Chris McCullough, the Nets’ 2015 first-round draft pick made his debut on Monday night against the Denver Nuggets.
McCullough, 21 years old, is a Bronx native, played one year at Syracuse before entering the NBA Draft.
One of 22 candidates on the 2015 Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award Watch List, McCulough’s season was cut short by an ACL injury on January 11, 2015 in a game against Florida State. He averaged 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in 16 games at Syracuse.
McCullough was chosen with the 29th pick by the Nets last June despite knowing he would miss most of the 2015-16 season recovering from the injury.
On Monday night, he entered at the 10:13 mark of the second quarter, and made his mark early.
On his first defensive possession, McCullough blocked a Mike Miller shot and then won a resulting jump ball against him.
Shortly after that, he made a 20-foot jumper for his first NBA basket.
Those were the only points McCullough would score in his debut, as he finished with two points on 1-for-3 from the field, two rebounds, a steal, and a block in 10 minutes and 49 seconds of action.
McCullough said of his first game, “It just felt good to be out there, playing my game, doing what I do, block shots, rebound on the floor. I did that. It felt good to be out there.”
On what it was like walking on the court for the first time, he said, “It was good being on the court. Just to finally hear my name called, it felt great.”
McCullough said of his game prep being any different than the prior couple of games, when he was active but didn’t play, “I did the same thing in warm-ups, so just go through layup lines and shoot my shots. Then, when my name’s called, be ready.”
On what his teammates told him: “Just play hard. Play your position hard.”
McCullough will be linked with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the two building blocks for the Nets moving forward.
Hollis-Jefferson was acquired on Draft Night 2015 from Portland for center Mason Plumlee, who played two seasons in Brooklyn.
Hollis-Jefferson, a 21-year old forward out of Arizona, was in the starting lineup until he went down with an injury on December 5. He was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the posterior talus in his right ankle and his recovery time was put at 8-10 weeks. There still is no timetable for his return.
On a night when Principal Owner Mikhail Prohorov was in the building, the Nets’ other young players had big nights.
Markel Brown, who was drafted in 2014 by the Nets out of Oklahoma State, put up 19 points on 6-for-10 from the field, made a couple of threes, with four rebounds, and two asssists.
The 19 points is a career high for Brown, after he notched a season-high 15 points on Saturday in Philadelphia. This is the first time he has scored in double-digits in back-to-back games this season. He also did it once last season as a rookie, when he scored 10+ in three straight games.
For the season, Brown is averaging 2.9 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 0.9 assists per game, but is seeing more playing time under interim head coach Tony Brown.
Brown is a big reason the Nets bench finished with 44 points on Monday night as Bojan Bogdanovic had 12 points on 5-8 shooting, and point guard Shane Larkin put up nine points and four assists.
The game went down to the wire, with Brown and Larkin in there until the end. Each made turnovers in the final minute, and Denver took a 104-102 lead with 1.3 seconds left on a running jumper fomr Kenneth Faried.
The Nets had plenty of time to respond, and Joe Johnson, reprising the role of Joe Clutch, drained a long three-pointer to win it 105-104.
Johnson said of the game-winner, “The play wasn’t designed for me because we were only down two, so it was designed to try to get Brook (Lopez) the ball in the paint and try to get a layup or an easy deuce and go into overtime; but obviously, when I came up you know, to the top of the key, I was wide open, Markel saw me, and I knew I only had like one points something (seconds), so I knew I had enough to at least take a dribble – and man, I don’t even know how it went in.”
Nets Interim Head Coach Tony Brown said of the young bench, “They are staying in their roles. Everybody is competing hard and giving us great energy. I thought Bojan (Bogdanovic) had a good game, even though I didn’t play him down the stretch. And Markel (Brown) with hias defense. Keeping them on the floor when there are smaller guards, I thought that was probably the best way to go and Markel has been playing well of late and I like what he’s doing out there, so I am giving him the opportunity. Shane (Larkin) gave us some good minutes in the second half with his pace and speed getting to the basket. Yeah, our bench really gave us a huge lift. That’s why I stayed with some of those guys a little longer. Anytime you can give the starters some rest, that’s what I would like to do.”
Denver Head Coach Michael Malone said bluntly of the game, “We didn’t deserve to win the game. I’m glad Brooklyn won, they deserved it. We played awful basketball most of the night. Bottom line is when you don’t defend in the NBA, you don’t win. Brooklyn shot 52 percent from the field and 47 percent from three. Our start to the game tonight was indicative to our mindset coming in, and that’s what happened. When you don’t prepare to win and you don’t show, you don’t defend, you can get beat by anybody in this league.”