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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #9

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Every Sunday, we’ll be updating the Nets’ off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, etc. to help take the edge off missing the playoffs, relying on the Nets’ beat reporters and others who have slipped interesting stuff into larger stories and blogs.

Memories of 2003

Sunday is the fifth anniversary of the Nets' loss to the Spurs in the 2003 NBA Finals, their last trip to the O'Brien Trophy challenge. Only Richard Jefferson remains from that team.

Memories of 1996

In Draft Express’ interview of Nets international scout Rob Meurs --which we highly recommend--he notes while the draft is deep, the problem may be "there may be too many good players available" between #10 and #21. Couple that with Rod Thorn ’s statement that "there's not a whole lot of difference between a lot of these guys" and you have potential for getting a real star…or a real bust. And because they're all so young, you might not know for a while.

If there’s one draft this one reminds us of, it’s the one in 1996…the one that started out with Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby, continued with Ray Allen, Stephon Marbury, and Antoine Walker and then plunged deep in to bust land, with Lorenzen Wright, Samaki Walker, Todd Fuller and Vitaly Potapenko, all of them taken in the lottery. Finally, it became the deepest first round ever: Kobe Bryant was taken at #13, Peja Stojakovic at #14, Steve Nash at #15, Jermaine O’Neal at #17, Zydrunas Ilgauskas at #20, and Derek Fisher at #24…Bryant and Nash ultimately becoming the lowest drafted MVP’s ever. The second round was close to a complete bust, but among the undrafted that year: Ben Wallace, four-time NBA Defensive Player of the year.

The Nets at #7 went with Kerry Kittles, who set an NBA record for three pointers by a rookie the next year, and in spite of five knee surgeries was a great Net, helping the team get to two NBA Finals. Of course, they passed on Bryant out of conservatism, fearing that Bryant, advised by his former Italian League all-Star dad, wouldn’t play for them.

Starting to see the parallels? We are. They’re not perfect…and no, we are not saying Danilo Gallinari is Kobe Bryant, but the presence of some young big men with uncertain motors, some potential stars in the teens, and a tough little guy at the top—Derrick Rose does remind us of Allen Iverson—has us thinking aloud about the lessons of that draft: big men are the safe but not necessarily the smart choice; don’t let players dictate your choices; shooters and undersized big men, even taken late, have greater value than you think; in a draft this deep, there will be real stars taken after the lottery; and don’t dis international players because they have unpronounceable names.

So what are the Nets thinking? Here’s one hint, which shouldn’t be a surprise: they want athleticism. It may be their biggest measure, no matter where they pick. Read what blogger Roland Lazenby wrote recently about how Chris Paul-like players are affecting Thorn’s thinking about this draft:

"I recently asked New Jersey’s Rod Thorn about the profound changes the NBA is undergoing, and he said there’s no doubt that the move to smaller, more athletic players in a spread floor format is dramatically changing the way the NBA is being scouted and coached. It’s starting to have an impact on how teams draft players. The great success of New Orleans point guard Chris Paul is hastening this change, Thorn said."

Thorn obviously found his Chris Paul-like point guard last February in Devin Harris, but now he needs the rest of the pieces to get to that smaller, quicker lineup.

Deconstructing Polinsky

The Nets supposedly have been wowed in recent days by Anthony Randolph, Donte Green J.J. Hickson and Kosta Koufos, and yes, they do like Danilo Gallinari. They were less impressed, we are told, by JaVale McGee and Robin Lopez.

But we’re more interested in the comments of Gregg Polinsky, the newly high-profile director of scouting. Kiki Vandeweghe seems to say nice things about everyone, but take a look at some of Polinsky’s comments from the Nets’ Draft Central and you get a more nuanced picture…emphasis and translation are free:

Of Donte Green, Polinsky says:
"A guy that has good size for position. He has a good stroke and the mechanics on his jump shot are very good. We saw some of a post up game from him today. He has a lot of tools in place if he is committed, dedicated and matures on a normal course to be a player in the league."

Translation: the kid’s motor and maturity are suspect.

Of Darrell Arthur, Polinsky says:
"He was pretty much as expected. He’s a big guy that runs the floor well, shoots the ball very well. He’s lively around the basket and I think he showed all those things today."

Translation: What’s not to like?

Of Anthony Randolph, Polinsky says:
"As far as his physical attributes go, he is 195 pounds, so he is going to have to mature. He is going to be taking on guys that are bigger and stronger initially, but he has a lot of things that are attractive about him."

Translation: We like him. He’s going to be good, but you’re going to have to wait.

Of JaVale McGee, Polinsky says:
"I think how he approaches things with his mentality and work ethic, getting stronger and being able to play longer minutes…I think that’s something he had to improve on in college and that’s something we tried to see today throughout the course of this workout."

Translation: We didn’t see it.

Of Robin Lopez, Polinsky says:
"Robin was getting a feel for what we were doing. I thought some things he grasped very well; some things took him a little longer. He had a tough go against JaVale McGee who is also really long and quick so he really didn’t have that size advantage."

Translation: If was having a tough go against a skinny kid from Nevada, how’s he going to do against someone like Dwight Howard. Uh-oh.

On Brandon Rush, Polinsky says:
"Brandon Rush did a very nice job today. He shot the ball extremely well. He showed good balance on shot fakes, putting it down on the floor once or twice. I thought he competed pretty well. The knee he had surgery on seemed to do fine. Overall Brandon Rush came in as advertised."

Translation: "Came in as advertised" is a favorite phrase, meaning: He’s on our list and he didn’t hurt himself.

Of Kosta Koufos, Polinsky says:
"He has to get more physical. Has skills but will have to defend at the next level. He has to be able to take on other bigs on the block."

Translation: He may be 7’1"+ and may be able to shoot the lights out, but is his defense so lacking that he’ll be nothing more than Andrea Bargnani?

Of J. J. Hickson, Polinsky says:
"A guy that has an NBA body right now. Has good lower body strength and good hands. He showed that he is an effective scored over both shoulders today. He runs the court well. Did not hurt himself as a potential lottery pick or somewhere in the first round before 20 with his workout today."

Translation: We’re not taking him at #10 but we might at #21. We like him.

Of Devon Hardin, Polinsky says:
"DeVon Hardin came in here and we saw the athleticism, explosiveness and good lateral movements that he has. Again what you’re trying to find out there is why his numbers weren’t better on the college level. He’s an intriguing guy because he’s so athletic. He measures out at 6’10 and has an NBA body. He could be a guy who can rebound the basketball and defend."

Translation: He isn’t an offensive threat. He has hands of stone. Did I mention his hands? No, I didn’t mention his hands.

Of Alexis Ajinca, Polinsky says:
"Very intriguing because of his length. He measures out at 7’1 and has a very good skill level. The thing that is a concern is his body type and if he could ever put on weight to combat what we saw in DeVon Hardin and how physical he was."

Translation: He might be worth a shot, but I have my doubts.

Of D.J. White, Polinsky says:
"D.J. was impressive…Once he gets in the lane he did a good job of extending and being big and showed some of the things we saw across the course of his career and particularly this year. He shot the basketball fairly well from the 16-17 foot range which is extremely important in our league for an undersized power forward."

Translation: If he’s there at #40…fine. Tough kid but not that athletic or that big.

Of Chris Douglas-Roberts, Polinsky says:
"Even here you can see that he has a very intuitive style of play. He’s a guy who has unique and somewhat unorthodox way to score the basketball. He’s worked in the weight room and has gotten better. He’s very competitive. I think he’s a guy that deserves a first round look."

Translation: Low first round, maybe after we pick at #21.

Of Marreese Speights, Polinsky says:
"I think what you saw with Speights that you didn’t see during the season that some of us had an idea about is that he has a really nice touch. He shot the ball well in shooting drills and showed the ability to score over both shoulder. I think the thing that he showed that you didn’t see a lot with his team because he was mainly a post presence was his ability to catch the ball and shoot from the perimeter."

Translation: Put him on your short-list. We like him.

Of Danilo Gallinari, Polinsky says:
"Gallinari has a big strong upper body. He is skilled and knows how to play. He can shoot the ball fairly well and he showed that today. You can see the skill level out there. He is a good athlete. How he competes is something that you can’t tell from this work out because he was by himself. He came as advertised today."

Translation: We’d like it if he played with competition, and his long range shooting is a bi suspect, but we like him…a lot. He was, after all, "as advertised".

NetsDaily Draft Sleeper of the Week

It's getting harder to call any player a "sleeper" as more and more of them get known, but we'll give it a try. J.R. Giddens is one of those players who falls slowly, not preciptiously. After being named a McDonald's All-American in high school and playing a stirling freshman year at Kansas in 2003-04, he went through the consequences of what he now calls "bad decisions". First, there were attitude problems on campus and on the team. Then in May 2005, he was stabbed repeatedly in a bar brawl, needing thirty stitches to close wounds on his calf. The publicity hurt his chances of staying a Jayhawk and he transferred to New Mexico. Things didn't go that well there either. The numbers were there, but so was the attitude and in February 2007, Giddens was suspended indefinitely. Coach Ritchie McKay said, "He did nothing illegal, nothing unethical. This program tries to promote being a good teammate."

Finally, this year, it all seemed to click, being named Honorable Mention All-American and MVC Player of the Year. No problems. It's likely Giddens will be available early in the second round. Who will take him, or really a chance on him, depends a lot on how they see his mentality, his maturity.

Who's Working Out Where?

Marcus Williams, Sean Williams and Josh Boone are all in New Jersey, working out at the Nets' facility. Vince Carter is rehabbing there as well. Richard Jefferson is reportedly in southern California, Devin Harris was in Chicago and Trenton Hassell is in Minneapolis. DeSagana Diop normally works out in southern New Jersey, where he has and apartment and an agent. Nenad Krstic is playing with the Serbian National Team soon, and Boki Nachbar has been in Slovenia.

For the Ratners, One Down, One to Go at the Supreme Court

You might have seen a Nets' minority stockholder featured in the news this week. No, not Jay-Z, the hip-hop legend, or Mary Higgins Clark, the author. Michael Ratner is in addition to being Bruce's older brother and a small stockholder in the Nets, is also president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the group that successfully brought suit on behalf of prisoners at Guantanamo, Cuba. He won his case in the US Supreme Court Thursday, which led a lot of newspapers and television news shows. Now, brother Bruce Ratner has to wait to see whether the Court has decided to take on an appeal by critics of his Atlantic Yards. Justices met Thursday behind closed doors to decide whether to give the appeal a full hearing, which further delay and possibly jeopardize the whole project. Their decision is expected to be announced Monday.

Final Note

Nets summer league could turn into a reunion for the Ravens of St. Raymond's High School in the Bronx. Already, three recent graduates have spent time working out at the Nets' training facility. Julius Hodge is the school's most famous recent grad, earning his diploma in 2000. Gavin Grant who like Hodge played at NC State and Brian Laing a recent graduate of Seton Hall have both had tryouts for the Nets. Polinsky says Laing was impressive enough to get a summer league invite somewhere, maybe with the Nets.