By Steve Lichtenstein
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Sean Marks spoiled us.
To the delight of suffering Nets fans, general manager Marks, in his first rodeo, managed to round up a pair of players out of last year’s NBA draft pool who proved capable of contributing right away.
Wing Caris LeVert, chosen with the 20th overall selection in the first round after Marks dealt forward Thaddeus Young to Indiana, and guard Isaiah Whitehead, a purchased second-rounder, may or may not develop into solid rotation players on a good team, but they at least made Marks look prescient by showing that they belong in the league.
It was more than beginner’s luck for Marks, who replaced Billy King in February 2016. The two players were a true fit for Marks’ rebuilding blueprint.
Even if you believe that the Nets’ dearth of veteran talent contributed to LeVert’s and Whitehead’s expanded roles during their rookie seasons, you have to admit that going two-for-two in these crapshoots isn’t easy. Loads of draftees, both high and low, never even make a mark in “the Show.”
Which is why I have to dampen my expectations for next month’s draft, where Brooklyn will select 22nd and 27th in the first round. Marks has set a high bar, but his batting average is bound to dip after this year.
Based on reading the tea leaves (OK, outright guessing) from various mock drafters, it seems doubtful that the Nets will be in a position, unless they trade up, to get players who can make similar immediate impacts.
That’s not necessarily a kiss of death — the NBA has also seen late-round bloomers such as Jimmy Butler take a few years of getting their feet wet before blossoming into superstars.
Those, unfortunately, are exceptions. The top talents in the league tend to be drafted in the lottery, where, even more unfortunately, the Nets can’t possibly land until 2019, thanks to King’s disastrous deal with Boston nearly four years ago for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry.
The Nets, who finished with a league-worst 20-62 record, swapped slots with the Celtics for this draft, which is why Brooklyn is selecting 27th instead of No. 1. The 22nd pick came courtesy of Marks’ trade deadline deal with Washington for wing Bojan Bogdanovic.
Assuming the Nets stick to their slots, I would say the odds are high that at least one of their selections will be on what’s commonly known as a “Euro-stash,” a young player who will toil in an international league until he’s NBA-ready. As a side note, both segments of the term could prove to be misnomers. The Nets, for example, currently have the rights to Juan Pablo Vaulet, who is developing in Argentina, and Brooklyn’s D-League affiliate on Long Island might now be deemed by Marks a more appropriate workplace for young Nets players thanks to the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement which allows for expanded rosters for up to two players on two-way contracts.
[graphiq id=”5VuNnBidtOZ” title=”Brooklyn Nets Team Stat Breakdown (2016-17)” width=”600″ height=”567″ url=”https://sw.graphiq.com/w/5VuNnBidtOZ” frozen=”true”]
In any event, Marks and his staff have spent countless hours over the past year scouting international players. Some of it was surely due diligence on veterans such as guard Milos Teodosic, who is probably the most attractive free agent outside of the U.S., but Marks is also a firm believer from his four years in San Antonio that value can be found by drafting overseas talents.
However, these players almost always need time to develop, if they do at all. Besides the differences in the leagues — everything from the speed to the culture to the ball — these are kids. You can’t expect any of them to take the Barclays Center court in 2017-18.
Isaiah Hartenstein from Germany is one player who has been linked to Brooklyn in some reports. He’s a 19-year-old 7-footer with some potential.
Except when you look at his stats, the first thing you notice is that he barely plays. The scouting reports project him as a stretch-5, but he went 8-for-29 (27.6 percent) from 3-point range in 2016-17, according to basketball.realgm.com. Any comparisons between Hartenstein, or for that matter fellow Latvian Anzejs Pasecniks, a 7-2 center scouted by Brooklyn, to Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis are grossly unfair.
The home-grown talent expected to go in the mid-20s range also comes with varying concerns. In fact, I find it amusing every time experts label certain players as “flyers,” as if there was any certainty to draft picking after a few once-in-a generation sure things.
Even if a highly rated player like Duke center Harry Giles drops in the draft, his recent injury history, with ligament tears in both knees, may render him too risky for Marks.
Of course, LeVert was chosen despite multiple foot surgeries in college and at this point he looks like a steal. The Nets have a special relationship with the Hospital for Special Surgery — its name adorns the club’s practice facility in Industry City — and consulted with Dr. Martin O’Malley before pulling the trigger on LeVert. I’m confident Marks will bring any potential target’s health issues to HSS’s attention well in advance of the draft.
It would be silly to predict who the Nets will select given the multitude of permutations that this fairly deep draft can take. The Nets (among others) were said to be intrigued by Hamidou Diallo, the Queens-bred wing who wowed the chart measurers at the NBA’s scouting combine and worked out for Brooklyn last week. However, Diallo announced on Wednesday night that he will stay another year at Kentucky.
Given their needs, I’m hoping the Nets use the draft to add size, preferably someone capable of developing into the true stretch-4 that coach Kenny Atkinson’s system seems to require. Possible fits include T.J. Leaf (UCLA), Caleb Swanigan (Purdue), and Semi Ojeleye (SMU).
They’re all flawed in some respect. They’re either lacking in athleticism, a bit undersized, or possess poor shooting mechanics.
That means the best Nets fans can hope for is that Marks’ crystal ball on June 22 is crystal clear, that he can foresee the development of the young players on his wish list. Unlike last year’s crop, it’s doubtful Marks will find players that impressive right out of the gate.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter at @SteveLichtenst1