Summer League: Final Observations on the Nets’ Key Pieces

If Whitehead stays focused on three ball, he may crack the rotation sooner rather than later. (AP.)

Finally, after a frenzied month and a half, we’ve finally reached a lull in the NBA off-season. Of course, the draft has finished, without any franchise-altering trades, we might add, the Nets’ free agency chase seems complete, and, as of Saturday, Summer League has ended as well. This can mean only one thing: a summer without basketball truly begins.

In a mild attempt to not go out quietly, to hold on to the last vestiges of basketball we all hold dear, I decided to empty my Summer League notebook with a few final (for now) notes and observations.

The Partially Guaranteed

Beau Beech: A 6’9 sharpshooter from the University of Northern Florida drew the eyes of die-hards throughout Summer League. NetsDaily reported that oversized college shooting guard was being considered by the front office as a stretch four at the next level — of course, a quick look at his last box score might cause a little excitement in that regard.  In a losing effort against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Beech scored 15 points on 5-7 from three-point range, even pulling down 7 boards in the process.

After a fair amount of misses earlier in Summer League, the promise of his silky-looking jumper seemed realized. A strong effort on the boards conceivably buttressed his claims for a roster spot. But alas, in the waning minutes of the game, the Cavaliers revealed a major weakness in Beech’s game — defense.

Time and again, the Cavaliers forced Beech to switch onto a ball handler. This meant, time and again, Beech got roasted. There’s talent there, but one might expect a college guard to corral ball-handlers, particularly those also fighting for their NBA-livelihood, a bit better in open space.

With fifteen players already on Brooklyn’s roster, it’s reasonable to except a training camp invite for Beech, but not much more. Should the Nets keep him around through the fall, there’s certainly the potential for him to join the Long Island Nets, Brooklyn’s new D-League team.

Yogi Ferrell: At times, we saw major glimpses of a bona fide floor general. Ferrell has the speed to get to the rim, a key for any point guard in the modern game, and displayed vision to attack the heart of the defense before finding an open shooter. Unfortunately, the assist-to-turnover ratio just isn’t there yet to command a roster spot, especially with Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez already deputizing the position.

The D-League can be sloppy, but Ferrell seems like another prospect who’ll need seasoning and experience before graduating to the big leagues.

Egidijus Mockevicius: Perhaps surprisingly, Mockevicius didn’t get a ton of run during Summer League, even on a team with really just Henry Sims on the roster for centers. At Evansville in 2015-2016, Mockevicius averaged 15.6 points and 13.9 rebounds per game, so the Nets clearly saw something there — however, as of now, that remains a mystery.

One thing remains, still: Mockevicius is a big, giant basketball player. Ultimately, you can’t teach size and at 6’10, 225, the Nets could find him useful down the road.

Could the Long Island Nets be in his future as well?

The Rookie

Isaiah Whitehead: Admittedly, I was not as high on this draft pick as others in the Nets community. The college shooting percentage, 38%, gave me pause and the shot selection reminded me of Jarrett Jack, which is not always a good thing. Aside from that, he showed potential on defense, something the Nets have a clear deficiency in. Whitehead flew all over the place, bodied up when he needed to, and fought through screens over and over. If he can accept a lesser role on offense and continue to bear down on defense, he may just crack the rotation.

During his upcoming rookie campaign, Whitehead’s greatest challenge will be discipline. If he can accept the role of a spot-up shooter, and take only what the opposing defenses give him, then the game will come easy. I don’t think he’s able to cut to the heart of a defense as the primary ball handler yet, but with a consistent outside shot, he has an off-the-bounce game to punish aggressive close-outs.

It may not be in 2015-2016, but it appears as if Whitehead can be a long-lasting 3-and-D guy if he can listen to head coach Kenny Atkinson.

The Veterans

Sean Kilpatrick: The Nets brought in loads of talent at the wing, but Kilpatrick is not about to yield any minutes. At the end of the day, you want an NBA player to dominate Summer League and Kilpatrick certainly did. He got to the rim, found the open man, and drew fouls when his three-pointer wasn’t falling. Even sweeter, Kilpatrick often finished through contact, an improved skill on something he did very little of since joining the Nets in early 2016. He’s not a great defender, but he’ll definitely put the effort in.

He was up and down last year, but with a bigger share of the role this year, Kilpatrick should show an expanded game and provide the team with a consistent scoring punch off the bench. As of now, Kilpatrick’s playing-making abilities far supersede Whitehead’s, so expect to ball to be in the sharpshooter’s hand more often than not. If it wasn’t clear yet, the biggest beneficiary of Tyler Johnson getting matched might just be Kilpatrick.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: This goes without saying, but fanbases have the tendency to fall in love with their own players. This unbridled optimism can lead to rose-tinted glasses, so, of course, I try to take a step back and not overvalue a young, raw athlete.

However, I just cannot temper my expectations with Hollis-Jefferson, it’s too late. He’s a one-man wrecking crew on defense and his fingers have freaking tentacles, of this, I’m sure. He averaged the second most steals per game in Las Vegas, including a monster seven takeaways in their Summer League opener. Fringe NBA prospects everywhere have to rejoice that now, after two seasons, Hollis-Jefferson’s Summer League days are finally behind him.

Either way, it was not Hollis-Jefferson’s defensive tenacity that would be in question this summer; no, the microscope would be placed on that ever-evolving offense side of the ball. This time around, he got the green light on offense, which lead to some forced shots, even costing the Nets the game in one instance, but winding him up and releasing him to go nuts is a smart move on all accounts.

In little ways, it paid off: he canned an open three, hit a nice shot with his back to the basket, and tried to take slower defenders off the dribble as often as possible. At the end of the day, Hollis-Jefferson does not need to be the focal point of the offense, he just needs to strike when opportunity presents itself. Hesitation is a cardinal sin in the San Antonio Spurs or Atlanta Hawks’ offenses, so there’s supreme confidence that Atkinson can coax a killer instinct out of this kid yet.

Chris McCullough: He’s almost there, but not yet. When he skies for a board or rises for a three-pointer. you see the outlines of the incredible athlete the Nets invested their hopes in after his ACL surgery. Still, unfortunately, when he tries to bang in the lane, you can see why the Nets signed an extra power forward.

He looks bigger and his three-point stroke looks smoother, he just needs to continue to put in the work. I don’t expect to see much of McCullough out of the gates, especially with a head coach that will stress gritty, intelligent defending, but I suspect he’ll grow into a more carved out role as the season progresses under Atkinson.

Well, we’ve made it to the dead season. The free agents are signed and Summer League is over — now, we just have unbearable heat until training camp. So, if you have some thoughts or observations you want to share, throw them in the comments, we’ve got a long road ahead of us all.