The 2022-23 season was a tale of two teams for the Brooklyn Nets.
The Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving-led team of old entirely changed by the NBA trade deadline, when Durant was shipped to the Phoenix Suns and Irving to the Dallas Mavericks. The Nets took back various players and draft picks in February, including forward Mikal Bridges from the Suns and guard Spencer Dinwiddie from Dallas.
Brooklyn finished the season with a record of 45-37, putting it in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and four games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks for a spot in the Play-In tournament. The new-look Nets fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA playoffs, a series that saw Bridges lead Brooklyn with 23.5 points per game.
The Nets have the No. 21, 22 and 51 picks in the 2023 NBA Draft. Brooklyn can trade the two later first-rounders for experienced players that can help the Nets compete immediately, or they can try to build up a promising cast of young players around their newly-acquired veterans.
Who are some sneaky picks for the Nets with the No. 21 and No. 22 selections?
The Nets need to bring in a few players who can play minutes at the power forward via the NBA Draft or free agency.
Forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who was acquired in the Irving trade, is under contract for Brooklyn in the 2023-24 season, according to Spotrac. The 30-year-old forward played and started in all four games of the team's series against the 76ers, averaging 6.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game. Forward Cameron Johnson, who joined the squad via the Durant trade, is set to become a restricted free agent in 2023.
Kris Murray, a 6-foot-8-inch forward from Iowa, saw a massive increase in production between his sophomore and junior seasons at Iowa. He jumped to 20.2 points per game after scoring 9.7 the season before. He is still refining his skill set during his pre-draft process, as detailed during an April article from Hawk Fanatic.
“I'm just kind of refining my skill set,” Murray said when asked where he was in his pre-draft process, via Hawk Fanatic. “I've been working out for the last couple of weeks on different facets of my game that I need to work on.
“I'm going to try to gain strength for the NBA. That's obviously big factor, the physicality of the game, as you've kind of seen in these playoffs. You're getting away with a lot. Going to Sacramento and seeing that first-hand was really cool. I'm just working out until the draft, just getting better every day. That's just my goal. Just one day at a time.”
The Nets would need an extra scoring forward if Johnson were to find his way onto another team.
Brooklyn's bench took last place among teams that made the postseason with 17.3 points per game, taking spots behind the Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets.
Pepperdine forward Maxwell Lewis saw an increased scoring role during his time there. He averaged 17.1 points per outing on a 46.9% field goal percentage and 35.1% from the 3-point line during the 2022-23 season.
Lewis will go into this draft with plenty to prove, but he could provide a helpful scoring punch off the bench if the Nets can take a player who can address some of their more pressing needs with their other choices in the draft.
“I'm definitely going in next year with something to prove,” Lewis said, via Yahoo! Sports. “I'm not going to lie, if I were a blue-blood recruit or player and I saw a guy from Pepperdine, I'd overlook him as well. I know how guys are thinking about me and I'll have a chip on my shoulder to show I do belong.”
A modern squad will always need a combo forward with the ability to do a little bit of everything.
Olivier-Maxence Prosper, a 6-foot-8-inch forward from Marquette, placed third on the Golden Eagles with 12.5 points and second with 4.7 rebounds per game. He remained in the NBA draft following a season that saw Marquette earn a 29-7 overall record and a 17-3 record against conference opponents. The two-year Golden Eagle scored 24 points and grabbed five rebounds in a 96-70 win over Baylor in November.
Prosper showed confidence in his versatility and how well his game would translate to the league in a May interview with ESPN NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony.
“My game translates really well to the NBA,” Prosper said, via Givony. “It's a positionless league, and wings like me who can guard multiple positions, run the floor, finish in transition and make catch-and-shoot 3s find ways to make winning plays and impact games. Based on what I've been told, there's no reason I shouldn't be a first-rounder.”
If Brooklyn is willing to be patient and invest in a player who can contribute right away with the No. 21 pick, it may make sense to take a shot on a boom-or-bust prospect with their next selection.
Wake Forest forward Bobi Klintman didn't show off the potential he possessed on the stat sheet last season. He averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds over 20.8 minutes per the 26 games he played for the Demon Deacons last season.
But the 6-foot-10-inch forward shows plenty of potential that could be unlocked after a few years of guidance from Brooklyn's coaching staff, and potentially some time with the Long Island Nets.
“Initially, he had to adjust to the physicality and athleticism at our place,” Sunrise Christian Academy Head Basketball Coach Luke Barnwell said, via The Athletic. “Back home, he was always more athletic and bigger than everybody. He could use that and get away with it. But once he started to adjust to that here, you could always see his talent level. And his talent level was always high. You'd just be going, ‘Oh my gosh, he's 6-10 and he's really a guard with his skill set.'
“Once he adjusted to those things and our demands as a program in terms of what it takes to win, he started to really help us. It was similar to what happened at Wake Forest.”