LAS VEGAS — Young veterans Jarrett Allen and Caris Le Vert sat out the Nets’ first two Summer League games, and draft picks Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs can’t play until the buyouts of their European club contracts are complete.
But two players who have positioned themselves to contend for the Nets’ two two-way contract slots, or to at least make their G League team, are undrafted free agents Theo Pinson and Yuta Watanabe.
They share a common theme in that both completed four college seasons, both were defensive stoppers for their teams and both need to develop their long-range shooting.
North Carolina small forward Pinson was signed to an Exhibit 10 contract that guarantees him $50,000, which means he definitely will be at training camp and has a great shot at a two-way deal.
Watanabe, who was the Atlantic 10’s defensive player of the year as a senior at George Washington, is intriguing because of his 6-9 frame and athleticism.
Although the Nets trailed by as much as 30 points in a 90-76 loss to the Thunder on Saturday, Watanabe stood out with 13 points, five rebounds, four blocked shots and a plus-8 defensive rating at small forward and power forward.
“We played him at both three and four, and he was able to chase some guys around screens but also play the four,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “Overall, another good day for him.
“You see weak-side blocks and the ability to block out also, those little things. You see instinctively he knows where to be. He has a toughness to him . . . If he can shoot the basketball with his size, that’s a good combination.”
Watanabe’s shot-blocking has been particularly eye-catching, especially defending at the four. He has six blocks in two games.
“Defense is my strength in college,” said Watanabe, who is a native of Japan. “I can’t remember how many blocks I got [Saturday], but I’m glad I was able to show I can play defense even at the four.”
Asked if he can play the four at the NBA level, Watanabe expressed confidence. “Versatility is one of my strengths,” he said. “If they want me to play four, I’m fine with that. If I can hit shots, I’m 6-9, long, athletic. I have no problem playing the four.”
Watanabe is shooting 30.0 percent from three-point range, so that needs work. Pinson also got off to a tough start in the Nets’ opener, going 1-for-6 on three-pointers. But he bounced back against the Thunder with 16 points and 5-for-8 shooting, including 3-for-5 accuracy from three-point range.
Speaking of his off-target shooting in the opener, Pinson said: “All of them felt good. I didn’t have any bad misses. My teammates encouraged me to keep shooting because there weren’t any bad ones. I just wanted to come out [Saturday] and stay aggressive.”
Pinson knows defense is his calling card, and he proved he could guard both the three and four in the ACC. Asked what he needs to show the Nets, he said: “The same thing I did in college, intangibles. I can do a little bit of everything, those little plays that people on the outside don’t really pay attention to that people inside the organization know what’s going on. I try to use that and show I can knock down some shots.
“I’ve got to be able to defend and not hurt the team when I come in the game. That’s a big thing because I’m not going to be a starter. I’ve got to come in and show I can be valuable and get some minutes.”