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PREVIEW: Summer League offers intriguing possibility in 20-year-old point guard

Memphis Grizzlies v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

If you’re preparing to watch the Nets Summer League opener Friday night — and Victor Wembanyama’s NBA debut that same night — be prepared for channel surfing as well. The Nets face the Cavaliers at the Cox Pavilion on NBA TV starting at 8:30. Then, the Wemby-led Spurs face the Lakers at the Thomas and Mack Arena across the way a half hour later on ESPN.

But if you plan to stick with the Nets, there will be a lot to watch. Dariq Whitehead, the Nets 22nd pick, won’t be playing. He’s still in a walking boot following June 7 ankle surgery but the 21st pick, 6’10” power forward Noah Clowney and the 51st pick, 6’8” wing Jalen Wilson, will be there. The Nets posted images from the team’s practices over the weekend.

But who else might fans get a first look at? Who is the diamond in the rough who will keep fans from spending too much time on ESPN watching the 7’5” wunderkind from Paris, France?

One possibility is Kennedy Chandler who is the youngest (20), the shortest (6’1”) and almost certainly the most athletic (41.5” max vertical) player on the 13-man roster. Chandler, who played one year at Tennessee before being taken in the second round by Memphis, appearing in 36 games for the Grizzlies last season. He averaged a modest 2.2 points and 1.9 assists in 7.8 minutes per game, but there is potential and an intriguing back story.

A 5-star high school recruit, he was Mr. Basketball in Tennessee two years running before transferring to Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. At Tennessee, he averaged 13.9 points a game, 4.7 assists and 2.2 steals a game. He also shot well from three, hitting nearly 40% of his 3-point attempts.

That didn’t translate when he got back home to Memphis, however. Undersized, Chandler shot only 42/14/36 for Memphis. In seven games with the Memphis Hustle of the G League, he did better: 16.1 points and 5.7 assists, but again, he only shot 20.7% from deep.

Rafael Barlowe, who’s scouting director of NBA Big Board, told Chris Carrino Wednesday that Chandler might have a chance at making an impact.

“He was a guy who I thought was a first round pick last year,” Barlowe told Carrino on his Voice of the Nets podcast. “I knew the size was going to work against him. He’s 6-foot and that’s probably being generous.

“I thought he was really good. I want to say he shot 38% from three in college. I remember his last game vs. Michigan. He just kind of totally blew up there. His drop coverage, his ability to get in the lane. He’s a good passer. Then, he dropped to the second round which shocked me,” added Barlowe. “Then Memphis thought they had a steal. He’s a hometown kid and they gave him the largest rookie second round contract. I want to say it was $5 million guaranteed. And then a year later, he’s with the Nets summer league team. I really don’t know what happened in Memphis but I know he struggled from the three, shot only 21.3% from the G League.”

Indeed, Chandler is playing with house money in Vegas (always a good thing.) He signed a four-year, $7.1 million contract, with three years and $4.9 million guaranteed in 2022. He’ll be paid $1.7 million (by Memphis) this year and another $2.1 million (also by Memphis) next year, according to Spotrac. The Grizzlies thought so much of him, they even carved his money out of their MLE. And that’s where the back story comes in.

In addition to the hometown connection, Chandler enjoys a friendship with Ja Morant, the Grizzlies superstar. Clayton Collier, sports director at ABC24 in Memphis, told NetsDaily the relationship began during COVID.

“During the pandemic, he started a pick-up league in a church gym. Kennedy was in high school, Ja reached out to Kennedy about playing. That’s how they got close” said Collier, adding that the relationship between the two may have been a reason the Grizzlies traded a future second and paid the Spurs $1 million to get him on Draft Night. Morant tweeted his congratulations that night, just as he had every time Chandler had passed a milestone in high school or at Tennessee after making the connection during the pandemic. Collier described Morant’s relationship with Chandler as “mentoring.”

Could Chandler wind up with a two-way deal — the Nets have at least one to hand out after signing Jalen Wilson to a two-way Wednesday morning. Summer League is essentially an audition for the others. One thing that could help him is that Long Island Nets General Manager J.R. Holden has said the key to success in the G League is finding and signing a point guard you can build around. Even if he doesn’t get a two-way, Chandler could be signed to an affiliate contract with Long Island.

Besides Chandler, a couple of other players on the Nets roster intrigue Barlowe. He likes RaiQuan Gray who the Nets signed at the end of last season to a two-way deal and Jordan Hall who was a two-way with the Spurs last season. Both are “natural playmakers,” Barlowe said of the two 6’8” point forwards and both are considered strong candidates for the other two spots.

Barlowe also thinks Armoni Brooks, a 6’3” shooting guard who’s played 74 NBA games with the Rockets and Raptors, has a chance and has already impressed the Nets in another setting.

“Then, there’s Armoni Brooks,” Barlowe told Carrino of the 25-year-old Houston product. “Someone told me a few weeks back that I guess he was at a mini-camp with the Nets and they liked him enough where they told him to stay. He had a good run at Houston at one point and he has a role as a defined shooter. So I think if he shoots the ball, he’s someone that could stick.”

The Nets will play a minimum of five games in Vegas, more if they do well early under Nets assistant Trevor Hendry. There will be a lot of talent to deal with. Not just Wembanyama but Brandon Miller, taken at No. 2 by the Hornets; Scoot Henderson at No. 3 by the Blazers; the Thompson Twins at Nos. 4 and 5 by the Rockets and Pistons as well as Chet Holmgren who’s coming back from two foot surgeries after being drafted No. 2 by the Thunder in 2022.