Much like their NBA counterpart and fellow tenant of the Barclays Center, the Long Island Nets have had a rough go of it to start their inaugural D-League season. The junior Nets are 4-11 and are toward the bottom of the Atlantic Division, which probably isn’t too surprising considering the roster.
Chris McCullough, Brooklyn’s 2015 1st round pick who has shuffled between both Nets a bunch this season, does lead Long Island (among players with more than two games with Long Island) with 19.5 points on .469/.333/.618 shooting but, like the rest of his teammates, has struggled defensively.
Long Island has given up over 113 points per game, which is the third-worst mark in entire league, and is letting its opponents shoot almost 48 percent from the field. Like NBA team, like D-League affiliate.
Safe to say it has been a learning experience for 26-year-old head coach Ronald Nored, of Butler fame, as he tries to mix and match lineups with guys who, for whichever reason, never made the NBA cut. Considering that the Brooklyn Nets are also making do with a first-time coach and a roster full of — in a nice way — guys from the NBA’s bargain bin, both teams are going through similar struggles.
Like Brooklyn, how many wins Long Island racks up this season isn’t all too important, and it usually never is for any minor-league team, regardless of the sport.
What’s important is that the team produces players who fit what the NBA club needs. The Nets are looking to get younger with long, athletic guys who can run the floor and fit an up-tempo style of play.
Interestingly, much of Long Island’s roster is actually from New York, in what is probably not a total coincidence. The current Brooklyn Nets feature three native New Yorkers, along with a New Jerseyan (Randy Foye).
There’s Donnie McGrath, a 32-year-old Westchester native who played at Providence College and went undrafted in the 2006 NBA Draft before embarking on an international career that took him around Europe before bringing him back home to New York. Gary Forbes, from Brooklyn, began his pro career in the D-League, back in 2008, before charting his own international path which included stops with the Nuggets and Raptors.
Lazar Hayward — yet another New Yorker playing for Long Island — who played at Marquette, was a first round pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and played in the NBA as a rookie, but shuffled around the D-League and has been in and out of basketball since 2013. He too is a member of these diverse Long Island Nets but has been sidelined after hand surgery.
One of those players is former Memphis standout Trahson Burrell, who Long Island took in the second round of October’s D-League draft. An Albany native, Burrell struggled with off-court issues at Memphis, but has been one of Long Island’s better players, scoring 13 points on 48 percent shooting. It’s these types of guys, those who have been overlooked by the rest of basketball for one reason or another, that Sean Marks has vowed to find.
In Long Island’s win over Fort Wayne on Friday night, Burrell was a perfect 9-for-9 from the field en route to a 21-point, 10-rebound performance. Free throw shooting has been an issue but other than that, he’s an explosive scorer who definitely could garner a call-up at some point.
This strategy worked last year with Sean Kilpatrick, who has turned into one of the Brooklyn Nets’ more important players, and it might work with Spencer Dinwiddie too. But neither of those players came from the Nets’ in-house D-League operation, which is what Marks and the rest of the front office is envisioning with Long Island.
The benefits of having a D-League affiliate literally play in the same building as the NBA team — or even when Long Island moves to the Nassau Coliseum — are many, with maybe the most important being the cohesion between the two different teams in terms of philosophy, playing style and culture.
As Brooklyn attempts to recover from the disaster-filled Billy King tenure by coming as close to a full rebuild as possible, the trial and tribulations gone through by the NBA side will be felt by the D-League side. But, it’s all done with the hope of finding the next Kilpatrick or Joe Harris-type player.
The very mechanism designed to help teams in the Nets’ position is, of course, the draft which Brooklyn doesn’t really have the ability to take advantage of until 2019’s first round. Until then, Long Island has to serve as a de facto draft pool which is only available to the Nets and, fortunately, can’t be taken away by the Celtics.