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Former Virginia basketball players set sights on big NBA seasons
NBA

Former Virginia basketball players set sights on big NBA seasons

The Virginia men’s basketball program will be well-represented when the 2021-22 NBA season tips off on Tuesday night.

The season will begin with six former Cavaliers on standard NBA contracts, two on two-way contracts and several others in search of a new team.

Here is a look at where the former Wahoos are as the NBA season begins.

Malcolm Brogdon, Pacers

Brogdon had a very productive 2020-21 season, averaging 21.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, but the Pacers struggled as a team, going 34-38 during the regular season. Indiana was blown out by the Washington Wizards in the NBA play-in tournament, which led to the firing of head coach Nate Bjorkgren after just one season.

The Pacers then hired former Virginia guard Rick Carlisle, who parted ways with the Dallas Mavericks after a lengthy tenure that included winning an NBA championship, to be the team’s new head coach.

“He’s an experienced winner at the highest level, at the championship level,” Brogdon said during Pacers media day. “That’s what we are looking forward to receiving in all of this is that championship pedigree.”

Brogdon hopes to help Carlisle hit the ground running in Indiana. The former NBA Rookie of the Year has taken on more of a leadership role with the Pacers.

“Definitely a more hands-on approach,” Brogdon said of his leadership style.

Part of that approach includes organizing team events to help players form deeper bonds and build chemistry.

“We had a few times this summer where we got the guys together. And this season, that’s something we have to continue to build on, being together, even after games, whether its having dinner, just spending quality time together, bonding. I think that’s the way you build trust, and you build culture and identity.”

Brogdon’s leadership role was further cemented Monday when he agreed to a two-year, $45 million extension, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The extension guarantees Brogdon nearly $90 million over the next four seasons.

Indiana opens the season on Wednesday night against the Charlotte Hornets.

De’Andre Hunter, Hawks

Hunter is back in action with Atlanta after missing most of the Hawks’ deep playoff run last season following knee surgery.

The former Wahoo was limited to just 23 regular season games and five playoff games last season, but was solid when he was able to take the court, averaging 15.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game during the regular season. The Hawks have liked what they have seen out of Hunter and recently exercised his fourth-year contract option for the 2022-23 season.

Now recovered from his injury, Hunter had a chance to test out his surgically repaired knee in two preseason games. He averaged 13.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in those two games. It’s a positive sign for Hunter and the Hawks as they look to build on last season’s appearance in the Eastern Conference finals.

“You don’t find many [good] two-way players in this league, and Dre is one of them,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the Hawks’ 127-92 exhibition victory over the Miami Heat. “He’s going to defend just as hard as he’s going to look to score. He plays the game the right way. He’s unselfish.”

Atlanta opens the season on Thursday at home against the Dallas Mavericks.

Joe Harris, Nets

Entering his sixth season with the Nets, Harris has blossomed into one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters. He shot an NBA-best 47.5% from three-point range last season while averaging 14.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.

The 2019 NBA 3-point contest champion continued his stellar shooting in the preseason, shooting 65% from long range in three preseason games. He torched the nets in Brooklyn’s final preseason game, hitting seven 3-pointers while scoring a team-high 23 points during a 107-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Harris hopes to continue that shooting success in the regular season. With Kevin Durant and James Harden commanding the attention of most opposing defenses, Harris should have plenty of offensive opportunities.

The Nets open the season on Tuesday night on the road against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Trey Murphy III, Pelicans

Murphy III joins the ranks of former Virginia players in the NBA after being selected with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

He looked good in the preseason, averaging 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in four games. Murphy’s shooting touch was on full display in the preseason. He shot 53.1% from 3-point range and 90% from the free-throw line while leading New Orleans in scoring in two of its four preseason games.

Murphy will make his NBA regular season debut on Wednesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Ty Jerome, Thunder

Jerome is looking to build off a solid first season in Oklahoma City that saw him average 10.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game after joining the franchise from Phoenix as part of the Chris Paul trade.

The opportunity to play an even bigger role could be there for Jerome this season on a young and rebuilding Thunder team. He averaged 11.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in four preseason games for Oklahoma City, including a 16-point, seven-assist performance against the Denver Nuggets in the preseason finale.

Oklahoma City begins its season on Wednesday on the road against the Utah Jazz.

Anthony Gill, Wizards

Gill is back for his second season in the nation’s capital. The former Virginia forward saw limited minutes with Washington last season, averaging 3.1 points and 2.0 rebounds in 26 games played.

When he did get the chance to see minutes, Gill performed well. He scored 13 points in a little under 14 minutes of action during a game against the Spurs last season and nearly had a double-double (nine points, 10 rebounds) in a win over the Thunder.

Washington opens the season Wednesday at Toronto.

Two-way players

Former Virginia forward Sam Hauser is on a two-way contract with the Boston Celtics. The former Cavalier is expected to spend most of the season with the Maine Celtics, Boston’s NBA G League affiliate, but could see some time with Boston as well.

Jay Huff landed a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday after recently being waived by the Washington Wizards. He is expected to spend most of the upcoming season with the South Bay Lakers, Los Angeles’ G League affiliate.

Free agents

There are several former Virginia players currently on the market as the NBA season tips off.

Kyle Guy is in search of a new NBA team after being waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Guy signed a training camp contract with Cleveland and saw action in the preseason for the Cavaliers but did not land a contract with the team.

Mamadi Diakite also is in the market for a new team after being waived by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diakite was picked up off waivers by Oklahoma City after being released by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Both Mike Scott and Justin Anderson are also not on an NBA roster as the season tips off.

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