One of the more interesting aspects of last season was how as the season went along, the Nets added more athletes to the mix. Caris LeVert came back from injury. The Nets traded for K.J. McDaniels, called up Archie Goodwin, etc.
What we can see this off-season is that athleticism is again a priority. It’s subtle but we think we will see a more athletic club in October. It’s a theme this weekend as well, starting with how the Nets seem to be intrigued by the “lobs and blocks” type. Of course, so are other clubs.
Nets could use some. They contested the most shots in the league (71.3), but were 18th in blocks (4.7). That says they could use some athleticism down below. Bam Adebayo in the Draft? Nerlens Noel in free agency? Trade for it? Develop it?
That’s not to say Brook Lopez wasn’t underrated as a defender in the paint. As we’ve noted, he had almost as many shots (124) as he did three pointers (134). And on February 15, he had eight blocks and six three pointers. No one had ever done that before.
Justin Hamilton? Andrew Nicholson? Not rim protectors. Trevor Booker? Had two games with two blocks, both in November. Other than Lopez, only Hamilton and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had games of four or more blocks, both in the second week of February.
So don’t be surprised to see the Nets wind up with a rim protector, a shot-blocker somewhere in the summer.
All that leads us to something we found intriguing the last weekend of the season. The Nets worked the CBA to within an inch of its life to give Cliff Alexander and Prince Ibeh 10-day deals over the course of two days. They let Archie Goodwin’s 10-day expire, opening a roster spot. Then in rapid fire succession, they called up Alexander to a 10-day and waived him within 24 hours; called up Ibeh to a 10-day and waived him within 24 hours; before finally calling back Goodwin in time for him to play vs. the Bulls ... and score 20 points, grab seven rebounds and hand out four assists.
The rationale was the Nets had promised Alexander and Ibeh’s agents that they would give their clients 10-day deals at some point, so they would have the benefit of NBA coaching, even if for 10 or 20 days. But people, smaller people, on the Nets roster got hurt and there was no room for the 6’9” Alexander or the 6’11” Ibeh. Sean Marks rightfully got credit for fulfilling his promises. It cost him $150,000 for the two guys and they each got a year of service, so that if they sign a vets minimum deal with another NBA team, their salary will be higher, $500,000 higher in Ibeh’s case. All well and good.
But wait a minute? The Nets promised a 10-day to Ibeh? Huh? This bears further investigation. Sure, the 21-year-old Alexander played very well for Long Island, particularly at the end of the season.
This is a guy who in his senior season at Texas, Ibeh (pronounced E-Bay) averaged 4.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 18.1 minutes. He shot 57.8 percent overall, but only 41.8 percent from the foul line. Ibeh also appeared in four games for the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2016 NBA Summer League team but didn’t get an invitation to training camp.
Then, he showed up in Long Island. His first job was getting in shape after not playing for seven months. So, the 22-year-old played in only 10 games, averaged 10 minutes and a measly 1.1. points and 2.0 rebounds. He did block 0.9 shots in 10 minutes per game ... and therein lain the interest. On a 36-minute basis, that’s 3.2 blocks per 36 minutes. In the five games where he was in the rotation, small sample, he averaged 1.8 blocks in 14.5 minutes, a per-36 rate of better than four blocks. (Of course, his per 36 rate for personal fouls in those games was 6.9.)
No one is saying that Ibeh is going to be the poor man’s DeAndre Jordan (okay, Draft Express did last year). But NBA teams are starting to look for what more than one NBA type has called the “lobs and blocks” guy, a rotation player whose other skills need not be that good. DeAndre Jordan was drafted at No. 35 in 2008, Hassan Whiteside went at 33 in 2010, Rudy Gobert was taken at 27 in 2013. All three have limits but it’s a certainty that all three would go way higher now.
Ibeh, with that length and max vertical north of 35”, was Defensive Player of the Year in the Big-12 two years ago. The Nets DID like him. Not sure if they still have any interest, but they did make a promise and kept it. And there’s another minor indicator out there that they are intrigued by the type, the “lobs and blocks” guy. Last weekend, they scouted 7’2” Viny Okouo of Unicaja Malaga in Spain. Same profile and he just turned 20. Draft Express has the Nets taking him at No. 57. Why not?
Caris LeVert’s new season
A year ago this month, Caris LeVert was on crutches, recovering from a foot reconstruction procedure that had taken place two months earlier. He went to the Pre-Draft Combine to do interviews with NBA front offices, many of whom were (rightfully) skeptical of his future after three surgeries in a little more than years.
By June, he was able to walk to the podium at Barclays Center, a shocking pick at No. 20. He had just undergone his latest round of x-rays and CT scans at the Hospital for Special Surgery. His surgeon, Dr. Martin O’Malley, the Nets own foot and ankle expert, had pronounced him fully healed.
He spent the summer rehabbing, not practicing. No summer league. No running till September, no training camp, no preseason. At the end of October, he said he hoped to be back in “a couple of weeks.” A “couple of weeks” turned into more than a month. Then, there were minutes restrictions for more weeks.
And yet, despite that, he turned into a top rookie, on his way to the goal he laid out on Media Day back in September. "I want to be one of those guys who’s an All-Star, a guy who’s one of the top guys for the team ... you can go to him, one of the vets on the team, someone the younger guys can look up to."
Now? He’s training for next season, with that year behind him. He’ll participate in the summer league, training camp, preseason. There will be no minutes restriction. He will be a focus of the team, offensively and defensively. Other teams get it. No player has elicited more interest in trade talks. And the response is always the same. “Caris LeVert is a Brooklyn Net.”
It’s not something fans talk about a lot in the rumor-laden off-season but a healthy, prepared LeVert could be a big deal, a big development for next season.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
Other than Hamidou Diallo, last week’s Sleeper, all the underclassmen seen as top 30 prospects have hired an agent and will stay in the Draft. The last underclassmen to give notice was Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, a 6’3” guard with a pro’s game.
The Nets like him. And why not? The 6’3” sophomore —and New York native— can play both guard positions. As Draft Express wrote...
Listed at 6'3 with a strong 210-pound frame and good length, Mitchell as a bit undersized for a shooting guard, but compensates with tremendous athletic ability. Among the most explosive players in the country, Mitchell is a powerful two-footed leaper who provided plenty of highlight reel material last season. The New York native also possesses terrific lateral quickness, giving him intriguing potential on the defensive end.
Does that sound like a player the Nets would like? Sure does. Athletic, versatile with defensive potential. Also, he’s mature and familiar with the world of pro sports. His father is the long time Mets clubhouse attendant. He could use some help with his three, hitting 35.4 percent this season, but that’s why the Nets had a shooting coach.
Here’s a look at his best game vs Indiana earlier this year. He finished with 25 points, three rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes, shooting 8-of-15 from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
Draft Express has him going at No. 20. So he’s in the range. Others have him all over the board, but it’s likely he’ll go 18-to-23, at least as of now.
But what about all those young combo guards the Nets already have? The Nets aren’t drafting for next season. They are drafting long term. Other than Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead, none of the others have guaranteed deals beyond January of next season. Competition is a good thing.
Regina Foye was Randy Foye’s mother who disappeared while he was a nine-year-old in Newark. She was last seen getting into a van 25 years ago and her fate was not known until her son tracked her down last year, a journey Ian Thomsen (one of our favorite writers) chronicled back in November.
Foye now has his own podcast and he speaks to his mother’s disappearance and how the mystery ended with a phone call from a city official, a call he recorded and plays as part of the podcast.
So many of the Nets players over the years have had stories of heart break and what for others might lead to despair. But basketball and character carry them through it. We are reminded of Markel Brown’s uncle, who raised him after the death of his parents, dying in a fire rescuing two women; Mirza Teleotovic’s chronicle of war and how hungry he was in Bosnia; and Caris LeVert’s father suddenly dying of a heart attack on an Eastern morning. You can’t grade them, rank them. They are each horribly sad and the players’ recovery and ultimate success deserve our respect.
And it should remind us of those who didn’t have basketball and didn’t recover from tragedy. They deserve our respect too.
We keep hearing reports from Venezuela that the Nets would like to find a place for Greivis Vasquez, who the Nets paid $3.8 million for 38 minutes of work last season before he underwent season-ending ankle surgery. Back in early April, Kenny Atkinson was quoted this way by El Timeout, a Venezuelan website...
"His relapse was unfortunate for him and for us. Greivis is a fierce competitor and in the short time he was in Brooklyn, we changed the culture of the team ... We want him back on the team.”
No doubt the Nets liked what Vasquez provided them. Here’s Sean Marks comment when the team waived him.
“Greivis did everything we asked of him and more to try to get back on the court at full strength. The passion, grit and perseverance he has shown since he joined the team have been remarkable. We are thankful to Greivis for all of his efforts and wish him well in the future.”
And Vasquez himself had great things to say about the Nets as well in February when he was interviewed by Hoopshype.
“The Nets supported me big time. They were very professional, very ethical and responsible regarding my situation. Actually, I’d like to go back to Brooklyn and play for them. We’ll see how things work out. I have a lot of respect for them.
“Sean Marks is young, but he knows what he is doing. He is very smart. I have confidence in his work, regardless of whether I return to the team or not. The same goes for coach Kenny Atkinson. He is an amazing person. He has a great staff.”
Would Vasquez come back as a player? Sounds like a tough task. But a veteran presence is likely still needed. He just turned 30.
The Indiana pick
One interesting aspect of the Pacers decision to dump Larry Bird and replace him with Kevin Pritchard: Indiana is in rebuild mode. Obviously, that’s a good thing for the Nets since the final payment in the Thaddeus Young trade is a second rounder with some interesting protections. If at any time in the next five drafts after this one, the Pacers fail to make the playoffs, their pick goes to Brooklyn.
That we know, but here’s another aspect we may not have appreciated: that pick now becomes more valuable as a trade asset this year. In fact, it has to be more valuable than the Nets pick in the second round this year, the 57th pick. So if the Nets wanted to move up in the second round, the Indiana pick might be the way to go, preserving the 57th pick for a draft-and-stash.
Yes, we hear that Billy King is interviewing for the Magic job. Good source even if it seems, shall we say, odd. Nets chairman Dmitry Razumov, always a big fan, would likely recommend him. So would Danny Ainge.