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Nets' Rodions Kurucs expected to bounce back in expanded role

Nets forward Rodions Kurucs looks on against the

Nets forward Rodions Kurucs looks on against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Two years ago as a rookie, Rodions Kurucs established himself as a favorite of Nets fans with his boundless energy, hard-nosed defense and solid three-point shot. But Kurucs saw his role diminish drastically earlier this season when he struggled from three-point range and found himself playing behind more seasoned veterans.

As the Nets prepare for the NBA restart later this month in the “bubble” in Orlando, no one has a better opportunity than Kurucs to play an expanded role and re-establish himself. The Nets are without center DeAndre Jordan (illness), power forwards Taurean Prince (illness), Wilson Chandler (opt-out) and Nic Claxton (surgery), so Kurucs found himself as the starting power forward when five-on-five scrimmages began He also is getting some work as a “small-ball” center.

“This opportunity is great for me, but we still have new guys coming over right now,” Kurucs told reporters Saturday on a Zoom video conference. “I was the starting power forward and I’m basically playing four/five right now. It’s me and [center Jarrett Allen] as the big men right now. It’s tough to be honest, but I’m getting used to it and getting good at the five position, too. I’m sure I’m going to have to play some minutes at that position.”

The Nets have signed two big men, veteran forward Michael Beasley and young G League standout Donta Hall. Both still are going through quarantine protocol at Disney World and have a few more days before they will be allowed to join practice. So, the opportunity is there for Kurucs to take charge.

“My confidence level is at the same place as when the season [paused],” Kurucs said. “I’m ready to step in. I’m ready to shoot the ball all the time, I’m ready to make the right decisions. Different positions now, but it’s not a problem. I’m just going to play my game.”

As much as the fans love Kurucs, his teammates appreciate him, too. Allen said Kurucs has been shooting three-pointers well in practice and his teammates know he will “sacrifice his body” for them. Veteran Garrett Temple said the Nets are depending on him because of all the roster vacancies.

“Rodi is really going to be big for us,” Temple said. “His ability to offensive rebound, his ability to cause havoc on the defensive end, be a nuisance, and offensively, he can knock down his shots and be a great cutter. We know he has that in him, and we’re going to need him for that. Rodi has the ability to do the little things, be that dog on the inside, get all the garbage points.”

Interim coach Jacque Vaughn envisions Kurucs playing multiple roles but likely starting at the four position. “I think we’ll need to take advantage of his energy,” Vaughn said. “He’s done a good job of being in drills with the wings and the bigs. He’s accepted that challenge and is willing to play any position for us.”

Kurucs said he is looking forward to the addition of veteran guard Jamal Crawford as well as Beasley. “Michael Beasley is a great player,” Kurucs said. “was one of my favorite players when he played with the Knicks.”

Incorporating so many new roster additions is going to be a tough challenge for the Nets, who will have three scrimmages against other teams before resuming their season on July 31 against the Magic. But Kurucs expressed confidence in their ability to pull it together as they get to know each other better through team activities, such as fishing, bowling and dinners together.

“I don’t think it’s going to be difficult to adjust to that because we’re all professionals,” Kurucs said. “We’re going to do a lot of team activities, and we’ll bond . . . We’ll figure it out.”

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