1. Kurucs may have sealed his spot
Rodions Kurucs began December coming off a stretch where he hadn’t played in a game for the Brooklyn Nets in 15 days, taking five DNP-CDs and missing two other games while on assignment with the Long Island Nets of the NBA G League.
He got a shot back in the rotation as the Nets opened the month with losses to the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, then did took another DNP-CD in the infamous loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 5, when Brooklyn hacked up a 20-point lead like a hairball over the final 11½ minutes.
Kurucs hasn’t been out of the rotation since and has started six straight games after Allen Crabbe went down with a sore right knee after a hard fall to the floor in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 12.
Before Sunday’s game, Coach Kenny Atkinson told the media he expected Crabbe to be available Wednesday night when the Nets host the Charlotte Hornets.
But as far as Crabbe reclaiming his spot in the starting unit? Not so fast.
Kurucs responded Sunday with his first career double-double, finishing with 16 points and a career-high 10 rebounds, while leading the team in minutes for the second straight game, logging 33.
That comes after he scored a career-high 24 points in the loss Friday to the Indiana Pacers.
Kurucs was just 7-for-15 shooting on Sunday, but had his usual array of well-timed cuts on the baseline, blow-bys past unsuspecting defenders and added some wrinkles with some nifty passes off the drive.
He’s now averaging 9.0 points and 3.6 rebounds in 17.9 minutes per game in 18 games overall, shooting 50 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from deep.
In his six starts, however, Kurucs is putting up 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in 27.6 minutes a night on 51 percent shooting overall, knocking down 7-of-17 from 3-point range.
And in crunch time, Atkinson paid the rookie perhaps the biggest compliment yet, using him to defend Phoenix’s leading scorer, Devin Booker, in the closing minutes.
Defensively has been where Kurucs has been the biggest surprise. His quick feet combined with his 6-foot-9 height and 7-foot-2 wingspan make him a handful for opposing wings and he’s spent time in the last two games covering Indiana All-Star Victor Oladipo and scoring savant Booker.
And over the span of the last six games, Kurucs has risen from crowd favorite to integral piece of the Brooklyn rotation. Quite a rise for a guy taken 40th overall a little more than six months ago.