The Mini-Camp Bigs
As Hoopshype’s Alex Kennedy reported this week, the Nets had 10 players in for free agent mini-camp. They ranged in age from 23 to 30 and several had NBA experience. Of the 10, two were legitimate bigs. There were a few swingmen, and the rest guards.
We have no idea who did well (or who didn’t) but the two bigs stood out as the most intriguing: Brice Johnson, a 6’11” power forward who was a first round pick out of North Carolina just two years ago, and Byron Mullens, a legitimate 7-footer who has played 189 games for four NBA teams as well as a number of teams overseas in places like Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and, earlier this season, Abadan, Iran. He landed back in the U.S. late this season for a gig with the Lakeland Magic of the G-League.
Johnson, at 23, is somewhat typical of the Nets diamond-in-the-rough strategy. He was a college star under Roy Williams, then disappointed with the Clippers who took him at No. 25 in the 2016 Draft. His first season was pretty much a lost cause as he missed four months with a herniated disc. After being yo-yo-ed between the Clippers and Salt Lake City Stars, Johnson finally scored his first NBA points in the next-to-last game of the season.
The Clippers gave up on him in January of this year, shipping him off to Detroit in the Blake Griffin trade. Johnson, who had been Griffin’s back-up, had played sparingly —nine games for 38 minutes— in the NBA this season.and did little when he did play. Four games and no minutes later, the Pistons traded him and a protected second rounder in 2022 to the Grizzlies for James Ennis. Then at the end of March, Memphis dumped him for MarShon Brooks.
So why would he be so intriguing? Three lottery teams gave up on him, after all. Because he has shown glimpses of being an NBA player going back to his time at UNC, when he led the Cougars to the NCAA Finals where they lost to Villanova. And as an athlete, there are few bigs with better numbers, a 38” max vertical and a 3.2 second run in the 3⁄4 court sprint. That’s rim runner potential. He is a high character guy as well, with a good motor and a lot of passion.
Where he falls down is his shooting particularly from deep. He’s taken only one 3-pointer in his two years in the NBA ... and he missed it. He had only a little better luck in the G-League where over two years, he shot 26.4 percent, making 14-of-53. There’s also questions about his basketball IQ. But again, he’s had his moments, like in summer league vs. the Lakers last year: 23 points, seven rebounds and some very nice moves.
What happens next? If the Nets like him ... and he likes the Nets ... he could wind up working out at HSS, then getting a summer league gig. And if he does well there, there are other possibilities: training camp, a two-way deal with Long Island, etc.
Mullens is a different story all together, less a diamond-in-the-rough than a fallen angel. As his Ohio State classmate Sam Vecenie pointed out a few years back, he was a top prospect from the time he was 14. Then known as B.J., he was Rivals’ No. 1 overall prospect in the high school class of 2008, a class that included Jrue Holiday, DeMar DeRozan, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, and Kemba Walker in the top 14.
At 7’1” and 265 pounds, he should shoot, dribble, make a neat pass, but he couldn’t defend, seemed aloof at times and he never reached his potential during his one year in Columbus. His NBA career didn’t work out very well either after being drafted 24th in 2009 following his year at Ohio State. His potential was too good to pass up.
He lasted two years with the Thunder, then was sent to Charlotte for a second rounder in 2011. The basic stats would seem to indicate he was doing well —averaging 10 points and six rebounds over 118 games, 66 of them starts. But Vecenie pointed out, drilling down just a little bit, it was a different story.
In Charlotte, he became the fourth player since 1970 to be over seven feet tall and shoot under 40 percent on 500 shot attempts. That season, he also became the first player 6’11 or taller to shoot 200 threes and under 32 percent.
He was signed by the Clippers in 2013, then traded, again for a second rounder, to Philadelphia at the deadline in 2014. Then he made a series of bad decisions.
In March after a tough loss to the Knicks, he told a local writer that he wasn’t going to let it bother him. After all, basketball isn’t the only thing in his life, he said.
“You can’t let this ruin your whole day. I’ve got other stuff I’ve got to focus on,” Mullens told Chris Vito of the Delaware County Daily Times. “This is not making my life. There’s other more-important things than just basketball. It doesn’t ruin the rest of my day.”
Then, there was this...
“Does your job get tiring every day? I mean, it’s the same thing every day, right?”
Indeed, Mullens is a bit of a free spirit ... or was. During the 2011 lockout, he first signed with a Greek team, then returned and played against inmates of a local prison. It was about toughening up. Very hard core.
In the summer of 2014, he really blew it, passing on a $1.06 million player option. Big risk and it didn’t work out. It was his last game in the NBA. Off he went as a basketball vagabond, playing in Shanxi, China; Konya, Turkey; Dubai and finally, after a torn ACL, Abadan in Iran.
He spoke to an Ohio reporter in March after scoring 31 points in 32 minutes for Lakeland in a G-League match-up. He talked about how his stint in Iran, where he dropped 35 pounds, had made him “hold myself accountable.”
“I’m just doing everything I can to get this call-up and get this second chance,” the 7-foot Mullens said, talking about a possible 10-day deal. “I look at it as a second chance to show I’m a new player. I took a lot of stuff for granted as a young guy. But now I’m 29 and kind of in my prime. Everything’s kind of coming together for me. I got to thank God.”
His G-League numbers were indeed solid, even if he only played 11 games: 19.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and a 3-point shooting percentage of 41.1. And he destroyed the Long Island Nets twice, the first time a 27-point, 16-rebound, and three-block night; then in the next-to-last game of the regular season, he helped kill Long Island’s playoff hopes with 18 and 12. He took both the G-League’s player of the week and month honors.
Here’s the highlights of the 27/16/3 game.
Mullens obviously has a lot of prove but as that video shows, he can shoot from deep, run the court and now, finally, seems to have the motivation needed.
There were other interesting players in mini-camp as well. Kyle Fogg, a 28-year-old Arizona product who finished fourth in scoring in the Chinese league at 35.8, just behind MarShon Brooks. He had four games of 50 plus, including a 58-point game. And his sidekick on the Guangzhou Long-Lions, Semaj Christon, averaged 27.8.
But considering the Nets needs — and their once-great potential — Johnson and Mullens look like the best bets. We shall see.
Draft Workouts Begin
The Nets don’t disclose which prospects they have in for workouts, but here and there, you get pretty good hints of who and what they’re looking at. Last year, they worked out around 60 college and European players believing they would have three picks, the 22nd, 27th and 57th. This year should be about the same with Brooklyn (currently) picking at Nos. 29, 40 and 45.
The first names we have are Reid Travis, the 6’8” power forward out of Stanford, and Shamorie Ponds, the 6’1” St. John’s point guard, both big scorers with averages around 20 points per game. Neither has signed with an agent. Also, neither were among the 60 players invited to the Draft Combine. Looks like both will be in mid-week.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
Jontay Porter is not the headline Porter in this year’s draft. His brother Michael is seen as a high lottery pick and might have been the overall No. 1 pick if he hadn’t been hurt and missed most of the season.
But Jontay is no slouch. A bit taller than his brother at 6’11” and a year younger, Jontay may simply be underrated because so many people just compare the brothers. As a freshman, he had a more than solid season. As an 18-year-old freshman, Jontay averaged 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in only 24 minutes. He also hit 36.4 percent of his 3-pointers and 75 percent of his free throws. Great numbers for a kid who won’t turn 19 until November. More significantly, perhaps, is that Jontay is a playmaker at 6’11”, with four games of five or more assists during his freshman season.
He is not the monster athlete that Michael is and so he may be more suited for the 3 or 4 ... or the position-less basketball the Nets like to play. Take a look at his freshman highlights.
Jontay has declared for the draft, but unlike his brother, he hasn’t hired an agent so he could reclassify for the 2019 draft. He will participate in the NBA Draft Combine May 16 - 20 in Chicago and will then have 10 days to decide what to do. Most draftniks expect him to remain in the draft.
He’s all over the mock drafts. The latest ESPN mock has him at No. 33. NBADraft.net has him at No. 24 and Tankathon just outside the lottery at No. 15. If he decides not to stay in this year’s draft, he will be one of the top five picks next season.
Jeremy V.R. Lin
Jeremy Lin’s interests have always been wide-ranging. A Harvard education and his status as the NBA’s first Chinese-American player are only the most obvious. His Christian faith is another aspect of who he is. So is competitiveness and ... a willingness to try something new.
He did it again during his rehab in Vancouver. A Chinese artist Lin Yilin decided to create virtual reality experience from the point of view of a basketball and enlisted Lin in his art. It required Lin to “pose” in a different way from all other portraits out there.
As Tom Dowd of the Nets official site explains, “Lin was filmed for the piece several months ago in Vancouver, surrounded by cameras from floor to ceiling in a small room for about an hour to 90 minutes.”
From that, the artist created the 3-D Lin Yilin needed for the VR piece. Lin got his look at the finished product on Thursday evening, part of an exhibit of Chinese artists at the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue. He was entranced.
“I never really thought about what it’s like to be the ball and to kind of take that vantage point. But it was really interesting. I’m thinking about it right now. Even when you’re dribbling, the ball’s constantly spinning. What I was able to see as the ball, it was crazy because all of a sudden, you’re looking at the floor. I never really thought about that. I like things like that. I like artwork that causes you to think at a different level where it maybe gives you a glimpse into the artists’ mind and how he thinks.”
The exhibit, called “One Hand Clapping,” opened Friday at the Guggenheim and runs through October 21. Here’s their take on what the artists wanted to show.
Lin is more and more entwined with the Chinese heritage, it seems. He said recently that he considers relations between China and the U.S. his “off-court job.” Lin will once again go to China and Taiwan this summer, breaking it into two trips this time to lessen wear-and-tear on his body. No word if he will take any of his Nets teammates with him. Last July, he took Caris LeVert, who was wowed by the reception Lin got in Taiwan.
Lin will also return to his hometown of Palo Alto in July to work with rising Chinese basketball hopefuls in the Jeremy Lin International Elite Training Camp. He has teamed up with former China Men’s Basketball National Team guard Li Qu.
News from Overseas
On Tuesday, both the Nets co-owners were in news and not because of the NBA.
On Tuesday, Grigory Rodchenkov, the Russian whistleblower at the center of that country’s doping scandal, announced he is suing Mikhail Prokhorov, claiming a libel suit filed by three banned Russian athletes with Prokhorov’s assistance is nothing more than attempt to find out where he’s hiding. Rodchenkov is the U.S. Witness Protection Program.
Prokhorov, who headed the Russian biathlon union before the Sochi Olynpics, is financing the suit by the Russian biathletes, all women, who blame their lifetime ban from the sport on Rodchenkov.
Rodchenkov is awaiting a decision on his application for political asylum. He claims in the suit that the biathletes and Prokhorov are using the suit to learn his location. Rodchenkov is wanted by Russian authorities.
Those close to Prokhorov say his decision to finance the suit was based not on an attempt to learn Rodchenkov’s whereabouts, but out of loyalty of the three biathletes.
Still, not a good look when the word, “oligarch,” increasingly has negative connotations. Prokhorov may have run against Vladimir Putin in the Russian presidential elections of 2012 and run up against him when he tried to form a political party and had three of his offices raided by Russian “tax investigators,” but he’s still tagged an oligarch and a number of them have been sanctioned already.
The same day, Joe Tsai, in his role as executive vice-chairman of Alibaba, the big Chinese-based e-commerce company, criticized the Trump Administration’s “trade war” on China in conversations with CNBC and Bloomberg News.
According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post —which Alibaba owns— Tsai warned that the big loser in any trade war between the world’s biggest economies would be U.S. businesses.
Trade conflict would come at an “ironic time”, given demand for goods and services from the growing number of Chinese consumers, Tsai said in interviews with CNBC and Bloomberg Television at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California.
“This will actually kill a lot of jobs in America if there’s a trade war because the tit-for-tat trade tactics really will cause a retaliation,” he told Bloomberg.
“If because of the trade war they put the gates down, because of retaliation, this is going to hurt everybody and it’s going to close off a lot of opportunities for producers in the United States.”
There are a lot of benefits of having two international owners —one in Moscow, one in Hong Kong, including unlimited marketing possibilities and, of course, enormous wealth. Resourceful businessmen can make a lot of money very fast in emerging markets. The two men control a net worth estimated at around $25 billion (likely more).
But they and the U.S. government are going to butt heads on occasion and that’s going to lead to anxiety both among fans and in the front office. It’s going to be a balancing act. Watch this space.
A Note of Thanks
We would like to thank whoever is running Brooklyn Nets Brasil for religiously translating NetsDaily stories into Portuguese. We don’t how long this has been going on —we only discovered it this week— but we are indeed humbled by this. And we can only say, with the greatest respect ... TIAGO!!