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Day’Ron Sharpe is playing harder than ever, and the Brooklyn Nets are loving it

Day’Ron Sharpe’s play can be uneven, but his energy (and rebounding) are not

Brooklyn Nets v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images

“Want to know what a franchise & coaching staff is trying to do? Watch the 4.”

Player development and scouting guru PD Web tweeted those words this past summer, and they ring oh so true. Modern power forwards, to the extent they exist, are “asked to morph their games to whatever is needed to win within modern basketball while papering over any flaws of now-outmoded roster building.”

Is your team emphasizing rim protection, floor-spacing? Rebounding, transition offense, connective passing? If you can’t tell, find what the power forward is being asked to do. Here’s what Brooklyn Nets Head Coach Jacque Vaughn says he told Dorian Finney-Smith in a recent pregame conversation: “Shoot eight threes bro. Go ahead, shoot them. We want you to shoot them, we believe in you.” Hmm.

Much of the same can be applied to the backup center, albeit in a less glamorous role. He is NBA’s season-long innings-eater, racking up 1500 unsexy minutes in bench-heavy lineups that League Pass viewers recognize as their signal to switch games. But these minutes reflect what teams see as their season-long math advantage. For a decade now, Javale McGee’s employers have relied on him to prevent rim attempts on D while rolling hard on the other end. Need to generate 3-point looks and space the floor? Enter the likes of Danilo Gallinari and Dario Šarić.

The Brooklyn Nets’ proclaimed focus on improving their dreadful rebounding was met with skepticism after an offseason lacking in obvious moves to address the issue. Jacque Vaughn promised to play more drop coverage as Media Day rolled around, keeping big men in the paint and perimeter players, hopefully, out of rotation.

He also promised more playing time for Day’Ron Sharpe: “I think Day’Ron Sharpe gets an early look and see how he can impose his will not only helping us, I don’t know, put things back to neutral by offensive rebounding, but at the same time, being big and a force for us at the rim. So he’s a guy that probably will garner some minutes early and see that response.”

The 22-year-old has indeed gotten an early look, and he’s responded with the best play of his young career. To be clear, Brooklyn’s third-year center has some uncomfortable warts. He’s shooting a career-high 64% at the rim — tying comparative shrimps Buddy Hield, Marcus Smart, and Josh Hart — while turning it over more than most high-usage guards. On defense, the drop coverage remains hit-or-miss:

And YET, Brooklyn is winning Sharpe’s minutes comfortably, by 10.7 points per 100 possessions. Lonnie Walker’s play and some 3-point shooting variance has much to do with that, as does the fact that it’s a small sample size, but winning your minutes is winning your minutes.

Sharpe’s rebounding adds valuable extra possessions, and that’s where his on-court value shows up in the stat sheet. That rebounding is the result of an increasing physical energy that’s difficult for opponents to match, an energy that Spencer Dinwiddie credited with jump-starting Brooklyn’s comeback against the Chicago Bulls: “I think Day’Ron turned the flow of the game...Day’Ron just changed the context of the game.”

The UNC product in now running the floor at previously unseen speeds and finishing momentum-changing plays:

Sharpe attributes this newfound energy to continually working on his body since arriving in Brooklyn as a teenager: “You know, I hadn’t been getting a lot of minutes my first two years. Even though I did play a lot of minutes [vs. Chicago], I wasn’t that tired, you know what I’m saying?

“With the conditioning during the summer, the extra lifting, the extra reps, the extra reps during last season, conditioning when I wasn’t playing...I’m still conditioning, just trying to stay in shape for anytime I need to be out there.”

Now, his teammates have noticed the effort and have come to expect it from Sharpe. Said Dinwiddie: “Day’Ron catches a lot of flack, but man, he plays hard...we had an offensive rebounding game in training camp and he was, like I said, effectively LeBron during that specialized game. Like, you see his impact rebounding; he probably has a chance to be one of the more dynamic rebounders in the league given the time and experience and things like that.”

And while Sharpe’s improving motor allows him to go after more rebounds, make no mistake, it’s not only hustle. There is a technique, a skill to rebounding that Brooklyn’s young big has shown in spades, and when combined with all-out effort, it makes him a chore to keep off the glass. Just before this rebound and put-back, notice Sharpe slide to the opposite side of the rim and begin to box out Nikola Vucevic:

“I always had that since day one,” says Sharpe of his rebounding technique. “Only thing I’d say is, I wasn’t in as good shape or best physical form yet, but I feel I always had that since day one. That’s been my thing since day one, I’ve known: Rebound, rebound, rebound no matter who we playing against [or] how big they was. I always did that.”

The Day’Ron Sharpe Experience is always unrestrained, whether for good or bad. Occasionally, it means quickly approaching foul trouble even in limited minutes or struggling to finish multiple attempts around the basket. But Sharpe is usually the only one that can stand in his way. When it’s going well, it’s impossible to keep him off the glass, impossible to prevent him from making momentum-shifting plays that ignite the crowd and his teammates, the kind that steadily stack up over a season.

“You know, some games are down, some games up. I’m just trying to take it a game at a time and just get more comfortable with playing more minutes this year. You know it’s game-by-game. I just take it game-by-game. That’s how I do it.”