Archive for Wednesday, June 25, 2003

NBA executives lured by unknown

June 25, 2003


— Thursday's NBA draft looms. Melancholy hovers over the sporting world.

Because of the NFL's ridiculously long wait from the end of its season to the draft and because of the NBA's and NHL's amazingly short times between final buzzer and draft and because Major League Baseball picks its players in the spring, there exists a two-month window in which all four drafts are held.

It is called draftnik heaven, and it ends Thursday with the most TV-friendly of the four selection processes. The focus, naturally, will be on basketball's chosen one, LeBron James, but the drama does not end with his selection first overall by Cleveland.

There is gold to be mined in any NBA draft, and that's why the best teams in the league, including the Mavericks, have an opportunity to win the lottery even if they aren't in it.

The NBA draft lasts only two rounds, which puts it just 48 rounds shy of baseball, and the selections come rapidly, which places it at odds with the NFL's first round, where every team exhausts its 15 minutes of on-the-clock fame.

Much focus is placed on whether players project as "lottery picks," which consist of the first 13 selections, although rarely are these the 13 best players in the draft. There's a reason some of these teams are in the lottery year after year.

Gems are uncovered late in the first or even the second round on a regular basis. That seems odd because basketball should be the easiest of the team sports to scout.

Imagine projecting how a 17-year-old defenseman in the Czech Republic will play at NHL speed or how a dominant Division III cornerback will backpedal against Terrell Owens.

Basketball players' skills tend to be more obvious, but that doesn't prevent mistakes from being made every year.

Look at the 2000 draft. Bryan Adams alum Kenyon Martin went first to New Jersey, and he has proven worthy. But none of the other 12 lottery picks was able to match Michael Redd's 15 points per game for Milwaukee this year. Redd, who had displayed his skills in the Final Four at Ohio State, went 43rd.

Move on to 2001. The lottery contained Kedrick Brown, DaSagana Diop, Joe Johnson and Rodney White among others. But then Iowa State's Jamaal Tinsley went 27th, San Antonio scooped up France's Tony Parker 28th, and maybe the best player in the draft, Arizona's Gilbert Arenas, went to Golden State in the second round.

Of the lottery picks that year, only Memphis' Pau Gasol outscored Arenas (18.3) last season.

You want bargains? The NBA draft always has them, you just have to know where to look.

So what might teams turn up Thursday night?

Well, the players that get downgraded the most are the college seniors. Today's conventional wisdom is that there must be something wrong with a player who didn't leave college early to turn pro.

Players who stay four years in college have their games totally picked apart by scouts. Big 12 Conference Player of the Year Hollis Price clearly overstayed his welcome at Oklahoma, where he hit 93 percent of his free throws. He may be a late second-rounder or go completely undrafted.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty that surrounds high school players and foreigners becomes too exotic for many GMs to overlook.

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