Hiding No More: The Emergence of Rodions Kurucs

The Brooklyn Nets are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, and they owe a lot of success to the emergence of rookie Rodions Kurucs. His play on both sides of the ball is providing the spark the Nets need to contend for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

The Brooklyn Nets are one of the hottest teams in basketball -- their 8 wins in the past 10 games is tied for the best mark in the NBA. This hot stretch has coincided with with the emergence of rookie Rodions Kurucs, a 6'9'' wing taken in the second round (40th overall) by the Nets in 2018. Kurucs has given the Nets the versatile, scoring wing that they have been missing ever since Caris LeVert dislocated his right foot on November 12th against the Timberwolves. His improved play has led the coaching staff to insert him into the starting lineup, where, on December 14th, he scored 15 points in his first career start. Kurucs' overall impact on the Nets has helped pull the team within one games of the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, further cementing their place as a dark horse for the final seed moving forward.

Overall Impact on the Court

The Nets' net rating (the measurement of a team's offensive rating-defensive rating per 100 possessions) of -0.4 indicates that they are a slightly below league average team. This is expected -- while they're only 16-19 on the season, many of those loses were close games. However, with Kurucs on the court the Nets' net rating jumps to 6.9, which is the highest on the team by a large margin (the next highest by a player with more than 30 minutes played is Ed Davis, with 1.7). While much of Kuruc's playing time has been against reserves, his on court net rating has actually increased by 2.5 since his insertion into the starting lineup. Likewise, the Nets' net rating drops by 3.0 points when he goes to the bench, which is the largest drop for any player on the Nets.

His positive impact on the court is also reflected in his plus-minus, the measure of the team's point differential with him on the court. In his 18 games, Kurucs has an overall plus-minus of +53, with a positive plus-minus in 12 out of his 18 games. He's led the Nets in plus-minus in two games and was second on the team in another three games.

Offense

Most of Kurucs' impact on the court comes from his offense. The Nets' offensive rating (the measure of points produced per 100 possessions) with him on the court is 112.0, which is over two points higher than their offensive rating on the year (109.9) and by far the highest on the team. He impacts the offense in a variety of ways. He's best when driving to the hoop,where he uses his quick first step and a variety of acrobatic moves to finish in traffic and through contact. In the clip below, you can see how he's able to blow by his defender for an open dunk.

In the next clip, Kurucs shows off his ability to finish through contact. He's able to absorb the bump from Enes Kanter, a much larger player, and finish with a nice hook shot.

That hook shot isn't his only crafty move in the paint. In the clip below, he's able to control his body and utilize good footwork to spin past his defender and convert the and-1 bucket.

This ability to finish around the basket is especially important to a Nets team that can be over-reliant on the three-point shot. Kurucs' versatility gives the Nets another option if their outside shots aren't falling. But he can shoot too: his true shooting percentage (which accounts for accuracy and points scored from two-pointers, three-pointers, and free throws) is 58.4%, which leads all Nets players.

One area of offense where he can improve is his passing; he's averaging a modest 0.43 assist per game on the year. However, he has flashed the ability to be an above-average distributor, as shown in the clip below.

At this point in his career, he's only asked to provide a scoring jolt for the Nets, which lowers his assist numbers. As he continues to develop more facets of his game, it's reasonable to expect his passing to improve as well.

Defense

While defense isn't Kurucs' strong point, he still rates highly on the defensive end for the Nets. Among Nets players with at least 30 minutes played on the season, Kurucs has the best on-court defensive rating at 105.1. Without Kurucs on the court, the Nets' defensive rating spikes to 111.3. While Kurucs has a habit of getting himself into foul trouble (4.0 personal fouls per 36 minutes), he's able to utilize his long arms and quick hands to disrupt passing lanes.

While he has a habit of gambling for steals, increased playing time will improve his feel for the game. At only 20 years old, he has plenty of time to hone his defensive awareness.

Versatility

One more essential part of today's game that Kurucs has is versatility. In the three most common five-man lineups that include Kurucs, he plays shooting guard, small forward, and power forward, respectively. This is especially important because it allows the Nets to move him around the floor to get scoring out of the small forward and power forward spots, something they've been sorely lacking throughout the season.

What to expect moving forward

With no timetable in place for Caris LeVert's return, Rodions Kurucs should keep his spot in the starting lineup. Even when LeVert returns, there's plenty of reasons to expect Kurucs to get 20+ minutes per night, with much of that time coming at the small forward and power forward positions. As he continues to develop, Kurucs will build upon his already solid foundation. After bursting onto basketball's biggest stage in its biggest city, there's no more hiding for Rodions Kurucs. He's here to stay.

Like what you've read? Share it with your friends on      or  

2019 NBA Draft Prospects

Meet the top 30 prospects of the 2019 NBA Draft.

The NBA Collection

NBA themed T-Shirts that are actually worth wearing.

Podcasts

Podcasts from the Hashtag Basketball Podcast Network, covering NBA and fantasy basketball.

Fantasy Basketball

Expert fantasy basketball analysis, podcasts, injury updates, and 19 free fantasy basketball tools to help you dominate your league this season.

NBA Coverage

Full coverage of all 30 NBA teams.