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Is it too soon to talk about the 2018 Draft? It is never too soon!!

Charles Maniego takes a look at who might be available when the Nets have their picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. If scouts are scouring the hinterlands, so are we!

NCAA Basketball: Southern at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

A (Nets-centric) Early Look at 2018 NBA Draft Prospects

The 2018 NBA Draft is over 200 days away, but there’s no better time to start digging deep into prospects than right…now. That was said in 100% seriousness. The men’s college basketball season is underway, with potential one-and-done freshmen making their first marks and returning student-athletes showing improved games.

While this may be the Brooklyn Nets’ final season without their own draft pick – for now – Nets scouts should still be scouring the college ranks (and the International ones too). They own the Toronto Raptors’ lottery-protected first round pick for 2018, courtesy of the DeMarre Carroll deal. Also part of the Carroll deal, the Nets will receive the lower of the Magic or Lakers’ second round picks. The Nets will also acquire the Indiana Pacers’ second round selection if Indiana misses the playoffs. If the season ended today, the Nets would own the 27th, 43rd, and 44th picks ... and have $5.1 million in cash considerations to buy other picks, move up, move down.

While the Nets current young core is promising, the talent level still pales in comparison to other teams throughout the league. Atlantic Division rivals Boston and Philadelphia look like potential juggernauts, just to name two. The Nets are still in talent acquisition mode. Sean Marks has frequently mentioned “no quick fixes” in rehabilitating the Brooklyn Nets. It’s about progress. Remember.

Even with Jarrett Allen, the team still has major holes in the frontcourt. Fortunately, this year’s draft is loaded with quality bigs (or combo bigs) in and out of the lottery. While the most intriguing big men – DeAndre Ayton (Arizona), Marvin Bagley (Duke) and Mohamed Bamba (Texas) may be out of the Nets’ range, there still are intriguing frontcourt options later in the projected first round. But that goes under the assumption that the Nets will address their biggest (intentional pun) area of need. With the Nets’ current need for talent, they could go for upside, rather than positional fits.

Here are a few players to watch as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Season rolls on…

Nick Richards, 6’11”, Kentucky

On an annually loaded Kentucky team, Richards just has to do the little things. The raw big hails from Kingston, Jamaica by way of Queens, NY. Long and athletic, Richards runs the floor nimbly – an ever-important tool for NBA bigs. His near 7’4” wingspan paired with his athleticism pegs him as a first round selection. Richards is also a quick leaper, rising for dunks on blocks with ease. So the measurables are there for Richards. Many have compared him to Willie Cauley-Stein, another energetic but raw Kentucky Wildcat.

One thing to watch for with Richards is his play against higher level of competition. The biggest transition for bigs from high school to college (and eventually the NBA) is the physicality and size curve. Richards is no different – he towered over opponents in high school and has had little formidable opposition in his limited minutes so far in Kentucky. His polish is in progress, with his most reliable post move a righty jump hook. If Richards can improve over the college season, he could be a solid developmental pickup in June.

Here’s a look at his high school highlights at New Jersey’s Patrick School.

Two of Richards’ intriguing freshman teammates could also fall to the Nets’ range. Hamidou Diallo, also of Queens, was a name mentioned heavily in the Nets’ pre-draft process this past summer. Diallo eventually withdrew from the draft (a story broken by NetsDaily’s Bryan Fonseca), electing to improve his draft stock at Kentucky. Like Richards, he’s another raw athlete, with an insane vertical leap and great speed for a wing player. Diallo is scoring 13.8 points per game, showing an improved jumper early.

Jarred Vanderbilt hasn’t played a minute yet for Kentucky due to injury, but he could shine when he makes his debut. While not as eye-popping of an athlete as Richards or Diallo, Vanderbilt plays under control. He projects as a Swiss Army Knife player, a modern day point forward that defends, passes and scores. His jumper needs remove for improvement. Kevin (Kevdog) O’Connor of The Ringer compares him to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson due to his versatility.

Rui Hachimura, 6’8”, Gonzaga

Hachimura played limited minutes for the Bulldogs his freshman year, but impressed this summer in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup. A native of Sendai, Japan, Hachimura has the look of an NBA player (obviously the most important judgment in finding future NBA players - kidding). Hachimura has a sturdy frame at 6’8”, with a solid motor and growing basketball IQ. At the U19’s, Hachimura was the tournament’s second leading scorer with 20.6ppg and third best rebounder with 11.0rpg. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands with a scorer’s mentality and surprisingly good vision.

While one would expect a player from a non-basketball obsessed country to be a completely raw prospect, Hachimura may be an exception. Hachimura seems comfortable in the minutes he’s played so far, averaging 9.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 17 minutes per game for Gonzaga. He’s shown the same fluid athleticism in his first few games of the 2017-2018 season, confident enough to handle the ball after a rebound to set up the offense himself. I really want to say that the way he runs the floor is Giannis-esque, but that may be a little blasphemous (I’ll try not to fall into that trap.) While still a little bit of an unknown, Hachimura seems like a consensus first round pick by many. He could rise even further as the season progresses.

Justin Jackson, 6’7”, Maryland

Jackson, the Maryland Terrapin (not the Tar Heel turned Sacramento King) is a funky player that could fit in the increasingly fluid NBA (and Brooklyn Nets.) While Jackson stands at 6’7” in shoes, he boasts a 7’3” wingspan – which is SICK. As a comparison, O.G. Anunoby, a much-desired prospect in last year’s draft, has a 7’2” wingspan. Jackson is more than just measurements though. As a freshman, he shot 43.8 percent from three on a solid 105-shot sample size. While he’s only made one out of his first ten three-point attempts to start 2017-2018, Jackson’s jumper isn’t exactly broken.

A native of Toronto, Jackson may just need time to harness his numerous tools. Currently, he’s averaging more rebounds (10.3) than points (7.5), and in a bit of a shooting slump over his first four games. Jackson’s struggles with inconsistency were seen last season, with games of 28 points and games of 2 points in the same stretch. If Jackson is able to produce - on both ends – more consistently, he’ll be a hot commodity.

Grayson Allen, 6’5”, Duke

Allen is a candidate for both National Player of the Year and Most Hated College Player. A favorite of Net Income, the “bad boy” has come on strong at the start of his senior season, with a 37-point performance against #2 Michigan State already in the books. Allen is looking to rebound after a junior year that hurt his draft stock with poor shooting (39.5 percent from the field) and even more noteworthy outbursts of anger.

The book on Allen has been written already. He plays with intensity that borders on madness. He can shoot the lights out, with a quick release and an ability to fight off ball. He competes on every play defensively (something, something, sneaky athleticism), and has been a leader for the Blue Devils since his freshman year. A change in attitude from Allen may help his perception by fans, but it’s his consistent play that could propel him up draft boards. Allen’s ceiling may not be as high as the others on this list, but he has strong role player potential.

While the Nets’ backcourt may be glutted with young playmakers and shooters, Allen could be a solid, NBA ready player for Brooklyn. His competitive fire could be what Brooklyn needs on a team full of smooth operators.

Bennie Boatwright, 6’10”, USC

I’ll admit. Boatwright, the USC junior is probably the most unconventional player on this list. I could just be a fan of alliterative names. But his skillset may be Kenny Atkinson approved. Boatwright is a stretch big through and through, with more than half of his field goal attempts last season from beyond the three-point line. He shot 36.4% from three in 2016-2017, showing shooting prowess off the dribble and off the catch. Boatwright can score off the dribble and isn’t a stiff athlete either. Boatwright is a complete package on the offensive end, and could be a better NBA fit than NCAA player.

Boatwright’s offensive prowess should get him some first round attention, but his ability to compete on the interior could be a hindrance. He isn’t an elite athlete, and could struggle on defensive switches. He also isn’t a great rebounder, averaging around 5 boards per game his first two seasons at USC. Boatwright has played well to start the season, and should look to complement his solid scoring with a greater effort on the interior.

Boatwright’s Trojan teammate, Chimezie Metu, is another intriguing prospect. Also a junior, the 6’11” Metu is almost the antithesis to Boatwright. Metu is a powerful interior scorer, with a propensity for big finishes and momentum swinging blocks. Metu is still a raw player, and may need time to put on some muscle and expand his game.

For several of these players, the most important aspect to monitor is improvement over the course of the season. (That could be said for the Nets as well.) It’s also important to understand context. Jarrett Allen’s numbers may not have been impressive as a freshman, but he played on a Texas Longhorns team with a lack of playmaker and out of position. It’s a scout’s job to be able to understand these things holistically. As the NCAA season rolls on, more players will emerge – or fall. For the Brooklyn Nets’ scouts, it’s homework time. Go scouts, go!