Nets rookies making impact, but next opportunity for them ‘uncertain’

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) returns to the floor after a time out with guard David Duke Jr. (6) and guard Cam Thomas (24) and center Day'Ron Sharpe (20) and forward Kessler Edwards (14) during the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 14, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) returns to the floor after a time out with guard David Duke Jr. (6) and guard Cam Thomas (24) and center Day'Ron Sharpe (20) and forward Kessler Edwards (14) during the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

While the Nets slump continued heading into Indiana on Wednesday for the much-anticipated return of Kyrie Irving, there had been one positive for Brooklyn. That was the play of its rookies in the previous game.

Cam Thomas, David Duke Jr. and Day’Ron Sharpe were part of a group that came in off the bench on Monday and gave the Nets new life, pulling them within 10 points on Memphis in the fourth quarter. It was the latest example of how the Nets’ youngsters have risen to the challenge over the past few weeks.

“I love the young guys and what they bring to our team,” Kevin Durant said on Monday night. “It’s good to see them get some minutes and opportunities to make it a game, and they did for sure. “They (Memphis) had to put their starters back in, so you got to give them credit. I’m glad Steve (Nash) didn’t put the starters back in for us and let those guys finish the game off. It was a good lesson and good to see them out there playing hard and playing together.

“It was inspiring. You heard the crowd get up and cheer. It was good to see.”

[READ: Nash, Nets face lineup decisions with Kyrie Irving’s return coming soon]

Monday’s showing was perhaps the most life Brooklyn had in the second half of their loss to the Grizzlies. Thomas shot 4-for-8 for 8 points and Sharpe and Carter added 6 points in 9:24 of work.

The only rookie that didn’t play on Monday had been Kessler Edwards, who was the last Nets player to clear COVID protocol. After holding down the fort as the virus spread through the Brooklyn locker room, the four rookies then found themselves out because of  COVID.

Before that, they had taken full advantage of the situation with so many regulars out and Nash calling on them to fill the void. The four had played a big role in the Nets’ win over the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 14, which included Edwards and Duke recording double-doubles.

It’s safe to say that Thomas, Edwards, Duke and Sharpe have earned the opportunity to get more minutes, but with a healthy lineup, it’s unclear when those opportunities will come.

“They certainly earned an opportunity, but the younger guys, remember, are the ones coming out of COVID last,” Nash said. “There’s a little bit of delay in them getting up to speed as well as far as their fitness and safety. There’s not only a hierarchy of pecking order, but there’s also the adaptation and return to play. We’ll see. Those guys have definitely when they’ve gotten their opportunities during COVID or like tonight have played very well. We like them all.

“They earned minutes. We’ll see whether they get them or who gets them or when, but they deserve opportunities and opportunities will come. It’s just uncertain when they’ll come.”

Brooklyn dropped three straight heading into Wednesday’s game in Indiana. The healthy lineup will make it tough for Nash to expand the roles for some of the Nets rookies, but the team now knows that they have a deeper bench with the four there.

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