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New name on Draft horizon?

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NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Penn State Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Keita Bates-Diop, the 6’8” defensive-minded Ohio State swingman, has become a new name in the mix for the Nets 29th pick ... if they keep it. In recent days, both ESPN and CBS Sports have suggested that KBD would be an ideal fit for Brooklyn. Moreover, he’s been endorsed by his former OSU teammate, D’Angelo Russell.

On Monday, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz called Bates-Diop a “perfect pick” for the Nets, part of ESPN’s annual Grade A mock draft, one where their writers focus on which prospects teams pick.

At close to 6-foot-9 with a near-7-4 wingspan and fluid athleticism, Bates-Diop is the type of prospect worth taking a flyer on late in the first round. In theory, Bates-Diop has the tools to defend multiple positions, make an open 3 and beat switches in the mid-post. He can stand to improve his feel, toughness and shooting range, but given the way the NBA is trending, Bates-Diop has value thanks to his versatility and length.

How he fits: The Nets could trot out one of the longer under-24 lineups in the NBA with D’Angelo Russell (6-foot-10 wingspan), Caris LeVert (6-10 wingspan), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (7-2 wingspan), Bates-Diop (7-4 wingspan) and Jarrett Allen (7-5 wingspan). With Russell, LeVert, Jeremy Lin, Spencer Dinwiddie and Allen Crabbe all under contract next season, adding more youth at the modern forward spot would make sense.

Similarly, CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish talked about the 22-year-old’s improvement in tagging him for the Nets in his mock draft Friday.

Bates-Diop went from averaging 9.7 points in an injury-shortened 2016-17 season to 19.8 points in the 2017-18 season and improved in basically every way, which is why Ohio State spent much of this season nationally ranked and finished tied for second in the Big Ten regular-season standings. Not every player who returns to school to “improve his NBA stock” actually does. In fact, most don’t. But Bates-Diop clearly did. And draft night will prove it.

But the biggest endorsement came from DLo. In a tweet last month, Russell compared his former teammate to a top forward...

That great system is obviously the one in Brooklyn.

Other mock drafts have the Big Ten Player of the Year all over the lot. ESPN’s latest mock has him at No. 22 while NBADraft.net has him at No. 41. Just more mystery to be solved Thursday.