The Nets may have succeeded in crashing the free-agent party with their high-profile signings of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, but at heart, they remain a team committed to development, which is what attracted those top-tier veterans in the first place.
So while Dzanan Musa has flown far under the radar at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, the emergence of the Nets’ 2018 first-round draft pick is yet another encouraging sign.
On Wednesday, Musa had 20 points in a win over the Magic that gave the Nets a 3-1 record heading to the playoffs. Musa is the team’s leading scorer at 13.8 points per game to go with an average of 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
Nets Summer League coach Adam Harrington has suggested that Musa can use his work this summer as a “springboard” to facilitate his advancement from a G League regular last season, when he averaged 19.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists with the Long Island Nets, to a place on the Nets’ roster competing for backup minutes at shooting guard and small forward.
“I think he’s taken a big leap,” Harrington said. “He’s another one you can throw in being a young guy with his body and getting better and being able to withstand the physicality of that two-three position night in and night out.”
Musa came to the Nets as a player used to dominating the ball and playing big minutes on good teams, but he just turned 20 in May and needed a year to adjust to the NBA game.
“Now that’s it’s over, it was tough,” Musa said. “It was really tough. I didn’t expect that at the beginning, but at the end, I realized how good the guys were next to me and how good [were] the teammates that I have. They helped me a lot.
“The G League helped me to mature as a player and as a person. It made me stronger. It made me realize how American basketball works.”
Musa has gotten stronger to fight his way through screens and get downhill to the basket, and he has begun to learn the importance of defense. On the final play of a win over the Wizards on Monday, he blocked a potential tying three-point shot at the buzzer.
He’s also learning how to play off the ball and working on his playmaking.
“You’ve got to,” Musa said. “I’m talking to our assistant coaches a lot to gain trust. You have to know there’s point guards, there’s ballhandlers, primary ballhandlers. In Brooklyn, you have your role. You’ve got to play defense hard, you’ve got to make open shots, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Musa is thrilled with the addition of top veteran talent and what it means to the Nets’ expectations. Recalling a time a few years ago when he played for Bosnia in a European championship in Slovenia, he said: “I didn’t have my shoes. So I called my man: ‘Bring me some shoes, but I want KD shoes.’ Now I have him as a teammate, as a mentor. It’s unbelievable.”
Musa said Durant, Irving and Jordan all have reached out to returning players to encourage them. Now he hopes he can find a spot in the playing rotation with the big stars.
“I’m ready, I’m ready,” Musa said. “Believe me, this time when I realize that I have a chance to play in the NBA, I think that I have been working for that for 20 years and I think that I’m ready.”