Archive | June, 2017

Bronson Koenig’s Uphill Climb

25 Jun

Originally published on Seth’s Draft House (ran by @SethDavisHoops)

Even Bronson Koenig calls himself “underrated.”

That might seem like a bit of an exaggeration for a guy who won a pair of Wisconsin state championships in high school, was a McDonald’s All-American nominee and four-star recruit, and presided over a Wisconsin Badgers team that reached two Final Fours and never bowed out of the NCAA Tournament before the Sweet Sixteen.

But the NBA Draft can be a cruel mistress for a player like Koenig, as combine measurements and subjective evaluations often matter more than college win-loss records. Neither last year’s No. 1 pick (Ben Simmons) nor this year’s expected top pick (Markelle Fultz) played on teams that even made the NCAA Tournament in their lone college seasons.

“The draft is about potential and all that stuff,” Koenig said in a phone interview while heading to Los Angeles International Airport on Monday night for his final workout of the pre-draft process, one with the Golden State Warriors. “But I know I’m a basketball player and a gamer. I win games and I have a high basketball IQ.”

No one who watched Koenig at Wisconsin would doubt those assertions. He missed just one game his entire college career and was a vital part of the Badgers’ back-to-back Final Four trips in the 2013–14 and 2014–15 seasons.

He blossomed individually as a junior and senior, even as his team came back to the pack in the Big Ten and went through the sudden resignation of longtime coach Bo Ryan. Koenig, along with fellow recently graduated seniors Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter, was able to help the Badgers stay afloat in an improving Big Ten after losing Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker from the team that nearly won a national championship.

But like many other high-performing college point guards, such as Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, Koenig hasn’t been lighting up mock drafts. For what it’s worth, he says he’s never even looked at one. And being overlooked is nothing new for the La Crosse, Wisconsin native.

“My whole life, I’ve been underestimated and not ranked as high as I should have been,” Koenig said. “It doesn’t even affect me anymore.”

Koenig’s profile grew while he was in college for reasons beyond his performance on the court. As a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Native Americans, Koenig has been vocal in his disapproval of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, a cause he joined in protest at the end of 2016. When your livelihood is threatened, a slight in draft prognostications doesn’t seem so bad.

Whether it’s due to concerns with age (Koenig is 22 while projected top pick Markelle Fultz is just 19) or simply worries about a lack of athleticism, Koenig is not expected to be selected with one of the draft’s 60 picks. Draft Express only has him as the 43rd-best prospect in the Big Ten alone, on a list with current underclassmen who might be years away from being selected.

Still, NBA teams have shown a lot of interest in Koenig, who spent last summer in Los Angeles working out with celebrity trainer Corey Calliat, who helped devise actor Michael B. Jordan’s workout regimen for his role in Creed. Koenig attributes his decision to mostly work out by himself, as opposed to with other players, for the strides he made as a senior.

“Before last summer, I never worked out with a trainer in my whole life,” Koenig said. “Spending time on your own helps you a lot. From last summer to this season, I thought I made big strides…A lot of these guys work out in the big basketball factories and don’t get enough individual instruction. That’s kind of why I like to work with my own guy.”

Koenig is still recovering from a calf injury suffered in a workout with the Rockets that forced him to skip a meeting with the Lakers. But nothing was going to stop him from working out for Golden State, a team he says has a playing style that fits well with his own.

The 22-year-old got hurt in both the Portsmouth Invitational (“Second game there, I dunked and hurt my ankle on the landing”) and his first NBA workout, one with the Bucks (“75 percent through, I rolled my ankle on a guy’s leg”) which he says limited his availability to work out for other teams.

The Warriors do not currently own a pick in the draft, but, if Tuesday’s deals are any indication, trades will be abound in the next couple of days. Still, it would be a definite surprise if Koenig hears his name called on Thursday. He’ll be watching the draft in Chicago with his agency, Edge Sports, which also represents Yogi Ferrell who, like Koenig, was a productive Big Ten point guard. Ferrell went undrafted, played with the Nets in Summer League and, after impressing in the D-League, got called up to Brooklyn. A month and a half later, the Mavericks came calling and eventually signed him to a multi-year deal.

If Koenig is to stick around in the NBA, he’ll likely follow a similar path to that of his former college opponent. But, right now, the D-League isn’t on Koenig’s mind, neither is the possibility of playing overseas. He thinks he’s good enough for the NBA.

“All I need is that one chance,” he said.

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Brooklyn’s Long Haul

25 Jun

Originally published on Seth’s Draft House (ran by @SethDavisHoops)

The Brooklyn Nets might be going through one of the strangest rebuilding processes we’ve ever seen. Without the luxury of top draft picks (despite featuring the NBA’s worst record in the 2016–17 season and the third-worst the year prior) or much in terms of attractive assets, sophomore general manager Sean Marks has to make do mostly with mid-to-late first rounders and second- or third-tier free agents.

But without the usual recourse for constructing a contending team out of the ashes of a massively shortsighted trade, Marks and Co. — with player development wizard Kenny Atkinson leading things from the bench — have cobbled together an interesting and cost-effective core with a significant amount of cap space this summer.

Restricted free agents like Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe, both of whom Brooklyn signed to offer sheets last summer but returned to their original teams, are probably going to be a focus again, as the Nets can use their room under the cap to throw out big offers at Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Otto Porter and force teams like the Pistons and Wizards to match them.

That strategy might help Brooklyn find the two-way wing it needs but it’s also a risky one, as the Nets found out firsthand in 2016. So a name like Jonathon Simmons, who played well during the Spurs’ playoff run, is a possible target, even if he might have to be overpaid a bit to scare San Antonio away (much like how Detroit pried away Boban Marjanovic last summer).

It remains to be seen just how aggressive the Nets will be in free agency — this year’s crop isn’t too rife with the type of young guard/forwards that fit Brooklyn’s contention timeline — but they do have a pair of late first-round picks that could help beef up the frontcourt. They could add another from Portland if the Nets chose to sit out of the offseason bidding (relatively speaking) and use their cap space to absorb an extra contract.

The good news for the Nets is that the current draft class is very top-heavy, especially in the backcourt, which should bode well for their chances at getting a few quality forwards later in the first round. Caleb Swanigan, who was a unanimous first-team All-American in his sophomore season at Purdue, worked out with the team a few weeks ago and would be an interesting piece to play off Trevor Booker and Brook Lopez, who are Brooklyn’s likely frontcourt starters for the 2017–18 season.

Harry Giles is another intriguing name that might be available when the Nets first pick at No. 22. (Their other first-round slot is at No. 27). Giles is a former five-star prospect who only played 26 games at Duke — with middling results — and has already suffered multiple ACL injuries, so NBA teams are concerned about his durability. But at 6’11” with incredible talent, he might be worth the risk for a Nets team that hasn’t shied away from taking injury-prone players slipping in the draft.

When Marks traded Thaddeus Young on draft day last year, he took Caris LeVert with the Pacers’ first round pick he got in return. A lanky, 6–7 guard, LeVert broke out in his sophomore season at Michigan, averaging 13 points, four rebounds, and nearly three assists. He only played in 33 games as a junior and senior, though, because he had three surgeries on the same left foot in less than two years.

That pushed LeVert way down most team’s draft boards, allowing Brooklyn to pick him up at No. 20. While he missed the first month of his rookie year recovering, LeVert ended up having a pretty good debut season despite playing for 20-win Brooklyn. The previous regime did something similar by drafting Chris McCullough out of Syracuse, but he didn’t pan out with the Nets and was sent to Washington in the Bojan Bogdanovic deadline trade.

It would certainly make sense for Marks, who will have at least two first-round picks to gamble on a guy with Giles’ talent, especially considering that the Nets probably aren’t going to contend this season even in a diluted Eastern Conference. With a roster mostly full of low-salary, short-term contracts (aside from Lopez, Booker and Lin), Marks has the benefit of not really being tied down to anyone.

Another area Brooklyn is planning to use to fill out its roster is one that Marks, Atkinson and assistant general manager Trajan Langdon know well: the international market. The Nets might have the most internationally connected owner/front office/coaching staff in the entire league — assistant Chris Fleming is also the head coach of the German national team — and its executives have been out scouting in full force the last few months.

Marks and Langdon have been spotted at Euroleague games and the pair have seen Serbian point guard Milos Teodosic multiple times. Teodosic, of course, plays for CSKA Moscow, a team Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov used to be involved with. The Nets have been pretty open about their interest in Teodosic, who is 30 years old but is expected to make the jump to the NBA soon. Also, since he went undrafted all the way back in 2009, Teodosic is eligible to be signed directly. That’s where the cap space could come into play.

A good thing for the Nets’ front office is that it will have the luxury of taking the proper time to rebuild the franchise. That is a complete reversal from the strategy of the previous general manager, Billy King, whose ownership-encouraged, win-now mentality dug the hole that Marks and his staff have to get the franchise out of.

Now, Prokhorov has taken a step back from meddling with the roster and is letting Marks and his staff really put their stamp on the team. The real challenge is to see if the front office will be able to find the NBA’s next market inefficiency (think the Rockets’ stat-backed three-pointer philosophy) because it simply doesn’t have the ability to use the conventional team-building means. They can’t out-Process the 76ers or have the free-agent draw of the Heat so the Nets will just have to do something different, and the infrastructure to do that is finally in place. Now, let’s see if it works.