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Draft Day Eve: prospects, pundits talking

With less than 24 hours to go until the 2023 NBA Draft, quotes from all sides are flying

2023 NBA Draft Content Circuit and Portraits Photo by Alex Nahorniak-Svenski/NBAE via Getty Images

There is no calm before the storm in the NBA. We have less than 24 hours to go until the NBA Draft commences, the busiest transactional day in the league annually, perhaps only rivaled by the first day of free agency. At best, we already have rolling thunder. At worst (or perhaps a different type of best), it’s a cacophony of slop, as the most online NBA fans have put it.

The uninitiated don’t have to work too hard to understand the concept of slop. The Dwightmare was grade-A slop before the term existed. So too was MeloDrama. It’s not about the trades themselves, but, well, the melodrama surrounding whether they happen. The Dame Game (or, the Dame in Distress) the Brooklyn Nets are currently playing certainly qualifies as rolling around in the slop. For fans, for the players, for the media, for the front office. The secret is, we all love the slop. It is an intrinsic feature, not a bug, of the NBA; we never run out of things to talk about, to obsess over.

On Wednesday, the renowned Zach Lowe hosted Jonathan Givony of ESPN’s DraftExpress as a podcast guest, and the two got into all things Nets, among other topics. The two produced high quality, restaurant-grade slop. Not jersey swaps or fake trades or wild speculations, but informed opinions on what is most likely in Brooklyn’s future.

Draft Day Eve also featured prolonged media sessions for 20 of the record-25 NBA Draft Green Room invitees, meaning many of the prospects the Nets have been linked to in the pre-draft process were available for questions. We’ll start there, with the refreshing innocence of a bunch of teenagers, not yet worn down by having to face this many cameras on a daily basis, discussing their games, their upbringings, and their love for basketball.

We’ve consistently reported on the seemingly mutual interest between the lanky Frenchman, Rayan Rupert, and the Nets during this draft cycle. Not only did Sean Marks watch Rupert’s New Zealand Breakers play in-person in January, but the 6’7” wing later commented, when declaring for the draft, that he had been “watching a lot of Nets games. My favorite player is Mikal Bridges. He plays with great energy and can do everything on the court. He used to be a ‘3-and-D player’ like me, but now he is a franchise player. I love everything about him.”

Rupert answered a couple more Nets-related questions on Wednesday, saying that he did not meet Marks when the Brooklyn GM visited New Zealand to watch him play, but did say he still thinks Bridges is “one of the best two-way players in the league. And I want to be one of the best two-way players in the league.” It’s not an outlandish comparison for him, currently a defense-first prospect boasting a ridiculous 7’3” wingspan. If the Brooklyn Nets retain their picks in the early 20’s, don’t be surprised to see Rupert be the selection.

Brandin Podziemski (puh-DJIM-skee), a lefty out of Santa Clara, has been frequently mocked to the Nets as of late, with Brian Lewis of the Post confirming that the Nets did work him out in the pre-draft process. Podz, as they call him, is a smooth, 6’5”-ish guard with real range (43.8% from deep this season) passing chops, and surprising rebounding acumen (8.8 a game).

He is not the most explosive athlete, but makes crafty use of euro-steps, finishes with either hand, and floaters to get his shots off. I asked him about the differences he sees between the NCAA and NBA games, and he mentioned that the NBA is “way quicker, for sure. Just, the pace of play, how physically fast the people move. The space is definitely different, just playing on that floor.”

Podziemski anticipates the added space helping him out, saying that he is “a player that works well in space, and I’ll have a lot of that,” but says that “defending in space, I noticed at the combine that it was kind of hard to do so. But as these workouts have gone on, playing 3-on-3 with that amount of space, I’ve gotten better at that sort of thing.”

(Brief interviews with many of the invitees can be found on my Twitter.) No matter who the Brooklyn Nets take, though, he’ll have to be prepared for the new spacing and physicality of the modern NBA. That was a common theme throughout Wednesday’s interviews, with former Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin summing it up nicely, saying “the spacing is a lot different, but the people on the court are a lot bigger. It’s a weird dynamic, and it's a flow that you’re just gonna have to get used to.”

Should the Nets trade up, a possibility that’s been oft-mentioned for them, and one we’ll get into soon, they could take former Kentucky Wildcat Cason Wallace, a multi-talented guard praised for his on-ball defense and catch-and-shoot ability. Wallace was asked about the possibility of playing in Brooklyn and receiving immediate minutes, something that may not be the case elsewhere. “Definitely, I want to make an immediate impact wherever I go. That’s one of the paint things I’m focused on right now, just seeing where I’m going and how I’ll fit into the program.”

It’s hard to write much more about concrete draft plans or potential picks for the Brooklyn Nets because even at this juncture, there is too much unknown (dark slop?). Prospects available in the early 20’s are certainly not the swings Sean Marks & co. would want to take in the teens, should they trade up. Then there’s the Damian Lillard question, which hints at a much larger question that should inform Brooklyn’s Draft Day processes: the general direction of the team.

As mentioned, Zach Lowe and Jonathan Givony held brief court on Brooklyn’s situation on their Wednesday podcast, where they dropped some valuable nuggets. The entirety of their conversation can be heard here, for those interested:

The main takeaway here is that the possibility of a Brooklyn-Portland trade, of any kind, seems to be dwindling. Remember that Jonathan Givony worked with Mike Schmitz to head ESPN’s draft coverage until May of 2022, when Schmitz was hired as Portland’s new Assistant General Manager. If there's a franchise Givony is plugged into, it’s the Blazers.

On the possibility of the Nets hitting a big fat “reset” button and trading Bridges for the No. 3 pick, Zach Lowe squashed that immediately, saying “the Nets are not going to do that. I continue to hear the Nets are not gonna do that. [Anfernee] Simons and #3 are not going to get Mikal Bridges to Portland.”

Perhaps even more damning for those hoping to see Scoot Henderson in the black-and-white, Givony says that he has not “heard a ton about this Bridges-for-3 conversation, maybe because you said, it’s a non-starter for the Nets.”

As for the inverse of that trade, sending Lillard to Brooklyn and pushing Portland into a rebuild, Lowe and Givony offer a bit of pushback there too, with Givony ending the clip by saying that he’s “not sure there’s a huge appetite on Portland’s side to trade Damian Lillard. They’re going to build a statue of this guy when he retires...They really value everything he does, having him around their young players. They think he’s in his prime; they think they can win now.”

Lowe, meanwhile, contends that the Nets would have to greatly consider the possibility of adding the longtime Blazer star if the price is right, but it's not a no-brainer.

What Brooklyn might actually do on draft night? Well, both esteemed podcasters agree that the Nets are a candidate to trade up higher into the first-round, potentially using Dorian Finney-Smith and/or Royce O’Neale as trade bait for contenders looking to add wings.

Givony suggested a deal with the Lakers who hold the 17th pick. Would the Nets agree to part with one of their wings and one of their firsts to move up four spots? Was Givony speculating ... or working.

The NBA Draft is never anything less than interesting, no matter if the team you’re rooting for has zero picks, or seven of them. This year, for Sean Marks and the Brooklyn Nets, “interesting” is underselling it.