When the Long Island Nets opened their NBA G League season with a 114-105 win over the Westchester Knicks last Saturday, the influence of the Brooklyn Nets parent club was strongly in evidence.
Four Brooklyn roster members — two-way players Alan Williams and Theo Pinson, plus G League assigned rookies Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs — were in the starting lineup. Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert, coaches Pablo Prigioni and Travon Bryant, and GM Sean Marks were on hand as spectators.
“Long Island is a valuable, valuable resource for us, and we’re going to use it,” said Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson. “We’re going to use it consistently, especially when we can’t practice or we have a full roster and those guys (Musa and Kurucs) can’t get playing time. We’ll send them to Long Island because it’s an invaluable tool for us. It’s a good opportunity for those guys to get better.”
Under the direction of first-year head coach Will Weaver, in his third year in the Brooklyn organization, the Long Island Nets play their second game of the season Thursday night at NYCB LIVE, home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum against the Capital City Go-Go, the affiliate of the Washington Wizards. The game will be broadcast live on YES Network.
With Brooklyn in the midst of a four-game road trip through its Tuesday, November 12 game at Minnesota, Musa is expected to be with Long Island at least through then. The 19-year-old scored 23 points on 10-of-22 shooting with five rebounds in his G League debut. The first-round draft pick also appeared in four games for Brooklyn before the Long Island season began.
“His game is really unique, which is why I think he’s a first-round draft pick,” said Weaver. “He’s massively versatile. At his size, his skill-set and vision are pretty unique. We’re trying to fit that into our team and help put him in position where he can be really successful, but every day you learn a new position where he can be really successful.”
Kurucs is traveling with Brooklyn, but Pinson and Williams are currently with Long Island. Pinson, the third rookie on the Brooklyn roster, is a 6-6 swingman out of North Carolina who brings a versatile skill set. He had 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists against Westchester.
The 6-foot-8, 265-pound Williams, who has an NBA career per 36 rebounding rate of 15.0 in 62 games over three seasons, had a monster game with 27 points and 21 rebounds, shooting 12-of-21 in 29 minutes.
“He’s physically dominating,” said Weaver. “He could be putting up 30 and 30. You watch the tape right now, a lot of the stuff he gets is just overpowering people. He’s got incredible touch. He’s got a motor that doesn’t stop and he’s got a real intellect that helps us on defense. He’s one of the best communicators on the team.
“On the offensive end, I think he’s going to grow like crazy. Right now he can score the ball and rebound the ball, but I think he can be one of the best passing big guys, not in the G League, but in the NBA.”
Aside from the two-way players or any other Brooklyn players on assignment, Long Island has a base roster of 10 players that had about a week of training camp on its own before beginning to integrate Williams and Pinson. Five of those are returning players — Kendall Gray, Tahjere McCall, Kamari Murphy, Thomas Wimbush, and point guard Shannon Scott, who was the fifth starter on opening night.
“The best part about them is their intellect and their willingness to share their experience of navigating G League travel, interacting with the game-day environment, how to forge relationships with the referees, how to get the most out of training environments,” said Weaver. “That is endlessly valuable and I lean on them all the time.”
The five newcomers are Ismael Sanogo, Nuni Omot, Drew Gordon, Mitch Creek, and Jordan McLaughlin, who joined Pinson on the Nets Summer League squad in Las Vegas.
Creek is a 26-year-old forward who played eight seasons professionally in Australia, where Weaver has been an assistant for the country’s national team for the last several years.
“He pops physically, with not only his tools but the way he plays the game,” said Weaver. “Classic Aussie. You pair that with what he does for your team separate from just the stuff that can be counted. He’s the most talkative, team-oriented, brave communicator. Three days into practice, there’s no doubt for anybody on the team how much wisdom he had to share, just being a pro for eight years.”
Weaver is also high on McLaughlin, a rookie out of USC, where he was a three-year starter at point guard. He had five assists in 23 minutes in the opener.
“Jordan got a lot out of the Summer League experience,” said Weaver. “Was able to get his feet wet running a team. What he has to offer is a great deal more than what he showed in Summer League. I think he was still adjusting to the speed of the game. Since then he has showed himself to be a very savvy, not only point guard, but scorer and an intellect that makes him a pretty interesting defender.”
Count Weaver among the new arrivals too. After beginning his coaching career at the University of Texas and then making the jump to the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, the 34-year-old is in his third year in the Nets organization, but making his head coaching debut.
“I’m enjoying it a ton,” said Weaver. “In particular just because I feel so much equity in our broader program. Three years, coming in relatively early when Sean and Kenny signed on, I just really believed in the vision of the program. Although the role’s a little more visible than my previous one, I’m just gratified that I can be doing something important.”