Brooklyn Nets: Player development beginning to pay off

Brooklyn Nets Spencer Dinwiddie (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Spencer Dinwiddie (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
DALLAS, TX – NOVEMBER 29: Spencer Dinwiddie
DALLAS, TX – NOVEMBER 29: Spencer Dinwiddie /

When Sean Marks took over the Brooklyn Nets GM job he looked to find players who fit his culture. Now the players that fit the culture have begin to come into their own thanks to the player development

During the summer of 2016, Sean Marks got his first opportunity to create the roster of his choice. Coming into the Brooklyn Nets’ general manager job in February of that same year, Marks essentially left the roster as is. Despite some minor changes which included buying out Joe Johnson’s contract, the team was essentially untouched. During his first offseason as the general manager however, Marks would make a number of changes to the team.

Players who fit the team’s new culture were brought in to fill roster spots while the Nets sat in basketball purgatory. Players with chips on their shoulder such as former number one pick, Anthony Bennett signed with the team. More interestingly though, his former teammate Joe Harris signed with the team. Many knew about Bennett, but not many knew about Harris.

The Cavaliers drafted Harris in the same draft as Bennett with the 33rd overall pick. He was First-team All-ACC in his junior season, and the ACC Tournament MVP in his senior season. Harris 40 percent from three throughout his Virginia days. He shot 42% during his junior season, his best from beyond the arc.

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Many didn’t know if a lack of minutes on the Cavaliers was the reason for his ineffectiveness. Immediately Nets fans would find out that’s the case. Harris averaged 8.2 points per game in his first season in Brooklyn, shooting 38 percent from deep. Harris was a legitimate threat from behind the line in his first season with the team.

13 games into his second year with Brooklyn, he had taken his game up a notch. Harris averaged 9.6 points in 21.2 minutes of play to that point. He also is shooting the three ball identically to last year. So the reason for his production uptick is not from beyond the arc, it’s actually the complete opposite. Since joining the Nets, Harris has developed a facet of his game that had lacked, even while at Virginia. This is his ability to go hard and finish at the rim.

Harris is shooting a career high 47 percent from the field thus far in the season. His success so far inside the three point line is a huge reason for this. Harris is attempting the same amount of two point shots as he was last year, 2.7 per game. However this year he has bumped up that two point percentage up nearly fifteen percent from 48 percent to 62 percent. This is huge and something the Nets can be happy about for sure.

About five months after signing Harris, the Nets made another noteworthy roster change. The Nets lost out one Yogi Ferrell after the Dallas Mavericks picked him up from the Nets’ D-League affiliate, Long Island Nets. As a counter, the Nets signed guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie is a product of the University of Colorado, and similar to Harris, a former second round pick. The Detroit Pistons drafted Dinwiddie 38th overall in 2014.

After spending two seasons with the team that drafted him, the Detroit Pistons, Dinwiddie was  traded to the Chicago Bulls and waived in July 2016. He signed with the Windy City Bulls of the then D-League last October and spend much time with the team. In nine games with the team Dinwiddie averaged 19.4 points, 8.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game. This was good enough for Brooklyn to call him up.

Dinwiddie has since become a fan favorite amongst Nets fans. In the first seven games D’Angelo Russell has missed due to injury, Dinwiddie averaged 16 points per game. This is upward from his season average of 12.1 points per game. He has shown he can be a serviceable backup and bench piece on any NBA team. Dinwiddie has even drawn comparisons to another lengthy backup guard, Shaun Livingston. Livingston, was of course a former Net. Like Dinwiddie, he revitalized his career with the team.

Dinwiddie has received credit from a number of league officials and many believe he has high trade value. In the span of less than a year the Nets have risen Dinwiddie’s value from an unsigned D-Leaguer to a player who can potentially fetch a first round pick from a team.

Looking back at a year ago, Dinwiddie was a much different player. Dinwiddie was entering his second month with the team in January, and was starting for the team. He was still trying to find his niche when the Nets signed another player to fill the roster spot left by recently waived Anthony Bennett. This player was forward Quincy Acy.

Acy was playing in his home state of Texas for the Mavericks. His stint with the team lasted six games before it waived him on Nov. 18, 2016. Acy would be acquired by the Lakers’ D-League team, the Los Angeles D-Fenders then immediately be traded to the Mavericks D-League team, the Texas Legends. In 12 games with Texas, Acy dominated. Acy would average 17.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.1 blocks. His performance of course would earn him a spot on the Nets roster.

While Acy only made 43 three pointers in his previous five years in the league, he would make 17 in just 12 D-League games and shoot 39% from behind the arc. That success would translate into Brooklyn. While he would not play for most of his first 10-day contract, he would sign a second 10-day. Of course as we’ve seen, Kenny Atkinson likes to slowly work players into the rotation. That was the same case for Acy. He began to become more and more important for the Nets bench.

On Jan 21, the Nets headed to Charlotte for a Saturday night contest against the Hornets. The Nets’ starters struggled and early on, the bench did the same. The Nets fell behind 28-14 at the end of the first quarter.

However, the Nets came out strong in the second quarter and matched the Hornets’ 32 second quarter points with 32 of their own. This helped them head to the halftime break with some confidence and momentum.

While performances from starters Brook Lopez and Bojan Bogdanovic were catalysts, the Nets comeback was also fueled by Trevor Booker as well as Acy coming off the bench. Acy was hitting shots from all over the floor. He shot 71 percent on the night and went three-for-four from three-point range. He finished with 14 points in the Nets valiant effort in Charlotte. The Nets would lose 112-105, but were more competitive than they had been recently.

With the Nets losing 11 of their last 12 to that point, Acy represented a spark on the team: a player who can come in and change a game when the energy is lacking. That’s just what the Nets needed and had lacked. The Nets became more competitive and once fully healthy, the team won 11 games in a month and a half span.

That’s what the Nets have looked for the most during the last two seasons. With Jeremy Lin projected to miss all of this season and having missed 46 games last season, the Nets have searched for players to develop who can be key pieces once the team is fully healthy. By throwing players into the fire with an injured roster, they have found three guys who can be crucial to the team’s success.

Atkinson and his staff have preached player development. Marks hired him for his player developmental skills. Atkinson years back, also was hired by another former Spur, Tony Parker. That’s right, Parker hired Atkinson as a coach for player development many years ago. This was for Parker’s basketball team in which he owned in Paris and was one of Atkinson’s first coaching jobs.

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So with all of that said, it’s not hard to see why this team fights night in and night out and never gives up. Atkinson has a knack for getting the most out of a player. Whether it’s Harris, Dinwiddie, Acy or anyone else, Atkinson knows what is required to turn an under the radar player into a legitimate player in this league.