Brooklyn Nets draft grade: Incomplete, but with benefit of doubt

Brooklyn Nets Nicolas Claxton Rodions Kurucs. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Nicolas Claxton Rodions Kurucs. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets wound up making 2 picks in the 2nd round of the NBA Draft and while the fan base may be underwhelmed, we’ve been surprised before.

The Brooklyn Nets didn’t set off any seismographs with their two selections in Thursday’s NBA Draft, taking Georgia big man Nicolas Claxton and UCLA guard Jaylen Hands with the two picks they wound up with in the second round.

Claxton was the second-to-last player invited to the draft’s green room at Barclays Center to hear his name called when he went to Brooklyn with the 31st overall pick to open the second round.

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He wound up going 13 picks ahead of Oregon prospect and NBA legacy Bol Bol, whose long night finally ended when he was selected 44th overall by the Miami Heat and later had his rights traded to the Denver Nuggets.

Brooklyn entered the night with the 27th pick in the first round as well as the pick used to take Claxton to start Round 2, but while on the clock late in Round 1, the Nets traded the 27th pick — acquired from Denver last year — to the LA Clippers, clearing the mandatory $1.97 million cap hold for the first-round slot in the process.

While the Clippers selected Florida State big Mfiondu Kabengele with the acquired pick, the Nets picked up LA’s pick at No. 56 late in the second round as well as a lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick the Clippers had acquired in the trade that sent Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers in February.

That 2020 first-rounder presumably will replace the lottery-protected first-round selection Nets general manager Sean Marks sent to the Atlanta Hawks as part of the deal that offloaded Allen Crabbe‘s contract along with this year’s first-round pick in exchange for Taurean Prince and a 2021 second-round selection.

Claxton is big, raw and young, but is already a top-notch rim protector, having led the Southeastern Conference in blocked shots as a sophomore last season.

At 7-feet, he becomes the tallest player on Brooklyn’s roster, but will need to get stronger after weighing in at the NBA Draft Combine at just 217 pounds.

Hands is a project as well — not unusual for a player taken at No. 56. He improved his playmaking from 2.6 assists per game as a freshman to 6.1 a night last season as a sophomore, but will need to improve his decision-making and defensive awareness to make it as an NBA player.

Marks, for his part, seemed pleased with how the night turned out, per an post-draft video.

"“Busy night. Never a dull moment. I think we’re pretty excited about the outcome of the night. We’ve got a couple of really good players here, looking forward to developing them and getting them in front of the coaching staff and the performance team.”"

This was Brooklyn’s fourth draft since Marks became general manager in February 2016 and despite not having premium picks to work with, the Nets have managed to find value every year.

In 2016, the Nets agreed to trade Thaddeus Young to the Indiana Pacers and used the No. 20 overall pick they acquired in the deal — after the draft, officially — for wing Caris LeVert, who had missed most of his junior and senior seasons at Michigan with a problematic right foot.

That hasn’t been an issue since he came to the NBA, though he did miss more than half of last season with an unrelated injury, and he is seen as a cornerstone of the team’s rebuilding effort and a rising star.

In 2017, the Nets added Texas center Jarrett Allen with the No. 22 overall pick, acquired from the Washington Wizards in a trade-deadline deal that sent pending free-agent Bojan Bogdanovic to DC.

Allen is also seen as a potential cornerstone, a modern-day, rim-running, rim-protecting big with the shooting mechanics to potentially stretch his range to the corners.

At No. 57 overall, Brooklyn got draft-and-stash power forward Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 23-year-old Bulgarian born in Cyprus who averaged 5.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in just 14.4 minutes per game for Olympiacos in Greece last season, shooting 51.3 percent overall and 32.6 percent on 1.7 3-point attempts a game.

Last year, the Nets took two picks acquired from the Toronto Raptors while taking on the salary of DeMarre Carroll and turned those into Bosnian wing Dzanan Musa, who averaged nearly 20 points a game at Long Island in the G-League as a 19-year-old, at No. 29 overall and combo forward Rodions Kurucs at No. 40 overall.

Kurucs became a fan favorite while starting 46 games for a playoff team. He was also the lowest-selected player from the 2018 draft to be selected for the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend last February.

As for a grade on this draft, it’s going to be incomplete. Claxton is a high-upside player who needs time to grow both physically and as a player.

Hands is a bottom-five pick — you’re not looking for a Hall of Famer out of those slots as much as a guy who might be able to contribute at the NBA level at some point.

It might not have been the sexiest of draft nights, but with the No. 31 and No. 56 picks, that was never going to be the likely outcome.

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So rather than a draft grade, we’ll opt for the wait-and-see approach with Claxton and Hands, while recognizing that Sean Marks already has a pretty solid record in the draft with LeVert, Allen, Kurucs and some future potential in Musa and Vezenkov.