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Jeff Peterson: ‘You have to be prepared’ on Draft Night ... even without picks

In the second episode of Chris Carrino’s “Voice of the Nets” podcast, Nets assistant GM Jeff Peterson says that even though Brooklyn currently has no picks, either firsts or seconds, in the NBA Draft, they have to be prepared because on June 23, “we could get a call from a team that wants to trade us the 15th pick.”

More likely, Peterson said, the Nets will wind up signing undrafted free agents in hopes of finding a gem among the undrafted, a star like Fred VanVleet or solid rotation players. He described such players as someone who “could truly alter the trajectory of the franchise.”

Peterson, who is charge of college scouting for the Nets, gave Carrino a status report and a tutorial on how the team scouts. The key, he said, is preparation and knowing your limits.

“So we don’t have a pick right now. So it’s all about how you prioritize and spend your time. We’re not going to spend a ton of time on the top of the Draft right now because we don’t have a way to get there. But I love the word you used earlier, preparation,” Peterson told Carrino.

“You’ve got to be prepared. Anything could happen. On Draft Night, we could get a call from a team that wants to trade us the 15th pick. Well, we’ve got to be prepared. Just because we don’t have a pick right now, that doesn’t mean we can stop continuing with our video studies and our draft calls and draft workouts and just overall background information.”

Peterson explained that even if the Nets don’t wind up with a pick, that doesn’t mean they’ll wind up with nothing on Draft Night. The Nets, he said, will prioritize which of the prospects they’ve worked out who go undrafted are worth signing as free agents. Last season, for example, they signed David Duke Jr. to a two-way deal after taking Marcus Zegarowski at No. 49 and RaiQuan Gray at No. 59. Brooklyn signed the two picks to the G League while Duke wound up starting seven games for the Nets.

Indeed, according to a NetsDaily analysis of 42 prospects who’ve worked out for the Nets at HSS Training Center, only nine are projected as a first or second rounders. The rest look like they’ll go undrafted among them Kofi Cockburn, the 7’1” consensus All-American at center; Paul Atkinson Jr., who was the Ivy League Player of the Year at Yale, as a power forward in 2020; JD Notae, third team All-American point guard at Arkansas last season and the sons of Scotty Pippin, the Basketball Hall of Famer, and Omar Minaya, the former Mets GM.

Peterson conceded that it might be better for some players not to get drafted, so they, like Duke Jr., can have their choice of where to play.

“There are certainly some agents who would prefer their client go undrafted because again they get to choose their own destination. We’re spending a ton of time right now on guys we think could easily go undrafted because we tell our staff that there’s plenty of undrafted (who succeed.)

“Fred Van Vleet was undrafted, Gabe Vincent with the Heat, Max Strus. There are plenty of players who go undrafted and are able to make an impact. Wesley Matthews. There are countless examples. If we can hit on one those guys, it could truly alter the trajectory of the franchise in a positive way.”

He also pointed out that the Nets have multiple options to develop whoever they sign, starting with the Summer League and ultimately including direct G League signings or two-ways.

Peterson also talked about how preparation for any Draft begins early.

“Preparation for this Draft, the 2022 Draft, started last September. That’s when we’re allowed to start going to college practices, September, October. We’re going to games. We’re going to practices. We’re doing a ton of background work. We’re going to college campuses to spend time and figure out what makes a guy tick. We have a ton of college calls and meetings. So it’s a pretty steady cadence.

“Then, after the college season finishes, we’ll get into the workout process. Our goal is — I wouldn’t say it’s to get as many guys in as possible — but the relevant prospects that we really want to see. That’s who we target and that’s who we want to bring in to Brooklyn so that process starts in April, May and goes all the way ... and we’ll have a draft workout sometimes on the day of the Draft.”

Initially, it’s a process of elimination for the team’s scouts, he explained. Then, with the list pared down, front office types like B.J. Johnson, director of player evaluation, or Matt Riccardi, the director of scouting operations and Long Island Nets GM, focus on the best of the rest.

“They’re constantly populating a list in terms of levels of play and position and system fit, things like that, and what happens is that their job is to initially eliminate because we don’t want to spend time on prospects we don’t think would be valuable for our team and system,” he noted.

“So they eliminate but at the same time they’re all continuing to work and then eventually recommend so they’ll say, ‘B.J., I think you need to spend some time on Player X.’ So then, B.J. will then spend some time on that player and then if he likes him. he’ll kind of bubble that up to myself and Sean and that’s where we’ll really dig in.”

Scouts, both domestic and international, aren’t the only team personnel involved in the decision-making process, he told Carrino.

“Of course, that’s all from a subjective standpoint. We’ll also have the analytics department. That plays a huge role in our draft process and in our pro process of course. We’re constantly trying to figure out where there’s consistency in the information, what lines up and where we all have agreement and those are kind of the players we dig into.”

And once the Draft is over, Peterson said, the process begins anew as the team prepares for the next Draft.

“There’s events this week and next week and right after the draft preparing for the upcoming draft. Some of those are international events. Some of those are international events, some of those are domestic events.”

Peterson didn’t name names but Carrino and his second guest, John Rothstein who covers college basketball for CBS Sports, did. Carrino pointed out how the Nets had Atkinson, the Ivy League player of the year in recently, adding that he likes conference players of the year. Atkinson is projected as undrafted. Rothstein agreed. When asked about potential sleepers, Rothstein suggested that if the Nets want to move into the Draft, Christian Koloko, the 7’1” Arizona center from Cameroon, might be a good choice. He’s currently projected late second round.

In addition to talking about the Draft, Peterson noted that he’s known Kevin Durant since the two played AAU basketball in Maryland. Peterson, a shooting guard in high school, had moved to Maryland to get better college opportunities and found himself playing with KD.

“I was very fortunate when I moved there of course I started to play AAU and that’s when I first met Kevin,” he said. “We played on the same AAU team which at the time was the D.C. Blue Devils. So you can imagine coming from Springfield, Missouri, and being kind of immersed in that kind of environment, just the level of competition in that area was just amazing.

“Of course, Kevin being the best to come out of that area ... just be able to interact with him and there are so many other good players to come out of that area on a daily basis to compete with them. It was a very unique opportunity.”

His impression then — and now — of Durant?

“I never met anyone who loves the game of basketball more than he does.”