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Quantity, not quality, defines NBA draft class
With no standout No. 1 pick and prep stars unable to be selected, teams will likely use picks to fill needs
By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published June 28, 2006
Drafts are among the most unpredictable puzzles in sports.
Projected high picks drop. Others see their stocks rise exponentially. But, typically, a phenom or two rise above the unknowns to establish themselves as sure things.
Apparently, this is not a typical NBA draft.
Entering tonight's event at Madison Square Garden, there is no agreement on who the first overall pick will be, much less what prospects are likely to land in the first round or among the lottery picks.
The unpredictability begins with the No. 1 pick, owned by Toronto. That's where many expect to see Italian standout Andrea Bargnani, a 7-foot power forward, to be chosen. Then again, it could be Texas sophomore LaMarcus Aldridge, a 6-11 power forward/center. Or it might be Gonzaga's Adam Morrison, LSU's Tyrus Thomas or Connecticut's Rudy Gay.
The experts who make their living handicapping the draft must be going out of their minds.
"I grade this as a good draft," ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. "It doesn't have the name superstar, the no-brainer top pick. There's no recognized order. But it has good depth of talent."
That last point might be his most important. There isn't a LeBron James in the bunch. And there isn't a Yao Ming, either. Both those players were examples of surefire bets who went No. 1 in recent years. But the overall impact of the players in this draft class could be felt more than some.
"I don't study the draft, but I listen to my people," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "They seem to think this is a year that (isn't) necessarily a bad draft, but it doesn't have special players. It does, though, have a quantity of good players. Next year's draft is supposed to have special players, but this will be a good one, too."
This year, some of the splashier names belonged to high school prospects who no longer are permitted to enter the draft before spending at least a year in college. Post player Greg Oden, for example, is headed to Ohio State rather than the draft, where he might well have been the top overall pick.
The elimination of such players might have diluted the talent pool.
"You'll see some guys drafted who wouldn't have been drafted if the high school guys were here," Indiana Pacers president Donnie Walsh said.
Then there's a bright side to the equation.
"You will also see guys who can play right now and can be coached," Walsh added. "They will be guys who can make (rosters)."
Magic general manager Otis Smith, speaking to reporters in Orlando on Tuesday, said this year "is a working man's draft, and you can find what you want out there."
There will be serviceable players throughout, but a handful have the potential to be special players.
Among them are Bargnani, who some are comparing to the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki. Others question his strength and toughness and predict he will develop (or not) much like Orlando's Darko Milicic, who was picked second by the Pistons in 2003 and barely saw the floor in Detroit before being traded last season.
There is one major difference, however.
"Bargnani has (played) 75 games that I would say are higher than any college level (competition) in our country," said Fran Fraschilla, another ESPN analyst. "In those 75 games, he's played in the Italian league and the Euro League which is a compilation of all the best teams in Europe.
"He's got more of a track record than these young big men who have come over and not yet set the world on fire like Milicic."
Bargnani reportedly is Toronto's preferred choice, but others could come into play. Aldridge has the potential to play the post in the NBA, which is becoming a hard-to-find skill. Morrison is a pure scorer who led the NCAA in scoring (28.1 ppg) last season, even though the forward is dogged by questions about his ability to defend NBA players. And Toronto continues to look at still others as candidates for No. 1 and might not have its final answer until tonight.
The Magic's draft effort also is a work in progress, with Smith saying Tuesday that the team is still exploring several options that include trading up, down or out of the first round altogether. The team is seeking veteran help, but is finding it a tough go.
"We've explored about every option that you can as far as trading the pick to get a veteran player," Smith said. "I don't know if (we're) going to be able to do that."
If they end up keeping the No. 11 pick, they could be looking at options such as guard Ronnie Brewer of Arkansas, who recently worked out for the Magic, Duke shooting guard J.J. Redick or N.C. State power forward Cedric Simmons, among others.
"I think we'll be able to get a talented player there," Smith said.
This year, that's true most anywhere in the draft.
WHAT/WHERE: NBA Draft, Madison Square Garden, New York TV: 7, ESPN