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Nets Prospect Watch: the Deep Dive

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Chris McCullough and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Brooklyn Nets

In interviews this week, Kenny Atkinson talked about he looks at the Nets lack of picks ... and what can be done about it.

“Every guy we’ve signed for whatever reason, we’ve got to turn into a really good first-round pick. That’s the way we look at it,” Atkinson told Fred Kerber. “That [trade] is part of the past and it never really enters my mind.”

“The way I look at it is that Joe Harris is our draft pick, Justin Hamilton is our draft pick, Caris [LeVert] is our draft pick. That’s part of the past. Every guy we sign, we’ve got to help them turn into a first-round pick,” he added in an interview with Greg Logan.

A bit of a stretch? Sure, but that’s probably the best way of looking at it. What’s done is done. The lost picks are what in business are known as “sunk costs.” It’s best not to focus on what might have been. Rather, it’s best to look at strategies to overcome those losses. The Nets of course will be trying to replenish the empty cupboard Billy King left Sean Marks, but what about the young players the Nets have traded for and signed? Are they actually working out?

We take a look at the long list of players, drafted with picks acquired in trades, young players other teams have given up on them and a long list of others, from D-Leaguers to those who the Nets hold rights to, both NBA and D-League. We break them down from best bets to long, long shots.

Here ya go. No “sure things.” So, we’re starting with “best bets.”

Best Bets

Two athletic 6’7” wings who can play defense...

—Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, 21, in his second year with the Nets. Taken 23rd in the 2015 NBA Draft by Portland and traded to Brooklyn for Mason Plumlee, RHJ has been a two-year starter. The question for each of these prospects is simple: How productive can they be in an NBA rotation. RHJ’s defense is solid but he lacks aggressiveness on offense. There was a stretch a few games back where the 6’7” swingman seemed like he was making progress, particularly as a secondary ball-handler and distributor. It’s two steps forward, one step back.

—Caris LeVert, 22, in his rookie year with the Nets. Taken 20th in the 2016 NBA Draft by Indiana and traded to Brooklyn for Thaddeus Young (and a lot of cap space.) He hasn’t taken the court yet, but the Nets front office and fans have a lot of confidence in his game. If he had been healthy (and not recovering from his third broken foot), there’s no doubt he would have gone higher in a good draft. He can be the full package, a 6’7” swingman who can play the 1, 2 and 3 with a deadly jumper and defensive skills.

High Hopes

Two 21-year-olds whose skills need some honing...

—Isaiah Whitehead, 21, in his rookie year with the Nets. Taken 42nd in the 2016 NBA Draft and traded to Brooklyn for the rights to Marcus Paige and $3 million in cash, the most the Nets ever paid for a draft pick. The Nets loved him at Seton Hall and have made a financial commitment to him. Not only did they pay out the $3 million in cash for his rights, they also gave him first round money —$5+ million over four years, the first two guaranteed. A powerfully built 6’5” combo guard, the Nets see him more as a 1 than a 2, and threw him into the fire after Jeremy Lin went down and Greivis Vasquez was waived. We’ve seen good, we’ve seen bad. Too early to tell.

—Chris McCullough, 21, in his second year with the Nets. Taken 29th in the 2015 NBA Draft as part of the draft swap with the Hawks, the next-to-last piece of the Joe Johnson trade. He was hyped by Billy King and Co. as this year’s lottery pick. He lost 50 games last season as he recovered from an ACL torn at Syracuse. He seems to have fully recovered from that but the 6’10” stretch 4 needs to make more progress. He has all the tools. He works hard, but there’s something missing. Is it heart? Is it BBIQ? The Nets extended him last month for a third year. He’s still only 21 but will he progress ... and how much?

Hopes

Five players looking for a home...

—Yogi Ferrell, 23, in his rookie year with the Nets. Undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft, he was signed immediately after the second round ended. He and his agent have said teams were willing to take him in the mid 40’s if he would agree to play a year overseas. He declined. The Nets like the 6-footer’s natural distribution skills and his shooting. They gave him a two-year deal (with a lot of team options) when Vasquez was released. Like Whitehead, he’s had to play more minutes than anyone would have wanted and like Whitehead, he’s done some good, some bad. His defense will have to improve. He’s making $495,000 this season.

—Justin Hamilton, 26, in his first year with the Nets, third year in the NBA. He’s the second oldest guy on the list. Sean Kilpatrick is older. He shoots well, critical for a back-up 5 in Kenny Atkinson’s system but he’s not great defender. He is athletic, if not hyper athletic. At $6 million over two, he’s ideal in that he’s got a reasonable contract which could also be part of a package. In today’s NBA, who doesn’t want a young 7-footer that can shoot?

—Sean Kilpatrick, 26, in his second year with the Nets and third in the NBA. Sean Marks’ first signing and a good one. Kilpatrick was guaranteed the remainder of last season, all of this season and has a team option for next season, all at the vets minimum. At 6’4”, Kilpatrick is best suited for the 2, but has played the 1 and 3, with limited success. No player on the Nets has more bought into the Nets new system. He was in the gym a week after the season ended and stayed there. He reshaped his body, extended his range and has shown repeatedly that he score in spurts. In a mostly bench role, he’s averaging 14.3/4.1/2.5. A journeyman, sure, but solid.

—Anthony Bennett, 23, or as he’s often referred to, “still only 23.” We can go through all the “draft bust” data, or point you to Fred Kerber’s piece this week on his slow-motion development. Atkinson is indeed taking it slow with Bennett, trying to build his confidence back. Some garbage minutes here, some garbage minutes there, plus some time in the middle of the game. Seems to be working, at least in the short term. Take Friday night in Indiana. He came in, played 10 minutes, scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and had a plus/minus of +5. Will it work long-term? Don’t know yet, but Nets have a team option on him next season. So it’s worth the risk.

—Joe Harris is in his third year in the NBA, first with the Nets. Like seven players on the team, four on this list, he has a vets minimum deal this season, a team option next. A shooter who knows his place, Harris has looked good and bad. There have been games where he has looked like a bargain and a rotation player down the road, but others, not so much. But for a guy who played 15 minutes last year before breaking his foot, it’s hard to fault his signing. He’s had games where he’s shot 4-of-9, 5-of-8 and 4-of-7, BUT also games of 1-of-4 (three times), 1-of-5 (three times) and 1-of-7 (once). A solid point guard would be a big help to getting him open. For a full analysis of what he can do, we recommend Nick Agar-Johnson’s The Joe Harris Experiment.

Dreams

The “D” in D-League doesn’t stand for Dreams but it may as well...

—Boris Dallo, aka “Bobo,” is an interesting prospect. At 22, he’s already played at a high level in Europe, both in Serbia with Partizan and in France with Antibes. Both have produced NBA players in recent years. He’s a big 6’5” — according to the Long Island Nets; 6’6” — according to measurements made in Europe. In fact, he might need some conditioning. He does use that bulk and some speed to get to the rim both with the ball and as a rebounder. The Nets first round pick in the D-League Draft, Dallo is probably the best NBA prospect on Long Island. (How’d they find him? Remember when the Nets invited two European coaches to help with summer league. His coach in France, Julien Espinosa, was one of them.)

—Carrick Felix is the feel-good story on the Long Island Nets. He played seven games with the Cavaliers (one of three Cleveland castoffs on this list) in 2013-14, then after being traded to the Jazz and cut, joined the D-League. But not for long. In November 2014, he suffered a stress fracture of his patella (kneecap) and underwent two surgeries in six months, losing the rest of 2014-15 and all of last season. Now, at 26, the 6’6” shooting guard is trying for a comeback. He’s the leading scorer on Long Island ate 17.6 ppg. He also plays good defense and is scrappy. Is he a good enough shooter to make it the NBA? Good question.

—Beau Beech is 22 years old and if only because of his name, the native Floridian is a fan favorite. At 6’9”, he played shooting guard at North Florida. The Nets would like to see him develop at the 3, even as a stretch 4. In summer league, he shot the lights out in two games, not so good in three others, but it got him an invitation to training camp and a $45,000 guarantee. He can shoot and has some athleticism but has to get consistent and play good defense.

—Egidijus Mockevicius is one big man. Seeing him up close will cause you to raise your eyebrows. The nation’s best rebounder at Evansville last season, the 24-year-old Lithuanian is out of prove that old adage that rebounding is the one skill that most easily transfers from college to the pros. The Nets also have him working, with only limited success so far, on his three point shooting. The 6’10”, 240-pounder neither made nor took a three-pointer in four years at Evansville. He’s 2-of-9 so far with Long Island. One other issue: So far, he hasn’t proven he’s great at finishing. He got a $100,000 guarantee from the Nets.

Long shots (from far away)

The Nets hold their rights, but don’t look for them in black-and-white...

—Juan Pablo Vaulet is by all accounts a good kid —he’s still only 20— who plays hard, but he is also the poster child for Billy King’s minor moves. At 6’7”, he can only play the wing in the NBA, but at this point in his career, he is not a good shooter. So far, this season in Argentina, his first without injury in the last three, he’s averaging 9.4 points, shooting 56 percent from two-point range, 30 percent from three and only 54 percent from the stripe. He’s very athletic, despite two foot surgeries, and long. The Nets gave up two second rounders (to Charlotte) and $880,000 for him, swearing he was “the next Manu.” Luis Scola thinks he has a chance, telling NetsDaily, “He's a very good player. I really mean it. He has a few areas of his game he has to work on but he's extremely young. He really wants to work. His mind is in the right place. I do believe in him. He needs some work but he knows.”

—Jamaal Franklin is on this list mainly for fun. The 6’5” San Diego State product was taken by Long Island in the D-League expansion draft back in September. The Nets knew he was bound for China, where he makes $1.4 million a year but wanted his rights just in case he decided to play in the D-League once the CBA season was over. He had averaged 33.9 points a game for Shanxi Zhongyu in China a year ago. Well, since then, the pick seems to have been a smart move. Franklin is the CBA’s leading scorer at 40.4 points per game, just ahead of Jimmer Fredette. He’s had games of 61 and 60, the latter a triple double and has been the CBA’s Player of the Week three times out of nine. Do NOT get too excited. It’s the CBA and when he’s played elsewhere, the numbers haven’t been anywhere nearly as good. Also, the Nets only hold his D-League rights, not his NBA rights. Would he want to risk injury at the end of the season in the D-League and jeopardize his international career? We don’t know the answer, but we will continue to follow him, if only for fun.

Here’s that 60-point, 21-assist, 13 rebound effort...

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It’s a long list and a long story —forgive us, those of you scrolling on mobile devices— and it could change. The Nets could trade for a younger player who we’d have to slot in. Some players on the list could be traded too. Caris LeVert could move from “Best Bets” to “Sure Things” ... or “High Hopes”.

Bottom line: watch this space.