The Long Island Nets will go into the season with a roster built around the 2021 draft class, with all five players the Brooklyn Nets drafted this year expected to be with Long Island when the season opens on Saturday at the Delaware Blue Coats, plus two undrafted rookies.
G League rosters consist of 10 players plus two two-way contracts for players who are allowed to play 50 NBA games. They can also utilize players on assignment from Brooklyn, such as first-round draft picks Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe.
“I think the composition of it is interesting,” said Long Island general manager Matt Riccardi, also the director of scouting for Brooklyn. “There’s a ton of rookies. Lots of guys that were drafted this year, undrafted this year that are going to be in the system, so we’re going to be younger than in years past. Because of the roster in Brooklyn, we’ll have a lot of assignment guys, which will be amazing. We’ll get a chance to work with those young guys and help put our stamp on them and get them to a point where they’re able to play for Brooklyn on an every-night basis with confidence and go from there.
“We will be incredibly young, but that’s what the G League is all about, developing these guys. We were lucky that we had so many important draft picks. The goal is sustainable success. If these guys can grow into rotation level players for Brooklyn and hopefully beyond that, starters at some point, we’re doing a good job pushing guys to that level.”
Thomas made a huge first impression at Summer League, where he was named Co-MVP after averaging 27.0 points per game, the highest average ever for a player with at least four games played. His 36 points against San Antonio were also the sixth-most ever scored in a Summer League game. He had strong preseason moments too, including 21 points against the Lakers.
“Obviously his scoring ability is one of his outstanding attributes,” said Long Island coach Adam Caporn. “I’ve been really impressed with his intensity and how he’s lifted our group. Not just with his talent and his ability to score the ball, but the confidence he gave us. The way he picked up his teammates and practiced really hard. That’s everything you would hope. His opportunity to grow his game into becoming a really efficient NBA scorer and continue to improve defensively is something he’ll have a great opportunity to do with us. His ability to score the ball is something every coach wants.”
Caporn also likes Thomas’ passing ability and the pick-and-roll connection he’s developing with Sharpe. In Las Vegas, Sharpe averaged 8.3 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game, including crashing the offensive glass for 3.8 offensive boards per game.
“His energy is infectious,” said Caporn of Sharpe, the 6-11, 265-pound big man out of UNC. “His ability to impact the game just with the pressure he can put on the rim and the glass, we felt from day one, and it was really exciting. The thing that’s proven in the first couple of days is that he’s got more to his game. He’s improving his shooting, but our ability to play through him a little bit and let him catch on a pick-and-roll and find an open teammate and make good decisions has really impressed me.”
The Nets went with rookies to fill both of their two-way contracts. Kessler Edwards was the first of Brooklyn’s three second-round picks, selected 44th overall. A 6-foot-7 forward, he shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range over three college seasons at Pepperdine and Caporn is focusing on translating that part of his skill set to the NBA level.
“The consummate 3-and-D guy,” said Caporn. “There’s more to his game than that, but his ability to impact the game defensively is really good and his versatility defensively is exciting, and if he’s making 3s at a high clip and you combine those two, it makes him a valuable commodity. I think some of that is just experience and comfort for him in the NBA game and the new line. I expect those things to happen.”
David Duke Jr., a 6-4 guard out of Providence, went undrafted but earned Brooklyn’s second two-way deal after going through Summer League and training camp with the organization.
“He’s one of those guys that we think can really impact the game defensively and lead us in that department and make us difficult to play against and create opportunities in transition,” said Caporn. “A bit of a glue guy. Two-way player. Handle the ball. Put pressure on the rim. He’s shown an ability to make plays for others and his shooting is really improving. He’s really exciting. Impact guy in the G League I believe.”
The Nets had three second-round picks in total and used the 49th pick on guard Marcus Zegarowski and the 59th pick on 6-8 forward RaiQuan Gray. Zegarowski shot 42.3 percent from 3-point range over three seasons at Creighton.
“Really excited about Marcus,” said Caporn. “He’s been working really hard. Really good shooter. He’s learning and growing in his ability to lead the team, be a floor leader. Really active defender. His shooting ability is what stands out to me.”
Caporn is high on Gray’s ability to make an impact defensively and also thinks he’s got the playmaking chops for the Nets to run some offense through him.
“He’s got great versatility,” said Caporn. “He can play multiple positions, so we can play small with him. I think he’s one of our major playmakers. I think one of the things that’s happened in the game is it’s not always your point guard that’s your decision-maker. RaiQuan’s a really good passer, a decision-maker, smart player, versatile player. He’ll really help us there.”
G LEAGUE VETERANS
Long Island stocked up on experience with six G League Veterans, including three players — Josh Gray, Chris Walker, and Adam Woodbury — who have each played four seasons in the G League.
Gray , a 6-1 guard, also had two 10-day contracts with Phoenix during the 2017-18 season, played Summer League with the Nets in 2019, and was on a two-way contract with New Orleans in 2019-20, when he averaged 22.5 points, 7.0 assists, and 5.2 rebounds in 37 G League games.
Walker and Woodbury give Long Island depth at center. Walker played 191 games for Rio Grande Valley before going abroad for the 2019-20 season while Woodbury has played 148 G League games with four teams.
“They’re like a driving force in the team and its performance,” said Caporn of the veteran group. “They help teach guys coming in the system and keep them accountable and they have to make sacrifices at times as assignment guys come in. They’re really good players. They have great attitudes and they’re really the wheelhouse of our team through the stretch of the season. We just really enjoy working with them. Really excited. They’ve all had great starts and the work they’ve done over the summer coming in has helped for sure.”
Jordan Bowden is the one player from last season returning to Long Island. He averaged 7.8 points in 20.6 minutes per game and also played Summer League with the Nets this year. Bryce Brown, a 6-3 guard, averaged 16.1 points while shooting 42.4 percent from 3-point range with Maine in 2019-20 and Justin Jackson was a second-round pick in 2018, with injuries having limited the 6-7 forward’s development so far.
“Jordan Bowden, Josh Gray, I’m leaving guys out, but they stand out to me as really good players that could get called up to teams and have great professional careers,” said Caporn. “This is a stepping stone for that.”
The Nets have two additional rookies who were neither draft picks or two-way signees. Guard Craig Randall II has made the team after earning a camp invitation through a local tryout, while 6-6 guard Brandon Rachal was with the Summer League team in Las Vegas. Rachal was a two-time All-AAC selection at Tulsa, averaging 15.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in his two seasons in the program.
“He’s been a standout in the work we’ve been doing, the work he’s been doing leading into camp and the start of camp,” said Caporn. “His versatility. He’s got himself in great shape. He was here working out in the summer and he was given some feedback to improve a few areas and he’s clearly gone and done that and come back with real intent. That’s always impressive to a coach. We feel good when he’s out there right now. He takes care of a lot of things defensively. He’s really improved. We’re really excited about him.”