And With the 11th Pick, the NJ Nets Select . . . .

Usually, around this time of year, we use this space to try our hand at soothsaying by predicting who the Nets are likely to select in the upcoming draft. In the past, we’ve had a mixed record: We correctly predicted the selection of Josh Boone and a point guard in 2007, and the preference towards Sean Williams was already pretty much considered a done deal in 2008, so there was nothing really to do there. Last year, we predicted that the Nets would select Russell Westbrook if available with their #10 pick. Although we recognized that there was a legitimate chance that Brook Lopez would fall to New Jersey—and that Rod Thorn would probably select him—I argued that the Nets would be better off selecting someone else, if only because several capable centers from among Roy Hibbert, Alexis Ajinca, Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, Jason Thompson, or Mareese Speights were sure to be available for their #21 pick later in the round. Of those, I expressed a preference for Hibbert. It turned out that only Koufos was still on the board at #21.

As is often the case, the Nets have repeated their intent to select the "best available player." Of course, they’ve never defined just what in their eyes makes that "best available player." This is not academic. As I explained on Where’s Russ Granik?, an NBA draft blog web site created by several of the moderators on the forum side, there is no objective standard for determining who is the "best available player." Truly, one team’s trash is another team’s treasure . . . at least until it is time to extend their rookie deal. Incidentally, Where’s Russ Granik? can be accessed at http://2009nbadraftblog.blogspot.com/, and for those draftniks among you, features a fun and informative in-depth pick-by-pick analysis of how the first round may go, written from the point of view of each team.

So, what sort of attributes do the Nets tend to look for in deciding just who is the "best available player?"
Even though the Nets have never made any official pronouncements about this, there is enough of a body of evidence during the Rod Thorn era to make our own conclusions.

–He usually has attended a major school, coached by a well-respected coach, in a prominent conference. In the Rod Thorn era, the Nets have taken players schooled at Connecticut (2), Arizona (2), Stanford (2), Cincinnati, Florida, USC, Cal, Memphis, Boston College and European powerhouses Partizan and Cibona.

–He is not a freshman or a high school senior (the latter no longer an issue). No one has ever been less than 20 years old at the time of the draft, and the only 20-year-olds have been Marcus Williams and last year’s two first-rounders, Brook Lopez and Ryan Anderson. The Nets are more interested in players that can make an impact immediately than players with more potential, but who may be a few years away from contributing.

–He is tall for his position. In the Thorn era, the Nets have never drafted a player under 6’3" and only one at that height, Marcus Williams, a point guard. During that time, they have drafted five seven-footers: Soumali Samaki, Jason Collins, Krstic, Mile Ilic, and Lopez. Even the wings are tall—consider Antoine Wright, who is listed at 6’7", as is Chris Douglas-Roberts.

–While he may be hyper-athletic (see Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson, Hassan Adams and Sean Williams), this isn’t a requirement (see Lopez, Josh Boone, Nenad Krstic, Mile Ilic, Tamar Slay, etc.)

–He is usually strong defensively–especially on-ball defense. Martin, Jefferson, Collins, Antoine Wright, Josh Boone and Sean Williams were all known as solid defenders when drafted, as was CDR.

–He has a high basketball IQ, if not a high IQ, period. Collins, Boone and Sean Williams all scored above 1200 on their SAT’s. Don’t have the figures for last year’s picks, but I suspect that they were up there as well.

–He is a team-oriented player. 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. The wings might have a reputation for being willing—and good—passers.

We’ve also noted that the Nets have never drafted two players at the same position in the same draft. Take a look at their three multi-pick drafts, 2001, 2006, and 2008. 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). Last year, of course, they selected a center (Brook), a power forward (Ryan), and whatever you consider CDR to be. Barring something unexpected, this attribute will be irrelevant this year, however.

In fact, in only two case during the Thorn era have they ever drafted two players at the same position during consecutive drafts: 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), and last year, when they selected Ryan a year after selecting Sean Williams. This would seem to suggest that the Nets are unlikely to select a center or PF this year.

We’re going to add a new rule this year: Given their experiences with some of their recent draft picks, we think that the Nets will now bend over backwards to select players who have stable personalities, and have stayed out of trouble to date. They certainly used that approach last year.

So Who Might the Nets Select With the 11th Pick?

As of right now, the word on the street is that the Nets board has four guys on it: Terrence Williams, Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Henderson, and Jonny Flynn, unless someone unexpected slips. DeJuan Blair, Earl Clark, and James Johnson have apparently slipped off the radar. Nothing we can say at this late stage is likely to add any insight to what might happen in less than twenty-four hours. We can’t say which of these four players the Nets are likely to select at this point; it will depend in part on which one or two of them is selected with one of the top ten picks. Of course, there are also those other rumors: That the Nets are interested in trading down, or moving their pick for cash. At this point, probably not even Rod Thorn knows what will happen.

Let’s assume, for the moment, that a deal won’t be consummated and return to those four players. One thing you’ll note is that each one of these four players matches up with the above attributes pretty well, and we probably could have predicted the Nets’ interest in these guys a month ago. All attended well-respected programs (Williams, Louisville; Hansbrough, UNC; Henderson, Duke; Flynn, Syracuse). None are freshman—in fact, only Flynn is even a sophomore. Flynn, at 6’0", is the only one that could be considered short for his position. Williams, Hansbrough, and Henderson have sterling defensive reputations (Flynn, not so much, but I believe he was considered hard to assess due to Syracuse’s defensive schemes). They are intelligent, team players who like to share the ball, and haven’t gotten into trouble. In short: These are all prototypical Nets picks. As a PF, Hansbrough would duplicate a position filled last year, which would seem to be a minus. In fact, Chad Ford has reported that Hansbrough is currently fourth on the Nets' list among those four players, and that could be one reason why.

What about some players that are widely expected to be selected in the top-ten, but may drop further? Well, don’t expect the Nets to select DeMar Derozan, Jrue Holiday, or Tyreke Evans. They’re freshmen who are not ready to contribute immediately, and it would take a lot of potential for the Nets to overlook that. Their defense is generally suspect as well. I would put Brandon Jennings in this category, also, despite his international experience. The players that could slip, who the Nets would consider, would probably include James Harden and Jordan Hill, who share the same attributes listed above.

Terrence Williams, Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Henderson, Jonny Flynn, James Harden and Jordan Hill. If I had to choose, I'd probably go with Hansbrough, and not just because the beat writers are now reporting that the Nets appear to be leaning that direction. It's likely that Harden, Hill, and Flynn will all be long gone by the 11th pick, and the Nets have also shown that they prefer that their wings have a decent jump shot. Even Antoine Wright shot roughly 50% from the floor during his final college season. The two remaining wings on this list, Henderson and Williams, fall short of this mark. Williams, too, has trouble shooting free throws, and even though that's not a factor on my list, I'll suspect that the Nets will take note of that, given the failures of other recent picks at that skill. So, that would leave the man they call Psycho T. This is all based on attributes, though, and with the underlying assumption that in the Nets eyes, these guys all have roughly the same talent level. Obviously, I can't sit in on those high-level meetings or closed workouts.

So expect one of those six players to be wearing a Nets baseball cap on Thursday evening. And you can expect a blog entry in about twelve months that discusses how "predicable" this draft was—at least in terms of how the Nets assess the "best available player." It's all so simple!

Barring a trade, of course.

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