How will Dzanan Musa fit with the Nets?

NEW YORK, USA - JUNE 21: Dzanan Musa (R) is seen after being selected number twenty-ninth overall by Brooklyn Nets during the 2018 NBA Draft in Barclays Center in New York, United States on June 21, 2018. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - JUNE 21: Dzanan Musa (R) is seen after being selected number twenty-ninth overall by Brooklyn Nets during the 2018 NBA Draft in Barclays Center in New York, United States on June 21, 2018. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) /

When Sean Marks took over as the Brooklyn Nets general manager in February of 2016 he knew the dire situation the franchise was in. They were in the midst of a 60-loss season, and didn’t own their own draft pick for the next three NBA drafts. The rebuild in front of him was not going to be a quick one

With no assets, Marks did what he could. Played the players he had, hoped they performed well, and then traded them for assets. Among those assets were late first round picks.

Marks had to gamble with these picks and try to find players who could outperform their pick value and give Nets fans hope for the future. So he sought out players who might have been undervalued like Caris LeVert, who was coming off yet another surgery to his left foot during the 2016 draft period.

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In the 2018 draft, the last one for the Nets without their own pick, Marks decided to gamble again. He selected Bosnian wing Dzanan Musa who is coming off a strong season with Cedevita Zagreb in Croatia. Musa is a gamble because the consensus around the league was that he wasn’t ready to come over yet. At 19-years old, many felt he needed to be stashed overseas for a season or two. Musa didn’t agree, and had made it clear that whoever drafted him had to be willing to bring him over now. Marks was the first GM brave enough to bring him over now.

It will be interesting to see how much Musa can contribute to the Nets next season. The former Cedevita player is 6-foot-9 but has a negative wingspan of 6-foot-8.5. He played in three competitions for Zagreb: the Croatian A-1 Liga, the Adriatic League (composed of teams from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia), and Eurocup which is the second best continental competition in European basketball. It is directly under Euroleague, which is the level Luka Doncic dominated at this past season.

Across all competitions, Musa averaged 21.45 points, 6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per-40. He also shot 32-percent from 3-point range on four attempts per-game. Musa’s game, like most prospects, goes beyond his numbers though. Take an in-depth look at what he brings to the table and it’s easy to understand why the Nets decided it was worth trying to bring him over this season.

Under head coach Kenny Atkinson the Nets were second in the league last season in 3-point attempts per-game with 35.7. Musa’s four attempts per game will fit like a glove with the current offense. However, the Nets were in the bottom-10 in 3-point percentage, shooting 35.6 percent from deep as a team. While Musa’s 32 percent doesn’t scream improvement, that number itself isn’t the most realistic. Context as always played a role.

Musa shot a somewhat low percentage from deep last season because many of his 3-point attempts were low percentage shots. Similar to Doncic, he had to isolate and take a good number of his 3s off the dribble instead of getting open catch-and-shoot opportunities with team ball movement. Just look at some of the shots Musa hit for Cedevita last season.

In this clip, Musa initially goes into the pick-and-roll with Chris Johnson. He draws two defenders so he finds Johnson quickly in the short roll. Cedevita works the ball around and after Musa receives a skip pass he does a nice job of setting up his man with a step-back dribble that puts him into another solid screen from Johnson and opens himself up for a wide open wing 3.

This wasn’t an easy shot by any means. Although Musa was wide open when he finally let the shot go, he had to do a lot of work to get himself that look which was the theme of many of his shots with Cedevita.

Musa is matched up with Anton Ponkrashov of Unics Kazan in this highlight. Musa gets an initial ball-screen and notices Ponkrashov is sagging off of him; getting prepared to switch or go underneath the screen. After noticing this, Musa calls for another back screen to see if Ponkrashov will sag off again. He does, so Musa makes him pay and fires away from about two-feet behind the 3-point line and is cash.

Another positive about Musa’s shot is that he’s clearly comfortable shooting from NBA range already. That deep pull-up 3 in the previous highlight isn’t an anomaly, he shoots and scores from that range fairly often.

Musa drains another deep 3 in this video and this one is a catch-and-shoot 3 after some really good ball movement by Cedevita. Musa gets things started by finding the roll man out of the wing pick-and-roll. As the ball gets in the teeth of the defense and near the rim, the opposing defenders are forced to dig down to force the ball back out. Musa relocated to the top of the key and waits for a kick out, once he gets it he makes the open three from well beyond the arc with ease.

For his age, Musa does a pretty good job of getting himself open. We saw him navigate to open space in that last clip but something he’s really good at is getting open via dribble hand-off with his fellow big on the court.

This is a simple one for Musa. Andrija Stipanovic catches the ball at the foul line and takes one dribble towards Musa on the wing. Musa’s man gets baited into reaching on Stipanovic a little bit so Musa notices, comes over for the hand off, and let’s Stipanovic easily screen off Musa’s man so he has a clean look at the rim, which he capitalizes on.

This is a more complex set for Musa. He starts the play by using an off-ball screen from Demetris Nichols on the wing and then he weaves towards the top of the key where Stipanovic is waiting with the basketball again. He gives Musa a hand off, sets a ball screen on his man, and Stipanovic’s defender decides to sink and dares Musa to shoot. This turns out to be a bad choice.

With the Nets, Jarrett Allen could become one of Musa’s favorite teammates if he’s able to replicate these dribble hand-off screens for Musa and get him open looks.

As Musa becomes a more recognizable shooting threat in the NBA, teams are going to start running him off the 3-point line and dare him to score in other ways. One thing they’ll do is force him into the paint and towards the rim protection they have. This will test Musa as a finisher, and right now it looks like that’s a test he’s going to fail.

Musa currently has one decent finishing move, a running right-handed floater.

It’s a start, he can probably get one or two of these to fall a game before teams cut this off too. That’s where Musa’s well will dry up.

Just look at this highlight as an example. Musa does a great job of catching his defender hedging too hard towards the ball screen so he neglects it and crosses over to go left and to the rim. He beats his initial defender, but Johnson’s defender decides to drop-off and help on Musa’s drive. He cuts off Musa’s line to the rim and Musa does nothing!

He doesn’t use one of his steps to get back to his right hand with a rip through, stop-and-pop for a twelve-footer, or spin back to his right. He just keeps going at the same speed and then throws up a wild shot while praying for a whistle. NBA defenders will catch on to his lack of finishing moves quickly and bait him into these areas. If Musa doesn’t have a counter, he’ll quickly become a one-dimensional scorer.

Musa’s primary role on offense will obviously be as a shooter, but his poor finishing skills mean his secondary role can’t be a slasher. This bumps his secondary role to play-maker, where Musa has some potential.

His handle is sloppy at the moment, but part of that has to do with how frail he is. He only weighs 195 pounds — he’s a string bean who gets bumped off of his dribble line way to easily.

This clips gives us a perfect example of where Musa is at with his handle. Stephane Lasme — an NBA body at 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds with decent foot speed — gets switched on to him. Musa is able to eventually shake Lasme and draw a foul, but it takes far too many dribbles because initially Lasme just gets physical with him and keeps him away from a direct line to the basket. He forces Musa to keep restarting his move. Musa needs to get stronger because in the NBA, and especially with coach Atkinson, he won’t have the freedom to start his iso move three times. Only the best of the best get to do that.

But the Nets will most likely get him in the weight room and get him on a diet plan to bulk him up and prepare him for the physicality of the NBA. If they do that, we could see more plays like this from him.

Musa plays a two-man game on the wing here with Stipanovic and uses a deadly behind-the-back pullback dribble to make his defender fall (he might’ve gotten away with a push too, but the ref didn’t call it). He then demonstrates great patience for a player his age, most 19-year olds would only be looking to shoot after making their opponent fall. Instead, Musa waits for Stipanovic to slash to the rim now that there is space for him to do so and then hits him in stride for the layup.

This highlight also lets us see that Musa is a decent passer too. He’s not a play-maker per se, but he is a willing passer and always knows the right pass to make. He’s not going to throw passes that blow your mind like Doncic but he can be trusted to move the ball properly and find the open guy. Can’t really ask for much more from a 19-year old.

Here’s a good example of the type of passer Musa is. This pass isn’t anything special or flashy, it’s just the right basketball play. Musa wants to attack baseline and takes a hard dribble to get himself going. But the dribble draws two defenders, so Musa picks his head up and finds Stipanovic cutting to the rim. Musa hits him easily and Stipanovic finishes with a layup.

This is another good pass by Musa. He drives hard middle after blowing by a closeout and draws the opposing big just enough to float a pass in to Johnson who finishes nicely with an and-one.

Now, if you watched those two clips and you’re thinking, “those are not impressive passes, they’re just basic basketball plays.” You’re right. But think of how many rookies fail to make basic basketball plays, how many 19-year olds look for the shot too much instead of just seeing the simple pass to the open man in front of them? A lot of them do, Musa doesn’t. Even though he loves shooting and scoring, he is still looking to make the right basketball play. That’s a plus for a rookie.

Musa’s current handle and passing ability make it obvious that he has some untapped potential as a play-maker. It’s on the Nets coaching staff and Musa himself to work together to squeeze every ounce of potential out of him as a play maker. If they maximize it, he could be the next Hedo Turkoglu. If they fail, he could just be the next Alexey Shved.

Musa is clearly a decent offensive player and Atkinson will certainly find ways for him to contribute from the get, and may come up with other ways for him to contribute as the season goes on. But why did other teams pass on Musa if it’s clear he’s capable of playing a role offensively in the NBA? If he can score right now he should’ve gone higher than 29, right?

Well, NBA scouts and GM’s were well aware of Musa’s offensive talent and upside. But they were also equally aware of his often appalling defense.

Musa’s unappealing physique makes many curious about his ability to offer any resistance on defense. His unappealing physique is compounded by his poor communication, lack of effort, and constant lapses in concentration that last an entire possession at times.

Musa possesses all the negative defensive traits a player could have at the moment besides being short. If his defense doesn’t improve, there’s a chance he becomes one of those players who can’t stay in the league because he doesn’t score nearly enough to make up for the points he’s giving up on the other end.

In this clip, we see Musa getting lazy during on-ball defense. He jogs on the switch during the pick-and-roll and then makes no effort to move his feet to stick with his new assignment. He lets him get to the rim and doesn’t even trail him to try to deter the shot. Just gives up on the play entirely.

Here we see Musa just space out the instant his man passes the ball. He’s matched up with Pavel Sergeev of Unics Kazan who’s a pretty solid shooter — he shot 43 percent from deep last season and 35 percent the season before. Musa was probably told this before the game in one way or another yeat Sergeev makes one pass into the post and then Musa just falls asleep and sags off, allowing Sergeev to relocate quickly for an open 3.

The pass and quick relocation move is a favorite among NBA shooters. Steph Curry in particular is one player who uses it often. Musa obviously won’t be matched up with him but that doesn’t mean shooters he has to guard won’t do this to him, especially if they realize how susceptible Musa is too it.

Now here’s a highlight that is especially important. In a Eurocup game against Darrusafaka — who was coached by David Blatt at the time — Musa checked in mid first-quarter and was immediately put through multiple screens on nearly every defensive possession. It was obvious Blatt made a point of seeking him out and this highlight shows how easily Musa gets overwhelmed and then gives up on possessions.

NBA teams will do the same to Musa. They know his wiry frame makes him struggle to get through screens to begin with, and they’ll quickly catch on to him giving in when forced to exhaust considerable effort on the defensive end. This will make Musa unplayable against elite NBA teams, which can be managed as a rookie but has to be fixed as he gets older and the Nets get better.

(Before you watch this next highlight in full, look at the clock and the score. Also factor in that the player with the ball, former Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin, won Eurocup MVP last season.)

It’s obvious by now that Musa is a terrible defender, but this clip is so painfully awful that it needs to be included to really hammer home how bad Musa is defensively right now. He just inexplicably leaves one of the best players in Europe last season wide open for a 3 in a tie ball-game with three minutes to go.

When the screen first comes, Musa jumps out to Wilbekin and gets in a defensive stance. This signals a switch. However, it looks like Musa didn’t communicate a switch — or anything for that matter — because his teammate Filip Kruslin kind of glances back at him when he switches out to make sure Musa is on him. But then, Musa decides to run back to his original man last minute. Kruslin is obviously completely out of the play at this point and Wilbekin gets left wide open to hit a 3 to give Darrusafaka the lead.

This type of defense will not fly with any NBA team or coach. If Musa does this for the Nets, Atkinson will take him out of the game and probably spend the rest of the game screaming at him as he sits on the bench.

For as terrible a defender as Musa is, the Nets did draft him in the first round for a reason. That’s because there’s hope. Musa is still 6-foot-9 and only 19-years old. There is plenty of time for him to add on to his wiry frame and bulk up, which will help on both ends of the floor. Context is also very important when evaluating Musa’s defense.

The Adriatic League is notorious for playing terrible defense, barring the teams at the top. Musa played with some teammates who didn’t care about defense, especially some of the import players who are just trying to put up good numbers in hopes that they can secure a move to a bigger club that is more reliable when it comes to paying their salary. This approach rubs off on a 19-year old, young players are easily influenced by their veteran teammates and will often take the same approach as them because they don’t want to disrespect their authority.

Musa also gets less coaching with Cedevita, considerably less. Their staff isn’t anywhere close to comparable to the Nets who have the manpower to make sure someone sits down with Musa after every game to evaluate his defense and where he needs to improve. Musa seems committed to all of this too. He cried on draft night when his name was called, paid attention to the Nets when fellow Bosnian Mirza Teletovic was on the team, and is a fan of Drazen Petrovic; whose number is retired by the Nets.

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If his commitment is legitimate, and the Nets are as committed to him, then maybe he will reach his full potential and become another Hedo Turkoglu. Who is an example of the type of player the Nets were obviously missing next season. They often hung around with opponents until the end of the game, and then they needed a player who could consistently create for himself or others. Turkoglu was this guy in his prime, and there’s a chance Musa becomes that player too. If he does, then this could end up being one of the greatest gambles in the history of the league.