The Nets won on a wild buzzer-beater from Joe Johnson Monday night against the Denver Nuggets, improving to 14-39 on the year. In a dismal season, any Nets victory takes prominence as the team’s storyline, especially if it comes from Johnson, a crunch-time machine who’s taken a bit of a step back this season in production.
But last night also marked an important date for one Nets player: it was Chris McCullough’s NBA debut, and his first competitive game since suffering an ACL injury in January of 2015 while playing for Syracuse.
The Nets drafted McCullough 29th overall in the 2015 NBA draft as a long-term play, and team officials weren’t sure if he would play at all this season. But McCullough’s rehab progressed well, and he was all but ready to play a week ago, only staying out as an extra precaution. He had been officially activated last week, but didn’t play over the weekend until checking in a minute into last night’s second quarter.
In his short stint, McCullough did a little bit of everything, including hitting his first basket — a 20-footer from the left side of the floor that made his teammates happy.
That wasn’t his biggest highlight, though. That goes to his block on a driving Mike Miller, where McCullough stayed in front and then used his length to knock Miller’s shot off him and out of bounds. McCullough and Willie Cauley-Stein were the only players to average more than two blocks and two steals per 40 minutes pace-adjusted in the NCAA last year, and you can see his defensive potential on plays like this.
McCullough also notched a steal and a second nice defensive play — a block on Emmanuel Mudiay that was negated by a foul call. That highlights one negative in his opening stint: he picked up three fouls in his ten minutes and change.
The rookie finished with a stat line of two points (1-3 FG), two rebounds (one on each end), one block, one steal, one turnover, and three fouls in 11 minutes.
Chances are that he’s not ready to play much more than that any time soon. Before his first game, he told reporters that he thinks his minutes limit is somewhere around 14. But with the Nets seeking any kind of talent and hope for the future, his athleticism and upside are hard to ignore.