The Nets have had a hard enough time over the years getting picks right when they were in the lottery, so putting together a “top” list of non-lottery picks is a lot tougher than it should have been. Hopefully when the Nets pick at No. 27 tonight, their selection has a career in New Jersey/Brooklyn more in line with one of these five players rather than past non-lottery picks like Sean Williams, Marcus Williams, Yinka Dare and Mile Ilic:
Honorable Mentions: Tate George (22nd pick, 1990), Rex Walters (16th pick, 1993), Antoine Wright (15th pick, 2005), Josh Boone (23rd pick, 2006).
No. 5 – Brian Scalabrine: “Veal,” gets points for his longevity in the league, and for his prominent role it what might have been one of the greatest Nets games in recent memory. In a critical game 5 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Nets and the Detroit Pistons, Scalabrine was forced into playing 23 minutes when four members of the Nets frontcourt – Kenyon Martin, Jason Collins, Rodney Rogers and Aaron Williams – had fouled out. Scalabrine responded with 17 points, including four three-pointers in the triple overtime victory against the Pistons, giving the Nets a 3-2 series lead. If the Nets had only sealed the deal in game 6 in New Jersey, Scalabrine would probably be an even bigger part of Nets folklore.
As it stands, for most of his four-year Nets career, Scalabrine was the 12th man on the bench, though he did play a more prominent role in 2004-05, when he started in 14 games and averaged 6.3 points on 4.5 rebounds. Picked 35th overall (second round) in 2001, Scalabrine’s Nets and general NBA career is at least more distinctive coming out of the second round, than numerous first rounders picked by Nets President Rod Thorn during this era.
No. 4 – Ryan Anderson: Anderson, taken with the 21st pick in 2008, is actually putting together a very solid NBA career for himself as a back-up stretch four. The problem is he’s doing it for the Orlando Magic after the Nets front office threw him in for the deal that unloaded Vince Carter for Courtney Lee and the expiring corpses of Rafer Alston and Tony Battie. Anderson, the throw-in, has probably been the best player since the trade went down, putting up a PER of 18.15 and 19.09 during his two seasons in Orlando, while establishing himself as a solid shooting big-man and a good enough rebounder who fits in perfectly with Orlando’s “spread the perimeter for Dwight” offense. Meanwhile, a case could be made that Anderson should have been given more of a shot in New Jersey, averaging less than 20 minutes his rookie season while the Nets coaching staff and front office continually shoved Yi Jianlian down the fan’s throats. While Yi is never going to evolve into the next Dirk, Anderson is looking like a mirror image of Troy Murphy (before he came to Jersey and his career went to pot).
No. 3 – Jason Collins: So I had to think long and hard here for a minute about the 18th pick in the 2001 draft because technically, “Twin” was selected by the Houston Rockets and then traded to the Nets (along with Richard Jefferson and Brandon Armstrong) for Eddie Griffin on draft day. While I waffled about including Collins for this very reason, he’s also one of the new non-lottery draft picks to play with the Nets in their rookie year and go on to have a very solid career with both the Nets and beyond.
Collins is never going to win any awards and his statistics are downright awful, but he’s one of the few players in this league whose positive contributions honestly can’t be found in a stat-sheet. Despite being 32 now, he’s still a very solid post-defender and was part of Atlanta’s “kryptonite” strategy against Dwight Howards in the playoffs this past year. He was with the Nets for seven years, making the playoffs in his first six, including back-to-back finals his first two seasons where he had to defend hall-of-fame caliber Centers in Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson. And that was the extent of Collins role – go out there and defend that big guy. And he did a good job at it. Of course, it leaves you wondering how the Nets could have done if they had a Center who can hold his own in the post defensively, but actually put the ball in the basket, but that’s a debate for a different day.
No. 2 – Nenad Krstic: Krstic gets on this list for his nickname alone, “Curly,” but was also one of the few players taken by the Nets outside of the lottery who was evolving into a potential-all-star with the organization before a crippling knee injury derailed his career in 2006-07. Taken with the 24th pick in the 2002 draft, the Nets had to wait two years before Nenad joined the team, but he was worth the wait, starting 57 games for the team after the coaching staff admitted they were trying to work him into the rotation slowly. He was a huge offensive asset in his first playoff series in 05 against the Heat, averaging 18.3 points and 7.5 rebounds on 56 percent shooting. In his final season with the Nets, he was averaging 18.1 points on 53 percent shooting before injury ended things for him. He’s worked his way back into being a decent big man option for NBA teams, though he was buried on Boston’s bench during their playoff sputter this past season.
No. 1 – PJ Brown: The 6’11” Power Forward/Center out of Lousiana Tech University, has had, by far, the most accomplished NBA career of any non-lottery pick for the Nets. He was picked with the 29th pick (second round) in 1992 and sat out his first year to play in Greece. Brown played three solid seasons with the Nets, where he became known as a great rebounder and defender with a decent mid-range jumper. He started in 198 games, overall averaging 8.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.37 blocks during his tenure in New Jersey. He also played in the inaugural NBA Rookie Game during the 1999 All-Star Weekend.
After leaving the Nets, Brown’s profile was raised when he joined the Miami Heat. He made the all-defensive second team twice during in Miami and may be best known by Knicks fans for flipping Charlie Ward and igniting a brawl during game 5 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals against New York. The brawl changed the course of the series, as a number of key Knicks players were suspended and the Heat came back from a 3-1 deficet to take the series.
Brown went on to spend the next chunk of his career in Charlotte/New Orleans. During the 2002 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Nets, Brown averaged 8.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2 blocks a game against his former team. Brown finally won an elusive ring, along with Brian Scalabrine, on the 2007-08 Celtics team.