The last 3 seasons for Brooklyn Nets rookie Rodions Kurucs were wrecked by injury and intrigue. The 2nd-round pick now has a guaranteed deal and, for once, a green light.
If the only thing Rodions Kurucs does for the Brooklyn Nets this season is play basketball, the 2018-19 season will have to be considered a win for the kid.
The 20-year-old small forward from Latvia has had a trying last three years with FC Barcelona, spending his 2016-17 season coming back from knee and shoulder injuries and spending last season stuck in limbo as his coaches buried him on the second-tier team or deep on the bench.
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The Nets were high on Kurucs before he withdrew from the 2017 draft, with some reports Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks was considering him at the No. 22 overall spot, where Jarrett Allen was eventually chosen.
Marks got his guy this time around, signing the second-rounder to a four-year contract with three years guaranteed.
His problems getting to the court continued this summer, as negotiations to buy out his rights from Barcelona dragged into Summer League play.
Kurucs spent the time in Las Vegas working out with the Nets, but because his buyout didn’t happen until the day before Brooklyn’s final Vegas game, Kurucs did not get his NBA indoctrination there.
He’s added some bulk to his frame since his first time going through the draft protocols, now weighing in at 220 pounds after hitting just 190 pounds in the pre-draft period in 2017.
Unlike teammate Dzanan Musa, Kurucs will not be leaving for Europe next week, as he is not listed on the Latvian team roster for the beginning of second-round play in the European qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Kurucs played, however briefly, in three of Latvia’s six games thus far in the qualifying tournament, going scoreless with two rebounds in 8:22 of playing time. He was 0-for-3 from the floor and missed his lone 3-point attempt.
Cameos have been his unfortunate specialty of late. He played in just 51 games across all competitions for Barcelona the last two seasons, with 40 of those coming with Barcelona II in Spain’s second-division LEB Gold circuit.
Last season, Kurucs played 10 games with the top-tier squad, six in domestic play, where he averaged 2.3 points in 7.2 minutes per game on 6-for-13/2-for-7/0-for-0 shooting.
In four appearances in Euroleague, Kurucs did not score in 16 minutes total, grabbing three rebounds with two steals and missing his only two shot attempts.
So the criticism of Kurucs that he has not faced much elite-level competition would appear to be valid.
In 2015-16, he was limited to four games with Barcelona’s junior team at the adidas Next Generation Tournament before being sidelined.
According to NBADraft.net, there are some aspects of his game that will need to be fixed if he is to see playing time at the NBA, or even the G League, level. While he is a willing penetrator his drives are (a) almost always with the right hand and (b) generally in a straight line.
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Savvy NBA defenders will have a field day setting up just outside the restricted arc if that trend continues.
He can also play too fast and gets out of control and can miss kick-out opportunities when he drives because he becomes too focused on getting his own shot.
He will also need to learn to move without the ball — Kurucs has had a tendency to follow the ball on offense, which can create spacing problems. That would particularly be an issue in the Nets’ pace-and-space system.
Defensively, he will mix it up against his assignment, but can get lost when he is off the ball, falling victim to screens and at other time just drifting into no man’s land. As a help defender, he has two speeds — over-aggressive with the help or non-existent with the help.
There’s a lot to like about a 6-foot-9 wing with long arms and what appears to be a solid basketball IQ, even if he’s got some learning to do about situational awareness.
The biggest thing for Kurucs to achieve in his rookie season is just to play. Everything else will work itself out if he can just do that.