The Nets have many flaws on their team, as do all teams in the infancy of a rebuild. The team could use a pure scorer on the wing that could stroke it from three, or a defensive minded guard that can compliment Jeremy Lin in the backcourt. Another center wouldn’t hurt the cause. However, one weakness stands above the rest with the currently constructed roster: a stretch four.
The NBA today has put a major emphasis on having a power forward that can stretch the floor beyond the three-point line, but also bang with big men down in the post. A player that can guard all positions is something invaluable to success in the league now. The Warriors and Cavaliers are prime examples with Draymond Green and LeBron James, but all teams are trending towards finding a player that has length and can be a Swiss Army Knife on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. With the popularity of running pick-and-rolls, being able to switch seamlessly, then recover with a stretch 4 is crucial.
Brooklyn may have a stretch 5 in Brook Lopez but lacks a true stretch 4. Trevor Booker is the most traditional power forward on the roster. As the season wore on though, Atkinson began to experiment with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the 4. Jefferson has potential as a small-ball (long-ball?) power forward with his 7’2” wingspan and quick feet, but his jump shot remains broken. He is a non-factor beyond the arc, not even attempting one per game on average and only hitting on 22% of his tries. RHJ could work in doses—especially in a lineup that could feature lengthier guards like Caris LeVert and Sean Kilpatrick —but the Nets could also find the answer in the back end of the first round of the Draft.
There are several prospects who fit the mold: A guy who can stretch the floor but also play down low. DJ Wilson might have himself a first round guarantee. He did elect to hire an agent and forgo another season at Michigan. He can parlay his fantastic tournament run with the Wolverines into a late first round selection. Wilson is 6’11” with a 7’3” wingspan, but way too thin to be a legitimate 5 at the next level. He weighs in at 240 pounds, a lanky frame that would get pushed around down low by centers. His length and quick feet make him an adept defender out along the perimeter, and his stroke from outside the paint is strong. Wilson has really nice mechanics on his jumper and knocked down 37% of his three point attempts. Something else worth noting is that he shoots above 80% from the free throw line. He is a reliable shot taker and has real defensive potential. His skinny frame does need work, but he proved his worth — and upside — in March.
Wilson was a redshirt sophomore, and didn’t see many minutes his redshirt freshmen season, so he is 21 already. His growth from last season to this one makes him a value pick in the 20’s this season. Brooklyn should give him a hard look come draft night. Not to mention, Wilson comes from Michigan, where Nets rookie Caris LeVert went to school. Michigan pipeline could be real if the Nets select Wilson. The two are reportedly close.
TJ Leaf was a key cog that helped rev the UCLA Bruins high-powered offense alongside Lonzo Ball this season. Leaf may have a more glaring weakness as a defender than the aforementioned Wilson, but what he lacks on the defensive end, he makes up for with his shooting stroke. Leaf is a legitimate threat from distance, nailing over 46% of his three point attempts and shooting 64% from two point shots. Leaf is more of a project. He needs to catch up to the speed of the NBA on the defensive end but his offensive versatility is his best asset. He has a nice touch as well as the ability to find the open man. A pick-and-roll threat, Leaf is not afraid to make the extra pass and make the correct read quickly. He is also a capable ball handler. He ran the floor with the ball every now and then for the up-tempo Bruins. The Bruins did play at a very fast pace, something the new look Nets want to do, so he could be comfortable in Atkinson’s spread out run n’ gun offense. Problem is that a Lopez/Leaf frontcourt could get bashed, mashed and gashed on defense. The Tel Aviv, Israel native has a broader range when compared to Wilson. Leaf could sneak into the late teens. Also, Leaf is barely 20, so there is room for growth.
Semi Ojeleye has recently rose in mock drafts, and is currently pegged at No. 27, where the Nets pick, in Draft Express’ most recent mock. Ojeleye was the lead man at SMU this season after transferring from Duke. Ojeleye differs from the other two in that he is strong and is physically gifted, giving him the potential to be a super small ball five. At a shade under 6’7”, Ojeleye has a near 6’10” wingspan. He is super physical and uses his 40” vertical to fight for rebounds. Ojeleye is already 22 and a few months with only one season as a factor with SMU. (He played on 10 minutes for Duke two seasons ago, and had to sit out a year due to transfer at SMU). There are some real concerns for this prospect as he is definitely undersized and he needs to polish his game around the edges in terms of awareness and inside game. However, Ojeleye is a mature prospect, a work horse, not a show horse. His work ethic could turn him into a threat at the next level.
I’ll quickly hit on John Collins of Wake Forest and Ivan Rabb out of Cal because I think both pose intriguing opportunities for Brooklyn going forward.
Collins may not be there for the Nets at 22, and almost certainly will be gone at 27. He’s a young sophomore at just over 19 years old and was mainly utilized as a traditional big with zero three-point opportunities this past season under Danny Manning’s tutelage. However, Collins has shown in workouts he can stroke it and did hit on 74% of his free throw attempts, which tends to project that he is a capable shooter from the wing. Collins is a rebounder and maybe more of a hybrid 5 then a stretch 4, a 6’10” with a 6’11” wingspan. Is he some kind of a tweener (or does that word even exist in scouts lexicons nowadays?) His athleticism makes me think he can play minutes at the four alongside Lopez. He has some room for growth, but is only 19 and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
Ivan Rabb has been linked to the Nets quite a bit through mocks, but the Nets need to heed the buyer-beware warning. He’s a top flight prospect at Cal who’s shown strengths as a rebounder despite his thin 215-pound frame. The reason? His massive 7’3” wingspan. Rabb can pull down boards in traffic and finish around the rim, but he was mainly used as a post up threat. He didn’t shoot all too much outside of the paint and didn’t convert very often when he did venture outside of it. He only attempted 20 three pointers and shot 66% from the charity stripe. Rabb was a lottery prospect last season but opted to return to a floundering Cal squad and hurt his draft stock. He’s trending downwards but the Nets may want to proceed with caution on him.
Marks would be wise to use one of his first rounders on a player that fits the stretch 4 mold. It’s the team’s most glaring weakness and would strategically help them grow as a team and into Atkinson’s motion offense. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these picks is a draft-and-stash and the other comes from this group of versatile forwards.