The first scrimmage of the NBA restart on Wednesday night was the first look at Rodions Kurucs playing significant minutes at center for the Brooklyn Nets.
The absence of DeAndre Jordan and Nic Claxton has forced head coach Jacque Vaughn to get creative in filling the minutes behind Jarrett Allen, and using a forward like the 6-foot-9 Kurucs has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the lineup. Against New Orleans on Wednesday, Vaughn said prioritizing center minutes in the rotation for Kurucs was a factor in bringing him off the bench and going with a smaller starting lineup that included wing Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot at the 4.
Kurucs finished up with 10 points in 20 minutes, shooting 4-of-8 overall and making 2-of-5 3-pointers.
“I give him a ton of credit,” said Vaughn. “He's shown a lot of positive steps in that direction. A lot of times a player doesn't speak because of how they're going to be perceived or whether or not they know the information to talk to their teammates. Multiple times throughout this togetherness as a team, Rodi has been challenged with a question and the other day he was able to get on the board and draw up two plays that were implemented two days prior. So his ability to do the work in between sessions has been extremely pleasing and also his communication. I think he can play multiple positions and you saw his activity level, hopefully we can continue to take advantage of.”
Getting five 3-point attempts out of the center position is a signal that Kurucs alters the role on offense more than it alters him. He said the adjustment there is minimal; some more rolls to the rim and different ways to finish with hooks and floaters. And it’s a little more advantageous in terms of putting the ball on the floor for a drive when it’s a bigger, more traditional center trying to guard him on the perimeter.
The learning curve is on the defensive end, and communication is at the top of the list. Kurucs is adjusting to quarterbacking the defense, with a wider view of the floor from the back line. He’s calling out positioning to the guards and wings, rather than reacting to what Allen or Jordan would say, and that’s a change.
Allen has been working with him on some of the nuances.
“He’s been with me and the bigs — well I guess there’s no big group, there’s only me — but he’s been with me running through defensive schemes, offensive schemes,” said Allen. “I try to give him a tip from a players perspective now and then that the coaches can’t give him, just from having experience on the court and knowing where I need to be or where a hand position needs to be just to get the upper advantage.”
The Nets have added 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas and 6-foot-9 forward/center Donta Hall to fill the void up front. Hall was at Nets practice for the first time on Thursday, the final member of the 14-player roster to join the team. With those reinforcements, Kurucs may not ultimately be the top choice to back up Allen, and he doesn’t see it as a long-term position fit. But in the meantime, he’s taking what he can from the experience.
“You always can learn from things,” said Kurucs. “I learned a lot of communication, how you play pick and roll, how you guard pick and roll. How hard it is for the big guys to do everything, like box out and get the rebound, because the guards are right there getting the rebounds. You learn all those things. It’s just nice to understand what and how they’re doing. I don’t think it’s going to be my position going forward, but I’m definitely taking the best out of it.”