Archive for Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Keegan: Pritchard on NBA draft clock

May 23, 2007

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The Portland Trail Blazers had the No. 1 pick in the 1972 NBA Draft and thought themselves pretty clever by selecting LaRue Martin, a 6-foot-11 center from Loyola University of Chicago. The decision was based on Martin having played UCLA's Bill Walton tougher than anyone ever had.

Martin lasted four seasons, averaged 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, and shot .416 from the field.

A dozen years later, Portland had the No. 2 pick in the draft and again opted for size, and in doing so sentenced Kentucky's 7-foot-1 Sam Bowie to a lifetime of being referred to as the player chosen ahead of Michael Jordan.

In between those blunders, the Blazers chose Walton with the top pick. When healthy, Walton was every bit as exceptional a player as he now is an analyst.

Portland picks first again this June, based on Tuesday night's draft lottery. Kevin Pritchard, aka Boy Wonder, is the man entrusted with making the decision. He's the general manager for the Blazers. In the biggest game he played at Kansas University, Pritchard showed sound judgment in selecting shots. He made 6 of 7 field-goal attempts and scored 13 points in KU's 83-79 victory against Oklahoma in the 1988 national title game.

The Seattle SuperSonics, Portland's closest NBA rival, have the easy pick. They will take whichever projected perennial All-Star the Blazers don't take between Ohio State's Greg Oden and Kevin Durant of Texas.

NBA lifer Lenny Wilkens represented the Sonics at the draft lottery and in an interview said of the Blazers what most basketball fans are thinking: "One would assume, if you look at their team, they would pick Oden. You would assume that, but it's not written in stone, so we'll have to wait and see."

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Oden is as low-risk a pick to come along since LeBron James left high school for the NBA. Oden's a throw-back big man who doesn't stray from the paint, is a natural shot-blocker, shoots a nice hook shot and displays a sure shooting touch down low. He's quick and powerful and has a chance to develop into an all-time great. The Blazers are in need of a pure post player. So Wilkens' assumption is probably on target. Pritchard, 39, likely will make the safe pick and hope Oden has a healthier career than Bowie and Walton, a much longer and more successful one than Martin.

Here's the only problem with that approach: It requires bypassing Durant, a phenomenal talent whose shot is among the purest on the planet, which is saying something for a quick player gifted with a 7-foot-6 wingspan.

Oden's the safe call. Something about Durant suggests history will remember him as the player who should have been taken first.

In four different Big 12 road games (Colorado, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas), Durant scored 37 points apiece. He shot .404 on three-point shots and averaged 36 minutes a game, active minutes at that.

Chances are Oden will go to Portland, Durant to Seattle, which is in danger of losing the team to Oklahoma City and is in the market for a new coach. Having Durant on board should make it easier for the Sonics to both stay in Seattle and attract a coach. Who wouldn't want to coach Durant?

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