The Brooklyn Nets had two selections in the 2018 NBA Draft, Dzanan Musa, and Rodions Kurucs. Musa was a first-round selection, 29th overall, but it’s been Kurucs, who was taken with the 40th overall pick, who has made quite a big impact on the Nets’ season thus far.
Hailing from Latvia, Kurucs has actually been a professional basketball player since 2012, prior to him turning 18. He entered his name in the 2017 draft but ultimately withdrew. This past summer, however, he kept his name in the draft and Brooklyn saw enough in him to take a gamble.
He began the season playing very sparingly while splitting time between the inactive list and DNP’s. But by mid-December, he not only was a fixture in the Nets rotation, but he was in the starting lineup.
“It feels good. I kind of had my ups and downs. I was starting but not finishing the games, but it feels nice,” Kurucs told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just doing whatever coach wants from me. I’m trying to do what he says like rebounding, running the court, getting 50/50 balls. Doing all those things, I think that’s how I earned the respect, proving I can be there and help the team.”
In 62 games with the Nets this season, including 45 starts, Kurucs is putting up 8.4 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting from the field. Although he’s shooting 32.4 percent from the three-point line, he’s shown that he’s a capable shooter from distance.
His biggest contributions to the Nets, however, don’t necessarily come on the offensive end. Kurucs may only be averaging 3.8 rebounds per game, but he’s shown a willingness to play tough in the paint, especially on the glass. While he can score, he understands that with plenty of good scorers on the team, they need contributions in other areas from him.
“Rebounds, loose balls, playing hard, bringing that energy and more speed,” Kurucs told Basketball Insiders. “Just always running the court, all the little things that the team needs because we have guys who can score the ball. We need people to do all those little things.”
Even though he’s a rookie, that toughness and physicality are one of the major things that have stood out. Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson praised Kurucs’ physicality last month after a win over the Atlanta Hawks. In a later matchup with the Detroit Pistons, Kurucs’ physical defense on Blake Griffin was key in a win.
He’s done well adjusting to the NBA game, and while he’s adapted to the physicality of the league, he admits that that was one of the major hurdles he had to overcome when it came to the differences between European basketball and the NBA.
“The toughness definitely. I was ready for this, but the toughness is different between European basketball and here. Another adjustment was speed, it’s different here,” Kurucs told Basketball Insiders. “But I think I didn’t have to adjust to much because I already knew how it would be here playing this game. I think maybe mentally a little bit like trash talk and stuff like that. We don’t have much of that in Europe. Here it’s also more of a mental game.”
With the season winding to a close, and the Nets headed to the playoffs for the first time in four years, Kurucs feels like he’s gotten everything he could have hoped for in his rookie season. He’s not only a key contributor, but he’s also a starter who has played a major role in Brooklyn’s drive to the postseason.
While he’s never experienced the NBA playoffs, he’s experienced the drive and determination of this team, and he’s confident in their ability once the postseason arrives.
“I got everything I wanted out of this year. But I just want to finish the season strong, get to the playoffs, enjoy the playoffs cause I’ve never played in the playoffs before,” Kurucs told Basketball Insiders. “Just enjoy the season at the end and get as far as we can. I think we can go far.”
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