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Nets first-rounders say they’re ready to contribute while developing

2021 NBA Draft Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets officially introduced both their first-round picks Monday, seating Cameron Thomas (No. 27) and Day’Ron Sharpe (No. 29) between Sean Marks and Steve Nash.

With five picks in the Draft, the Nets GM and his front office had their eyes on mixing in more scoring and rebounding before free agency begins.

“That’s certainly something we’re always looking for, but we’re trying to look at where the other holes may be on the roster, and to have a draft before free agency, you’re never sure what’s going to happen. We’re fortunate to have these guys and watch them develop,” Marks said.

Enter Thomas, the 27th pick.

Thomas, who is viewed as one of the best bucket-getters in the 2021 Draft class, fits the scoring mold. The 19-year-old — who said the Nets selecting him was “a match made in heaven” Thursday night — told the media he’s ready to contribute in multiple ways outside of scoring for Brooklyn.

“I can just come right off the bench and still provide scoring. You can never have too much scoring in the NBA nowadays, so I feel like having me coming off the bench whether it’s scoring, playmaking, or whatever it is, I feel like I can contribute right away,” Thomas said . “I just want to go out there and give it my best.”

Although Thomas has proved to be an elite scorer with a beautiful stroke during his single collegiate season at LSU, his efficiency putting the ball in the basket raises questions. He shot just 41 percent from the field and 33 percent from three, a player who often had the ball in his hands ... and defenders at his hip and in front of him.

SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament - Arkansas v LSU Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Nash, who was an elite shooter during his playing career and one of nine players in league history in the prestigious 50-40-90 club, doesn’t view Thomas’ lack of efficiency as worrisome ... as long as he does what elite shooters do — work on their shot every single day.

“He was probably asked to do a lot in college and to create a lot off the bounce and to take tough shots late on the clock. Sometimes it’s not easy to really project someone’s percentages from college to the pros because they are in a different environment playing a different game. There’s less space and all those things in college,” said Nash.

“I think he’s more than capable to be an excellent shooter in our league and he’s got to go out there and prove it. He’s got to work at it every day. All great shooters shoot every day and work at it religiously. For me, all the tools are there and it’s more of a matter of the environment in the college game versus the pro game. If he plays with other great players, he’s going to get a lot of open looks.”

While Thomas may wind up as a high-caliber scorer off the bench with the Nets this season, the selection was a long-term investment. The Nets head coach doesn’t want to set any expectations for the LSU product coming into the league, or Sharpe, his fellow 19-year-old. Their roles will be based on their development throughout the regular season ... with an early preview based on Summer League play.

“I don’t want to set any expectations other than for him to come in, compete and work on his game. If he earns minutes then great. If he doesn’t, we always got to think long-term. These are young, young guys coming into this league and they both have the potential to play in this league. They got to earn it and prove it on a contending team,” Nash added.

“They both very well may earn minutes but they both may not and that doesn’t mean we’re discouraged in any way. We want to develop these guys regardless if they’re playing or not. This is a long-term play that may happen quicker than we think. They may earn minutes right away, but if not, we’re just excited about their long-term development and have to stay the course to continue to work on all the intangibles and all the things they need to do on the court. We’re just excited that they’re talented young guys in our program that can bring energy, life, spirit, and hopefully can contribute on the floor.”

Just as bigs are on Brooklyn’s radar in free agency, so where they in the Draft. The Nets snagged a prospect who puts the power in the power forward position. Sharpe — a 6’11” 240-pound forward — showed off a mature BBIQ to go with his strength in his single season at North Carolina. The honors student let his personality stand out at the post-draft press conference ... and later in a Reddit AMA.

Sharpe didn’t attend the draft in Brooklyn Thursday night. Instead, he hosted a draft party in his hometown in North Carolina. After being selected by the Nets, Sharpe spent time with his family and friends and arrived in Brooklyn on Sunday.

“I had my draft party back in my hometown. I just got here yesterday. I spent time with my family and friends before I left for good. Been out here since yesterday. I kind of went to sleep. The flight took a toll on me but coming up this week, I’m ready to come out on the court and start working,” Sharpe said. “Trying to prove the Nets made the right decision for Summer League.”

Sharpe disclosed he had a pre-draft workout with the Nets and headed into the draft with the hopes of being drafted by them. Now a Net, he said one goal is to proving himself a “sleeper” in the 2021 Draft class.

“I had a workout with the Nets. I came in and did what I was supposed to do. I feel like I did a great job when I came to work out for them. Going into Draft night, I was just hoping to get drafted, and luckily, I was still on the board when the Nets had a pick and they picked me. It’s like a dream come true with them giving me a chance and an opportunity to prove myself. I feel like I’m going to be a sleeper in this year’s draft,” Sharpe said.

What was Sharpe thinking when he was drafted by the Nets and becoming teammates of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden?

“I was like ‘Damn, I’m about to play with KD, Kyrie and James Harden.’ It’s crazy. I play the game so on 2K, you consider the Nets a superteam so you can’t play with them cause Kyrie, James Harden and KD make everything,” Sharpe said with a glimmering smile.

As for the challenge of physicality, Sharpe made it quite clear that he is ready to defend his ground.

“I feel like when it comes to physicality, I’m a physical player and don’t let anyone push me around or do what they want on my ground. The way I can prepare for the NBA level of physicality is getting my body stronger and get my body right,” Sharpe said.

Although Sharpe can be a bruiser down low, he is joining a team that loves to switch everything on defense. When asked whether he feels confident he can fit into that defensive mold, he’s ready to prove the doubters wrong.

“I feel like I’m comfortable. I like to set the challenge when I switch onto a guard and they think they’re going to abuse me but I like to set the challenge and prove to people that I can defend,” said Sharpe on defensive switching.

While Sharpe will play in the upcoming Summer League in Vegas, his precise role will be dependent on what the team can accomplish a top free agency priority of luring a big. On the other hand, he said he doesn’t want anything handed to him when it comes to solidifying a role.

“I feel like I have to prove myself to get my minutes. I feel like if there’s anything you got to do, you got to prove yourself before anybody gives your respect and I feel I just got to come in and whatever the Nets need me to do, I can do it. That’s my mindset from day one,” Sharpe said.

Later on Reddit, Sharpe spoke about his ability to shoot the long ball. He took only two three’s in his one year at UNC, but the Nets believe he’s capable of a lot more.

“I think my three ball is looking magnificent and I feel like it is going to be a good asset to my game in the future,” he told the AMA.

Neither Thomas or Sharpe have spoken to their new teammates on the Nets since being drafted by Brooklyn. Although awaiting to connect with the Nets, both rookies are signed under the same agency — CAA — and worked out together in the pre-draft process and are both ready to prove that Brooklyn made the right picks.

“We know each other. We have the same agency so me and Cam, we trained at pre-draft. I never played Cam in high school but we came to CAA and we got to work out with each other, lift, and all that. We’re already family so the Nets made two great picks.”

Meanwhile in Tokyo, Kevin Durant had positive things to say about the rookies.

“I think it’s gonna be an adjustment period. It’s a different game than it was in college. Different coaching staff,” said Durant, “But you can tell those guys love to play. I think that it’ll be a fun transition for them. And I’m looking forward to helping them as much as I can and feeding off of that young energy as well. We definitely need that in our locker room. So I’m super excited about having them.

“I can’t wait to see what they do in their careers but especially starting with Summer League. Definitely will be watching and rooting for them and giving them advice as much as I can and just being there for them.”

Summer League starts next Monday, two days after the Olympics gold medal game.