New Jersey Nets: After Lottery Disaster, Who Should Nets Pick Third?

Kevin BergerCorrespondent IJune 7, 2010

SYRACUSE, NY - MARCH 27:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats reaches for a rebound against Da'Sean Butler #1 and Kevin Jones #5 of the West Virginia Mountaineers during the east regional final of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Carrier Dome on March 27, 2010 in Syracuse, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

My Pops use to tell me that, ”Life boils down to a series of choices. Unfortunately, sometimes those choices are lousy.”

If you’re a "glass half empty" type of Nets fan, this saying can describe your outlook for the 2010 NBA draft. Instead of choosing between two can’t-miss prospects in John Wall and Evan Turner, New Jersey’s lottery pick conundrum goes from can’t miss to precarious – from choosing between two players without much of a weakness to choosing from a list of players defined by them.

Welcome to the NBA draft, Mr. Prokhorov, where there are more surprises than a KGB border crossing interrogation. Read the draft board like you’re reading Pravda –with a giant grain of salt – then chase it with a shot of Stoli because you may not like the results.

The reason? This draft has a bunch of Sam Bowies, Brad Sellers, and Yinka Dares out there to cramp your championship style. 

So don’t be afraid to go against the grain and pull a Crazy Ivan.

If the Nets are going to win a title, especially in the near term, they need to stay away from players mired in party-line terms like "potential," "high-ceiling," and "unpolished."

Since you promised the proletariat you’re going to win a ring right away, definitely ignore Comrade Thorn when he suggests drafting players that are mature, solid, and established.

You’ve cowboyed up and made a bold prediction in true Yankee fashion .  Draft accordingly. You’re a capitalist now — draft the player most likely to succeed in a competitive market even if he exhibits some “Ugly American” from time to time.

After Wall and Evans are scooped up with picks one and two, here are your choices.


Derrick Favors

A 6′10″ power forward/small forward who happens to have all the physical tools a team could want, he’s an explosive athlete with tremendous size and wingspan.

The problem is that he lacks the skill around the goal to be a double-double guy night in and night out at this stage in his career if he does not have superior playmakers surrounding him. In other words, he won’t command double teams but instead will need to thrive off of his teammate’s offensive prowess, at least early on.

Favors projects this high in the draft on potential alone. He’ll need to polish his skills in the post and his face up game to truly live up to his lottery price tag. Until then, remember that "potential" is just another way to say a player hasn’t done anything yet.


DeMarcus Cousins

Most mock drafts have DeMarcus Cousins sliding down to the No. 4 or even 5th spot. Vladimir Putin also laughs at them. Cousins is in the mold of the game’s great pivot players of old—he’s built like an aircraft carrier, has a nasty disposition, and is almost impossible to defend once he catches the rock under the basket.

Physically, DeMarcus is the embodiment of the term "NBA-ready."

He also has incredible hands for a big man and his footwork with his back to basket is more than adequate, and it will seem even better when showcased in the open floor of the NBA game.

Elite college bigs fight the never ending battle that resembles Gulliver against the Lilliputians, and actually get better in the NBA game when help defense is a scarcer commodity and they’re as physically dominant as Cousins. See Robinson, Duncan, and Shaq.

The downside to Cousins’ game resides in the eight inch space between the kid’s ears. DeMarcus is a bit of a pouter when he’s not getting calls and he can be goaded out of his game by woofing from the opposition. There’s also a feeling amongst some scouts that he’s not the hardest worker, so his ceiling might be lower than some of the other prospects in this part of the draft.

But I’m not sure I buy that, and here's why.

DeMarcus played on a team that fostered an environment more closely resembling an NBA setting than any other program in America. Between Kentucky’s talented roster that included NBA first rounders Patterson, Wall, Bledsoe, Cousins, and Orton, there rarely seemed to be enough shots to go around.

Still, the talented center averaged a double double in just 23 minutes of play. Extend that out to 32-35 minutes and you have a heck of a stat line.

If Cousins was pouting about production or getting involved in extracurricular activities around Lexington, his production surely did not reflect it. Put him on a squad where he will be the go-to guy from day one and I think the kid will flourish.


Wes Johnson

The explosive 6′7″ small forward from Syracuse is currently slotted around the fourth or fifth spot in most mock drafts. Johnson is a superior athlete with plus size and length who is known for his deadly shooting stroke. Defensively, Wes can get into passing lanes with a plastic-man like reach and block shots from unsuspecting players driving the goal. His length is game changing.

It’s the offensive end of the floor where I have my questions about Wes. Yes, he is automatic when taking open jumpers and his range starts once he exits the locker-room, but I’d like my lottery pick wings to have better handles than Johnson possesses.

Shooting is critically important, but I need some playmaking out of my 2’s and 3’s that are being drafted to be future stars. Those guys command double teams and open up opportunities for other players. Wes hasn’t shown that type of game, whether it’s been at Iowa State, Syracuse or on the AAU summer circuit.


The choice?

So after the fickle mistress that is the NBA Draft Lottery left Nets fan at the altar while the Wizards and Sixers arranged shotgun weddings as fast as possible for Wall and Turner, let me help you pick up the pieces. If I’m Rod Thorn I’m not looking for potential with this pick and I’m not looking for a hot shooting role player.

After missing on Wall and Turner, I need the sure thing. The 10 year All-Star.

If you add Favors, you’re betting on potential and instantly become a rebuilding ball club. Favors likely won’t be a lottery productive player for at least two seasons (if at all) and he won’t command attention from the opposition to take pressure off his teammates. That’s probably not the message the average Nets fan is going to appreciate, much less season ticket holders waiting in the NBA’s version of a bread line.

As for Wes Johnson, he’s a nice catch and shoot player that needs an explosive creator to help facilitate his game.

If Wes is asked to create for himself, then I think you’re handcuffing the player and team alike. You don’t run offense through Johnson, you run offense to  him.

I’m not buying the Devin Harris to Wes Johnson synergy. Instead, you hope someone already on your roster, perhaps Terrance Williams, steps up and fills that scoring wing role.

The only guy available in this spot who is going to consistently command double teams and force rotations is DeMarcus Cousins. Could he eat his way out of the league? I suppose it’s possible. Does he need to grow up on the court and learn to ignore the refs? Yes, but so does Kobe Bryant and he’s making a decent living in the NBA. 

When it comes to talent, there’s no question Cousins is the best player at his position in the 2010 draft and he’d be an immediate upgrade over Brook Lopez.

DeMarcus will be a high field goal percentage, double-double guy who will open up the floor for young talents like Courtney Lee and Williams. He would thrive on a team with a point guard of Devin Harris’ experience and unselfishness.

So tear down that wall, Mikhail Prokhorov, and draft DeMarcus Cousins.

Maybe the Scorpions will come out of retirement and write a song about you someday.


Kevin Berger writes the leading college hoops blog March To March

Follow him on Twitter: @MarchToMarch