Brooklyn Nets: Development value of NBA G League getting real test

Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets have a roster packed with players who had spent time in the NBA G League, but the true value is getting a test with a pair of rookies.

At the beginning of this season, much was made of the NBA G League setting a new all-time high with 198 players on NBA opening night rosters that had spent time in the developmental league. The Brooklyn Nets came in above the NBA average of 40 percent of players with that experience.

Of the 17 players — 15 on full contracts and two on two-way deals — that comprised Brooklyn’s roster on opening night, eight had played in the G League at some point in their careers.

That list included:

With the Nets’ affiliate in Uniondale, the Long Island Nets, entering its third season of operation, Brooklyn is going to get a real test of the value of the G League as a developmental tool.

The Long Island team has played four games in the 2018-19 season and already the number of players on the Brooklyn roster with G League time has swelled to 11.

First-round pick Dzanan Musa and two-way rookie Theo Pinson have appeared in all four games thus far for the G-Nets and second-round pick Rodions Kurucs started for Long Island in its season opener before returning to the parent club in Brooklyn.

For the Brooklyn Nets, the time Musa is getting to spend in Long Island could wind up having tremendous value down the line.

Musa is 19 years old and was the 29th overall pick in the NBA Draft last June. He came to the NBA with three years of professional experience playing in Croatia, but after playing career-highs in games and minutes for Cedevita last season, Musa was held out of the NBA Summer League.

A sprained ankle sustained in September while playing for the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team in European qualifying play for next year’s FIBA World Cup of Basketball set Musa back a bit at the start of training camp.

He wound up getting 25 minutes of playing time in two of Brooklyn’s four preseason games and has gotten 17 minutes with the Nets, playing in four games that had been decided long before he got to peel off the warm-ups and get on the floor.

Once upon a time, that — along with whatever practice time he could get coupled with individual work — would have been the extent of his time to develop into an NBA player.

But with the Long Island Nets being readily available to serve as an incubator for Musa, he has added 133 minutes of game experience to that education.

Beyond it being just game experience, though, is that playing for head coach Will Weaver in Uniondale means it is game experience while running the same sets as they do in Brooklyn, playing the same defensive philosophies as are employed by the parent Nets and communicated in the same terminology as is used by the NBA club.

For Pinson, an undrafted rookie free agent, he’s gotten 141 minutes of NBA-style experience that he would not have otherwise received.

Before two-way contracts, Pinson would have been left to make his own deal somewhere, either in the G League or overseas rather than being part of a clearly designed developmental tree.

Musa is the second player selected in the first round by the Nets to play at Long Island. Chris McCullough, taken in the same 29th overall spot in 2015 that Musa occupied this year, played 31 games for the Uniondale-based club in 2016-17 before he was traded to the Washington Wizards.

Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn’s 2017 first-round pick, did not log any G League time. The Nets didn’t have a first-round selection in 2016 (sigh).

It hasn’t hurt Musa that he’s playing starter’s minutes at Long Island and playing well. After dropping 22 points on the Delaware Blue Coats on Sunday, Musa is averaging 21.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists and is shooting .455/.300/17-for-19.

The level of play in the G League isn’t the same as the NBA, that’s a given. On the other hand, NBA rosters aren’t entirely comprised of guys who would elbow their own family members in the face for a chance to land a spot in the NBA.

There is an air of hunger and desperation to G League play that cannot be denied.

For Pinson’s part, he’s averaging 20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.0 blocks for Long Island, shooting a solid .520/.444/.850. He played 15 minutes in the preseason for Brooklyn and logged 10 minutes in two games early in the regular season.

It’s two players in entirely different circumstances getting invaluable experience while being monitored by the parent organization.

Musa’s future is locked in for at least two seasons, before the Nets have to make a decision on their option for 2020-21.

Pinson has no guarantees, but a two-way deal will give him a maximum of 45 days to spend with the parent Nets to try and either land a full contract with Brooklyn or put enough video on file that the NBA’s other 29 clubs have a chance to evaluate him and determine if he could be a part of their program.

I’ve been a huge believer in the value of the G League since it’s earliest days as an eight-team league in the Southern U.S. in 2001.

The G League now has 27 teams, all affiliated with NBA franchises, and a 28th team will launch in 2019-20 as an affiliate of the New Orleans Pelicans, leaving only the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers without an affiliate to call their own.

Playing time in an identical system to what is used by the parent club can’t be anything but good for rookies such as Dzanan Musa and Theo Pinson.

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For the Brooklyn Nets, having an affiliate gives them something to give to those rookies that wouldn’t be there otherwise — minutes in live-game situations.