When the Nets arrived in Orlando on Tuesday to prepare for the resumption of the NBA season later this month, they had only 10 healthy bodies on the roster, including just three players — Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen — who have spent significant time as starters. So, depth is a critical issue, and the player who might play the most pivotal role is 5-11 point guard Chris Chiozza.
Starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie heads a list of four players, including DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler, who will miss the restart because they either tested positive for COVID-19 or opted out in Chandler’s case. Although LeVert figures to take charge of the offense, Chiozza is a prime candidate to join him in the starting backcourt.
After averaging just 2.1 points while playing limited time in his first 16 appearances earlier in the season, Chiozza emerged as a force when former coach Kenny Atkinson replaced Dinwiddie with him on March 3 and kept him on the floor for the final 20:45 of an overtime win at Boston. It was Chiozza who provided the spark that ignited LeVert’s career-high 51-point game that included 37 points in the fourth quarter and overtime and a franchise-record 51-point fourth period.
Recalling the chemistry he and LeVert displayed in that game during a recent Zoom interview, Chiozza said, “Caris is a great player. He plays the right way. It makes it easy for me because he can score, he can catch-and-shoot, he can create his own shot. So, I’ve really just got to get him the ball when he wants it. It’s pretty easy. I love playing with him.”
After that game, Chiozza became a regular in the rotation over the next four games before the NBA season was stopped because of the coronavirus pandemic. In his final five games, Chiozza averaged 10.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists. With a depleted roster that also is missing injured Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Nic Claxton, Chiozza is a likely choice to start at point guard for interim head coach Jacque Vaughn, who replaced Atkinson for the final two games the Nets played.
“I feel like it’s a big opportunity for me,” Chiozza said. “It’s something I’m looking forward to. I hope Spencer feels better, but if not, I’ll be ready to take on those extra minutes.”
Chiozza was speaking two days before Dinwiddie officially was ruled out of Orlando, and he said he and Vaughn had not yet discussed his role in detail. “I don’t think I’m going to have to change too much,” Chiozza said. “I’m just going to go out there and play the way I’ve been playing. I feel comfortable playing with anyone on court, and I think I know everyone’s game pretty well. I think it will be a little bit of an adjustment if I am playing with the first group, but I think I’ll be pretty good and make a quick transition.”
Despite his success just before the NBA stoppage, Chiozza still is on a two-way deal because the Nets chose not to convert his contract. “When it didn’t happen, it didn’t bother me too much because of the circumstances that I’m still going to be able to play,” Chiozza said.
Notes and quotes: According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Nets have signed 19-year veteran guard Jamal Crawford, 40, who has not played this season but scored 51 points in the last game he played on April 9, 2019 . . . The Nets were tested for COVID-19 as soon as they arrived at their Disney World hotel Tuesday night and were scheduled for another test Wednesday night. Assuming the results are negative, they are scheduled to practice for the first time in a group setting Thursday afternoon.