By Dan Kelly @DanKelly_NBA
“I dream of a dynasty, not a single championship,”
The Brooklyn Nets are closing in on what will be accepted as a successful regular season debut.
With 12 games remaining the Nets are sitting in the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. They’re only two games back of the geriatric Knicks and 2.5 games back of the suddenly hobbling Pacers.
Deron Williams looks like an All-Star and Brook Lopez actually is one.
These Nets could get hot and make a run to the Conference Finals. But Prokhorov promised more.
For the Nets to reach legitimate “contender” status (let alone ‘Dynasty’ status) they’ll have to improve in two specific areas: Defense and Shooting.
With March Madness upon us and the Sweet Sixteen beginning Thursday we’re going to highlight a couple of prospects who are still playing so that you can watch for yourself and decide whether you’d like to see them in a Nets’ uniform.
The Nets have the 17th ranked defense in the NBA giving up 103.4 points per 100 possessions. The only playoff teams with worse defensive ratings are the Lakers and the Rockets who sit directly below the Nets at 18th and 19th.
The Nets allow opponents to shoot 59% from less than five feet (the 10th highest percentage allowed in the league). They also allow opponents to shoot 39.2% from the corners (the 13th highest percentage allowed), and 35.9% on all other 3’s (the 8th highest percentage allowed). This means that the Nets are poor at defending the two most dangerous scoring areas on the floor.
What could they add to help cure this ailment?
An athletic power forward who can hedge hard when defending pick and rolls and help protect the rim when Brook Lopez defends the pick and roll. Oh, and this player cannot be a complete offensive liability.
SWEET 16 PROSPECTS:
Gorgui Dieng, Louisville. Plays this Friday 3/29 at 7:15 ET
Player Comparison: Festus Ezeli
The 6’10” junior from Senegal is a center in college but has the athleticism to be a defensive minded power forward at the next level. His strength is as a shot blocker. He shows great instincts around the rim often blocking shots from “help” position as well as in one on one situations. Offensively Dieng has developed a decent mid range jump shot and has looked surprisingly savvy as a passer from the high post. His post game is non existent but that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for someone who can fit next to Lopez on both sides of the ball and his skill set is a nice fit. Whether Dieng has the strength and polish to contribute right away is a legitimate concern.
Jeff Withey, Kansas. Plays 3/29 at 7:37 ET
Player Comparison: Greg Ostertag
Another college center who specializes in blocking shots. He is definitely not the ideal power forward who can slide in alongside Brook Lopez and improve the Nets’ defense. But the man can block shots. He’ll finish his career as the all time shot block leader in Big-12 history (they didn’t keep that stat when Wilt Chamberlain played). In a weak draft Withey will be worth a look and could potentially play alongside Lopez in the same way that Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan share the court (though that’s an enormous stretch). Draftexpress actually has Withey going 22nd overall to the Nets in their mock draft. And it might be a move that makes sense if Blatche bounces for a pay day elsewhere and the Nets need a back-up center.
Patrick Young, Florida. Plays 3/29 at 9:57 ET
Player Comparison: (Young) Udonis Haslem
Patrick Young was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, a potential one and done type of player. The 6’9” junior is an explosively athletic power forward with a 7’1” wing span. Is he a first round talent? No, he’s not. Could he be a nice fit next to Lopez? Yes, it’s possible. The biggest knocks on Young are his lack of effective post moves and his general habit of disappearing on offense. He naturally prefers to be a role player: An energetic and focused defender who has the athleticism to hedge hard on pick and rolls, who hunts ruthlessly for offensive rebounds, runs the floor well and will dunk almost anything around the rim. His effectiveness at the high post as a passer and spacer are suspect. But he’s an intriguing prospect who meets some of the Nets’ needs.
The Nets have the 9th ranked NBA offense. They shoot the three at 35.9% which is 13th best in the league. Their percentages from the left and right corners are fine: 41% from the left corner, 39% from the right corner. But this is misleading. The Nets are forced to get a lot of their corner threes by drawing up clever plays for D-Will or Joe Johnson.
There is nothing wrong with running prescribed sets but the Nets could use an organic corner three threat, someone who spots up off of D-Will’s pick and roll penetration or Joe Johnson’s isolation drives. Someone to punish teams for sending doubles at Lopez post-ups. Keith Bogans is ordinarily shooting that wide open corner three for the Nets this season. He’s hitting nearly 39% from the left corner (league average) and a damaging 35% from the right corner.
SWEET 16 PROSPECTS:
Erik Murphy, Florida. Plays 3/29 at 9:57 ET
Player Comparison: Steve Novak
This 6’10” senior forward/center shot the three this season at a whopping 46.2%. He’s a fluid athlete, though not an explosive one who plays very hard on both ends of the floor. He’s generally considered a late 2nd round prospect which would put him out of reach for the Nets unless they decide to trade down in the draft to pick up some second round picks. Murphy could certainly operate as a floor spacing corner three specialist but he could also spice up the Nets’ pick and roll game by adding a pick and pop three point threat.
James Southerland, Syracuse. Plays 3/28 at 9:45 ET
Player Comparison: Dorell Wright
This 6’8” senior forward, and Queens native, put himself on the NBA draft map at the Big East Conference tournament. He broke Gerry Macnamara’s Tourney record by hitting 19 threes in 4 games. He was not generally considered a draft prospect before going bananas in that tournament and he could end up being a guy that gets invited to sign as a rookie free agent. For the season he’s a solid but not amazing 40.9% from beyond the arc. If his hot shooting picks up again in the Sweet Sixteen expect Southerland to find his way into the hearts of a few NBA scouts.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan. Plays 3/39 7:37 ET
Player Comparison: Marquis Daniels (if shooting regresses)/ Danny Green (if shooting improves)
He’s bigger than his daddy at 6’6” and plays off the ball mostly as a slasher and a finisher in transition. Hardaway has been on NBA radars since his impressive freshman season when he averaged nearly 14 points per game and showed flashes of NBA level playmaking ability. Now a junior, Hardaway has to share the back court and the spotlight with his lottery bound teammates: Trey Burke and Glenn Robinson III. Is Hardaway the three point assasin that the Nets need? Absolutely not. But he has improved his three point percentage from 28% as a sophomore to 39% as a junior and he has other nice tools. Plus, there aren’t really any other NBA prospects left in the Tourney who shoot the ball especially well and have the potential to slip into the latter half of the first round.
Other more highly coveted prospects (though not many) exist in this draft but they won’t be around when the Nets pick and so the pressure is on the front office to identify exactly what the Nets need and then find that diamond in the rough. That diamond might be playing professionally in Croatia right now, or sitting in a classroom in North Texas, but he could be on CBS in your living room this Thursday night so you might as well tune in.