Rookie David Duke Jr. finding his Nets niche

David Duke Jr. does not quite count as part of the Nets’ draft class, but he’s making their group of rookies look better anyway.

The guard out of Providence went undrafted then was scooped up by the Nets as a free agent. Eventually he was signed as a two-way player and spent his season with G-League Long Island until the pandemic hit the Nets hard this month.

To find playing time, he was in the right situation at the right time. On Saturday against the Magic, he spent the fourth quarter in the right place at the right time.

Five times Nets players missed, only for Duke to crash the bucket, jump and put through the put-back. The rookie brings energy, athleticism and feisty defense, which rarely shows up in box scores like they did in the best outing of his young career.

Duke scored 18 points — 16 in the fourth — and grabbed 14 rebounds — nine in the fourth — during Brooklyn’s loss to Orlando at Barclays Center, a bright spot in a dark time for the Nets.

“Unreal competitor at such an early stage in his career,” Patty Mills said of Duke. “I guess finding his little niche of how he can fit in this team and what he can do. His ability on a wide range of things is very impressive. But I think his engine, at the end of the day, just keeps going.”

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In his fifth game, the 6-foot-5 Duke grabbed eight offensive rebounds, the most for a rookie in the NBA this season. His shot has been inconsistent, but he has shown defensive tenacity. He stripped Orlando’s Franz Wagner on a full-court press in the fourth quarter and used his long arms and impressive vertical to swat away a 3-point attempt from Aleem Ford.

The 2021-22 Nets likely will not ask too much more from a raw guard who is 2 of 14 from 3, but his quick hands and active feet might turn him into a legitimate option in time.

The Nets’ rookie class is led by first-rounder Cam Thomas, whose offensive spark has been consistently helpful. But Duke, big man Day’Ron Sharpe (a late first-rounder of the Suns who was dealt to Brooklyn) and second-round forward Kessler Edwards have had their moments.

David Duke Jr. is impressing his Nets teammates as an undrafted free agent rookie.
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The Nets officially signed free-agent forward Wenyen Gabriel to a 10-day contract.

The 6-foot-9 24-year-old has played in 51 NBA games, most recently last season with the Pelicans. He played in 12 games with the Wisconsin Herd of the G-League this season.

Gabriel, who went undrafted in 2018 out of Kentucky, is the fourth hardship replacement for the Nets, joining guard Langston Galloway, forward James Ennis III and guard Shaquille Harrison.

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