Last June 26 was a day of big risks for the Nets–big risks with young players.
The team started the day by trading a popular player, Richard Jefferson, for Yi Jianlian, a 20-year-old who had started well, but finished poorly for the Bucks. Then that night, they took chances on two players who had fallen in the draft, Brook Lopez and Chris Douglas-Roberts, while making a reach for another player, Ryan Anderson. Lopez and Anderson are 20. Yi and CDR are 21.
We’ll be providing occasional updates on the Gamble as the season progresses.
Waiting til Yi had his highest scoring game in a year has its advantages.
Twelve games into what was supposed to be a tough, long and harrowing rebuilding season, the Nets’ rebuilding plan seems to be paying off and a lot of it has been due to the play of the youngsters. Douglas-Roberts has been hurt, but Yi, Anderson and particularly Lopez have played well…in some cases, better and earlier than expected.
Yi has been the most inconsistent. His 27 points Saturday night were more than he had scored this season, but also more than he had scored in the Nets' four previous games combined. It's the highest single game point total by any of the four so far.
One big difference Saturday was his minutes, which in turn was due to his ability to stay on the floor. Yi played 38 minutes without picking up a foul. He had been averaging better than three a game…in limited minutes for a starter.
There were other positives for the 7-footer, a lot of them. He scored from deep and mid-range, executed a nice turn around in the lane and shocked Ricky Davis with a monstrous block, which he then recovered and turned into a fast break.
"I got some open shots and hit twos, threes, layups, fast breaks," said Yi.
Yi now has 16 three pointers in 12 games. Last season in Milwaukee, he had six the entire season. At that rate, he would have 105 for this year, more than Keith Van Horn had in his best year for the Nets.
"Yi has had some games that are maybe a little ahead of schedule," said Kiki Vandeweghe after Yi’s 24-point, 10-rebound, 4-assist game vs. Miami. "He hasn't played a lot of US basketball." The Nets are being very patient with Yi, believing strongly that long-term he is one of the building blocks.
The Nets couldn’t be as patient with Lopez who they inserted in the lineup after Josh Boone (who is still only 23, we might note) got hurt.
Picking Lopez has made the Nets’ front office look more like geniuses than any other move that night. In five games since he has started at center, the team is 4-1 and Lopez has looked like someone who should have been drafted a lot higher than #10. He’s averaged 14.6 ppg, shooting 32-for-54 or 59.3%. Some draftniks thought his rebounding was not NBA-ready. He seems to have disproved that, averaging 9.0 a game, including 3.6 offensive boards. Lopez is also averaging 1.6 blocks. He's still getting into foul trouble, averaging nearly four a game. His first start, against the Hawks, was the best rookie debut by a Nets rookie center since Mike Gminski.
"I think you can't be anything but impressed," Lawrence Frank said. "I think he's done a great job. Some of these things are going to be part of the learning curve -- especially off the ball defensively -- but I think he's done a lot of good things."
Anderson was supposedly a reach for the Nets at #21, but Gregg Polinsky, then chief scout and now director of player personnel, had good feeling about him. Again, the confidence seems to be justified.
John Hollinger ranks him among the top rookies in terms of efficiency when on the floor. Watching Anderson do the little things makes you wonder about whether his true age is 20. Forget the controversy of Yi’s age. Someone check the Hall of Records in Sacramento.
He remains one of the NBA’s top three point shooters, dropping a bit from last week’s 66.7% to 55.0%. That now ranks him #3 in the league. Yi ranks #9, meaning the two youngsters who man the power forward position are shooting a torrid 26-for-52 from deep, or 52.8%. Atlanta surely doesn’t want to see him again. In the back-to-back vs the Hawks, Anderson shot 9-for-12 overall, including 6-for-6 from deep. He also shot 8-for-9 from the foul line.
Anderson has run into a slump lately, hitting only one of his last five three’s, but in preseason he was 1-for-7 and that turned around...as everyone expects this one will.
"The first day I came and watched him shoot, I knew he was a capable shooter," Devin Harris said. "He has a nice stroke, uses his legs well, takes good shots. That's the most important thing."
CDR is the only one of the four who has yet to show what he can do. After a terrific preseason in which he had an 18-point game vs. the Heat, he saw only limited minutes before going down with a grade one knee sprain on November 5. It’s supposed to keep him out for two to four weeks, but with the Nets playing well, there’s no rush. He is expected back around Thanksgiving, Lawrence Frank said Saturday.
The team had given him some time at the point, a position he played in high school and he might get some minutes there on this return.
Bottom line: the Nets seem to be in good shape after their big gamble.