The Nets do reclamation projects. Could a little TLC make Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot the next one?
D’Angelo Russell went from undervalued asset to All-Star, Spencer Dinwiddie from G-League to a Skills title, and Joe Harris from the waiver wire to last year’s 3-point champ.
Now they’ve challenged Luwawu-Cabarrot to not only live up to his defensive promise, but be a sparkplug off the bench. And so far he’s risen to the challenge.
“Of course. They gave me that role and I embrace it: I love it,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “I love to go out there and compete and play super-hard. We have a lineup where we really have something to do together.”
There were questions whether Luwawu-Cabarrot could guard at this level when the Nets signed him in October. It took injuries to others like Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert and David Nwaba — and work by Luwawu-Cabarrot — to get the French wing a chance. But he’s cashed in on it.
With the Nets 5-2 in their past seven games coming into Monday’s Orlando tilt, Luwawu-Cabarrot has the best Defensive Rating (96.4) of anybody in the rotation over that span. And in Saturday’s rout of Charlotte, he shrugged off first-half foul woes to play stellar second-half defense and finish with a career-high and team-leading 21 points.
“They were making fun of me for having four fouls at halftime. But I said if we’re winning by 20 or 30, shoot, I’ll foul out,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot, who like the rest of the Nets has no intention of using the injuries to Irving, LeVert and Nwaba — as well as the season-long absence of Kevin Durant — as an excuse to give up on this season.
“We want more. That’s what’s big here. We want more than what we have right now,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “We’re hungry. We want it, we really really want to compete and prove ourselves and prove a lot of things.”
Losing Irving won’t stop the Nets from going small.
Wilson Chandler has been sound defensively, and coach Kenny Atkinson has toyed with the 6-foot-8, 235-pounder as a stretch five late in games since he can guard bigger centers while still spacing the floor.
“We know the troubles we’ve had against teams that put five shooters out there, and we’re monitoring what it looks like with Wilson at the five,” Atkinson said. “Heck, you could play [Rodions Kurucs] at the five. You could do a lot of things. Potentially, if we can get in the playoffs, there’s a possibility [of going small]. You have to have things in your back pocket that are a little different. It’s something we could look at more.”
LeVert played for John Beilein at Michigan, and was saddened to see his former coach’s ouster in Cleveland.
“Unfortunate. That’s one of my guys. Hate to see that happen,” LeVert said. “I don’t really know all that happened, so I can’t speak too much on it. But hate to see something like that especially since he’s so passionate about the game.”