Draft season is here. Actually, it’s been here. The 2018 NBA Draft is three weeks away, and the prospect list is starting to solidify. The Nets have worked out about 50 of them at the HSS Training Center in the last month. This week, a few major names made the decision to stay in school or go pro after testing the waters. While the most exciting Nets-related aspect of the NBA Finals may be the performances of Kevon Looney and Rodney Hood (hello, free agency), the focus may now turn to the upcoming draft. With the Nets’ recent history of finding gems in the draft, hope springs eternal in the round of 60.
As of today, the Nets have picks 29, 40, and 45 in the draft. While those picks may be far from the lottery, the Nets have shown due diligence in assessing talent. Brooklyn’s development staff under Kenny Atkinson has molded and grown prospects. In the final year of the Nets’ repayments to the Celtics, Brooklyn is trying to make the most of what they have.
Here’s some history. Last year, the Nets entered the draft with picks 22, 27, and 57. They emerged with Jarrett Allen, Sasha Vezenkov, D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. The Nets may not have the sexiest draft picks, but they have a mix of young talent, cap space, and time. With the Nets’ front office being airtight, we can only speculate on what they’ll do for now.
Here are some big questions about the Nets, the NBA, and the 2018 NBA Draft in general heading into June 21st…
What are Brooklyn’s roster needs?
Talent. When a team has gone through three straight sub-25 win seasons, it’s an indication that the talent simply isn’t there. The Nets have solid young pieces on their team, but stacked up against the rest of the NBA, they’re mediocre. Yes, the Nets struggled on the interior this past year, but they also struggled with turnovers, poor shooting nights, and transition defense as well. It would be nice to pinpoint a single flaw on the Nets’ roster, but at this stage (and probably for a few more years), talent-acquisition is the name of the game.
At the back end of the first round, players will be promising, but come with flaws. A player like Anfernee Simons is explosive and long, but his body and his shot may need work – especially after playing a year at prep school, not against Division I competition. Jalen Brunson may be a winner and ready to make an impact right away, but his upside is limited. The Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton-type talents are far from where the Nets will be picking. At 29, 40, and 45, the Nets will likely go with best player available. And that’s BPA on the Nets’ internal mock draft. Not ESPN’s, or Sports Illustrated’s, or the Ringer’s. Or mine. (I’m still a little heartbroken over the Celtics taking Semi Ojeleye last year.)
Should the Nets trade up in the draft?
At what cost? While moving up 3, 7, or even 15 spots in the first round seems enticing, but sometimes moving up may not be worth the hassle. To acquire D’Angelo Russell, the Nets traded Brook Lopez, the 27th pick (Kyle Kuzma), and absorbed the $48 million left on Timofey Mozgov’s contract. Last year, the Jazz moved up 11 spots, trading the 24th pick (Tyler Lydon) and Trey Lyles for the 13th pick (Donovan Mitchell.) In 2015, the Wizards moved four spots, from 19 (Jerian Grant) to 15 (Kelly Oubre Jr.), by trading their pick and two future second round picks. The Nets may not have the assets to move into the lottery, but they could move into the early 20’s or late teens if they desire.
Which teams would be willing to trade down?
There are some potential trade partners for moving up in the draft. Most noteworthy are the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets barely missed the playoffs this past season, and are looking to solidify playoff positioning in 2018-2019. Denver could look to unload the contracts of two bench bigs, Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee, in a salary dump to clear cap space. With 12 players signed next season, Denver is already $6.5 million over the salary cap threshold. The Nets could provide them with salary relief and part with one of their young pieces, in exchange for the 14th pick. However, after trading the pick that ended up becoming Donovan Mitchell last season, the Nuggets may be reluctant to deal another pick.
The Portland Trail Blazers, Minneosta Timberwolves and Washington Wizards are three teams that are capped out – and could possibly dip into the luxury tax without a cap clearing trade. Those teams hold picks 24, 20 and 15, respectively. Washington and Portland are more likely to be trade partners, simply because they have “dump” contracts. Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Jason Smith, and Ian Mahinmi are all overpaid replacement level players. Minnesota’s big contracts are tied to their stars. While Andrew Wiggins has been mentioned in trade rumors, it’s unlikely that teams would acquire Wiggins’ max contract and a pick in a salary dump.
Will the Nets trade out of the draft?
Most likely, no. The value of a draft pick goes far beyond the potential reward of finding a serviceable player. A rookie contract is essentially cheap labor. A rookie that ends up playing solid minutes in his first four years isn’t only valuable from a development perspective, but an economic one as well. The 76ers’ trio of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric made less than $15 million combined. With the Nets already with several big contracts on their books, and with the upcoming extensions of D’Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the more high talent-low value contracts, the better. The only way the Nets may find themselves trading their pick is by acquiring another player on a rookie contract.
Should the Nets buy more picks?
Ideally, yes. Because the Nets are in talent acquisition mode, any inkling of young talent would be ideal, even if the drafted player doesn’t come to Brooklyn right away. Last season, the Nets had $3.425 million to spend on draft night for trades and to acquire second round picks. They ultimately ended up not using that $3.425 million. This year, the Nets have $5.1 million to spend on draft night, per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ.
Sean Marks has used “cash considerations” twice in his tenure as Nets GM. In the 2016 draft, the Nets traded the 55th pick and $3 million to move up to the 42nd slot, where they drafted Isaiah Whitehead. During the 2017 trade deadline, the Nets acquired K.J. McDaniels for $75,000 in cash, the minimum a team could send out as cash considerations. Last draft, picks 35 (Ivan Rabb), 38 (Jordan Bell), 39 (Jawun Evans), 46 (Sterling Brown), 48 (Sindarius Thornwell), and 52 (Edmond Sumner) were all traded for cash considerations/bought. Spending money for additional picks never hurts, even if the Nets keep their other three picks.
Is this a deep draft?
Compared to the 2017 draft, this year’s crop of prospects is a little weaker. But compared to the 2016 draft, talent is more abundant in the second round. This year’s draft has potential superstars in the top-8 – but after that the class is pretty average. There still isn’t much of a consensus for the first round, with the only surefire prospects at the top end of the draft. At pick 29, some mock drafts have the Nets taking players that are falling (Dzanan Musa), and others that are rising (Donte DiVincenzo). Best player available is the name of the game.
Is there a specific player type the Nets are targeting?
The Nets’ ship is airtight, as usual. But judging from the Nets’ past transactions and their on-court style, we can take a guess. The Nets love versatility – at all positions. That allows players to handle the ball on offense, but also switch seamlessly on defense. Brooklyn doesn’t seem to go for untamed athleticism or pure skill – they try to find the middle ground. Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead are two former Nets draftees that could essentially play three positions. Jarrett Allen runs the floor like a guard and can switch onto quicker players as well.
It’s also interesting to note that those three players may have played different roles in college as compared to their role on the Nets. LeVert and Whitehead were complementary ballhandlers – with the Nets, the two have refined their point guard skills and seemingly flourished (whether in the NBA or in the G-League). Allen was in a system in Texas with zero spacing. With the Nets, Allen is usually the only player inside the three-point arc. A Brooklyn draft prospect is sculptable.
This is Part 1 of a 7-part series that I’ll be doing for NetsDaily leading up to the draft. The next 5 parts will be 10 player reviews a piece, with “player cards.” That’s 50 prospects for the Nets’ 3 picks. I’ve broken down these prospects into relatively arbitrary categories. Here’s the schedule
Tuesday, 6/5 – High Upside
Thursday, 6/7 – Safe Bets
Tuesday 6/12 – Fitting the Mold
Thursday 6/19 – 3 & D
Monday 6/18 – Deep Cuts
Wednesday, 6/20 – Draft Tiers for Fears
Trades, rumors, and more workouts could happen in the next three weeks. Also, an NBA Champion will be crowned. But for the Nets and for Nets fans, it’s homework time. Do your research. Happy draft season!
P.S. – Remember that girl I confessed an embarrassingly naïve crush on in my “Progression is Nonlinear” article a few months ago? Well, I asked her out a few months ago! She said yes, initially. But then she changed her mind. It’s ok. No hard feelings. Progression is truly nonlinear.