The Nets pride themselves on their ability to take players other teams have dumped, traded or simply tossed away. They’ve done it with young players like Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie and before that Sean Kilpatrick.
It’s just about turning marginal players into contributors. It’s helpful in recruiting, in talking with players ... and their agents.
“Agents want their guys around our coaching staff, around our performance team. They see bodies changing, abilities realized. So that’s certainly a selling point,” said Sean Marks in his conference call on Wednesday.
Harris of course is the classic case. He went from a free agent who two teams had dumped in a single day to a player who isn’t just a contributor but one who is loyal to the team. Harris, Marks told season ticket holders, “probably could have gone elsewhere for more money,” but he wanted to stay in Brooklyn. “Joe epitomizes what we want to be here.”
So now comes the Nets next opportunity in the person of Treveon Graham, the 6’6” swingman the Nets signed at the end of free agency. Graham, who’s 24 and went undrafted out of VCU in 2015, has a one-year vets minimum deal with a team option for a second year, just like Harris did in 2016. (David Aldridge reported Monday that the Cavs were also interested in Graham, but he chose the Nets.)
The 25-year-old Graham took what’s become a traditional path for the undrafted. A stint with the Spurs Summer League team, a training camp invite with the Jazz, then a season in the D League with the Idaho Stampede where he averaged 15.4 points and 6.0 rebounds.
The next summer, it was another stint in the Summer League, this time with Orlando where he put up good enough numbers to get a rookie deal with Charlotte for 2016-17. He spent his time at the end of the bench appearing in only 27 games, Still, he showed he could shoot, hitting 9-of-15 from three, or 60 percent.
Last year, despite a crowd at the shooting positions in Charlotte, Graham played 63 games and hit 41.2 percent of his three’s — roughly the same as Harris. New Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak decided against keeping him, declining to give him a qualifying offer of $1.7 million in June. Kupchak used the word “cluttered” in reference to the small forward, shooting guard and power forward positions.
Graham had his supporters both on the team, in the stands and in the press box, as the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell wrote when the Nets signed him.
BTW, the Nets got a great guy in @TreBall21 He’s smart and worked so hard to show he’s an NBA player. Far too many small forwards on Hornets roster to have justified a qualifying offer, but he belongs in the league.— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) July 20, 2018
Danny Leroux of RealGM, in his podcast last week, said basically the same thing.
“The Nets got him for the league minimum, which is basically two years. If Graham can be a 3-and-D wing, even if it’s a rotation level guy, getting that for the minimum is crazy. I don’t know if he’s going to be that guy, but he was really lost in the shuffle in Charlotte last year, partially because that team was not that engaging and partially because a 3-and-D low usage guy doesn’t stand out unless they’re a big dunker.
“I’d like to see a greater appreciation for what he does because that is still one of the more valuable position things.”
But isn’t the Nets swingman position just as crowded as Charlotte’s? Pretty close, but Graham presents two opportunities for the Nets that are, if not unique, helpful. He’s a solid defender who can guard multiple positions because of his strength and wingspan and he can even play a little stretch 4. In fact, Graham played nearly 100 minutes at the 4 last season.
Where will the Nets endeavor to improve his skillset? Keeping him strong is one. Improving his ball-handling is another. He is athletic, but not hyper athletic. He has a 6’11” wingspan though which when added to his 6’6” height gives him a credible 8’7” standing reach.
Graham has something else going for him. He has improved his game every year. In the college and the D-League, he made only about a third of his 3-point shots. His career average of 43.8 percent in the NBA would be among the best in the NBA if he had the required number of attempts to qualify.
The Nets don’t see having so many players at around the same height and with somewhat the same skills as a negative.
Kenny Atkinson and his staff will “certainly look at different combinations,” Marks said Wednesday talking about his guards and swingmen. He expects, he added, a “continual conversation,” not just between coaches but the players themselves in HSS workouts. “There are a lot of different combinations we can go with our group.”
So don’t be surprised to see Graham moving among the 2, 3 and even 4 positions (if those designations matter that much in a position-less system). He might spell Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at one point or Caris LeVert at another or the guy whose career he’d not doubt like to emulate, Joe Harris.