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 Chinese player 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.
Yi will be out three to four weeks with a broken pinky finger, but if he picks up where he left off, the Nets' big gamble looks increasingly like it will pay off handsomely.
Over the last three games, Yi had turned into the player the Nets hoped they were getting when the trade went down: an athletic seven footer with deep shooting range and an ability to get to the rim and finish.
Since the Nets ran their offense through him vs. the Kings until his third quarter alley-oop vs. the Bucks, Yi averaged 19.3 ppg and 7.7 rpg, shooting 53.8% overall and 44.4% from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Bobby Simmons, who also started slow, has picked up the pace. Since the New Year, the 6’7" Simmons is averaging 13.2 ppg and shooting a remarkable 55% overall and 56% from downtown.
Even with Yi going down and the Nets losing, the two Nets obtained in the trade for Jefferson scored 31 points on 11-for-23 shooting—including 8 for 13 from downtown--to RJ’s 13 on 3-for-15 shooting.
Jefferson has not had quite the stellar year the Bucks expected, with a lot of inconsistency. His last three games, he's scored 6, 27, and 13 and during January, he's shooting a miserable 38.6% overall. In fact, most of his numbers are down from last year.
As Dave D’Alessandro of the Star-Ledger wrote after Friday's game:
"He's not playing well.
"The Bucks forward was averaging only 17.3 points (down from 22.6 last year) on only 42.7 percent (down from 46.6) and 2.1 assists (down from 3.1) entering Friday night's game. He even takes three fewer foul shots than his career-high 8.3 per game a year ago.
"It had spread throughout the NBA coaching network that the so-so start was a result of not reporting to camp in better shape."
Al Iannazzone of the Record wrote something similar:
"He didn’t have the same explosiveness as he did as a Net as he had his shot blocked at least once and had a couple of others altered. Jefferson finished with 13 points on 3-of-15 shooting."
The other big piece of business from Draft Day, of course, was Lopez, who in spite of some up’s and down’s of his own, has become the leading big man in this year’s rookie class, ahead of Marc Gasol and yes, even Greg Oden.
Lopez’s game against Gasol on Wednesday was proof enough of his ranking. Working with Vince Carter and Keyon Dooling on pick-and-rolls, Lopez scored 17 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, blocked five shots and shot 8-for-11 from the floor. Gasol had a respectable offensive game with 14 and 10, but two of his shots were blocked by Lopez and defensively, he was embarrassed on several occasions by Lopez’s open dunks.
Lopez is leading the NBA rookie class in rebounds (8.0), blocks (2.0) and dunks, better than one a game in spite of his problem finishing.
Anderson is not having the season he and the Nets had hoped for as recently as three weeks ago. The second youngest Net in team history bruised his sternum in December and his shot has not been the same since. The Nets are resting him--and sending him to back specialists including a chiropractor--in hopes of getting him back in stride. With Yi's injury, he and Eduardo Najera will need to fill in for as long as a month. Douglas-Roberts is in a bit of same position. He spent three weeks on the bench recovered from a strained meniscus ligament in his knee and has fallen behind. Now, he is being asked to play a new position (actually a position he hasn't played since high school): point guard. It hasn't been easy.
There's a long way to go between now and April (or later) and Yi, Anderson and Douglas-Roberts will need to recover from nagging injuries and Lopez will need to continue his progress. All are exasperatingly raw some nights, but they make a combined $6,751,000 (about half what RJ makes) and none are 22 yet (until proven otherwise).
Bottom line is that the Nets seem to have remade their roster and their future quite nicely.