The Brooklyn Nets are picking up the wreckage after a tumultuous offseason before they begin the improbable task of making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn went through changes that included shipping former head coach Jason Kidd to Milwaukee and the losses of Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston to free agency. In addition to the acquisitions of Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev, the Nets drafted guards Markel Brown, Xavier Thames and forward Cory Jefferson in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft.
If Brooklyn wants to compete for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, they will need contributions from their trio of draft picks.
Cory Jefferson is an athletic forward, with a propensity for acrobatic plays around the rim. As a starter at Baylor for his last two seasons, Jefferson averaged nearly 14 point, eight rebounds and almost two blocks per game. Jefferson helped lead the Bears to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament last season before being drafted by the Spurs and traded to the Nets on draft night.
Now his game isn’t as polished as, let’s say Brook Lopez, but he has the offensive skill set and ability defensively of a raw Dwight Howard. He lacks the physicality to defend NBA big men, and the size to protect the rim, but has time to improve under head coach Lionel Hollins.
Jefferson’s best chance to shine is on the offensive end, where he will likely be called upon to set a steady amount of picks, screens and hit the occasional open jumper. Pick and rolls will give the former Baylor Bear an opportunity to display his ability to finish at the rim or pick up fouls. Jefferson’s aggressiveness will dictate his spot in Hollins’ rotation.
Jefferson will likely be used in late game situations or at the end of halves to spell Lopez, Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic. If he makes the most of his limited opportunities on the court, through his energy and versatility, he just might steal a spot in the rotation from Kevin Garnett.
Markel Brown’s start to his NBA career was recently put on hold after the Oklahoma State product broke his hand during an August workout in Las Vegas. The combo guard spent the last two seasons starting in the backcourt with lottery pick Marcus Smart and showed improvement in his shot each season.
Brown has a timetable to return to action within a month in a half, which would make him available around the time training camp begins. The injury would appear to have an impact, especially since it’s on the shooting hand, on his ability to create his own shot.
The 22-year-old can play both guard positions as he frequently did with Smart back in Oklahoma. He is also active on both ends of the floor and would provide a nice change of pace to Deron Williams, and even Jack. Brown likes putting pressure on the ball, whether that’s finishing at the rim or locking up an opponent.
Brown is also an underrated passer. He is the only player in OSU history to record 300 assists, 100 steals and 100 blocked shots in his career.
Brown had a solid showing during Summer League play shooting the ball well and posting averages of 10 points, four rebounds and three assists. It’s tough to tell how well he will be able to perform, especially with the injury, but I expect Brown to continue his progress and earn a nice spot in Hollins’ rotation. He could be the best rookie on Brooklyn’s roster.
Xavier Thames had an underwhelming Summer League showing punctuated by the August 6 announcement he signed with the Baloncesto Sevilla of a Spanish league. Thames showed improvements in his shot throughout his career at San Diego State and averaged 18 points per game before the team’s latest tournament run.
His biggest weakness is his lack of straight line speed. Thames had a poor showing in the three-quarter sprint at the draft combine but performed much better in an agility test. Thames has work to do and getting experience in Europe might do the 23-year-old some good. Brooklyn can retain his NBA rights as long as they offer him a contract by September 6.
The dark horse in all of this is Bojan Bogdanovic, a Croatian forward who spent the last three seasons playing for a Turkish basketball club. The Croatian signed a three-year, $10 million deal in July.
Bogdanovic has proved he can shoot the ball at a high clip in Europe, hoisting up back to back 40% three point shooting seasons in 2012 and 2013. He is a versatile forward, who can take the ball off the dribble, play with his back to the basket or even spot up and shoot. Bogdanovic should provide depth at forward, spread the floor, and make an impact off the bench spelling Teletovic and Andre Kirilenko.