For the first time in over 40 years, professional basketball is back on Long Island.
The Long Island Nets begun their sophomore season as members of the NBA G League in a successful way on Saturday night, with a 115-99 win over the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. It marked the franchise’s return to the Island, and to a building where it won a pair of ABA championships as the New York Nets in the 1970s.
The star of those teams, Hall of Famer and Long Island native Julius “Dr. J” Erving, was honored with a halftime jersey retirement ceremony in the very building he transformed from high-flying dunker to transcendent legend.
There was basketball to be played though, and for a Long Island team that went just 17-33 in its debut season, a season-opening win was exactly what the doctor — and second-year coach Ronald Nored — ordered.
My thoughts on how the squad looked below (watched this one as a fan, wasn’t able to snag a credential):
—- One of the guys that caught my eye during the Summer League was former Loyola (Chicago) guard Milton Doyle, who has a very similar frame and playing style to Jamal Crawford, but is a few inches shorter. During Long Island’s hot start (they won the first quarter 28-10, Fort Wayne looked really sluggish), Doyle drilled his first two shots — both threes — but then had a bunch of open looks that didn’t go down.
He ended up playing 37 minutes, scoring 20 points on 22 shots. See, very Crawford-like. I’m not worried about his stroke — it’s smooth and he’ll get his looks in Long Island’s open flow system, which mirrors that of Kenny Atkinson’s but it isn’t as full-throttle — but what I really liked was when he took Mad Ants defenders off the dribble. Doyle is very lanky and has a good handle, so smaller guards have trouble stopping him from getting to the rim. He also added six rebounds.
—- My three personal stars of the game: Yakuba Ouattara (on a two-way contract), Kamari Murphy and Shannon Scott. Ouattara is a quick-twitch type of guard with a lot of speed and a solid jumper; he scored 14 on 4-of-9 shooting (3-of-6 from three) with a pair of steals. I really liked how he kept pushing the pace off turnovers and took advantage of defenders sagging off his shot. He reminds me a little of Ish Smith; on the surface, he looks like just an energy guy but has skill and can make a difference when given the change. We will certainly see him in Brooklyn at some point, especially if the Nets’ backcourt suffers another big injury.
Murphy played with Isaiah Whitehead (we’ll get to him later) at Lincoln High School in Coney Island, went undrafted in June and was recently picked up by Long Island. He’s an athletic 6’8″ and played great defense, along with showing off above-average rebounding skills. The offensive game isn’t terribly developed but he hit a triple and was one of the more physically impressive guys on the floor. His 21-point, 14-rebound double-double led to a game-high +21.
Finally, we get to Scott, who has a pretty interesting story. His father, Charlie Scott, is from New York City and was a fixture at Rucker Park in the late ’60s, playing at Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan for a year before finishing his pre-college seasons at a prep school in North Carolina. Despite being a two-time All-American at UNC and winning a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics, he was only a 7th round NBA draft pick. That led him to the ABA, where he started with the Virginia Squires in 1970. His teammate for the 1971-1972 season? Julius Erving.
Anyway, the elder Scott would go on to have a stellar 10-year career in both the ABA and NBA — he won the 1976 NBA title with the Celtics. Shannon Scott was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and went on to play for Thad Matta at Ohio State, where he was teammates with D’Angelo Russell when Russell was a freshman and Scott was a senior. Scott went undrafted and played for Raptors 905 — Toronto’s G League affiliate — before spending last year in Greece. He didn’t do much in the first half but was on the floor for much of the fourth quarter, when Long Island fended off a pesky Fort Wayne team that closed a 20+ point deficit to just two points at the end of the third. The Atlanta native isn’t a sharpshooter but has solid court vision and good defender. He scored 11 points in 17 minutes.
—- Of course, Isaiah Whitehead played well, showing that he’s probably too talented for the G League but not quite good enough to crack Brooklyn’s dense backcourt. In many ways, it was a typical Whitehead game. A lot of strong drives to the rim, a bunch of rebounds, some over-dribbling and multiple turnovers resulting from simply trying to do too much (he ended up with five). I like Whitehead and think he is a NBA player, especially with his two-way capabilities, but he still needs to make the leap from playmaker to floor general. As the primary scorer at Seton Hall, he learned the usual bad tendencies from being the go-to guy in college: poor shot selection and occasional hero ball. He’s still in the process of outgrowing those but, when he does, he can be an effective big guard that’s tough and is always hustling. Not there yet.
—- 31 or more minutes for each of Nored’s starters, even in a 16-point win. Part of that could be blamed on Long Island blowing a huge lead after halftime. Wonder if that’ll stay the same, because we weren’t able to get good looks at guys like Kendall Gray, Prince Ibeh and Jeremy Senglin.
—- Former Virginia standout Akil Mitchell is an intriguing forward who has his deficiencies offensively but is going to be a big-time rebounder for Long Island. He filled up the stat sheet, between the 14 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists, but struggled at the free throw line and looked very tentative with the ball in the lane, at least early on. He’s one of those forwards who looks more comfortable with the ball on the perimeter and without the ball by the hoop, like when crashing the offensive boards or facilitating ball movement.
—- This team is undoubtedly better than last year’s. While the 2016-17 Long Island Nets had talented guys like Chris McCullough and Trahson Burrell to shoulder the scoring load, it relied on the three-ball way too much, even to a fault. The 32 attempts LI had tonight is not insignificant, but most of them were open and in rhythm, which are the attempts you like to see. It also seems like this year’s team will actually defend and rebound, which couldn’t really be said for the 2016-17 version.
—- The Nets’ other two-way guy, Jake Wiley, played a few garbage time minutes in Brooklyn’s loss to the Lakers in LA on Friday night so he didn’t check for Long Island. The forward out of Eastern Washington figures to be a important member of the team, and might displace Murphy in the starting lineup.
That’s all I got for Game 1. Long Island has a few days off before heading north of the border to play Raptors 905 on Wednesday night.