Last season, second-round rookie Rodions Kurucs was a revelation, forcing his way into the starting lineup for 46 games and using his boundless energy to help the Nets go 28-18 in those games. But after facing a domestic abuse charge from a former girlfriend last summer that still is making its way through the judicial process and then adjusting to a lesser role after the addition of several new veterans, Kurucs lost his way.
However, the irrepressible, 21-year-old fan favorite rediscovered himself with a season-high 19-point performance that included 4-for-5 three-point shooting to help the Nets snap a seven-game losing streak with their win over the Heat Friday night. He was making just his third start this season in place of injured Garrett Temple but likely has regained his starting job whether or not Temple plays against the Hawks Sunday night at Barclays Center.
It was the first double-digit scoring game for Kurucs this season in 22 appearances. “I hope that’s the spark because the talent’s there,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We saw it last year. He decided to come out and defend tonight like he did last year.
“But to see the shots go down, and he’s not hesitant. I think we all saw at the beginning of the year he was really, really struggling with his confidence. A big reason we won tonight was his play.”
When it was suggested to the young Latvian that his performance might have represented a turning point this season, he embraced the notion. “I’m just doing my job, but maybe it is a turning point,” Kurucs said. “Maybe I’ll play more, and I’ll play better. I’m sure Kenny liked my game today, and he liked my physicality.”
As a rookie, his Nets teammates treated Kurucs like a puppy dog because of his sense of humor and frisky demeanor. The domestic abuse allegations came as a shock, but the organization has supported him fully and his next court date is Feb. 11. Kurucs admitted his off-court troubles and the role change combined to affect on his play.
“I think it’s just a new team, new season and also, of course, that (conflict) I had 100 percent impacted me maybe a little bit,” Kurucs said. “But I got it back. That’s the most positive thing. I’m back, and that’s the most important thing right now.”
Although his production has dropped off this season, his three-point shooting percentage actually is up from .315 to .438, and the trio of threes he hit at the start against Miami helped kick the offense into gear.
“Caris (LeVert) told me I just have to stay locked in and be ready to shoot it every time,” Kurucs said. “He said, ‘Let it go and let it fly every time.’”
Kurucs said a stint in the G League with the Long Island Nets also helped him regain confidence to the point where he’s starting to recognize himself when he looks in the mirror.
Recalling Atkinson’s advice, Kurucs said, “He told me just to play my game, bring that energy to the team and just play hard. ‘Bring me that Rodi back,’ he said.”