The NBA Draft is rapidly approaching, and with it comes a chance for many NBA teams to find players useful players with room to grow. While the Nets do not have a first-round pick this year, they will have the #55 pick in the draft tomorrow. Picks late in the second round are often used to select project players with a lot of potential or players that teams want to secure before the open market for undrafted free agents. The #55 pick has yielded useful pieces in the last three years; Joffrey Lauvergne (#55, 2013) is now a rotation player for the Nuggets, and Semaj Christon (2014) and Cady Lalanne (2015) were both D-League All-Stars in their first professional seasons. Kay Felder, Prince Ibeh, and Isaiah Whitehead are three players who might be available for the Nets that could really help the team both next year and in the years to come.
Oakland University's Kay Felder is currently slated to go to the Nets at pick #55 in the latest DraftExpress mock draft, and Felder could be a great pickup for a Nets team in need of both a starting PG of the future and a solid backup piece. Given Jarret Jack's ACL tear and the departure of Deron Williams (as well as Shane Larkin opting to test free agency), the Nets will have solid minutes for a point guard like Felder to fill. Kay Felder's strong offensive game and pesky defense would be quite helpful on this Nets roster. Felder is an excellent scorer who showed promising passing in his junior year; take a look at some of his highlights below:
Source: YouTube, JustBombsProductions (Video clips courtesy of the NCAA)
Kay Felder's greatest weakness (and the one that will cause him to be drafted late in the second round) is his height. Standing at just 5' 9.5" in shoes, Felder will simply not be able to see over some of the taller point guards in the NBA. However, Felder has a lot in common with two other 5'9" standouts in Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson. Felder is an explosive scorer like both Robinson and Thomas, scoring 24.4 PPG in his senior year with a solid 57.9% True Shooting Percentage, including a decent 35.5% 3-point shot and an 85% mark from the free throw line. He also averaged 9.3 assists in the 2015-2016 season, and would bring some playmaking to a Brooklyn team in need of it. In addition to his scoring and talent and great passing ability, Felder has ridiculous athletic measurables; his max vertical was measured at 44 inches prior to the draft, tied for the second-highest in the history of the combine. He is also very strong for his size, which will help counter-act the negative defensive influence of his short stature. In addition, he was measured to have a 6' 2.5" wingspan that belies his height and will certainly help him on defense (all stats courtesy of the NCAA and DraftExpress). As Isaiah Thomas has proven, given his All-Star selection last year, it is possible for vastly undersized point guards to become solid players despite their height if they have enough other strengths to offset that weakness. While Kay Felder's height may cause him to fall to Brooklyn at #55, he demonstrated in college that he can be useful as a scorer and a passer. Indeed, Felder would likely be drafted in the first round if he were just two or three inches taller. Despite his small stature, Felder played decent defense (aided by his stocky frame and large arms) and scored over much bigger players in college. His athleticism and scoring touch are a good bet to translate in the NBA given the recent success of Isaiah Thomas. If Felder can play even slightly below-average defense in the NBA, he could grow into a great backup PG for the Nets and even a potential starter.
Another player that might be available for the Nets with the #55 pick that could help them out defensively is Texas big man Prince Ibeh. Ibeh is projected to go undrafted in the latest mock draft from DraftExpress, but they have him rated as the #51 overall prospect this year. He does not have much of an offensive game to speak of at the moment, but Ibeh could be really useful for a Brooklyn team in need of a defensive-minded athletic big to back up Brook Lopez and potentially take up spot minutes at PF. Take a look at this highlight reel from Ibeh's junior year:
Source: YouTube (Video clips courtesy of the NCAA)
Ibeh's greatest weakness is that he does not have much of an offensive game to speak of outside of dunks off lobs and drop-off passes. However, the Nets would not need much scoring from him; his role would be to play defense and jump over people to block shots and dunk, and his physical tools are elite for his size. Ibeh is 6' 11" and has a ridiculous 7' 5.5" wingspan, which would put him near the top of the NBA and just half an inch shy of the wingspan of Clippers star DeAndre Jordan. Ibeh was also measured to have a no-step vertical leap of 32.5" which would again rank near the top of the charts for athletic ability at the center position. He averaged 2.0 blocks in just 18 minutes last season for Texas and his athletic gifts and defensive instincts would indicate that he could carry this ability over to the NBA, especially in limited minutes (all stats courtesy of the NCAA and DraftExpress). Ibeh has a really high ceiling if he can develop either a mid-range jumper or some better touch in the post, but even if his offensive game never develops he could be a force by playing 12 minutes per game behind Brook Lopez, dunking over pretty much everyone, and protecting the rim. Ibeh is also quick enough that he could probably defend 4's in a pinch alongside Brook Lopez. Even if his game does not develop beyond what he showed in his last two years at Texas, Ibeh could be a great pickup for Brooklyn as a backup big man and defensive specialist. While center is not exactly a position of need for the Nets, Ibeh's floor as a player is high enough that he will probably have an NBA role on the right roster even without any growth, and his development in his last two years at Texas suggest that he may well have a lot more room to grow.
Another great choice for the Nets is the player projected by DraftExpress to go immediately after Kay Felder at #56, Brooklyn native and Seton Hall star Isaiah Whitehead. Whitehead has prototypical SG size at 6' 5" and with a 6' 9" wingspan, and has the ball-handling skills to also spend some time at the PG if needed. Despite poor shooting in his first two seasons, his highlights show that Whitehead has quite a bit of offensive potential:
Source: YouTube, JustBombsProductions (Video clips courtesy of the NCAA)
When projecting Whitehead as an NBA player, it is difficult to overlook his poor shooting--despite scoring 18.2 PPG, he only managed to eke out a 52% True Shooting mark--that would rank him fifth from the bottom in the DraftExpress Top 100 this year. Whitehead's offensive numbers, however, were almost certainly impacted by being the primary scorer and ball-handler for the Seton Hall Pirates. Whitehead averaged more than twice as many assists as the second-best assist man on the Seton Hall team, and also shot 36.5% from 3-point range (all stats courtesy of the NCAA and DraftExpress). While his shooting inside the arc was bad overall, his defensive potential and strengths as either a primary or secondary facilitator on offense should not be overlooked. Ibeh and Felder would fit better on this Nets roster than Whitehead given their respective strengths, but the Nets have a need at SG and Whitehead could grow into that role given enough time to develop. If Whitehead can improve his finishing around the rim and can learn to use his NBA-ready body on defense, he could be a key piece for the Nets going forward.
Kay Felder, Isaiah Whitehead, and Prince Ibeh all have a good chance at carving out solid roles for themselves in the NBA--especially if they land on a Brooklyn Nets team that will have minutes available for them. If any of these three players are available when Brooklyn makes their draft selection, they could all settle into an NBA role as early as their rookie seasons. In addition, all three players have physical gifts that would seem to indicate that they will have lots of room to grow. If noted developmental coach Kenny Atkinson can help them develop their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses, Brooklyn could turn all three of these players into valuable pieces for Nets basketball over the next few years.