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Look of the Rooks: How Nets have given the kids an opportunity ... and they responded

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Sopan Deb’s profile of the Nets four rookies in Saturday’s New York Times goes over a lot of ground that’s become familiar to Brooklyn fans. How each of the rookies wound up being underrated on Draft Night, that they were pressed into service because of various issues, and they’re very different personalities, etc. Then he drops in, a simple stat that explains just how Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe, Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. are faring.

The Nets are one of two teams to have four rookies who average at least 10 minutes per game and have appeared in more than 10 games. The other is the Oklahoma City Thunder— a rebuilding franchise ranked near the bottom of the league.

Pretty much says it all. The Nets rookies were given an opportunity and made the most of it despite being drafted at 27, 29 and 44 and Duke’s case, not drafted at all. (We caught up with the Nets two later second round picks earlier in the week.)

As Deb notes, the rookies are slowly going from filling in the gaps to trusted rotation players. Sharpe and Edwards are currently starting and Thomas is a bench sparkplug who can get points in a hurry. Says Steve Nash, it’s about availability and fit.

“How many guys are available? When we land on a stretch where there are many guys available, what stretch did we just come out of?” Nash said. “Who is playing well? Who fits? So a lot of it is to try and make common sense. And if it doesn’t seem like there’s common sense from the outside, there’s probably something from the inside that leads us to make these decisions that is a private matter.”

The rookies themselves talked with Deb about how surprisingly good fortune came along and how they’re dealing with. Sharpe addressed that other day.

“Man, I don’t even know. Because at training camp, that was my first time being with the guys and all that. I’m seeing how they’re hooping and stuff, thinking ‘I’m probably not even touching the court this year.’”

There are of course downsides unrelated to their lack of experience, like being put into lineups that are ever evolving with so many players out for so many reasons.

“It does make it a little bit more challenging, I think, but that’s the way that it’s been with everything that we’ve been through,” Patty Mills said recently when talking with reporters. “But to be a professional, especially in this league, you need to learn how to adjust on the fly.”

Using as many picks as they did surprised a lot of people, including Nets fans. Everyone expected the Nets to package them in some way, moving up in the Draft, selling them, moving some to the future. Sean Marks says that as luxury tax team, the Nets have to made adjustments, find some good fortune with vets, overlooked young players ... and draft picks. He also admits there’s been some straight out fun in finding a gem late.

“We’ve had to adjust how we build a team starting six years ago from now, right?” Marks told Deb, adding, “It’s fun when you’re in a war room, when you’re on a Draft Day and the room erupts because of who you drafted in the 30s and 40s and 50s.”

At the moment, the Nets have no picks in either the first or second round in 2022 and can’t trade a first till 2028. So, while fans may not want to hear it, as Deb notes, the rookies do have trade value, more than they did before the Draft.

Still, for now, the Nets have a couple of steals and the good feelings that come with it. The Nets used five picks in last year’s Draft, their most ever in a two-round draft, and now have four rookies, the most in 20 years since they went to the Finals in 2002. Before that, you’d have to back to 1988 to find a Nets team with four rooks.