percent from deep.

What happened, other than the opportunity to remind everyone they have potential? Confidence is what happened.

“I’m just a huge believer in having confidence, that’s a big part of it. You think these guys are NBA players and they should walk around with confidence. And depending on your situation sometimes that varies,” said Jacque Vaughn.

“Rodi is playing with an extreme amount of confidence. He can make mistakes, but he’s learning how to move onto the next play. So that’s signs of growth and maturity. It’s allowed him to just use the talents that he has and he’s learning how to use those talents.”

Similarly, LeVert likes what he sees out of Allen.

“I loved the way he competed against Gobert,” LeVert said of Allen after Monday’s game. “Gobert’s one of the top bigs, one of the top rim protectors in the league, and I think JA’s up there as well. I think he’s going to come into his own every single game, and I think games like tonight really show that. He’s just got to be consistent with it . . . I can’t wait for him to keep getting better and see what his ceiling is.”

...and Kurucs.

“It’s just huge for the spacing on the court,” LeVert added. “With Rodi at the 5, it’s a mismatch. He’s got such great speed. And he’s making better decisions as well. We trust him with the ball up top, whether he shoots it or puts it on the ground and makes a play for somebody else. But it just makes the court that much bigger.”

The two players themselves have talked about their confidence level. Kurucs spoke last Thursday about how he’s adjusted to playing defense at the 5, something he’s never had to do in his career ... and something he’s admitted is not his preference.

“I adjusted pretty quick. I just had to learn little things, what the bigs have to do, communication,” Kurucs said. “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.”

Similarly, Allen spoke about his conditioning and where he’s at.

“I’ve come to realize I’m more conditioned than I thought I was in the past, so I think I can handle it. But it’s going to be good when Donta comes in and we have another athletic center to be able to catch lobs, put pressure on the rim and block shots.”

The ‘Fro added that he and Kurucs chemistry has been helped by the fact that they are friends. They live in the same apartment building in Brooklyn.

“I love playing with Rodi,” Allen said. “He’s one of my good friends, and he just gives me more energy out there, pushes me to compete. He plays hard . . . maybe I’ll take some rebounds while he’s blocking my man out. He’s just all over the court, and it’s fun playing with guys like that.”

Both admit they’d like to see Hall come in and contribute. The former Pistons two-way looks to be a Nets development project but he’ll be pressed into service at the 5 and maybe even the 4. Defense was his calling card at Alabama and in the G League but he was encouraged to shoot by the Pistons while on his 10-day deals. The Nets can only hope that he, too, will seize the opportunity.