When a veteran on the Nets asked Day’Ron Sharpe to do something, most of the time he has to say yes. That means making a plate of food for James Harden after a game or getting donuts first. Other times, he had to turn on the shower in the locker room or carry veterans’ bags.
“Rookie guys, we got nothing compared to what they were supposed to do,” said Sharpe, 20.
He added, “Just because you’re starting doesn’t mean they’re stopping.”
When Sharpe arrives at training camp, he is expected to sit on the sidelines for most of the season. He was a late pick in the first round coming to a team that is, at least on paper, one of the best in NBA history. It is filled with veterans and top stars and is favored to win championships. Instead, Sharpe, a bulky center most comfortable to absorb hits in the paint, was a key player for the Nets for more than half a season. He was transferred to the starting lineup a few weeks ago and averaging 9.3 points and 6.8 rebounds on a 58.8 percent spin in January.
“It was crazy for me to be able to contribute,” says Sharpe.
It’s not just Sharpe. Cam Thomas (a first-round finalist), Kessler Edwards (second-rounder) and David Duke Jr. (unselected) have also received significant game time. All four spent part of the year with the Nets’ G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. It’s not unusual for a championship contender to assign such prominent roles to so many of these freshmen, especially those who aren’t being offered much. The Nets are one of two teams with four rookies averaging at least 10 minutes per game and having appeared in more than 10 games. The other is the Oklahoma City Thunder – a rebuilding franchise that ranks near the bottom of the league.
Rookies who have had significant achievements on their way to the championship, such as Magic Johnson, who took the lead Los Angeles Lakers to a title in 1980and Bill Russell, who did the same for the Boston Celtics in 1957. But Johnson, first drafter overall, and Russell (2nd) were the top draft picks, who immediately became the face of their team.
The Nets have successfully relied on rookies before. For the 2001-2 season, they relied on four people: Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins, Brandon Armstrong, and Brian Scalabrine. Jefferson and Collins each started nine times and hit the floor in almost every game, while Armstrong (35 games) and Scalabrine (28) were also important contributors. The team reached the final.
This year’s Nets hopes to repeat and surpass that success using players so often called upon just in the “break glass in an emergency” situation.
Glass is broken. Between Covid-related absences, including Kyrie Irving, and the injuries of key players like Kevin Durant, the Nets need the body – sometimes, almost anyone – to stand a chance. Irving was ineligible to play in home games because of him refuse vaccination against coronavirusand for most of the season, the team also banned him from top lane games.
But coach Steve Nash pampered the rookies even when it wasn’t an emergency. He experimented with the most prolific squads. Duke, 22, has started seven games, some of them alongside Harden and Durant. On January 12 before the Chicago Bulls, the Nets started having Edwards, Sharpe, Harden, Durant and Irving.
Before the recent lane game against the Washington Wizards, Nash said that the roster edit was the result of wanting to “consider all the newcomers”. The Nets rarely practice, which is often the case with longtime teams. As of Thursday, the Nets had used 24 starting lineups, drawing with the Philadelphia 76ers in most of their NBA games. But Nash also said the shuffle was a “necessary” issue.
“How many boys are there? When we land on a stretch of road with plenty of people ready, what stretch of road have we just come off of? ” Nash said. “Who’s playing well? Who’s in line? So it’s mostly trying and making common sense. And if it doesn’t seem like there’s common sense from the outside, there’s probably something from the outside. the inside that makes us make those decisions is a private matter.”
Nets rookies received playtime at the expense of veterans. Blake Griffin, a six-time All-Star that seemed slated for a core rotation slot, was dropped from the roster early on, only to reappear there once the Nets were exhausted. He plays low in his career 18.1 minutes per game and has a poor record overall, shoot only 38 percent from the field. Paul Millsap, four times All-Star, was signed to free agency as a backup, an addition believed to be a coup at the time. But the 36-year-old couldn’t find his footing, and Nash told reporters this month that the team looking for a new home for him.
“You add it all, and there’s not enough space for everyone,” Nash said.
Thomas, a 20-year-old who spent a year at Louisiana State University, is the most influential rookie of the four, getting consistent minutes on the bench as a goalscorer good. He beat himself to a win against the San Antonio Spurs in the first day of this month. Thomas said in an interview that the best advice he received came from Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Rajon Rondo, who won the championship starting for the Celtics in just his sophomore year. .
“He said, ‘However you’ve come, through high school, college and all that, keep doing it, because that’s how you got here,'” Thomas said.
For a team like the Nets, finding the thief at the end of the draft (or in Duke’s case, in the draft) is a must, said General Manager Sean Marks. Nets has minimal cap space, as it is mostly tied to Harden, Irving, and Durant. Asking freelancers to take pay cuts and finding overlooked talent leads to less expensive contracts. And there’s an added benefit to giving rookies playtime: Showcasing them can increase the value of their trade and give the Nets another avenue to add better players.
“We had to adjust the way we built a team starting six years ago from now, didn’t we?” Marks said, adding, “It’s fun when you’re in a war room, when you’re in a draft day and the room explodes because of who you drafted in the 30s and 40s and 50s.. ”
But there are also limitations when you constantly change the lineup.
Patty Mills, a 33-year-old Nets guard, told reporters: “It makes it a little more challenging, but that’s the way we’ve been. “But to be a professional player, especially in this league, you need to learn to adjust quickly.”
And as may be typical for young players being given unexpected roles, these four rookies are inconsistent. Duke is back out of the loop. Nets is 6-9 in January and just fourth seed of the Eastern Conference, much lower than pre-season expectations. Much of the offensive burden has fallen on Harden’s shoulders, as Durant’s knee injury will keep him out for several weeks and Irving’s absence is sporadic. Sharpe and Edwards, now to begin with, are not players – although Edwards is a reliable shooter (39 percent from 3). This spurred Harden to do more to keep the Nets afloat.
That may not be sustainable. Nash will probably have to continue to rotate, handing larger roles to Mills, Griffin and veteran striker LaMarcus Aldridge as the knockout phase approaches. But with Nash’s Nets, nothing went according to plan, and these rookies have shown that they’re more than simply schoolchildren on the Broadway show.
Asked what he would say in the fall if it was announced he would start mid-season, Sharpe said: “Man, I don’t even know. Because at boot camp, it was the first time I got to be with the boys and all that. I’m seeing the way they dance and things, thinking ‘I’m probably not even touching the court this year.’ “
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/28/sports/basketball/rookies-nets-championship.html Nets Switch to rookies like a beginner, and not just when they have to