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Brooklyn Nets Notebook: Role Players Rose Above in Orlando

Luwawu-Cabarot, Johnson, Chiozza, Martin seized opportunity

The Brooklyn Nets that took the court in Orlando during the NBA restart looked very different than the ones that left the court back in Los Angeles on March 10. New faces. New and bigger roles for others.

Guard Tyler Johnson and swingman Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were among those that became prominent players as the Nets went 5-3 during the seeding round that secured the seventh playoff seed, along with two-way point guards Chris Chiozza and Jeremiah Martin making a bigger impact than they had previously.

“I’ve learned throughout this year and throughout all this, being away and all this, that every single opportunity to show yourself is a good opportunity,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot. “It could be a game or a practice. It’s always a good opportunity to go out there and compete and give your 100 percent every single time because there’s a lot of people watching.”

“It’s interesting how things can change pretty quickly in this league. Even look at TLC, where he was to where he us now,” said head coach Jacque Vaughn. “Look at a guy like Tyler the situation he was in, things could’ve changed for him and now he gets an opportunity he’s fully taken advantage of. In this league things can change quickly.”

It has been an unpredictable ride for Johnson. Signed to an offer sheet by the Nets as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2016, he returned to Miami when the Heat matched. But the Heat eventually dealt him to Phoenix during the 2018-19 season, and the Suns waived the 6-foot-4 guard back in February.

If the NBA season had continued on its regular course, Johnson might have finished the season as a man without a team. Instead, the Nets signed him in late June once the transaction window opened in advance of teams resuming practice and heading to Orlando.

“Yeah he’s really taken advantage of it, the playing different roles for us off the bench, starting, being a facilitator, being able to score the basketball like he did last game,” said Vaughn. “So it’s given us a chance to see him as a basketball player again, how he is around his teammates, his approach to the game, his care factor, his competitive spirit. So unless he was with us we wouldn’t be able to see that. So that’s been the most revealing part about it.”

Johnson started six of Brooklyn’s 12 games in Orlando, averaging 12.5 points and shooting 39.0 percent from 3-point range. He scored 21 points in the win over the LA Clippers, and had 23 in Game 3 against Toronto. If that’s enough to get a look at sticking around next season when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving return to the court, he’s all for that.

“I’m confident anywhere I go,” said Johnson. “You’re out here second-guessing your talents, like, ‘Oh, I wonder if I can play?’ then you’re probably in the wrong profession. I see myself being able to fit in with anybody, obviously adding two of arguably the top five, 10 best players in the world, you know, it’s gonna be different. It’s not gonna be the same as it was here. But as far as being able to provide a service for a team that can contend for a championship, I know I can definitely do that. Moving forward, it’s one of those things you continue to stay confident, and obviously we have some time to regroup and we’ll know a little bit more as free agency hits and everything, but as far as me seeing myself on this team, I definitely do.”

Luwawu-Cabarrot began the season on a two-way deal with the Nets, moved into Brooklyn’s rotation in mid-December, and signed a contract for a full roster spot in early February. Without Jordan, Prince and Chandler, the Nets trended smaller and opportunity opened up for the 6-foot-7 Luwawu-Cabarrot to fill a need at the 4 spot.

He was integral to Brooklyn winning both seeding round games that the Nets played without the Caris LeVert/Jarrett Allen/Joe Harris trio, scoring 26 points while shooting 5-of-7 from 3-point range against Milwaukee and 24 while shooting 8-of-12 overall with seven rebounds against Orlando. Luwawu-Cabarrot had two other 20-point games and was Brooklyn’s fourth-leading scorer in Orlando behind that group, averaging 15.1 points in 12 games while shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I think I’ve proved that I was a reliable shooter, reliable defender, and a person you could count on every single game,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot, “so this was my mentality when I came here and I’ve tried to do that.”

Then there were the two-way players, Chiozza and Martin, two point guards signed a week apart back in January.

Chiozza had begun to make an impression before the season was suspended, running the show throughout the fourth quarter and overtime while Caris LeVert went supernova in his 51-point game that sparked a comeback overtime win in Boston, with Chiozza chipping in eight points and four assists in 21 minutes. He stuck in the rotation for the next week, with 11 points and five assists in the win in Los Angeles that was Brooklyn’s final game for four-and-a-half months.

That set him up for a significant role when Spencer Dinwiddie opted out of the restart following his positive COVID-19 diagnosis, and he had 14 points in the win over Washington, 10 in the win over Milwaukee, and 14 in the win over Sacramento.

Martin hadn’t seen much time for Brooklyn over his first two months, but with the restart, he was one of nine available roster players when the Nets began practice in Orlando, and he made a quick impression in practices with his energy and defensive impact. That was on display when he played 20 minutes in the win over Milwaukee, breaking up the Bucks’ final possession with a deflection to seal the win.

He followed up with 20 points the next night against Boston, and topped that career high with 24 in the win over Orlando a week later.

“I think it's going to pay huge dividends down the stretch,” said LeVert of the opportunity so many got to expand their games in Orlando. “Guys were playing out of role, guys were playing extended minutes like you said, playing in big roles in big games despite not having a crowd these are still big games for us. A lot of people watching so I think that's going to pay huge dividends next year and individually for guys down the road in their careers for sure. I think a lot of guys got a lot of confidence down here.”

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