Noah Clowney poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam...

Noah Clowney poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected 21st overall by the Brooklyn Nets during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 22, 2023, in New York.  Credit: John Minchillo

There were questions over what the Nets would do with their two first-round picks in the NBA Draft. Use them or package them in a potential trade.

The Nets chose the former Thursday. They selected Alabama freshman center Noah Clowney with the 21st pick in the first round and followed that up drafting Duke freshman guard Dariq Whitehead at No. 22.

The Nets also drafted Kansas All-American forward Jalen Wilson with the 51st pick in the second round.

Clowney, who played one season for the Crimson Tide, averaged 9.8 points and 7.9 rebounds. At 6-foot-10, he has a 7-foot-3 wingspan and was praised for his potential as a rebounder and defender.

“This is an upside pick for the Nets at 21,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said.

Rebounding was an area of need for the Nets after they were outrebounded by 54 during their first-round sweep by the 76ers. After trading Kevin Durant on Feb. 9, the Nets ranked 25th in the NBA in rebounding over the remainder of the season.

Clowney, who turns 19 in July, told ESPN he felt surreal after his selection. He called it surreal after he shook hands with commissioner Adam Silver and told reporters afterwards that Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr., the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is someone he admires.

“Defensively is where I hang my hat. Guard multiple positions, protect the rim, we do it all,” he said. “From a mental standpoint, I do whatever I’m asked.

Whitehead, who turns 19 in August, carries potential as a 3-point shooter and perimeter defender that was one of the nation’s top prospects coming out of high school a year ago. The 6-foot-6, Newark native averaged just 8.3 points but shot 42.4% on 3-pointers in his lone season with the Blue Devils.

However, Whitehead was affected by a foot injury suffered last summer that caused him to be out for Duke’s first three games. In June, he had a second surgery to further repair the injury and general manager Sean Marks said Thursday that Whitehead miss summer league as he continues his recovery.

The surgery was done by Dr. Martin O’Malley, who is also the Nets’ team orthopedist.

“We feel very comfortable with Dariq and with his foot and also just the people we can surround him with here and work on other facets of his game,” Marks said. “The goal will be as always to bring them along slowly but again, sometimes these guys surprise you.”

By keeping both picks, the Nets did the opposite of what they did in 2019, the last time they had multiple first-round picks. They traded both Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Mfiondu Kabengele, leaving Nic Claxton as their highest rated pick at No. 31 in the second round.

Wilson averaged 20.1 points and 8.3 rebounds as a junior last season and was named Big 12 Player of the Year. He was also a first-team All-American.

There were reports that the Nets could also trade up in the draft. But instead, they stood pat and used both first-round picks on young players expected to help them in the future.

The Nets face an intriguing offseason with Cam Johnson as a restricted free agent. Johnson will be coveted as a wing who shot 41.6% on three-pointers over the past two seasons.

As a restricted free agent, Johnson can agree to another team’s offer sheet but the Nets have the opportunity to match it. Marks said after the season that re-signing Johnson is a top priority.

The Nets also could be active in the trade market as they reconfigure their team post Durant and Kyrie Irving. Thursday was a step in that new direction as they went young with players who promise potential.

For Clowney, that means learning the ropes but also helping to set a standard with Mikal Bridges and other veterans.

“I’m encouraging but I don’t like to let people slide with less than what they’re capable of. I hold people accountable and I hope others hold me accountable,” Clowney said.

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