While the lockout will clearly have a negative impact on established players, draft picks, and fans (not to mention bloggers), it could potentially be devastating for the undrafted. Every day that the lockout continues is one less day to run with a summer squad and get valuable teaching, and especially to impress NBA coaches and front offices.
For most undrafted hopefuls, this is just postponing the inevitable trip to the D-league, basketball abroad or a real job, as they face extremely long odds of ever making it to the League. But every year there are a few who make it from draft day afterthought to NBA contributor, some even playing important roles on contending teams.
Last year saw the Nets get respectable contributions from two such players, Ben Uzoh and Sundiata Gaines (though Gaines was originally signed by the Jazz). While this year would ideally see an improved team look more to veterans to fill out the roster, there are certainly some interesting prospects who could potentially help the Nets, be it in 2011-12 or beyond. Here are four of those hopefuls, listed from big to small:
Terrence Jennings is almost certain not to make it as an NBA player. He left Louisville after a junior year in which he put up 9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 0.7 apg…all of which were career highs. He’s not known for being a particularly hard worker, nor for having a great basketball IQ. Drafting him would probably have been a mistake. But for all that, Jennings is a freakishly athletic big man who averaged 1.9 bpg as a junior despite only getting 23.4 mpg of court time. If the light comes on even a little bit, he could play a Chris Anderson role off the bench and serve as a nice complement to Brook Lopez in the frontcourt.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Terrence Jennings is Matt Howard. While Jennings left college early after not fulfilling his immense potential, Howard spent four extremely productive years at Butler despite not having overwhelming physical gifts. Whether he is athletic enough to play at the next level remains to be seen, but if he can hack it physically Howard brings some interesting skills to the table.
His all-out effort and hustle is reminiscent of a Carl Landry/Paul Millsap/Chuck Hayes type, but he also has shown the ability to stretch the floor, hitting 40% of his threes as a senior. As with Jennings, he could fit in well alongside Lopez for stretches, albeit in an entirely different style.
One of the things that sticks out most about Howard’s college career is the success he experienced with his team, something that David Lighty shares. A member of the same recruiting class as Greg Oden, Mike Conley, and Daequan Cook, Lighty is the all-time winningest player in tOSU history, and he played a large role in that success. At 6’7”, Lighty showed extreme versatility, his role expanding beyond his natural wing position to primary ballhandler or post player as needed. Marshon Brooks may settle in for a good long while as the Nets’ starting 2, but a defensive-minded backup who can shoot (43% on threes as a senior) would be a nice fit alongside him on the roster.
Another Big 10 guard with potential to strengthen the Nets’ bench is Demetri McCamey. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: he’s a big, strong point man from Illinois who is a good passer and has legit range (45% on threes as a senior), though he’s had his weight called into question at times. Okay, so he’s obviously not Deron Williams, but the connections are there for a mentorship to develop. In an NBA where the smallest advantage can mean the difference between employment and un-, it seems like as good a reason as any to take a flyer on McCamey.
Most rookie free agents don’t make it, and I’m not foolish enough to think that I’ll have a success rate any higher than the average NBA GM’s. But there are diamonds in the rough waiting to be found, and if given a chance, any of these players has the potential to not just make the Nets (or any other team) but ultimately to become a valuable contributor down the line.