Just like the rest of the Nets, Rodions Kurucs felt pained when he saw David Nwaba tear his right Achilles on Thursday night in San Antonio. The valued swingman’s season was over.
“That was tough, especially with David — we’ve had a really good relationship since Day 1,” Kurucs said. “It was tough to see him going down. Of course, he’s now in good spirits. He’s ready for his new journey, his new recovery from this to come back. He’ll definitely come back stronger and better.”
But the injury created a void on the second unit for the Nets (16-13). Kurucs, who played a big part last season as a rookie before seeing his time reduced this season after the Nets’ offseason moves, is one of the players hoping to fill it.
Kenny Atkinson subbed him in late in the first quarter and ultimately played him 11:10 in Saturday night’s 122-112 win over the Hawks at Barclays Center. The 6-9 forward scored six points on 3-for-3 shooting. He played only 1:03 against the Spurs.
“I’m just waiting for my opportunity,” Kurucs said. “Of course, it’s a big, big, big opportunity for me to step up. Since last year, we have this mentality — next man up. So it’s just good to be in the rotation and help the team as much as I can. If they need me, I’ll be there and I’ll help them.”
Atkinson pointed to both of the Nets’ top two 2018 picks as being needed off the bench now — first-rounder Dzanan Musa, a 6-9 guard/forward, and Kurucs, a second-round selection.
Kurucs averaged 8.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 63 games last season, 46 of them starts. This season, he’s averaging only 2.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 14 games off the bench and has spent time with the Long Island Nets of the G League.
Musa didn’t play against Atlanta. He’s shooting 31.6%, including 18.4% on threes, and is averaging 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 22 games as a reserve.
“Especially with David being out, I think those guys will get back into the mix and have an opportunity,” Atkinson said. “ I’ve been pleased with their disposition, with how hard they play. But they’re young players still learning to get a foothold in this league.”
Garrett Temple, the starting shooting guard with Caris LeVert sidelined, also sees time with the second unit. Atkinson used four reserves against Atlanta — Kurucs, DeAndre Jordan (12 points and 20 rebounds), Wilson Chandler and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Chandler shot 2-for-6 and scored four points in 21:09 in his fourth game back after a 25-game suspension. The 6-8 forward/guard still is searching for his rhythm.
“Of course, [he has to] play defense and rebound; that’s kind of his forte,” Atkinson said. “But we’re going to need him on that second unit to score maybe more than he has in the recent past.”