Since the Long Island Nets launched for the 2016-17 season, there’s been a strong focus on keeping the G League club in sync with the Brooklyn Nets in terms of systems and schemes. Through four seasons on the Brooklyn coaching staff, it’s a process first-year Long Island head coach Bret Brielmaier is familiar with.
Things are a little different in Brooklyn this season, with the Nets featuring three of the NBA’s elite scorers, all of whom can be an offense and a system unto themselves. Asking anybody to replicate the style of Kevin Durant, James Harden, or Kyrie Irving isn’t realistic, but there are core principles that Brielmaier is sticking with as the Long Island Nets get ready to get underway with their month-long season in Florida: 15 games followed by eight teams advancing to a three-round, single-elimination playoff tournament.
“We’re still playing out of the foundation out of what the Brooklyn club is doing,” said Brielmaier. “Five-out spacing and how we get the guys into sets, very similar to what Brooklyn is doing. Steve (Nash) and the rest of the staff and Sean Marks have given us the freedom to use the foundation and tweak it to what fits best for us. We’ve changed a couple small things, but at the end of the day we’ve kept the original principles of spacing the floor, five-out, when the ball’s not in one of those three it’s moving, it’s ball movement, it’s body movement, because we don’t have those elite guys, so we have to be a little bit more diligent to share the ball and put the defense in positions to be constantly moving and shifting.”
The Nets will tip off with 13 players on Wednesday; their G League roster of 10 players, plus Brooklyn two-way player Reggie Perry — two-way Chris Chiozza remains with Brooklyn currently — and both of the Dallas Mavericks’ two-ways, Tyler Bey and Nate Hinton.
“We have some veteran leadership that has a good deal of NBA experience and that’s such a value to helping the younger guys,” said Brielmaier. “We’ve got a group of experienced G League guys as well, so they can also help guide along some of the younger players, but our young fellas, they were at high-level programs, so the way they’ve been coached already has already been evident. But having this balanced roster I think will give us a great chance to compete.”
Long Island looks strong with a trio of point guards. Shannon Scott is the most experienced player on the roster, with the 28-year-old in his sixth pro season, including two previous seasons with Long Island in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Brielmaier lauds him as a “coach’s dream,” selfless, steady and sharp. Okobo is the highest-drafted player on the roster, taken 31st in 2018, and played the last two seasons with Phoenix. The focus for the 23-year-old is continuing to grow into the point guard role and develop his shooting.
Jeremiah Martin also brings NBA experience to the table, having been on a two-way with Brooklyn last season after starting the year in the G League with Sioux Falls.
“JMart’s just a rock star. He’s a stud,” said Brielmaier. “The guy has been this defensive presence at every practice. He’s very motivated to prove how elite of a defender he is, and his offensive game has continued to improve. His shooting, his playmaking, his ability to get to the rim and finish. We’re really lucky to have the guard combination and the veteran guys that we have. We’ve got a really good group amongst those guys to help lead the younger guys.”
On the wings are both of the Dallas two-ways, Hinton and Bey, along with CJ Massinburg. Aside from Martin who was on the two-way contract with Brooklyn, Massinburg is the only returner from last year’s Long Island roster as he heads into his second pro season.
“CJ’s a winner. He just makes winning plays,” said Brielmaier. “Whether it’s a deflection that turns into a turnover, getting an offensive rebound, getting a loose ball, or making a tough shot. The kid just has this winning aura about him that’s really impressive. Not the most talented kid that we have, but somehow, he gets the job done. He’ll be an integral part to us being able to compete down here.”
Like Massinburg, Jordan Bowden is a 6-foot-5 guard, one of two rookies on the team out of college, while Kaiser Gates is entering his third season in the G League, a 6-foot-7 forward who took 7.2 threes per game over the last two years. BJ Johnson was on a two-way with Orlando last season after brief NBA stints with Atlanta and Sacramento as a rookie the year before, and he’s averaged 18.5 points while shooting 43.0 percent from 3-point range over 67 G League games the last two years.
“Impressed with BJ’s ability to score the basketball,” said Brielmaier. “The guy’s got a flat-out beautiful shot. He makes tough ones. The guy’s just got an ability to score. His next piece is understanding that the next level’s going to ask him to guard every possession and, being able to play on the weak side and be able to make the right decision when that pass comes out that he doesn’t have a shot. He’s going to tear this league up if he’s willing to play the right way, take the right shots, and defend on the defensive end.”
Along with Perry up front, the Nets have Tariq Owens, the tallest player on the roster at 6-10, and 6-9 stretch 4 Nate Sestina. Paul Eboua is a 20-year-old who graduated to Italy’s top-level pro league last season after a few years at junior levels.
“Impressive body. Crazy-explosive athlete, but learning the movements of basketball,” said Brielmaier. “He’s still raw. He doesn’t have a ton of experience. Hasn’t been playing the sport that long, but has all the physical tools to be a guy that can switch 1 through 5 at this level. Going forward, he can definitely be a guy that can cause some chaos on the defensive end. Working on his shot is an important piece for him down here, but his motor is just incredible. The guy plays so hard and his inquisitiveness and his ability to pick up information, even with the language barrier — I think he speaks four languages, and has been really fun to be around. He’s definitely added some bright spots with his experiences in life, so we’re lucky to have the kid.”
It won’t be a typical G League season in any sense, as the NBA replicates its bubble experience of last summer. But there is opportunity also, to lock in with a single-minded approach and focus over the next month. It’s still basketball, and they get to be all-in.
“These guys have embraced this situation and a big part of before starting the season was understanding we all have goals of this experience,” said Brielmaier. “Each individual each had their own objective of this bubble and what they wanted to get out of it and how they wanted to improve. We’ve really tried to help them fulfill that goal and will continue to do it once games start, but the lack of distraction, the lack of travel, has definitely helped practices. It’s definitely helped our ability to spend time with the players off the court, and the non-travel piece is such a huge, the inconvenience of traveling, especially in the G League, flights early morning, getting into places late, sometimes playing day of the game, taking all this away has really given these guys a chance to focus even more on their own growth and their own development.”