Brooklyn Nets: Rodions Kurucs continues to defy projections

Brooklyn Nets Rodions Kurucs (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Rodions Kurucs (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Brooklyn Nets rookie Rodions Kurucs stood out in Monday’s blowout loss to the Boston Celtics, knocking down shots and defying the preseason projections.

The selection by the Brooklyn Nets of Latvian forward Rodions Kurucs in last June’s NBA Draft was met with little fanfare.

That’s not surprising — 40th overall picks generally don’t get a lot of fanfare unless they are players who were projected to go earlier.

Coming into his rookie season, Kurucs was seen as a long-range project and it came as a bit of a stunner that general manager Sean Marks signed the second-round pick to a four-year deal at roughly the same value as first-round pick Dzanan Musa.

More from Nothin' But Nets

That deal, four years and $6.96 million with a $1.86 million team option for the final year in 2021-22, looking like an amazing bargain at this point as Kurucs has defied just about all of the post-draft projections to become a starter in his first year.

The expectation was that Kurucs would spend much of his time with the Nets … the Long Island Nets, that is, in the NBA G League.

Kurucs turned some heads at his introductory news conference after the draft, when he was asked about (per the New York Post) Latvian countryman Kristaps Porzingis, the New York Knicks’ All-Star, albeit injured, big man.

"“I don’t know him that much. We spoke some time. I didn’t play with him … I hope to play with him some day on the national team. Sure, and beat his ass.”"

Big talk for a No. 40 overall pick.

But Marks had been high on Kurucs, looking at him at the No. 22 overall pick in 2017 before Kurucs opted out of the draft and returned to FC Barcelona in the Spanish ACB.

Barcelona coach Sito Alonso, however, buried Kurucs with the organization’s B team for much of last season, as he played young guys who were more likely to remain in Spain than have the audacity to want to play in the world’s top professional league.

Kurucs played just six games and 43 minutes with Barcelona’s top club in ACB play and logged just four games and 16 minutes in Euroleague play. Throw in a three-minute Euroleague cameo in 2016-17, and Kurucs came to the NBA with a whopping 62 minutes of experience against top-level competition in Europe.

So there was a reason expectations were low.

The pre-draft scouting reports were big on potential, small on Kurucs’ ability to contribute right away. He was graded as not having great length by‘s draft profile, as well as lacking shiftiness and not having a lot of physicality as a defender.

And then the preseason opener came and Kurucs dropped 4-of-6 shots and scored 13 points with four rebounds, three at the offensive end, and grabbed four steals in just 12 minutes, playing the entire fourth quarter against the New York Knicks.

It turns out the kid without “great length” had a 7-foot-2 wingspan, a deft touch at swiping the ball from dribblers and terrific timing at getting those longer-than-advertised arms into passing lanes.

He wound up averaging 7.8 points, 4.5 boards and 1.5 steals in just 12.1 minutes in the preseason while shooting 55.6 percent. And just like that, Kurucs — thanks in part to injuries to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll — had a spot in the rotation on opening night.

A sprained ankle sustained in the third game of the season against the Indiana Pacers put him on the shelf for five games and his rotation spot was gone upon his return.

Kurucs continued to play well in limited opportunities before he was put back in the rotation in early December and made his first start on Dec. 14 after Allen Crabbe went down with a bruised knee.

Thirteen games later and Kurucs is showing little sign of losing that spot.

On Monday against the Boston Celtics, Kurucs matched his career-high with 24 points, dropping 11 in the first quarter to help the Nets at least stay within reach of the Celtics despite 10 turnovers in the period.

In 28 minutes, Kurucs hit 8-of-15 from the floor, made a career-best five 3-pointers on eight attempts, hit all three of his free throws (he’s shooting 90.2 percent from the stripe, for the record) and showed his defensive chops by covering, at times, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving.

It was Kurucs’ second 20-point game of the season, leaving the tally for 20-point games by the 2018 second-round picks looking like this:

  • Rodions Kurucs, 2
  • The other 29 guys combined, 1

He’s 10th among rookies this season, averaging 9.1 points per game. The nine guys in front of him? First-round picks all, none taken later than No. 11. So that top 10 consists of a bunch of lottery picks … and Rodi.

Kurucs has played 25 games, starting 13 of them, and is being trusted to guard elite players — not forwards, but guards. Quick, shifty guards.

He’s covered Irving, Zach LaVine, Victor Oladipo and Kemba Walker, among others, over the last three weeks as a starter and hasn’t embarrassed himself.

Next. 10 best Nets from 1st NBA decade (1976-86). dark

To be sure, Kurucs’ potential for future improvement is still very high. But as it turns out, he’s ready to contribute to the Nets … the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA … right now.