Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Nod to Rod; Again
By Ben Valentine

For most, it’s not easy being an NBA fan on draft night.

If you’re a team with a high pick, then the odds are good you were miserable last season and are looking for the one guy who can turn your franchise around. The problem is those guys don’t come around often and are usually flanked by players who within two years will have earned the title “bust”. So if you’re say David Arnott, you sit around praying your G.M. doesn’t take Patrick O’Bryant. Then of course he does, and your night is ruined.

And if you’re a good team, then normally what do you have to look forward to? Player selection in the latter half of the first round has the rep of being about as reliable as playing craps.

“Come baby, daddy needs a new Tayshaun Prince.”

“I’m sorry sir, snake eyes. But thank you for playing and take the complementary Leon Smith courtesy of the commissioner.”

But if you’re a Knicks fan; actually let’s not go there. It’s a bad sign when your fans go “who?” for your first round pick despite the fact he actually played four years of college ball in the US.

However, Nets fans have no fear come draft night. No matter where the team picks, they know Rod Thorn will get it done. The genius who turned the enigmatic and now disappointing Eddie Griffin into Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins was at it again. Would he reach overseas and find a gem like he did with Nenad Krstic? Nope, this time Thorn stayed local, grabbing UConn players Marcus Williams and Josh Boone.

And once again, Thorn shows why he’s great at what he does.

The Nets had two picks in the first round (22nd and 23rd overall) and Thorn drafted for both the future and the present. Williams is a quality point guard who showed himself to be the Huskies’ best player in the 2005 NCAA tournament. Known primarily for his passing, the 6-3 point guard never backed down from a big shot. If the Huskies had more Williamses and less Rudy Gays out there, they might have actually lived up to expectations. As it was, it took two phenomenal efforts from Williams against Albany and Kentucky to get the Huskies out of the first two rounds of the tournament.

I had tabbed Williams as a guy who could step in and play right away. But he gets put in a great situation with the Nets. An excellent passer, he will learn from the best in Jason Kidd. In fact, the two possess similarities that go beyond their jersey numbers. Neither is the fastest player on the court, offensively or defensively, but they always read the play well and know where to be. Oh and neither hesitate to take that important shot. Williams might well be a better shooter than Kidd in the long run, but right now he doesn’t have to be. In his apprenticeship from the future Hall of Famer, it will be doubtful the UConn guard will see more than ten minutes a night and won’t be anywhere near the court in crunch time. But again, that’s okay; this move sets the Nets up in the coming years as Kidd continues to show the effects of age.

With the second pick, Thorn took Williams’ teammate, center Josh Boone. A maddeningly frustrating player to watch in college because he could never dominate, the 6-10 man still was a solid shot blocker and rebounder. The problem for Boone is his complete lack of offensive game. There may not have been a player in college basketball who blew more lay-ups last year. However on a team with Kidd, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and Krstic, the number of times Boone will be asked to score will be… well never. His job will be to alter shots, grab boards and soak up fouls. It gives the Nets someone else to play on a tough big man and frees up Krstic to play on the offensive end rather than picking up fouls on the defensive side of the ball. Boone does one thing well and in his 10- 20 minutes spelling Jason Collins and Cliff Robinson, he should be a nice piece for Jersey starting as early as the coming season.

The Nets took project with their second round pick, in Arizona guard Hassan Adams. The scouting reports love his wingspan but question his shooting ability. There’s no guarantee he’ll play much next year, as Williams and last year’s #1 selection Antoine Wright figure to be ahead of him in the rotation. But if he does play, Adams made himself know as an explosive player and should fit in nicely running the break with Kidd and either Carter or Jefferson.

All and all, it was a solid draft night for the Nets. They got some pieces who will give them depth next year and potentially could be real contributors down the road. And hey, you know it’s a good night when despite picking 22nd and 23rd, some people are saying you got the guy who might well end up being one of the best players in this draft.

But then what else would you expect from Rod Thorn?


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