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Brooklyn Nets fall to Cleveland Cavaliers in first Summer League contest, 101-97

A big comeback fails, but there are both positive and negatives for young Nets

2023 NBA Summer League - Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets took on the Cleveland Cavaliers in their first contest of 2023 Summer League, Las Vegas’ flagship basketball event. What better setting to bring the NBA world together to evaluate and/or gawk (a certain No. 1 overall pick was playing next door during the Nets game) at their young talent than the middle of the desert in July?

At first, the young Nets looked like they were competing outdoors, suffocated by a triple-digit heat that their opponents weren’t subject to. At the half, they were down 52-38 to Cleveland’s young guns; their offense resembled the sluggish mess it did at last year’s event, where the admittedly athletic roster they brought to Vegas featured a stark dearth of ball-handlers.

This year, the Nets sought to remedy that problem by bringing in former University of Tennessee and Memphis Grizzly guard Kennedy Chandler. He started next to 2023 draft picks Noah Clowney and Jalen Wilson, who hold the real intrigue for Nets fans, as well as familiar face David Duke Jr. and journeyman/bucket-getter Armoni Brooks.

Yet, that intriguing group produced the aforementioned paltry 38 points over a half of play (albeit with 10-minute quarters.) Wilson, Brooklyn’s 51st overall pick, was thought to be the Nets’ most pro-ready rookie, due to his four years at Kansas. Yet, he finished the first half with a quiet three points on just 1-4 from the field.

His 2023 draft counterpart, the first-rounder Noah Clowney, was viewed as more of a project, considering his (lack of) age - he’ll turn 19 while the Nets are out in the Silver State. And Clowney did nothing to dispel the notions of “project” in the first half, accumulating just a single point with four boards, on 0-3 from deep.

Thankfully, the Nets’ Summer Leaguers will give us something to look forward to over the next week or so, with a much stronger performance in the second half. Armoni Brooks did what he does best: Shoot the pill. The ex-Rocket and ex-Raptor went 5-of-9 from deep, co-leading Brooklyn in points with none other than...Jalen Wilson.

It didn’t take long for the ex-Jayhawk to rebound from a poor start to his professional career. The 6’7” wing put up 14 points in the second half despite a faulty outside shot (1-of-6 from deep). Wilson consistently attacked the paint while the Nets opened the third quarter on a 13-0 run that ultimately became a 27-5 burst. Suddenly, those that chose to watch the non-Victor Wembanyama game of the evening were being treated to a show.

Chandler chipped in as well, consistently attacking the floor and making reads from the point guard position. While, at best, the diminutive (6’0”) prospect may be a candidate for a two-way spot, Chandler at least brings a professional level of table-setting to a Nets Summer League roster that severely lacked that skill last year.

The last man standing in his path for that two-way is likely RaiQuan Gray, who was signed to just such a contract this April on the next to last day of the season. Gray came off the bench in this one and finished with 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

Unfortunately, Noah Clowney did not experience the immediate success of his young teammates, shooting a tough 1-of-9 from the floor, including 1-of-7 from deep. The prospect/project may remain just that during Summer League, though he’s likely clocked in his worst shooting performance of the event already.

In the end, it wasn’t enough to overcome a Cavaliers team that got out to a big lead early - a lead that allowed them to withstand Brooklyn’s monster 27-5 run in the third quarter. The Cavs won the final period by a 34-26 score, led by two-year pro Sharife Cooper, an Auburn grad with a diminutive frame, but lightning quickness and flashy passing instincts. In this one, though, he put up 27 points on an Uber-efficient 85.2% true shooting percentage.

Emoni Bates, once the top recruit in the country who was selected in the second round of this year’s NBA draft by Cleveland, put up 16 points on 18 looks, largely coming by way of typical unconscious confidence from deep. Isaiah Mobley - yes, Evan’s brother - added 15 points on 12 shots.

Brooklyn produced a solid showing in their first Summer League appearance of the year, turning a disastrous start into somewhat of a barn-burner. Almost all of their young players showed signs of life. For Jalen Wilson, fans should monitor the outside shot and if his two-point scoring persists. It'd be nice to see some more shot-making of any kind, and perhaps some rim protection from at the center position, as he finished with zero blocks. In any case, it was a fairly classic Summer League contest between the Nets and Cavaliers: some highs, some lows, and plenty to work on.

Next Up:

The SL Nets will face the New York Knicks next, though some of that crosstown bitterness may be dimmed all the way out in Vegas. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 pm E.T on Sunday afternoon, after a day off on Saturday.