Rookie may force Kenny Atkinson’s hand at power forward
The Brooklyn Nets have a hole at power forward.
A surplus of young, talented guards has sparked the offense from the backcourt while second-year center Jarrett Allen and veteran Ed Davis have protected the paint, but Brooklyn needs more production at power forward if they want to compete for a playoff spot.
With Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sidelined, Jared Dudley began the season as the starter at the 4 and has held onto the role through 19 games. The 12-year NBA veteran has exceeded low expectations so far but has a limited ceiling.
Dudley is averaging 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in 23.9 minutes per game. The 33-year-old is Brooklyn’s stretch 4 but is shooting just 31.1 percent from 3, the lowest percentage since his rookie season.
Outside of the 3-point shot, Dudley offers virtually nothing offensively. He has shown no ability to put the ball on the floor or finish at the rim.
Despite the pedestrian numbers, Dudley offers a veteran presence and defensive intelligence that bodes well for Brooklyn in crunch time. While this basketball IQ will keep Dudley in the lineup, it does not outweigh his lack of production.
Hollis-Jefferson has struggled to find his rhythm thus far, averaging 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds on a career-low 40.3 percent shooting from the field. The 23-year-old has regressed offensively after finding success as a slasher and mid-range shooter last season.
The Arizona product offers high energy on the boards and defense, but is very limited offensively. Hollis-Jefferson lacks the ability to space the floor, which Brooklyn needs out of its power forwards.
After a season in which he vastly improved his mid-range shooting, fans and those within the organization were hopeful that Hollis-Jefferson could develop his 3-point shot, but that hope has yet to come to fruition.
With Dudley’s limited ceiling and Hollis-Jefferson’s struggles, coach Kenny Atkinson may soon turn to Rodions Kurucs.
Brooklyn selected Kurucs with the 40th pick in the 2018 draft. General manager Sean Marks showed serious interest in Kurucs in the 2017 draft before he withdrew and returned to Europe.
Several scouts felt that Kurucs had lottery-level talent in 2017, but his draft stock was hampered after his coach at FC Barcelona learned of his plans to leave for the NBA and refused to play him.
Kurucs has shown promise in limited playing time this season. The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 6.6 points in 11.7 minutes per game on 42.9 percent shooting from 3.
Despite the Nets’ lack of production at his position, Atkinson has not given the rookie much of a look. Kurucs played 21 minutes in a Nov. 16 win over Washington, scoring nine points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field, but has not played in the three games since.
Kurucs has seen action in just four of the last 11 games since returning from an ankle injury. However, the young forwards diverse skillset leads you to believe he may be in line for an increased role in the near future.
The rookie offers something that neither Dudley or Hollis-Jefferson can to the Brooklyn offense: the ability to score from all levels of the floor. He can shoot from 3, pull up from the mid-range or take the ball all the way to the basket.
Most importantly, the 20-year-old has shown confidence and energy in his limited minutes. He has been extremely active on defense and shown an adept ability to find putback opportunities on offense.
The second-round pick has shown no fear shooting, attacking the rim, defending or hitting the boards when given an opportunity.
Kurucs may be the spark the Nets have desperately needed at power forward. If Brooklyn’s struggles at the position continue, the rookie may force his way into the lineup.