New Jersey Nets - 2003 Usenet Draft
The 2002-03 New Jersey Nets continued to be the class of the Eastern Conference. Admittedly, this is kind of like being the best rapper at the Shady Pines Retirement Home. Nonetheless, the Nets accomplished all that could have been reasonably expected of them when they went down to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
Coach Byron Scott continued to work his magic, as the Nets played an unselfish, exciting style of offense and stymied opponents on defense.
Richard Jefferson established himself as a potential All-Star in this league (and will be on the next Olympic team). Almost any team would take him and
Kenyon Martin as their starting forwards for about the next 10 years. And
Jason Kidd continued to be one of the best players on the planet. Nonetheless, the Spurs, led by Tim Duncan, were able to beat New Jersey in six games. A Finals matchup against the Kings, Mavericks or Lakers probably would have come up with a very similar result.
The Nets were far enough above their Eastern Conference competition, and so clearly below the behemoths of the West, that the media often seemed to be more concerned with their '03-'04 season than the season that was currently going on. Y'see, Jason Kidd is a free agent this offseason. And most likely, he will be in one of two places next year: back in New Jersey... or in San Antonio to play with Duncan. Most Nets fans believe that if Kidd leaves, it'll be back to the frustrating "maybe we can make the playoffs" years before he came. They're probably right.
Yup, Jason Kidd. Olympic team member. League leader in assists. Most All-Defense Team votes of any point guard. 18 points, six boards, two steals a game. That guy. Kidd was playing at such a high level in the first half that it would have been impossible to deny him the MVP, an award I felt he should have won in 2001-02, if he had kept it up. Surely he would have won in '01-'02 if he had just done a little more scoring... and at the halfway point of last season, he was scoring 20.4 a game, while shooting a solid 44% from the field (lifetime average: 40%). Meanwhile, the Nets were tearing the league apart with a 28-13 record. Unfortunately, Kidd fell to 16.8 PPG and a 38% shooting clip in the second half, and the team slumped to a 21-20 finish. He still deserved to finish a lot higher in the MVP voting than ninth... c'mon. He is the lifeblood of the team, and with the gradual decline of Gary Payton, Kidd stands head and shoulders right now above any point guard in the NBA.
Kidd's backup is Anthony Johnson, a shooting guard in a point guard's body type. He usually manages not to screw up too badly in the 13 minutes a game he plays, but asking any more of him would be unrealistic, and he's a free agent anyway. So if Kidd leaves, the Nets -- not to put too fine a point on it -- are screwed.
Kerry Kittles is not the player he was before undergoing major knee surgery, but he's still a nice complementary piece. Kittles is an unselfish player who makes his open shots, although as the playoffs showed, he can be shut down by a determined defense. He led the league in steals per turnover; I have no idea what that stat is supposed to signify, but I'm throwing it out there. I guess fewer than one turnover a game for a guy scoring 13 points is impressive, anyway.
Lucious Harris has come a long way. Prior to New Jersey, he spent his career as a guy who got thrown into trades to balance salaries. But he has contributed to the Nets as a guy who can hit the three, and a good passer who can fill in at the point at times. He did not, however, play quite as well as he did as the "Masked Avenger" (broken facial bone) in '01-'02.
Even though Dikembe Mutombo didn't contribute much to New Jersey this season, I still say "thank God the Nets traded Keith Van Horn." Not that Van Horn is bad, but
Richard Jefferson is much better, and he needed to start. Exactly the player the Nets needed at this position, Jefferson scored 15.5 points a game and pulled down 6.4 boards at small forward. Jefferson, who unlike his predecessor is willing and able to go to the basket, easily led the team with a 50.1% FG% (Van Horn was usually down around 40%)... and guess what, Jefferson actually plays defense! Very good defense, in fact. Hell, he even got All-Interview Team support. If there is a bad thing to say about this guy, I don't know what it is.
Along with Mutombo, former Sixth Man of the Year Rodney Rogers was the Nets' big offseason acquisition last summer. He was a bit of a disappointment, as he shot 40% from the field (46% lifetime) and 33% from downtown (36% lifetime), setting a new career low of only 7.0 points per game. He played badly enough that, by the end of the season,
Brian Scalabrine was getting more minutes than him as the backup forward. However, he helped on the boards and was still someone the opposition had to worry about. Rogers did have some back and calf problems that may have hindered his performance.
The explosive Kenyon Martin is already pretty good, and he keeps getting better. Martin set career highs this year in scoring (16.7), FG% (47%), and rebounds (8.3 a game, up from a rather pathetic 5.3 in '01-'02.) He likes the midrange jumper and can stick it more often than not. Defensively, he is very good, with quick hands and a chiseled 6'9" physique. Kenyon's shot blocking did go down last season (from 1.6 a game to under one), and he still tends to get into foul trouble.
For the most part, Brian Scalabrine is your typical white boy off the bench who hustles and grabs some boards. However, he does have some athleticism, and impressed Scott enough to move up from a garbage time role to the first forward off the bench whenever Jefferson, Martin, or Rogers had to miss a game. That usually led to a lot of high single-digit performances in both points and rebounds. Basically, this Ralph Malph lookalike is a perfectably acceptable tenth man type.
Dikembe Mutombo had a lost season, playing only 24 (very bad) regular-season games due to a torn ligament in his wrist. By the time he got back, it was almost April, and Scott was concerned both about the severity of the injury and about Mutombo's unfamiliarity with the offense, so he didn't play Mutombo much. I really wish Byron had put Dikembe out there more though, because when Mt. Mutombo was finally needed against the Spurs, he was extremely rusty. He still contained Duncan and David Robinson a lot better than anyone else they had, though, which tells you a lot. Many folks think Dikembe is finished, and if you looked at his stats in those 24 games, you might well agree. I don't think so, though. I think he still can play a significant role as a shotblocker and rebounder, albeit one who is going to stray from the basket area even less than he did in the past.
Aaron Williams, in many ways, is a player better suited for this team, due to his quickness. He runs the floor very well, he hustles nonstop, and, for a center/power forward, he is really quite good at penetrating to the basket. Unfortunately, Aaron is "only" 6'9" and not likely to win any Strongman competitions. He's a good backup though.
So is Jason Collins. Collins plays pretty good position defense. He's an okay passer. He's an okay shooter. In general, well, he's okay. He still makes plenty of young player mistakes, which is to be expected since this is only his second NBA season.
Byron Scott deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the success of a team that plays like a team, on both offense and defense. He's definitely no-nonsense, but he wins the players' respect and admiration. He certainly must be getting through to the young guys, given the way Jefferson and Martin have blossomed. A coach always has to take primary credit or blame for the defense, and the Nets' defense is top-notch. Overall, I think Scott is one of the best coaches working today.
The Nets are owned by YankeeNets, a conglomerate that also owns the New York Yankees (and the New Jersey Devils as well). The intermingling of this historically inept franchise with the most successful team in baseball history is not nearly as much of a mismatch as it seemed a few years ago. The Nets, who often don't sell out playoff games and were a pathetic 23rd in regular-season attendance, want a new stadium. But New Jersey, like pretty much every state in the union, doesn't have the money right now to build one even if they wanted to (plus they don't really want to). In this New Yorker's humble opinion, the problem is not the specifics of the Continental Airlines Arena... the problem is simply that there is plenty enough to do in New York without traipsing out to Jersey. It's possible that New York Islanders' owner Charles Wang will buy the team and move it to Long Island. That would probably at least improve the attendance of, and level of excitement about, a team that really does deserve to be doing super business.
The current Nets team hasn't gotten a lot of direct help from the draft, but at least they haven't used a high pick on Ed O'Bannon or Yinka Dare lately.
- 2002: Yugoslavian center Nenad Krstic (#24 overall pick). Haven't heard boo about this guy; guess he's not coming over to the U.S. yet.
Tamar Slay (#54). Swingman played a big 274 minutes for the Nets last season.
- 2001: The Nets traded Eddie Griffin #7 and then traded him to Houston for
Richard Jefferson (#13), Jason Collins (#18), and
Brandon Armstrong (#23). At the time, I didn't like this deal at all. Good Lord, was I wrong. Griffin's tendency to chuck threes all day and play zero defense have made him a huge NBA flop so far. (He seems eerily reminiscent of another guy the Nets drafted and were smart enough to ship out the same day: Tim Thomas.) Meanwhile, Jefferson is a crucial part of this team, while Collins has his role too. In the second round, the Nets got
Scalabrine at #35, which is fine.
- 2000: The Nets had the #1 pick and very wisely used it on Kenyon
Martin, becoming one of very few teams to salvage anything from an awful draft. Martin was probably the most popular of the possible #1s that year, but he was coming off a series of extremely serious leg injuries, so it wasn't an obvious choice. In the second round, they took
Soumalia Samake, a scrawny center "project" who didn't pan out (golly, who saw that coming?)
- 1999: They drafted Evan Eschmeyer in the second round (#34 overall). Joy.
- 1998: No picks.
- 95.4 points per game
- 2,906/6,585 field goals (44.1%)
- 1,662/2,195 free throws (75.7%)
- 346/1,041 three-pointers (33.2%)
- 5.2 opposition blocks per game
- 42.9 rebounds per game
- 12.1 offensive rebounds per game
- 23.0 assists per game
- 14.8 turnovers per game
- 8.5 opposition steals per game
- 90.1 opposition points per game
- 2,757/6,461 opposition field goals (42.7%)
- 1,453/1,941 opposition free throws (74.9%)
- 425/1,185 opposition three-pointers (35.9%)
- 41.4 opposition rebounds per game
- 11.4 opposition offensive rebounds per game
- 19.6 opposition assists per game
- 15.3 opposition turnovers per game
- 8.7 steals per game
- 4.6 blocks per game
It all starts with defense. Kidd, Kittles, Jefferson, and Martin are all guys to whom you can say, "Go out and stop their best guy" (depending on who said guy is, of course). Despite a loss of mobility, Mutombo can still be a shotblocking presence if healthy. Collins does a decent job against big centers. Williams can handle the smaller, quicker ones, and tries to wear whoever his opponent is down with hustle.
The missed buckets lead to fast-break opportunities, and this is where Kidd becomes a monster. The heart of the Nets' offense is Kidd to Jefferson or Martin on the fast break for a dunk (and often a primal scream in the latter case). As the Spurs showed, if you slow the Nets down, you can beat them. They do have some halfcourt weapons, though. Kidd's unbelievable passing seems to be contagious, as the other Nets have moved the ball extremely well ever since he showed up (another reason why they simply cannot afford to lose him.) Rogers and Harris can come off the bench and hit outside shots. But when push comes to shove, the Nets don't have a go-to scorer. Kidd and Kittles are streaky shooters. Jefferson is an extremely well-rounded player, but normally doesn't take over games. Martin can hit the outside jumper, but isn't gonna dominate inside... and neither is anyone else on the Nets. And as the above stats show, three-point shooting is about the only category in which they're usually inferior to their opponent. (More inside game would help that, but it's also the case that their players simply aren't massive threats from that range.)
The Nets are totally set at forward with two very young, terrific players in Martin and Jefferson, and Rogers who can back up either position. Good arguments can be made for help at any of the other three positions. At SG, it'd be a godsend to get someone who will hit his open shots night after night. But he'd have to score efficiently and be unselfish (think Brent Barry); another gunner is not needed. The three-headed center platoon of Collins/Williams/Mutombo is no worse than what most teams have got, but could always be improved upon. And, well, Kidd might leave.
With the 22nd pick in the 2003 Usenet NBA draft, the New Jersey Knicks select:
Pavlovic, SF, 6'7", Yugoslavia
Would you believe I've never even seen this guy play? (That was sarcasm.) But considering that it seems at this point that he's got a good shot to go in the lottery in real life, I had to take him. This is my seventh year of participating in this draft... for the first time, I actually might get a "positive" score on the Usenet vs. NBA comparison!
This is purely a "best player available" pick. Although the Nets do need a SG, I was really looking for a shooter. It seems like Pavlovic is a penetrator and a "streaky" outside shooter. When a guy is going 10 picks lower than he should be, though, I think you take him... then worry later about how to use him.
Other Players Considered
Marcus Banks - Best PG left, and you know what that means: Kidd insurance. Would have taken him if Pavlovic hadn't fallen. Nets would be ecstatic if either guy was still around here in the real draft.
Zoran Planicic - A 6'8" guy who might be able to play PG is always intriguing.
Maurice Williams - Serious doubts about his readiness.
Carlos Delfino - This Argentinian didn't seem as highly regarded as Pavlovic, especially on offense.
Travis Hansen - Ehhh. Might be ok. I don't think they will have to reach this far though.
Sofoklis Schortsanitis - A project center/power forward. But this team has made the Finals two straight years -- they don't have the luxury of devoting playing time to projects. I also don't see how you're gonna compare a guy to Shaq when he's 6'10" (some say 6'9") and 287 pounds.
Likely Real-Life Selection
Hard to predict the #22, of course. Planicic sounds about right. It really depends who falls.
Possible Off-Season Moves
Sign Kidd. Sign Kidd. Sign Kidd. Will it happen? Who knows. Jason has kept his poker face up very well. I can't say that I can read where he is going. If the Nets come to the conclusion that he wants out of Jersey, it behooves them to at least try to sign and trade him for something. Kidd for Mike Bibby has been mentioned; not exactly thrilling, but it's better than nothing. The Nets need to pray it doesn't come to that. They have to put the maximum contract on the table (duh) and do whatever is humanly possible to get him to sign it.
Harris, Johnson, Scalabrine, and Donny Marshall are also free agents. (Marshall played six minutes last season... I've spent longer writing this report!) It'd be nice to get Harris back, if it were a reasonable price. The other guys aren't really significant.
It's always possible that anyone besides Martin or Jefferson might get dealt. I haven't heard anything to that effect. If it happened, it would most likely be for a SG, or of course for a PG if Kidd does leave. (Hell, if Kidd leaves, Martin and Jefferson might well become fair game.)
Even without Kidd, the Nets are still over the salary cap. (Mutombo at $16M and Kittles at $9M are the two guys being paid more than their worth.) So it'll be tough for them to get into the free agent market. If they could swing it, they could consider:
- PG: Travis Best, Charlie Ward (blech), Darrell Armstrong, Chris Whitney, Gary Payton (ahem), Speedy Claxton (might be a very nice cost-effective choice), Gilbert Arenas, Andre Miller, Lamar Odom (point forward), Antonio Daniels
- SG: Gordon Giricek (he'd be nice!), Jason Terry (him too of course), Jon Barry (a realistic option who might be quite a good fit), Reggie Miller (that'd be cool), Shammond Williams, Corey Maggette
- C: Alonzo Mourning, Brian Skinner, Brad Miller (right), Jermaine O'Neal (right), Loren Woods, Elton Brand (obviously), Michael Olowokandi (only if cheap!!), Keon Clark (player option)