In the aftermath of the season-ending injury to David Nwaba, who suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon last week in San Antonio, there are two Nets who are being counted upon to step up and take his place — Wilson Chandler and Rodions Kurucs.
Nwaba was playing both ends of the court, providing surprising offense to go with the defensive toughness that had become his trademark. He was a versatile player who could play anywhere from two-guard to small forward to power forward.
Now, Chandler, who recently returned from a 25-game suspension for use of a performance-enhancing substance, can provide three-point shooting and defensive toughness at the power forward spot, and Kurucs, a second-round pick who had a great rookie season and went 28-18 as a starter last season, can add defensive energy.
It all starts against the crosstown rival Knicks Thursday night at Barclays Center in what amounts to a must-win game against a 7-24 team.
In barely 20 minutes per game, Chandler already has provided 5.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game, but as a .342 percent career three-point shooter and a physical defender, he can provide much more. Describing his adjustment period, Chandler said, “Kicking off the rust has been kind of hard. But that’ll come in a couple of weeks, a few weeks, however long it takes.”
Asked if he expects to have an expanded role in terms of minutes and points productionin Nwaba's absence, Chandler said, “I have no clue. But if it happens, then I’m always ready for the task.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said he felt Kurucs provided a needed boost in their win over Atlanta on Sunday. And he believes in the Kurucs who was so effective as a rookie. That Kurucs averaged 8.5 points and 3.9 rebounds, but the current version is averaging 2.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10 minutes per game versus 20 minutes per game.
Describing his role going forward, Kurucs said he understands this is his big chance to carve out a permanent role in the rotation the same as he did a year ago. “They just want me to get my rhythm and make good decisions,” Kurucs said. “Why I didn’t play is because I didn’t shoot open shots and make good decisions. I was getting turnovers out of that. That’s why they sent me to [the Long Island Nets]. To get my rhythm back and to get my feel for the game back. They want me to make the right decisions, make the right plays and make less turnovers.”
As Kurucs sees it, this is exactly like the opportunity he got last season and made the most of it. “Last year was the same thing,” Kurucs said. “We had all the injuries, then, I started playing. So, the same thing happens this year. It’s just next man up. I’m just always ready to play and help the team. I feel it’s the same thing this year. We just got to step up for each other.