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Prospect Watch IV: New players, new projects

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Brooklyn Nets v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

A lot has happened since our last Prospect Watch. One prospect has been sent to Washington, Chris McCullough. Three more arrived: Andrew Nicholson, K.J. McDaniels and Archie Goodwin, the latter two meeting Kenny Atkinson’s desire to give the team “a jump” in athleticism.

Like we’ve said, there are no sure things among the kids. Not right now. Maybe next season with more development. Like we’ve also said, development is often two steps forward, one step back and the Nets mantra is all about continuing development, that no player can’t improve some aspect of their game even deep in their career. Brook Lopez’s three-point shooting, for example.

So here you go.

Best Bets

A trio of 22-year-olds... what Kenny Atkinson calls “babies,” not because of their immaturity but because they are so young, in their first and second professional years.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, inserted at power froward at the end of January, has been playing the best basketball of his career since. No one embodies two steps forward, one step back than Hollis-Jefferson.

He’s averaged nearly 10 points a game since becoming the 4, shooting about 50 percent, and grabbing seven rebounds per. He’s had some awful games, but he’s also had some monsters, like the 16 rebounds he grabbed in less than 15 minutes vs. the Suns, something no NBA player had done in at least 32 years. He had two double-doubles in the wins over the New York, including a 20-and-10 effort at the Garden.

He has defended well and is still learning. “I think the 4 is his natural fit,” Atkinson told WFAN 10 days ago. “I think in college that was his natural position. I'm glad we made the move.”

--Caris LeVert could, should become an “elite” player in the NBA, Kenny Atkinson says. And at least once a game, the 6’7” Michigan product makes you realize it’s coming, but he like his fellow Swing Brother will have up’s and down’s. He’s a rookie, but the Nets like what they see.

“When Jeremy and Brook start talking, ‘man, that guy’s going to be good’ .. when you start getting that feedback ... players know stuff before we do,” said Atkinson. “I think the sky’s the limit. I think he can be an elite player in this league.”

In the three games around the two wins over the Knicks, it looked like a breakout was coming. He had 42 points, shot 13-of-19 overall, including 4-of-7 from three. Problem is those three games were bracketed by games of two and five points, games in which he shot 1-of-5 and 1-of-6. One area where he has improved dramatically is three-point shooting, a big reason the Nets drafted him. In March, he has shot 36.8 percent from deep, up from 21.7 percent in February.

It seems LeVert doesn’t seem to know when to be aggressive, when not. He could also use some strength training in the summer.

Isaiah Whitehead is a gift. Taken at No. 42 in what has become one of the worst drafts in memory, he continues to show he was worth the $3 million and late second round draft pick. With the arrival of Spencer Dinwiddie and the return of Jeremy Lin, the Nets are now willing, now able to use Whitehead at the 2.

it wasn’t easy for Whitehead early on. Pressed into service at the point after Lin and Greivis Vasquez went down, Atkinson admitted last week that he wasn’t sure he’d make it!

“Look at Isaiah Whitehead’s development. look back at his first game when you think, ‘wow, is this guy an NBA player?' to 'yeah, this guy is going to a good player.’”

Now, he has an Ian Eagle-patented move, “The Cyclone,” and has been aggressive going to the rim in general. Over the last five games, he’s gone to the line 20 times (hitting 15). His back-to-back three-point plays in the second half of the Suns game changed the game from a close game to a blowout.

He, too, is subject to bad games, like the 0-of-8 effort against Boston.

High Hopes

This is the group where development is most important. Can anyone in group be a rotation player down the road ... or maybe even more. The “fallen angels” reside here.

Archie Goodwin at the top of our list? Why not? The Nets haven’t even signed him to a proper contract and over the past year, he’s been dumped by both the Suns and Pelicans, but 1) he’s only 22; 2) he’s hyperathletic with a 36” max vertical.; and 3) he’s performed well ... aggressively.

It’s small sample theater for sure, but Goodwin has appeared in four games for Brooklyn, averaged 9.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 13.4 minutes per game while shooting 65 percent (13-of-20) from the field and 40 (2-of-5) from three and scored in double figures three times.

We know everything that is wrong with him. We read it all here on Bright Side of the Sun but we’ve also seen him play this past week, aggressively, very aggressively, with passion. He isn’t just athletic. He finishes well, defends will and did we say he’s aggressive? Atkinson likes the 6’5” Kentucky product at the point.

We could be wrong, but we don’t think so.

K.J. McDaniels was acquired in a minor deal at the deadline. The Rockets needed cap space and a roster spot and sold McDaniels to the Nets for $75,000, the bare minimum for an NBA trade. No picks, swaps or draft rights.

Already, it’s a bargain. After being used sparingly in the days after the trade, McDaniels got his chance recently. Another small sample theater, but in the last three games, the 6’6” swingman has scored 37 points, shot 56 percent (14-of-25) overall, 37.5 percent (3-of-8) from three, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked a shot in each of the games.

Just turned 24 last month, McDaniels is looking like the fan favorite Philly traded to Houston two years. in 52 games wearing the 76ers uniform, he averaged 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 25 minutes.

“We’re looking for wing defenders,” Atkinson told Newsday last week. “I think Caris is kind of becoming that guy. It would be a big added bonus for us if [McDaniels] can continue his defensive prowess he’s showed so far.”

He has a team option on a $3.48 million deal next year.

Joe Harris hasn’t played since March 3 after a bad fall vs. the Jazz. He entered the NBA concussion protocol but the bigger issue has been his sprained shoulder. No word when he will be back or if he will be back. There are only 10 games left.

But despite a lack of playing time, the Nets brain trust has had nice things to say about the 25-year-old. In a discussion of role players, Atkinson told Zach Lowe about how he pushed Harris to think of himself as the Nets Kyle Korver and his reaction... a bit of a telling story on how the Nets use confidence as a development tool.

"I was taken aback," Harris said. "I mean, Kyle Korver is the O.G. -- the ultimate shooter."

"He was like that battered doe you find in the forest," Atkinson recalled. "He had no confidence."

In an interview with Chris Mannix , Atkinson said he’d like to see “what Joe Harris looks like in two years.”

Harris is not Kyle Korver but he is shooting 38.5 percent from deep in 52 games. (For the record, Korver is shooting 45 percent at age 36.)

Sounds like the Nets like him. He has a team option, at the vets minimum, for next year.

Quincy Acy is the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history. Discuss.

Nah, it only seems that way, but for a guy whose reputation was limited to energy, energy, energy, Acy’s emergence as a shooter is quite extraordinary. He’s hitting close to 50 percent from deep on the season and it seems every time he rises up beyond the arc, he’s going to get three points.

He’s tailed off a bit lately but it would have been hard to keep shooting at the 65 percent pace he kept in January.

He still is an energy player who fights for every ball, too.

The Nets have a team option on Acy’s vets minimum deal next season.

Sean Kilpatrick is also hurt. Hamstrings are tricky things. At 27, Kilpatrick is at the far end of the prospect range, but this is his full year in the NBA.

Kipatrick is a scorer. That’s what he does and he has a number of skills that when they come together can get fans excited. Take the three game stretch not long before he hurt himself. It included the big win against Memphis to end the 16-game losing streak.

Against the Grizzlies, he threw himself at the basket, going to the line 17 times, making 16. The game before, he shot 6-of-7 from three. The game after, he scored 27, with equal measure drives (8-of-9 from the line) and deep shooting (3-of-7 from three). Problem is that in the two games after that stretch, he couldn’t do much at all, failing to get double figures and shot 1-of-16 and went to the line eight times.

And that is the problem: inconsistency on offense. On defense? Let’s move on.

Kilpatrick has a team option, at the vets minimum, for next year.

HOPES

Justin Hamilton had a big game in the Wizards blowout of the Nets on Friday night. He finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 overall and 2-of-3 from three. Good game, which reminded some of the promise he showed at the beginning of the season. In November, he averaged 7.7 points and 43.9 percent from three. BUT Hamilton who turns 27 this week simply hasn’t played much of late.

He ‘s had eight DNP-CD’s in March. He has fallen behind Quincy Acy in the big man rotation. Hopefully, Friday signifies a return to his early season form. That would help.

Hamilton is owed $3 million next season.

--Spencer Dinwiddie is handicapped by comparisons to Yogi Ferrell who was waived so the Nets could sign the 6’6” guard. Ferrell went to Long Island, hoped for a call-up to Brooklyn, but instead, it was Dallas who pushed the button. Ferrell has since been rookie of the week and rookie of the month.

The Nets don’t feel they lost out. Dinwiddie, they say, fits their model better than the 6’0” Ferrell.

With Lin back, Dinwiddie’s role has been diminished and he’s scored in double figures only three times in March. It’s not as if he hasn’t had a few good games. Just last week, he scored 18 points vs. the Mavericks, where he outscored Ferrell and 10 vs. the Pistons in the Nets big win. But in the three games prior to those games, he scored only 13 points on 2-of-11 shooting, handed out nine assists in 75 minutes. Ouch. And he had one points Friday in 23 minutes vs. the Wizards.

He’s obviously a smart player and smart person.

Dinwiddie, 23, has a team option that requires him to work out at HSS Training Center and play for the Nets in the summer league.

Andrew Nicholson has been pretty much a non-entity since he was traded to the Nets in the Bojan Bogdanovic deal ... and that is not good. Nicholson is owed $19 million over the next three years.

Of the 15 games, eight of them were DNP-CD. Of the seven games he did play, he played fewer than 10 minutes in three of them. He has played some recently, but is his lack of production due to a lack of rhythm of lack of skills? The Wizards gave the 27-year-old a four-year, $24 million deal last summer, but couldn’t wait to get rid of him.

His best game came against Boston, where he scored 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting in 17 minutes. Atkinson said the day of the trade that he liked what he saw of Nicholson, a Canadian, at FIBA Americas. Of course, he said the same about Anthony Bennett.

What about a stretch of the $19 million? Seems a bit extreme at this point and stretching the full amount would put $2.7 million on the Nets cap for seven years. More dead money.

Dreams

As in D-League. The Long Island Nets have two, maybe three, NBA prospects. As we noted Saturday after Cliff Alexander and R.J. Hunter combined for 55 points...

We don’t know the Nets plans for Cliff Alexander, Long Island’s 6’9”, power forward (emphasis on the power) or R.J. Hunter, the 6’6” shooting guard (emphasis on the shooting), but two once again showed Friday night that they may be too good for the D-League.

—Cliff Alexander is on a roll. In March, nine games, he’s averaged 24.4 points and 12.0 rebounds, shooting 60.7 percent overall with seven double-doubles. In the last five days, he’s had games of 30 and 16 (Friday); 32 and 12 (Tuesday); and 23 and 12 (last Sunday).

Still only 21, Alexander’s game has developed since he went undrafted out of Kansas in 2015, with expanded range and more post moves, including a nice hook shot. The Nets have liked him twice, once under the Billy King regime, once under Sean Marks. King signed him in 2015 after he went undrafted and played him in the summer league. Then, seven weeks ago, Marks team traded for him and gave him big minutes.

He tweeted his hopes on Saturday.

R.J. Hunter keeps shooting. After the Celtics and Bulls gave up on him, the Nets picked him up. In a fascinating conversation with our Bryan Fonseca back in January, Hunter admitted “I've actually been struggling shooting for like a year and a half now."

He has the green light from Long Island Coach Ronald Nored and this month is shooting 38 percent. He’s made at least one three-pointer in each of the 27 games he’s played in the D-League this season. Four times this month, he’s hit four or more three’s in a game. He can be an adroit passer as well, as he proved Friday. With Hawk assignee Tim Quarterman on his way back to Atlanta, he filled in at the point, handing out eight assists to go with his 25 points.

Trahson Burrell is a 6’7” swingman with out-of-this-world athleticism and a fine BBIQ. Called (by us and others) the Swiss Army Knife, he’s also been compared to another wiry, hard-working athlete, Will Barton.

The Memphis product is averaging 12.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and shooting 36 percent from three for the season. Back in December, here’s how Ronald Nored, his D-League coach, described Burrell..

“If there’s one guy you want in your corner on our team it’s him because he fights for what he believes in,” Nored said of Burrell. “He’s the one that gives us energy just by his effort defensively, offensive rebounding, in transition and things like that. He definitely has this infectious personality on the court and off the court.”

The Nets retain D-League rights on the three. There’s no automatic transfer of D-League rights to an NBA parent club. They can sign training camp contracts with any NBA team come July and try out like another player on a camp deal. The Nets could call them up on a 10-day contract before season’s end, but Brooklyn has no roster openings ... and none are expected.

Long shot (from far away)

Juan Pablo Vaulet turned 21 this week, plenty of time for him for him develop.

In the last couple of months, he seems to have made some strides. He traveled to Brooklyn in January. getting an annual check-up on his surgically repaired ankles (plural) from Dr. Martin O’Malley, working out with the Nets coaching staff and even traveling with the team to two away games.

Initially on return to Argentina, Vaulet’s shooting, particularly at the foul line, improved but has since regressed. On the other hand, he played a key role in FIBA Americas tournament where his team, Bahia Blanca, finished second. His coach, Sebastian Ginobili, Manu’s brother, commended him for being more physical and Vaulet has gotten stronger. He also appears closer to 6’8” than the 6’6” he was listed at when drafted in 2015 at age 19.

One thing about his future is pretty much certain: He won’t be returning to Bahia. Team owner Pepe Sanchez said in January that Vaulet has become too expensive and that he had recommended to the Nets that Vaulet be assigned to Long Island. No idea what the Nets plan to do with him, but they did bring him to Brooklyn for a week.