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Vecenie: Nets top half of NBA in potential of young players

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Booklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

In a lengthy -- 10,648 words — examination of the Nets 11 best young prospects, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic thinks Brooklyn has “a group of prospects in the top half of the NBA’s youth power structure,” calling it “a pretty good sign” for the franchise’s future.

Vecenie looks at everyone from Caris LeVert to Devin Cannady, the Long Island Nets sharpshooter, offering analysis on the strengths, weaknesses and potential of the 11. Overally, he ranks them at No. 14 in the NBA, just ahead of the Knicks. It’s the first half of Vecenie’s team-by-team rankings.

In his individual rankings, Vecenie calls LeVert “a player with legitimate all-star potential” and Jarrett Allen “a player with legitimate all-star potential” and four others who can be “solid role players.” After that, he’s skeptical of the prospects’ NBA futures.

Fans may disagree with his individual rankings —Dzanan Musa below Rodions Kurucs may rankle based on this year’s performance, but Vecenie offers his arguments on why he placed young players so high or so low.

He also notes that the Nets have already proven themselves in developing young players.

Indeed, Brooklyn’s front office and coaching staff are widely considered to be among the best league-wide. At the top, Sean Marks does a great job of identifying talent and putting that talent in a great position to succeed by offering developmental information that sources tell The Athletic is arguably the industry standard. They focus an incredible amount of resources on both sides of the talent equation, which gives them better results when it comes to hitting on lower-end picks.

Here’s his rankings and a thumbnail sketch of each, drawn from Vecenie’s detailed analysis of the player’s pro’s and con’s...

Caris LeVert, 6’6” SG

He does a lot of things extremely well. The place where I’ll start is that he just has the ability to get by his man in a variety of situations. With a quick first step, shifty handle and long strides at 6-foot-7, LeVert can create a shot out of a ball screen or in isolation, even when the game tightens up in the playoffs and tougher defense is being played. Some guys are worse players in the playoffs because their game requires too much overhandling, and it results in an iso game that wastes too much time and doesn’t foster efficient offense. LeVert isn’t one of those guys.

Jarrett Allen, 6’11” C

So far in his career, Allen is certainly exceeded that draft slot. However, that desire to find a level of positive consistency from him still exists for evaluators, even as he’s in the NBA and has developed into a starting-caliber big man. Sometimes he’ll look like a future all-star. Last week, the Nets played the Nuggets in Denver, and Allen was one of the best players on the court, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. In other games, he’ll really struggle throughout to make an impact beyond just being big and long — such as in the Nets’ first two games of the season, against Minnesota and New York.

Taurean Prince, 6’7” SF

I liked Brooklyn getting Prince this summer. Obviously, they did it in a deal that was mostly designed to clear cap space through moving Allen Crabbe’s contract, but getting Prince was an underrated part of that move. He provides a large amount of what Crabbe does as a shooter this season at a fraction of the price, allowing them to go out and sign multiple max-level free agents. Prince’s acquisition essentially replaced one of the first-round picks that they moved in the deal, even though he’ll start to get more expensive next season. It wasn’t a home run or anything, but acquiring cost-controlled certainty from a draft pick was useful for the Nets given how good they felt about landing star free agents.

Nicolas Claxton, 6’11” PF

Defense is the place where Claxton will make his best impact in the NBA. He’s a terrific athlete for an NBA center. He is one of the few guys you can credibly buy into being both a switchy, rangy perimeter defender in addition to a genuine rim protector if things go right in his development. He averaged 2.5 blocks and 1.1 steals per game last season for Georgia, joining fellow first-round pick Brandon Clarke as the only two players to accomplish that feat. They are on the list of only three players to hit those thresholds in the last five years.

Rodions Kurucs, 6’10” PF

When he’s on the right side of that edge, he’s an awesome player to have around. He’s the kind of guy who puts everyone else in a position to succeed. He moves off the ball constantly and attacks the offensive glass. He can drive in a straight line and finish reasonably well around the basket, using his length and ability to get off of the floor quickly to get above the rim. Because of that kinetic energy and athleticism, he’s someone the defense needs to pay a bit of attention to as a cutter and driver.

Dzanan Musa, 6’9” SF

The move here for Musa is to continue to iron out his craft as a ballhandler, becoming even more adept at getting just inches more of space so that he can get his shot off. It’s also worth noting that Musa is a strong distributor, with the ability to create plays out of the pick-and-roll for teammates. Honestly, I think this was the best skill he showcased last year. This, along with his tendency for knowing when to cut into open spaces, as well as where the soft spots in the defense are, showcase that he does generally have a really high feel for the game offensively. He’s also pretty fearless in a similar way to Kurucs in that I don’t think the moment is too big for him. He’s going to come in ready to attack and play. The question is just whether he’s skilled enough to be efficient in doing it.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, 6’7” SG (Two Way)

I don’t necessarily expect much from him, but I do think there is some interesting upside if the Nets can figure out how to get the shot turned around and can teach him to finish inside. Those have long been his two issues. Part of the reason that TLC ended up being picked in the first round in 2016 was that he had the best shooting season of his career in his pre-draft season with Mega Bemax. He hit 37.2 percent on 152 Adriatic League 3-point attempts, giving evaluators a feeling that there was some upside to that part of his game after he was previously more consistently in the high-20s for Antibes and the French national team. But that’s often the difficulty of this job, isn’t it? Figuring out what’s real and what’s a flash.

Henry Ellenson, 6’11” PF (Two Way)

For Ellenson to stick and be worth giving up defense to get his offense on the floor, he probably needs to develop into a 39-to-41 percent 3-point shooter who can also hit them above the break, and thus space the floor for his guards to attack. I don’t think that’s completely out of the question, but it’s an extremely high threshold to hit. And even if I’m not super bullish on Ellenson carving out a role long-term, I do like the strategy the Nets seem to be utilizing with their two-way deals. Instead of trying to pinpoint overlooked draft assets, in TLC and Ellenson, the Nets are trying to find strong draft assets that may have been underdeveloped for one reason or another.

Jaylen Hands, 6’3” PG (Long Island)

Honestly, if it’s going to work, he couldn’t have found a better developmental situation with how successful Brooklyn has been at getting the most out of skilled guys in the last few years. But yeah, obviously I’m extremely skeptical of him turning into anything. There were over 50 players I would have drafted ahead of Hands on my board. I get what NBA evaluators like, but Hands is just not my kind of player. Still, the fact that a smart team like the Nets decided to take the plunge does give me a second’s pause, and I’ll at least check in at some point this season to see how he’s doing in the G League.

C.J. Massinburg, 6’4” SG (Long Island)

The idea here is that Massinburg can be a smaller off-guard, 3-and-D type who can hit shots and defend 1s and 2s at an elite level while also acting as a secondary playmaker on the floor. So far, that’s basically been the role with Long Island, where he is coming off of the bench. He’s going to need to prove himself as a bit better of a shot creator, and likely will need to become a bit better as a shooter off the dribble. At 6-3, it would behoove him to be able to handle some spot point guard duties.

Devin Cannady, 6’2” SG (Long Island)

I do think Cannady is a legit jump shooter. I know he hit a decreasing percentage of 3s as each of his seasons at Princeton, but that doesn’t worry me. The mechanics are pristine. He’s more comfortable coming off of screens or knocking down shots out of spot-ups with his feet set, but he can also shoot pull-ups. I’d expect the Nets utilize him more off the ball than on it given that they’ll want to get Hands some reps, which should lead to him posting gaudy 3-point numbers.