Alhough the Nets found themselves on the wrong end of Monday's 21-point decision in Boston, they saw a glimpse of a bright future in Rodions Kurucs.
In the second game of a back-to-back, the 20-year-old rookie looked shot out of a supernova in the first quarter, knocking down three after three. He hit his first five shots from deep and went 8-for-15 from the field, tying his career-high with 24 points.
Kurucs followed that up with another made-three and 11 points in Wednesday's win over the Hawks, pushing his 3-point numbers up to 35.2 percent, which is just about league-average.
His performance in Boston can't be boiled down to just a hot night from three, however. Kurucs put himself in the right spots on the court. He made well-timed cuts to the basket and displayed strong court awareness.
Nor can his strong play of late be seen as an outlier. The Latvian forward is just a couple weeks removed from another 24-point night, which was followed by consecutive double-doubles. Since he earned a spot in the rotation at the beginning of December, he's averaged 10.1 points per game and become a starter halfway through his first season stateside.
Kurucs appears to be another win for Sean Marks' drafting resume since he took over the Nets' front office. Marks was handed the keys to the franchise with Brooklyn sans its own first-round selection in 2016-18. Instead of lottery selections, Marks has found other ways to stock up on young talent.
The Nets traded Thaddeus Young to get the No. 20 selection in 2016 and draft Caris LeVert. They acquired the pick used on Jarrett Allen in 2017 for essentially salary cap space. They used Boston's first-round selection to trade for D'Angelo Russell and used their cap space again to take on DeMarre Carroll and two 2018 draft picks, which they used on Dzanan Musa at No. 29 and Kurucs at No. 40.
The jury is still out on Musa, who is just 19 and getting regular minutes in the G-League. However, in three drafts without their own lottery-bound pick, the Nets have added players who have started for them this year at guard, forward and center. LeVert looked on his way to a potential All-Star bid before his injury, while Allen is a two-way force with a penchant for highlight blocks. Kurucs fits right in as a wing player on this team.
The team's wealth of young talent is also a testament to Kenny Atkinson's development system. Marks brought in Atkinson specifically for that purpose after he built his reputation as a development guru during his time in Atlanta and elsewhere. Beyond those draft picks, he's helped Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Russell tap into their potential.
Marks and Co. haven't exclusively hit on their draft picks and signings, but the Nets are a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference in large part due to talent they've cultivated since he came aboard.
Kurucs is simply the latest example. He turns 21 next month and already has the instincts of an older player. It's hardly a coincidence that his entry into the rotation coincided with the team's most successful month on the court. Beyond youthful energy, he's proved himself while taking on some choice assignments defensively. He even guarded a red-hot Kemba Walker down the stretch of Brooklyn's double-overtime win over Charlotte last month.
The 6-foot-9 Latvian still has a way to go as a playmaker to be the complete package. He sports just a five percent assist rate and turns the ball over at an even higher rate. Nonetheless, his 90 percent free-throw percentage suggests he could become an even better three-point shooter.
Still, Kurucs is the rare rookie that fits right into the rotation on a team with playoff aspirations. He's 16th in minutes per game among the NBA's freshman class and just three players ahead of him are on teams in current playoff position.
The Nets themselves are still a work-in-progress and have a long way before the postseason becomes a reality, yet they're getting there with clear steps forward this season. With picks like Kurucs, Brooklyn has slowly built a stable of rotation-or-better pieces that should benefit the franchise for years to come.