Nicolas Brussino, on the face of it, seems to face an improbable task as he heads into his second season in the NBA and his first with the Atlanta Hawks. That task? Earning a spot in Coach Mike Budenholzer's regular rotation.
It would appear that Brussino, at least right now, is well down in the wing pecking order with Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, DeAndre' Bembry, Marco Belinelli and even Luke Babbitt, if he's inserted at small forward, all ahead of Brussino in the rotation.
There is hope, however.
While Brussino is somewhat buried in the wing rotation, he's also only one injury/trade away from playing a part. You'd also have to imagine he'll feature every now and then as Bud likes to dip into his bench, sometimes deeply.
We've gone over how Nico Brussino is as a player and a Hawks University prospect. He does all the little things the Hawks love in their players: pass the ball, move without the ball, stretch the floor etc.
But he's a little raw as an NBA player right now and is in need of further development. In short, he's a project and projects don't always have large roles with their teams.
Sure, he might come in every now and then and contribute to the system, but development players like Brussino usually don't see a lot of consistent playing time early in the season.
To start out the year, it isn't going to be about what Brussino can do on the court — if he’s even on it — but the work he puts in with the Hawks' coaching staff as they help mould him into a steady NBA, which, arguably, he isn't right now and the Hawks have a very good track record of doing.
But eventually Brussino will have to play, that’s why he’s there to do. The most court time he’ll probably see in his first few months will be with the Hawks’ G-League team, the Erie Bayhawks. At least there, he’ll have the opportunity to play meaningful minutes and apply what he will learn and will have worked on with the coaching staff.
However, as more and more time passes throughout the season you'd imagine Brussino's role with the Hawks will increase and this will probably happen for a few reasons:
Injuries are bound to strike at some point and Brussino — if healthy — will be asked to step in should an injury strike the wing positions. It’ll be crucial for Brussino to remain healthy, so that he can actually fill in when the opportunity arises — which it will undoubtedly over the course of an 82 game season.
Famously, Paul George’s emergence as an NBA star all began when he saw a larger role when All-Star Danny Granger was sidelined with the Indiana Pacers.
Possibilities of trades
Trades are always part of the game and roster spots open up opportunities. There’s one particular wing player I can’t help but feel won’t spend the duration of the 2017-18 season in Atlanta, and that’s Marco Belinelli.
I can't imagine Belinelli will be with the team for all of this season. You'd imagine some playoff team/contender will want his shooting skills and he'll either be traded or bought out near March. And when Belinelli is out of the picture, Brussino is sure to be take his spot in the rotation.
Or... perhaps Hawks GM Travis Schlenk finds a way to offload Kent Bazemore's contract and that, alternatively, allows Brussino the opportunity for more consistent minutes.
I don't think it's unfair to say that the Hawks are probably going to struggle this season. There's a chance they could end up in an early season fight for a playoff spot but, ultimately, this will probably fall short and when this happens -- and when the Hawks are ruled out of the playoff contention -- the team’s priorities will shift.
As March and April roll around (maybe even February if things goes disastrously), the Hawks will probably want to shift their focus, lowering the minutes some of the veterans might be seeing and seeing what they have in some of their younger/developmental players and get them some burn as they -- more than likely -- roll toward the NBA draft lottery.
I expect Brussino, similar with the Mavericks last season, to see considerable court time for the Hawks as the season winds down.
Brussino is just going to be a better player near the end of the season than he will be at the start of the season. After a near full season of working with the developmental coaches, Brussino is bound to improve, understand fully how the Hawks want to play and be ready to take advantage of the opportunities that will surely be given to him as the season progresses.
There's every evidence to suggest that Brussino is a great fit for the Hawks and that they'd be a lot more fun with him out on the court. We may not see it often at first, but once Brussino does his time in the G-League, the team veterans are either traded or bought out and Brussino gets his work done with the coaches, I think you'll see lots of Nico Brussino this season before all is said and done. And you’ll enjoy it, too.
In short, it's going to be a development year for Brussino.