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Ranking the Nets young talent ... and where it fits in the league

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Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Sam Vecenie of The Athletic has come up with a new way to rate the league’s younger players: “Rookie Scale Prospect Rankings.” Vecenie looked at all the players on rookie contracts through the end of this season and ranked 1) the top 50 players and 2) teams by young talent on their rosters.

The Nets placed two players in the top 50: Caris LeVert (whose extension doesn’t kick in until 2020-21) at No. 19, and Jarrett Allen (who the Nets can extend in October) at No. 40. Overall, Vecenie ranked the Nets at No. 11, more than a good ranking for a team with championship aspirations and two established superstars.

Overall, Vecenie ranked Luka Doncic as the top player and the Pelicans as having the best young roster. The Rockets ranked last.

Like a lot of us, Vecenie has an appreciation for LeVert’s game but, yeah, that health thing...

Early season: LeVert is a fascinating — and incredibly difficult — evaluation, in large part due to his propensity to be hurt. (He’s had) five fairly significant surgeries in the last five-and-a-half years, which is not a great sign when trying to project his health going forward. Is he going to be one of these guys who misses time regularly because he can’t stay healthy? That’s a legitimate factor when trying to assess where he is in the hierarchy of young NBA players. It’s also a huge bummer because when LeVert is on the court, he’s an interesting player who could be on the verge of something special. Prior to his dislocated foot last year, LeVert was averaging 18.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Then in his last eight games of the regular season, he averaged 16 points while posting a 48.9/45.2/64.9 line. He saved his best for the playoffs, where he averaged 21 points, 4.6 rebounds and three assists while converting at a 61.9 true-shooting percentage. LeVert has the kind of game that figures to translate well to the highest levels of competition the NBA has to offer.

Addendum: LeVert had a strong year again, basically backing up what he did as a third-year player prior to his injury. If anything, he actually got better this year. He was coming on strong as the season ended. From Feb. 3 onward, LeVert averaged 24.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists. Even more than Spencer Dinwiddie, LeVert was becoming the leader in the absence of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. He punctuated it with a 51-point onslaught in Boston to lead Brooklyn to a pretty big win, then followed it up in the last game before the break with 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Lakers in a win.

I’m still going to bet that LeVert is one of those guys who is an awesome wing creator in the playoffs. When games tighten up, you want guys who can just get by their man constantly. LeVert has that ability. He’s going to scare either Milwaukee or Toronto in the playoffs this year. I pushed him down from 16 to 19 because of the injury history, but I think really highly of him. There are fewer players on this list I’m more looking forward to watching in 2020-21 than LeVert, too, as his fit with Durant and Irving will be one of the key aspects of whether the Nets’ experiment works.

As for Allen, the Nets 21-year-old big man, again Vecenie has trouble ranking him, this time because of, yeah, that consistency thing...

Midseason: So far in his career, Allen has 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 … in other games, he’ll really struggle throughout to make an impact beyond just being big and long. … So which one is the real Allen? Based off of talent, he should be a top 10 center in the league at some point. He’s only 21, but we’re now in year three of flashes versus sustained excellence. … Allen is a starting center, and that’s a win for Brooklyn. It makes him an asset. It’s on Allen now to make it a home run and become a top-half-of-the-league starter at his position — an outcome that is legitimately possible.

Addendum: This was a very strange season for Allen following the signing of DeAndre Jordan along with Durant and Irving. Mostly, Allen was the starter, but he played fairly equal minutes to Jordan. A lot of the time, the flashes and inconsistency noted above reared their ugly head. Then in the final days prior to the suspension of the season (with Jacque Vaughn taking over as head coach), Jordan entered the starting lineup, relegating Allen to the bench. The entire situation is bizarre, and The Athletic‘s Shams Charania (as well as ESPN) has reported that there was some friction among the older players in the locker room in regard to Jordan’s role on the team.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Allen was clearly better for a majority of this season, even though Jordan did start to play better in the last 10 or so games before the shutdown. I wouldn’t be totally stunned to see Allen moved in the offseason as the Nets look to build around their stars and optimize their situation to chase for a title. His situation is unsettled and I’m fascinated to see where it goes because his upside is real if something like this lights a fire under him.

The ranking means that one Nets starters on a rookie deals didn’t make the top 50: Taurean Prince. Still, Vecenie likes what he sees overall from the Nets young players...

I’m higher on the Nets largely because I’m a big fan of healthy Caris LeVert. He was awesome after returning from his injury. Behind him, Allen looks like a long-term starter even if the Nets think DeAndre Jordan is better. Prince wasn’t awesome this season, but he’s at least an NBA rotation player. Claxton has super-high upside and looked great in the G League this year (and solid in limited flashes with the Nets). There is a chance that they plummet on this list next year if they decide to move Allen, as LeVert and Prince will graduate in the offseason. But for now, they have some good pieces.

In a deeper dive on the Nets, Vecenie goes line-by-line on the roster as well as several Long Island Nets and four of the Nets stashes, three overseas and Jaylen Hands who played for the Long Island Nets. Two of the stashes are in their late 20’s, Serbian Nemanja Dangubic and American Aaron White. John Hollinger had previously ranked the Nets stashes.

In order, he likes LeVert, Allen, Prince, Nicolas Claxton (of whom he’s always been a big fan), Rodions Kurucs, Dzanan Musa, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot followed by some of the Nets G League prospects.

In explaining the rationale behind the rankings, Vecenie said other sports rank younger prospects in the same way, citing baseball and hockey.

[T]he question I tried to answer here is, Which players will have the best careers? I did not consider contract value. I certainly considered what they had accomplished thus far, but given that most of these guys have a greater portion of their careers ahead of them than behind them, what I think their trajectory and future performance projects to be is a bit more important.

There are, of course, a ton of caveats, but it’s a very interesting and debate-worthy effort.