On Draft Night 2018, when that chime finally played before Adam Silver announced the long awaited 29th pick for the Brooklyn Nets, a lot of Nets fans let out a collective “Who?” after Silver expertly pronounced Dzanan Musa’s name.
For the casual fan, European players can be tough to follow. There will always be the Doncic’s and the Kanter’s and the Porzingii of the world but if a guy isn’t a superstar, or at least projected to be, he will be even more of a mystery. Musa is no exception. The lanky bodied, quick-witted, blond guard/forward/wing was something of an enigma that night. We don’t even know what position he plays yet!
If Marks and Co. really did hit on a star, even a rotational player, at No. 29, it will be a boon for the rebuild effort that’s (finally) starting to see some tangible results. In order to understand how valuable Musa might end up being — despite the fans’ ignorance — we need only to look back at Sean Marks first two drafts. He’s gotten a lot of value from his first round picks in the 20’s. In both cases, the Nets had their eventual picks a LOT higher on their internal drafts than where draftniks slotted them. And analytics shows, they were right. The Nets scouts were better than the draftniks.
The 2016 Draft was Marks first at the helm of the Nets. He had been hired four months earlier and had exactly one pick in the Draft, the No. 55 pick. While other GM’s might have tried to rebuild using a foundation of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, Marks went scorched earth.
The Nets front office had liked Caris LeVert from the first time they talked during the Draft Combine, in May, when the Michigan star was still on crutches. “I’ve got to go back to the draft interview when Kenny (Atkinson) and I sat with Caris. We left the interview and said; ‘that’s a Brooklyn Net, right there.’ Honestly it was that simple,” Marks told the media following the 2017 Draft.
Take a look at his DraftExpress interview. You can see his crutches at his side and he talks about his walking boot!
LeVert’s stock had dropped precipitously after his third ankle surgery in four years at Michigan and no public mock draft had him higher than No. 38 But hidden inside the Nets training center, on their own mock, the Nets had LeVert at No. 11. A lottery pick. (It helped that LeVert’s surgeon is the Nets foot and ankle specialist.)
So, in order to secure a pick he needed to trade Thaddeus Young to the Pacers to move into the 20th slot. Most fans howled. It was tough to get any sort of initial read on Levert. He was athletic, sure, but how much of that had been sapped by the injuries? Was his 44 percent from three in 15 games as a senior for real? What position did he play? There were questions. Lots of them. And some of them were legitimate. Levert had yet to turn into any sort of a sharpshooter, but he was crafty and could do a little of everything on the court. In the Nets position-less scheme, the 6’7” everyman projected to be at worst a serviceable NBA player and at best has potential to be an impact starter.
The important thing to consider was that he was taken with the 20th pick, not what anyone would consider a fertile area of any draft. Marks reached for a question mark and hoped for an exclamation point.
Looking back from the perch of 2018, there really wasn’t much talent to speak of. Pascal Siakam at No. 27 and Dejounte Murray at No. 29 are the only two other players who have proven anything on the court. Otherwise the post-Levert group contains such Deep Bench All-Stars like Furkan Korkmaz, Brice Johnson, and Malachi Richardson. I swear those are real people who were selected in the first round of an actual NBA Draft. Marks took one of the last talented players available and turned him into an asset.
Using Basketball References VORP formula, Levert is tied for fifth in the entire 2016 Draft Class along with Malcolm Brogdon, that year’s Rookie of the Year and behind only Siakam, Murray, Jakob Poeltl, and, of course, Ben Simmons. Pretty damn good for the 20th overall pick, and a huge win for the Nets scouting and player development departments.
If this next section seems a bit redundant that’s ok. It’s a good thing. Because in 2017 the Nets drafted everyone’s favorite Afro-rocking, Playstation-playing, slam-dunking center Jarrett Allen and it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched him play that he was yet another late draft steal.
Word is that the Nets have him at No. 8 in their mock. But again, as of the trade deadline, the Nets didn’t have a first round pick … other than the 27th pick, the consolation prize of the 2013 Boston trade. And like LeVert, Allen had fans in the Nets front office.
“When I started watching games games I was immediately … you know,” said Kenny Atkinson. “It’s like when you see a beautiful girl. Wow.”
It’s unknown at what point Marks and his staff seized on Allen, but they realized that they needed to move up in the Draft and so at the deadline, out went Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough. In came Andrew Nicholson (and his deadweight contract) plus the prize, the Wizards’ first round pick, which turned into No. 22.
Allen’s situation was different from LeVert’s. He was healthy, if skinny, but there were rumors that he didn’t have the drive, the love of the game. Blah, blah, blah. His mock draft history was all over the lot. He was as high as 11, as low as 18th and on Draft Night, he dropped so far that the Nets were there to catch him. They had him at No. 8!
Allen was again a fairly unproven prospect with plenty of question marks. After only one year at Texas where he put up solid but not eye-popping numbers, it was unclear if he was going to be able to develop enough skill to make his impressive athleticism worth the pick. Spoiler alert: he did. Or at least, is very much in the process of doing so.
Allen is a lively versatile center who can finish strong around the rim and isn’t afraid to step back and take a jumper every once in a while, and is certainly not shy about blocking shots with his legitimately freakishly long arms.
Behind Allen in that draft, some of the best and brightest young NBA talent went to teams that may or may not regret their picks. Players such as Caleb Swanigan, Tyler Lydon, and of course Tony Bradley (I really do swear I’m not making these guys up). Sure OG Anunoby went to the Raptors and Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart went to the Lakers, both you could say as a result of the Nets other big deal that night: the trade for D’Angelo Russell. Those guys are solid for sure, but would they be worth trading straight up for Allen, even just as a thought experiment.
Allen’s upside is too high ... and he’s three years younger than Kuzma or Hart. Allen is also tied for 7th in VORP for the draft class, with all but two players (Anunoby and second rounder Jordan Bell) having been drafted before him. This suggests another Draft steal by Marks, and another building block.
Coincidentally, or maybe not, Allen and Levert grew into an exciting duo last season together with Levert’s ability to drive-and-pass and Allen’s penchant for rolling hard to the rim. They seemed to let each other excel at what they’re best at.
Take a look...
Levert and Allen have become capital-A Assets. Hitting on picks in the 20’s two years in a row, Marks and his staff have shown a keen ability to not only identify talent but develop players as well.
Levert and Allen have seen significant playing time early in their careers mainly by virtue of the Nets being bad. Good teams just don’t have to play their rookies as much which is pretty good news for Musa. The Nets, while improved, are probably still going to have some games next year where he could get out there and get some minutes ... almost certainly nowhere near the opportunities LeVert and Allen got.
Still, If the Nets last two first round picks serve as any indication, Musa is going to have every opportunity to become another solid, fun, high upside young player for the Nets going forward.
Oh yeah, where did the Nets have Musa on their in-house mock this year since they did so well with LeVert (No. 11) and Allen (No. 8)? There have been hints, like what former chief scout Gregg Polinsky told an Alabama radio station just before the Draft when he confided that “In my own opinion ... I think there is two lottery picks there,” talking about this year’s European talent. So let’s go with No. 13. Yeah, 13.