Any NBA fan will tell you there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Nets' postseason hopes, and with just three weeks of regular season play to go, the team is running out of time to right the ship. With the massive, burdensome contracts of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson still two years from expiry, some have concluded that there is little in the way of blockbuster moves to be made by GM Billy King and his team this offseason.
Yet, despite the growing concerns over the direction of the Nets franchise, and regardless of any playoff appearance or impending trades, one thing is certain: the Nets will have two draft picks this summer. And with these draft picks is a chance to reload on talent and harvest its roster for the future. There is no question that the pick swap with the Atlanta Hawks is going to hurt, but those who say the upcoming draftees cannot help the team are dead wrong.
As it stands, the team is projected to have two picks: at 29th and 39th. Through the years, countless players drafted in this range have gone on to become both rotation players and starters. In recent history, Tony Wroten, Khris Middleton, Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler and Chandler Parsons all come to mind. Even the Nets' own Bojan Bogdanovic, who was drafted 31st in 2011, is showing signs of developing into a reliable scorer.
The advantage of drafting towards the end of the first round is in dealing with lesser known players. Everybody knows Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell at this point, and all three are sure-fire lottery picks regardless of how their workouts go. But the steals come in the later parts, and can result from a number of things: injury concerns, inability to fit into a system, poor end of season performance, or maybe GMs simply overlooking a player.
There were numerous concerns around Jimmy Butler's offensive abilities and his lack of strength was thought to inhibit his developmental abilities. Middleton had a nagging ankle injury during his junior year and then struggled to regain his composure under the new coaching staff the following year. Meanwhile, Tony Wroten was perceived as being selfish and turnover-prone, and while still somewhat true, it's hard to argue that he has provided tremendous value for being drafted 25th overall, behind the likes of Fab Melo, Royce White, John Jenkins and Jared Cunningham. Lastly, both Parsons and Green were drafted late due to being less than stellar athletes, with the former being too unselfish offensively and liable defensively, and the latter being too small for his position and lacking upside.
Needless to say, these picks should not be dismissed as being unimportant to the team's future success. Sure, not every late first round/early second round pick will turn out to be a player of similar quality to those above, but the possibilities are certainly there. Assumptions are dangerous, especially for players that have consistently demonstrated themselves at the college level. With that, there are a number of players the front office should be looking at come draft time should they still be available. From the onset, the Nets should be targeting an athletic wing player that can serve as a defensive stopper on the perimeter with the decline of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, and Alan Anderson's impending player option.
Several of the below players have the size and strength to fit this mould, while the last one would serve as a developmental point guard. Markel Brown has served as a good example of a successful pick, but his 6'3 stature limits his ability to defend at multiple positions. In addition to their defensive prowess, a number of the below players have shown an ability to score whether by slashing or shooting jumpshots. Regardless of the method, the versatility on both ends would establish a building block on the Nets' roster.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - 6'7 220 (Arizona, sophomore) - A long, defensive forward at Arizona that demonstrated a particular penchant for rebounding. While he is only a sophomore, it is widely assumed that he will declare after playing his way into a near-guaranteed first round pick status. The 6'7 forward isn't a great shooter, but let the Wildcats in rebounding on what was considered a top three defensive team nationally.
Delon Wright - 6'5 190 (Utah, senior) - Wright played point guard most of the time for Utah, but his athleticism and lankiness would enable him to slide into a wing position when needed. Wright is the younger brother of Blazers' forward Dorrell Wright, but isn't a pure shooter like his brother. Instead, he operated as a do-it-all guard for Utah, averaging 14.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1 block per game.
Justin Anderson - 6'6 227 (Virginia, junior) - Anderson was considered the go-to defensive stopper on the defensive-minded Virginia Cavaliers. He's a strong, bully wing-player who will attack the rim but isn't afraid to let it fly from three. While Hollis-Jefferson and Wright might find themselves going in the early to mid-20s, there is a good chance Anderson will still be available. A good comparison would be a bigger Markel Brown.
Tyrone Wallace - 6'5 200 (California, junior) - Wallace is a scorer, plain at simple. While not a particularly strong shooter, he averaged 17.1 points, grabbed 7.1 rebounds and dished out 4.0 assists, while mostly playing at point for Cal.
Buddy Hield - 6'4 209 (Oklahoma, junior) - Given his strong tournament performances, Hield's stock has been steadily rising over the last few weeks. The 6'4 guard has a 6'8.5" wingspan according to DraftExpress and it shows when watching him. He can get his shot off over taller opponents, and has consistently generated steals.
Cameron Payne - 6'2 180 (Murray St., sophomore) - Playing for Murray St, Payne might be one of the lesser recognized players in this draft. Despite being just a sophomore, the 6'2 guard scored over 20 points per game with an eye-popping 2.4:1 assist to turnover ratio. Payne will likely be limited to the point guard position, but he's certainly worth a look as a developmental player to bring in should he declare this year.