Scoping out the draft is not an exact science, particularly in March. But Rod Thorn has already starting talking about Nets needs, Kiki Vandeweghe is in Kansas City at the Big 12 Tournament and after the Jason Kidd trade, the Nets have two picks in this year's draft. All of which is enough to have our stats guy, Dumpy, start thinking about the night of June 26. Here's his take.
As I've written before, there is a definite pattern to the players the Nets consider--and ultimately often select--in the draft. Generally speaking, the Nets look for players who:
--attend major schools, coached by well-respected coaches, in prominent conferences. In the Rod Thorn era, the Nets have taken players schooled at Connecticut (2), Arizona (2), Cincinnati, Florida, USC, Stanford, Boston College and European powerhouses Partizan and Cibona.
--are not freshman or high school seniors (the latter no longer an issue). The two youngest players on the Nets' roster the past 25 years are Marcus Williams and Nenad Krstic as rookies. Neither were teenagers. Williams was 20 and Krstic 21 when they joined the club. (It must be noted that the Nets did try "desperately", in Ed Stefanski’s words, to trade for Monta Ellis in the 2005 draft.)
--are tall for their position. In the Thorn era, the Nets have never drafted a player under 6’3" and only one at that height, Marcus Williams. During that time, they have drafted four seven-footers: Soumali Samaki, Jason Collins, Krstic and Mile Ilic. Average height for the 17 players drafted in the Thorn era is 6’ 8 ½".
--are generally athletic with some hyper-athletic. See Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson, Hassan Adams and Sean Williams.
--are strong defensively--especially on-ball defense. Martin, Jefferson, Collins, Antoine Wright, Josh Boone and Sean Williams were all known as solid defenders when drafted.
--have a high basketball IQ, if not a high IQ, period. Collins, Boone and Sean Williams all scored above 1200 on their SAT’s.
--can shoot a mid-range jump shot (they often compromise on this) but few are threats from deep and their biggest threat from deep, Kyle Korver, they sold to the Sixers for $125,000. The only other players advertised as three point shooters were all busts: Brandon Armstrong, Tamar Slay and Wright.
--are not necessarily the top option on offense for their team. Of the 17 players drafted in the Thorn era, only four--Martin in 2000, Armstrong in 2001, Slay in 2002, and Wright in 2005--were the high scorers on their college or international team.
--are upstanding citizens on and off the court, although they seem ready to forgive certain transgressions in recent drafts. See Marcus Williams/Sean Williams. When I read a scouting report on a player and it says "___ is unselfish, almost to a fault . . . will tend to pass up a shot to pass to a teammate," to me that signals a prototypical Nets' draft pick--not just players they selected (Planinic, Wright, Boone)--but also players that they are eventually linked to but don't select.
Also, it must be noted the Nets have never drafted two players at the same position in the same draft. Take a look at their two multi-pick drafts, in 2001 and 2006. In 2001, they took a small forward (Jefferson), a center (Collins), a shooting guard (Armstrong) and a power forward (Brian Scalabrine). In 2006, they took a point guard (Marcus Williams), a power forward (Boone) and a swingman (Adams).
In fact, in only one case during the Thorn era have they ever drafted two players at the same position during consecutive drafts (the exception being 2002, when they took Krstic after selecting four players—including seven-footer Collins--the previous year. Of course, they insisted Krstic go back to Europe).
While the Nets always say they'll take the "best player available," all else being equal, they'll take someone at a position of need. See Zoran Planinic in 2003, Boone in 2006, Sean Williams in 2007. Sometimes, though, the best player available is also someone who fills a position of need. See Marcus Williams in 2006.
I like to think that they'd break these rules if, for instance, Lebron James was on the board, but they have held pretty closely to these principles throughout the Thorn era. Obviously, they often have to compromise on one or more of these checklist points--it's hard to find someone that satisfies all of them. However, I'd rank the importance they placed on these elements roughly in the order I've listed them.
So, who does that leave for this draft? Assume they'll look at a swingman unless someone else dramatically better slips to them. I think we're looking at Chase Budinger of Arizona, OJ Mayo of USC, Chris Douglas-Roberts of Memphis, maybe Tyler Smith of Tennessee. I guess UCLA’s Russell Westbrook is a possibility as well. Overseas, that could mean someone like Nicolas Batum of France or if they get a high pick in the lottery, Danilo Gallinari of Italy. They seem to be the best matches as far as I can tell at this point.
Just to emphasize: I prefer to focus on who I think the Nets will draft, instead of who I would prefer that they draft. The Nets are probably the only team that hasn’t recently drafted a HS senior or college freshman, and I expect that trend to continue, so there's no point to thinking about very young players unless someone extraordinary slips. They HAVE drafted young foreigners who went back to Europe for seasoning, Krstic, Christian Drejer and Ilic. Krstic in fact was the youngest player taken in 2002, at just 18 years old.
There is, of course, one caveat--and this should be emphasized--is that we don't know if their thinking will be adjusted now that Kiki Vandeweghe is on board. Given the players they've recently acquired, for instance, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they put an emphasis on eye-popping athleticism for the first time. Stromile Swift, Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop and yes, Maurice Ager are all very athletic. To a certain extent, the draft will also show how much power Thorn has ceded to Vandeweghe in decision-making. Vandeweghe was the first contact in both the Collins and Kidd deals.
Bottom line…and what to look for both in the workouts and on Draft Night: The Nets seem to really prefer players that have a solid sense of the fundamentals and can come in and make an impact within a year or so--they'll take that over raw potential.