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Dumpy Examines the Draft

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With D-Day fast approaching, it’s a good time to revisit our earlier predictions about who the Nets might be targeting.

As we’ve discussed in the past, the Nets have shown a predilection towards drafting players with particular attributes:

–He usually has attended a major school, coached by a well-respected coach, in a 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.

–He is not a freshman or a high school senior (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.)

–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. 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". Even the wings are tall—consider Antoine Wright, who is listed at 6’7".

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

–He is strong defensively–especially on-ball defense. Martin, Jefferson, Collins, Antoine Wright, Josh Boone and Sean Williams were all known as solid defenders when drafted. The only exception we can think of to this "rule" is Marcus Williams, who brought with him some other attributes.

–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.

–Although this is a bit discouraging, it appears that the ability to consistently hit a mid-range jump shot is not a high priority.

–He is not necessarily the top option on offense for his 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.

–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–not just players they selected (Planinic, Wright, Boone)–but also players that they are eventually linked to but don’t select.

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 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).

Bottom line: 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.
With this in mind, how would we predict that the 2008 draft will play out?

Who is in Charge?

Underlying the assumptions listed above is that Rod Thorn is still the primary decision-maker.

The truth is that we don’t know if their thinking will be adjusted now that Kiki Vandeweghe is on board. For instance, in recent months they’ve placed a premium on athleticism in the deals that they’ve made, which appears to be contrary to their drafting style. We’re thinking of Stromile Swift, Devin Harris, DeSagana Diop and yes, even Maurice Ager. What impact will Kiki have in the draft?

We think: Not much. By all accounts, Rod Thorn has still been heavily active, attending every workout, flying to Orlando for the PreDraft camp, going to Philly for the Ryan Anderson workout, and he will be meeting with the press on the draft (alone) this week. In addition, as has been the case in the past, we expect that Coach Frank will have a say in who the Nets select.

Will the Nets Select two Bigs?

There was a report this week indicating that the Nets wouldn’t hesitate to select two bigs in the first round if they thought they were the best players available. We think this is nonsense. As mentioned above, the Nets have never selected two players the same year that share a position. We don’t think this is coincidence, and we agree with the reasoning behind it. With so much to learn, it would be counterproductive to force two rookies to compete among themselves for minutes. A few years ago, New Orleans selected both Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons in the first round, and you see how that worked out. "But Dumpy," you argue, "they could still select one center and one power forward." Technically, yes. However, as mentioned above, the Nets have never selected players in consecutive years that play the same position. Last year, of course, they selected Sean Williams (PF) after selecting Josh Boone (C) in 2006. If the Nets select a PF, I’ll take it as a sign that they have a deal in place involving Sean.

Who Might the Nets Select With the 10th Pick?

DraftExpress recently reported that Seattle is leaning towards selecting Brook Lopez at #4. While I think that DX is often used by NBA teams to naively spread misinformation, let’s assume for the moment that they are correct. Let’s also assume that Kevin Love will be gone by the Nets selection, which seems to be accepted wisdom at this point. That would suggest that the Nets could select one of Eric Gordon, Jerryd Bayless, Danilo Gallinari, Joe Alexander, Russell Westbrook, and D.J. Augustin. Let’s take them one by one.

Augustin: Chance of selection: Zero. He’s an undersized shoot-first PG that is a below-average defender.

Gordon: Chance of selection: Zero (unless they immediately trade his rights). He is a short (for them) freshman SG that hasn’t met a shot he doesn’t like. He doesn’t share the ball. He is also turnover prone.

Alexander: Chance of Selection: 10% (unless they immediately trade his rights, or Kiki has more influence than we think). He is long on athleticism, but as noted above, this isn’t as vital as performance and ability to contribute immediately. Although he is a junior, and hails from a big program in a strong conference, he isn’t noted for his defense and is generally perceived as someone who will need time to develop.

Bayless: Chance of Selection: 20%. To be honest, I don’t know what to think of Bayless. He breaks all the "rules," but he may be a guy that the Nets are willing to make an exception for because his upside is generally perceived to be so high. He is not expected to fall to #10, but if it happens, it will be very, very interesting to see what transpires.

Gallinari: Chance of Selection: 50%. They claim they love him, but he isn’t a perfect fit. He’s not exceptionally tall for his position, which has been a hallmark of the Thorn-era pick. In addition, even Kiki has admitted that his defense needs work. However, given his IQ, basketball acumen, and team-oriented play, he likely will be the best option unless. . . .

Westbrook: Chance of Selection: 100%. I believe that Westbrook will trump everyone else on this list if he is somehow available. He is a sophomore from a big program in a strong conference. He is described as a team player with a strong work ethic—sound familiar?—and plays the strongest defense of any player on this list. His strength is his play in transition, which fits well with the Nets’ previous declaration that they plan to "build around" Devin Harris. In addition, his main weakness, his mid-range shooting, has not appeared to be a priority to the Nets decision-makers this decade. Just read some of these snippets from DraftExpress’s scouting report, and you can decide if it sounds like the prototypical nets pick: "he is a very smart player who knows his limitations and has no problem fitting in . . . He plays within himself, rarely forcing the issue, and thus has done a very good job of not exposing his weaknesses within his team’s system. . . . He is smart, patient, and highly unselfish, and possesses the court vision needed to find the open man without hesitation."

What About Brook Lopez?

OK, so what if Brook Lopez is available at #10? I don’t know what would happen. The Nets appear to be enamored with him, and good reason: He’s a seven-foot Sophomore who is intelligent and plays under control.

However, in my view, I hope they pass on Lopez if any of the above players are on the board—to keep Westbrook or Gallinari for themselves, or to immediately trade the rights to one of the other four. The reason is that I believe that the Nets will be able to get a similarly capable center at #21, such as Roy Hibbert, Alexis Ajinca, Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, Jason Thompson, or Mareese Speights. Of these, I like Hibbert the most—I see parallels between him and Josh Boone, an intelligent guy who plays positional defense, is team-oriented (sacrificing individual stats for the team to succeed), is not an offense force, and who has seen his stock drop each year he returned to college. I think Hibbert would be a great Net. I’d also be happy with Ajinca or Koufos if he is off the board.

In other words, there is such a depth of centers in this draft, that they need to take a step back and consider who may be on the board later in the round. All the evidence suggests that big men selected in the second half of the lottery have no more probability of success than centers selected in the second half of the first round. The exceptions are high school seniors, who were chosen by teams willing to wait two or three years for them to develop. First, that’s no longer an issue. Second, the Nets have not demonstrated that they are willing to wait and pay a prospect to develop.

Dumpy’s Dream Draft:
So here it is: My dream draft, assuming no trades. It would start with Westbrook or Gallinari at #10, and Hibbert or Ajinca at #21 (if they're there; otherwise one of the other centers would do). At #40, if the Nets have selected Gallinari, I’d go with a SG like J.R. Giddens. If they’ve selected Westbrook, I’d opt for a SF such as Bill Walker or Gary Forbes.

And there you have it!