A few weeks ago, the father of Brooklyn Nets wing Sergey Karasev claimed that his son wanted a trade. The interview, which was covered by our friends over at Nets Daily, was highlighted by Vasily Karasev blasting Nets’ head coach Lionel Hollins, claiming the team was in "total disarray."
Sergey released a statement on Friday backtracking on and denying what his father said. From Brian Lewis’ article in the New York Post:
"My dad, he’s my biggest fan, so he has his own opinion. I can’t control what he says to the press. [...] "I’m with the Nets. I love this organization, I like Coach Hollins, so I just keep working hard."
However, the handwriting was on the wall for all to see Karasev has seen his minutes slashed on a hapless, 5-13 Brooklyn team. In the 2014-15 Sergey saw irregular action, compiling 555 minutes played over 33 games, including 16 starts, until a torn MCL and dislocated patella ended his season in March. In the first 12 games for the Nets this season, Karasev only played 6 minutes, all garbage time, over the course of 3 games (though he did play 24 minutes and 10 minutes in the games after these comments surfaced).
Former Wolf Wayne Ellington, who was signed to a 2-year deal by the Nets this summer, has inherited Sergey's old role and minutes. On November 2nd, GM Billy King even declined his paltry 4th year team option of $2.5 million for the 2016-17 season.
Prior to the 2013 draft, I was decently high on Karasev. I liked his mixture of size, outside touch, shot creation ability and craftiness, along with the high IQ pedigree that usually comes with being the son of two former national team players. He had a strong 19-year old Eurocup campaign with Triumph Lyubertsy, being coached by his father Vasily, and looked good in spite of a cold shooting performance at the 2013 Nike Hoops Summit.
After being selected by the Cavaliers with the 19th pick, the trail had gone pretty cold though. With this week's recent news, I decided to see if I could piece together what had happened since then. More importantly, I wondered if the skills that endeared him to me during the pre-draft process remained, and if so, could they be of value to the Timberwolves?
Sergey saw limiting playing time during his lone season as a Cavalier. Due to the reckless, win-now policies of the Cavaliers during the 2013-14 season that led to senseless mid-season trade for Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes, Karasev was almost forgotten. He only played 156 minutes over the course of 16 games, and was shuttled to the Cavs D-League affiliate in Canton countless times throughout the year.
During the 2014 offseason, Karasev' upside was the trade chip used to move Jarrett Jack's bloated contract to the Brooklyn Nets in order to clear up the cap space required to sign LeBron James after his surprise homecoming.
In Brooklyn, Karasev resumed his role of an afterthought. Without a D-League affiliate to send him to, Sergey status juggled between bouts of inactivity, DNP-CD's, and a human victory cigar for the first month of the season. But on December 10th, the ever-whimsical Lionel Hollins decided to insert him into the starting lineup for a 16-game stretch during December and January due to poor play from Bojan Bogdanovich.
It was the first, and so far only, consistent playing time Sergey has received in the NBA.
During those 16 games, Karasev was pretty mediocre. He averaged 7.4/2.9/2.1 and only shot 27.5% (11 for 40) from 3 in 26.6 minutes a game. But, sometimes that box score doesn't tell the entire truth about a player's skill set, impact on the game, and potential upside. So, I decided to search for some game tape to review Karasev's skill set for myself.
I was able to find 3 full games: The December 19th game at Cleveland, the Pistons game on the 21st, and finally the Celtics game on the 26th. Combined, Karasev plays almost 95 minutes, scores 28 points on 10 for 23 shooting from the field, 4 for 9 from deep, and tacked on 10 boards, 6 assists, and 5 steals. When I had finished watching all 3, I had witnessed over 10% of Karasev's career NBA minutes. A few things stood out to me immediately.
The Nets were absolutely horrendous offensive schemes, with Sergey getting the worst of it. He was trapped in a special type of iso hell, with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Jarrett Jack, and Brook Lopez all taking turns allocating who was allowed to dribble the air out of ball on a given possession. Meanwhile, Karasev was tucked away in the corner, rarely even being allowed a role in the occasional stagnant offensive set called from Hollins on the sideline.
There were long stretches were Sergey didn't even touch the ball—I counted a 4-minute stretch at the end of the Celtics game where he didn't touch the ball save for 3 backcourt inbounding passes, and again he didn't touch the ball until the 8:45 mark of the 1st quarter of the Pistons game despite being a starter. Admittedly Sergey isn't the type of player a playoff team would run their offense through, but very few NBA players are able to succeed touching the ball as little as Karasev was, and those ranks are populated by cagey veterans such as Mike Miller and Ray Allen.
Though Brook Lopez did miss roughly half of the month of December with a back strain, that doesn't excuse the Nets 25th-ranked ORtg for the month. If the offense sputtered so much when the Nets only had 2 of their 3 All-Stars, that should tell you something about the amount of isos Lionel Hollins was running.
In spite of this, Karasev still impressed me with his off-ball movement. He's a great lane-runner in transition, though he teammates rarely even looked to get him involved. In the half-court, he must've spent 80% of his time on offense leashed to the corner, but he did some great things when the situation allowed for cutting. In the Pistons game, Karasev executed one of the best backdoor cuts I've ever seen, stopping on a dime at the 3-point line and twisting back towards the basket on a V-cut before an overly-aggressive Brandon Jennings could even slow down. Kevin Garnett hit him with a great pass, and Karasev dropped in the lay-up without a defender within 8 feet of him.
Over the course of the 3 games I watched, Sergey capitalized on a napping defender in roughly 6 or 7 instances, getting himself open at the rim each time. However, his lethargic teammates hit him as often as they didn't, and the Nets only got 3 lay-ups out of Karasev's great cuts.
I like the chances of Ricky Rubio or Karl-Anthony Towns finding him for these easy points more often than Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson. Additionally, Sergey showed a willingness to use either hand around the rim, dropping in a few of his looks within 5 feets gracefully with his right hand.
Karasev's passing also shown through his limited offensive role. Although he only accumulated 6 assists in the 3 games that I watched, he actually averaged 3 assists per 36 for the entire year. It's pretty easy to see why too. Sergey has great vision, and is a willing passer despite being surrounded by ball-stops. If he played in a more free-flowing offensive system, I could actually envision him averaging 4 or 5 assists per 36. This is especially true considering I saw him throw 7 or 8 really good passes that either careened off unsuspecting teammates' hands in great scoring position, or leading to fouls.
In fact, because he effectively was on an island in Brooklyn, he was hardly in a position to throw passes in the first place. Out of his 436 passes last year, 46 of them were assists, a mark good for 10.5% (by comparison, 13.4% of Rubio's passes have resulted in assists so far this year.)
Sometimes it seemed to appear that the Nets were going out of their way to play isoball. In one befuddling instance, Sergey made a beautiful behind-the-back pass on a 3-on-2 fastbreak to a wide-open Jack in the corner—only to have Jack decide to dribble the ball out to the top of the key and wait for teammates to arrive to set up their offense. After sitting through these 3 games, I've resolved to never watch the 2014-15 Brooklyn Nets again, because it is awful, awful basketball.
On the defense side of the ball, I'm a little bit lower on Sergey. Though he is a solid team defender, almost always in the correct position for rotations and very apt at stunting then recovering, his one-on-one defense appears to be a little weak. He has also shown a tendency to over-help at times, like many young players do. However, his perimeter defensive struggles are no where near those of, say, Zach LaVine.
Sergey isn't a great athlete, not blessed with good lateral quickness and therefore I've seen him struggle keep up with quicker ball-handlers and maneuver around on-ball screens. But, he is a very intelligent player on both sides of the ball, and always found a way to get himself back into the play, at least in the minutes I watched. Though he got beat a few times, he executed good recovery angles, forcing his man to settle for a long 2—shots that he had a high contest percentage on. I only saw him allow 2 shots at the rim, a runner from Josh Smith that clanged off the rim, and a converted lay-up from Jodie Meeks off an oball screen from Greg Monroe.
During the Cavaliers game, he actually guarded LeBron for a short spell, roughly 3-4 minutes. In that time, he didn't allow James to get a single good shot off, and once Karasev even completely walled him up after James backed him down near the rim, forcing LeBron to kick it out.
To get an idea of what Karasev does, here's one of his better games...
The Wolves have an extra 2nd rounder for this year's draft, a top-45 protected throw-in from the Houston Rockets via the Corey Brewer trade. If by some miracle the pick isn't conveyed this year, Houston's obligation is extinguished. For optimism's sake, let's pretend that the pick is conveyed this year, and with the best possible outcome at the 46th spot. According to Layne Vashro's analysis, the 46th pick has only about a 5% chance at ever becoming a consistent starter, and a little better than 20% chance of being a bench player, which means anywhere from the 6th to 15th man with the skew probably being towards the 15th.
Assuming that Brooklyn is open to trading Karasev, the Wolves should make a conservative push for him. It's actually be a bit of a no-brainer.
First of all, I can't imagine any team offering more than a 2nd rounder for him, if anything at all. He's definitely not worth a 1st rounder, and no contending team would even think twice about trading for him. Brooklyn's also in dire straits when it comes to their own future drafting status. Through the 2019 draft, they only have a single 1st round pick-swap with the Celtics in 2017, and are without a 2nd round pick until 2021. Karasev obviously isn't working out in Brooklyn, why not get him off their books while receiving something in return?
Second, trades like this are a veritable gold mine for teams that are able to rescue talented players from awful situations. Tobias Harris was another 19th pick that couldn't get off the bench during his first 2 seasons in Milwaukee, then exploded in Orlando after being traded for a 2-month rental of JJ Reddick. Khris Middleton (39th pick) was underwhelming in his rookie season with Detroit, but immediately averaged 12/4/2 after being traded to Milwaukee as a throw-in to the Knight/Jennings deal. Matt Barnes, Danny Green, Jared Dudley, Arron Afflalo, and Evan Fournier are all other examples of swingman acquired for very little due to slow starts on their first teams. You're not going to win a championship with any of these guys as your best player, but they can still help you get there from a supporting role.
Besides, it's not like Lionel Hollins and Billy King are great evaluators of talent.
In Memphis, Hollins' favoritism and inconsistent allocation of minutes stunted the development of Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Carroll, and O.J. Mayo, all of whom have achieved some sort of success ranging from All-Star to rotation player on other teams.
As for General Manager Billy King, what else needs to be said about his lack of appreciation for the value of young assets?
Garnett/Pierce deal aside, this is the general manager who traded first round picks for Mirsad Turkcan, Jumaine Jones, and Kenny Thomas. This is the general manager who traded away an top-3 protected 1st rounder to Portland for an over-the-hill Gerald Wallace at the 2012 trade deadline. Though the Nets were 10 games out of the 8th seed at 15-29 when the trade happened, with only 22 games remaining in the lockout-shortened season, King defended his decision saying that he only liked 3 players in the draft. The Trailblazers then used the 6th pick to selected Damian Lillard. There should be a dedicated microchip implanted into the brain of every other NBA GM that alerts them every time King is attempting to make a trade.
If there was ever a team worth trading with to take a shot at a reclamation project, it's the King-led Nets. Though Karasev is officially listed at only 6'7", Celtic' colorman Mike Gorman commented at one point during the game that Sergey looked to be taller than what he was listed at in the program. On the FIBA website, Karasev is listed at 2.03 meters (which converts to 6 feet, 7.92 inches), and FIBA's measurements are usually performed in barefeet. Considering he has the size for it, Karasev could be an interesting long term option as a backup 3 to Shabazz.
At the very least, he's worth kicking the treads on, and is definitely a better flier than a 45th or higher pick in the draft. Though he hasn't been able to knock down shots consistently from the outside, it's not uncommon to see young guys struggle to adapt to the longer 3-point line and speed of the NBA. Besides, his small sample size of 78 career 3-point attempts is nothing to draw definitive conclusions from, especially considering the unhelpful circumstances. Out of the 23 shots I saw him take, I never saw him take one that missed badly. All of his shots looked good on the release, and his a lot of misses were just a little bit short but dead on.
Sergey wouldn't come without risks. He's had a major knee surgery within the past year, though both he and his father claim he's healthy. He also got into some trouble off the court last season, as he was caught bringing three strippers back to the Nets' hotel in Miami the night before a game. But, he's a young guy, and young guys do stupid things, like when Shabazz got kicked out of the Rookie Transition Program for bringing a girl back to his room.
What's more likely though? A highly-touted former 1st round pick turning it around after his rescue, or a pick that'll probably be conveyed in the 50's ever amounting to something? After all, the point of being a rebuilding franchise is taking a chance on players like Sergey Karasev. There is no reason not to trade Houston's 2nd rounder for him. It appears that Sam Mitchell doesn't have much of a role for 29-year old deadeye Damjan Rudez, so why not insert a player in the same mold who just turned 22 into that deep bench role?
You never know where the next Tobias Harris will come from.