Friday, May 28, 2004
By Chad Ford
Insider's first mock draft appeared late Wednesday night, and by 8 a.m. Thursday I already had 15 messages on my cell. By the time I shut off my phone at 1:30 a.m. Friday, the number had swelled to around 50 calls.
Many of them came from agents protesting where we projected a client or two on the mock draft. It's safe to say every agent believes his client is a lottery pick. I received guarantees on about 30 players that they'd be in the lottery on draft night. I didn't have the heart to tell them only 14 players actually can be selected there.
The feedback from NBA scouts and GMs is much more helpful. As I wrote Thursday, the draft boards of NBA teams are wildly different this year. Players are all over the board, making it difficult, even impossible, to produce a mock draft that means much. Besides, mocks done this far from draft day are essentially meaningless, anyway. Over the next few weeks things should come into better focus as two important events go down.
Next week almost every team in the league will be in Treviso, Italy, for Reebok's Eurocamp. The camp is filled with some big-time draft talent, including Pavel Podkolzine, Martynas Andriuskevicius
, Mile Ilic, Johan Petro, Roko Leni Ukic and Drago Pasalic ... all of whom are in this year's draft. It's also filled with a number of top prospects for next year, including Nemanja Aleksandrov, Rudy Fernandez, Marko Lekic, Vladimir Veremeenko and Manuchar Markoishvili among others. From there, teams should get a much better read on some of the interesting big men in the draft. Insider will be in Treviso for the week to report on the camp.
The following week is the Chicago pre-draft camp. Every year several bubble-type prospects emerge from there and plant themselves firmly in the first round. Others disappear completely. Just as important, the top players in the draft go through the combine and measurements, ending all the silly speculation on how tall guys really are (no, Emeka Okafor is not 6-7).
Until then, however, here's a consensus of whose draft stock we may have rated a little too low and whose we have rated a little too high at this point. The mock draft will be updated accordingly next week.
Deng, Childress or Iguodala to the Bulls? Luol Deng's decision to only work out, alone, at the Duke campus could really haunt him if he decides to stay in the draft. Teams want to see how he stacks up against several of the other top prospects in the draft. Right now Deng is refusing to play along. It's not an uncommon practice for a player ranked this high to play this game, but it's frustrating to NBA teams.
Andre Iguodala has an outside shot at being the No. 3 pick.
Meanwhile both Andre Iguodala and Josh Childress have been impressing people to the point several scouts now claim they have both players ranked ahead of Deng on their boards. What gives?
The advantage Iguodala and Childress have over Deng is athleticism and experience. Childress has played three years for Stanford and really had a breakthrough season there. Several scouts who have seen him work out claim he looked awesome. We've moved him up to the No. 4 pick with Charlotte, but it's not out of the question the Bulls could decide Childress, not Deng, makes the most sense at No. 3.
Don't count out Iguodala at No. 3, either. While he's more of a two than a three, his defense, athleticism, passing, ball-handling ability and NBA body are off the charts. The big question has been his shot. However, several individuals who have seen him work out lately claim his outside shot is looking very good. He's still not going to be a sharpshooter from beyond the arc, but neither was Dwyane Wade.
Iguodala, like Wade, has the quickness and strength to take guys to the rack. While some scouts worry his offense may be a little lacking, the other intangibles could convince the Bulls to take a shot on the Springfield, Ill., native. If the Bulls don't take him, the Bobcats and Hawks might.
Where does that leave Deng? Still not in bad shape. The Bobcats have him ranked very high and would love for him to fall to No. 4. It doesn't mean they'd take him, but they'd like the option. The Bulls also could go with Deng. His maturity, leadership, freakish wingspan and sound fundamentals make him a safe choice. While scouts aren't convinced Deng will be a superstar in the league, most feel he has a great chance to be a good player. Of the three, he may be the safest pick, but without the upside of the other two.
Jackson, Snyder rising: It's probably not a surprise to keep hearing that players with more college experience are suddenly on the rise. Once players like Oregon's Luke Jackson, Nevada's Kirk Snyder, Xavier's Romain Sato and, to a lesser extent, Jameer Nelson of Saint Joseph's, started getting into workouts against high school players and less-experienced internationals and college underclassmen, their value has become evident.
Luke Jackson has been impressing scouts during workouts.
Jackson has been especially impressive in workouts, according to several scouts who have had him in their gym. He's shot the ball extremely well and has tested as a better athlete than many people had expected. The comparisons to Mike Miller are becoming more prominent every day, and that can only do good things for Jackson. He worked out for New Jersey on Wednesday to rave reviews and put on a show for the Cavs on Friday. He also had a solid workout along with Snyder in Atlanta on Tuesday.
Right now we have Jackson going No. 22 to the Nets. They could really use him. But it's not out of the question he could sneak all the way into the lottery by the end of the process. Jackson is one of the few players in the draft who can play right now, and that should make things interesting for teams like Cleveland (No. 10), Portland (No. 13), Utah (No. 14, 16, 21), Atlanta (No. 17), New Orleans (No. 18), Denver (No. 20) and New Jersey. All those teams want and need a player who can produce at his position. If Deng, Childress and Iguodala are all off the board, Jackson may be the choice.
Snyder has been equally impressive in workouts, according to scouts. Snyder's strength, athleticism, versatility and toughness have stood out in workouts. From what we hear, he can outplay just about anyone one-on-one. The consistency of his perimeter shot is the only thing that has scouts a little concerned. Snyder is not a bad shooter, but he can be wildly inconsistent with his jump shot. Right now we have him going No. 20 to the Nuggets. He has a chance to move up a little more in the first round, but unlike Jackson, the chances of him rising into the lottery are pretty slim.
Sato's been wowing teams in workouts lately and has some real draft buzz. Prospects like him don't come along too often. He's strong, athletic, mature, plays stifling defense, can rebound and has a nice jump shot. Comparisons on him range from Quentin Richardson offensively to Ron Artest or Mickael Pietrus defensively. If he impresses teams at the Chicago pre-draft camp, don't be surprised if he sneaks into the latter part of the first round. With so few experienced players in the draft, Sato should be able to take advantage if he keeps playing this way.
Donta Smith a first-round sleeper: The mock draft can only go 29 players deep this year, because Minnesota forfeited its pick as part of the Joe Smith fiasco. Had it gone a full 30 picks, Smith would have been the last guy in the first round. By the end of the process, he could be going much higher. Smith has been working out in Chicago for several weeks, and scouts who have seen him there are claiming he looks amazing. That mirrors the reports of several scouts who scouted him heavily in JUCO this year.
JUCO prospect Donta Smith is on the fringe of the first round.
Smith has gotten a bad rap from Rick Pitino for deciding to declare for the draft. But the truth is Pitino was absolutely in love with him before he defected. Smith reminded Pitino, and many other people, of Ron Artest. He's a big-time athlete and defender who is tough as nails. Offensively, he's way ahead of where Artest was when he declared. He's a good shooter from the perimeter and can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. He also uses his strength to post players up. Smith's most impressive attribute is his ball-handling and passing. Several scouts believe he has the ability to be a point forward in the pros. He already has an NBA body and has a 7-foot-1 wingspan.
A relative lack of experience and a tattered legacy for junior college kids who go straight to the pros is keeping his stock down at the moment. Remember, Kedrick Brown went No. 11 and Qyntel Woods went No. 21. On the basketball side of things, scouts claim that while he's a very good athlete, he doesn't have bouncy vertical.
He's under the radar right now, but NBA scouts know about him and like him -- a lot. He's drawing rave reviews at all of his workouts and has a pretty hefty schedule up to the draft. The Kings, especially, have been keeping a close eye on him all year and could nab him at the end of the first round.
What about Ramos? There isn't a player on the draft board who is more difficult to project right now than Puerto Rico's Peter John Ramos. For the past two months he has been dominating the Puerto Rican league and putting on an offensive show for NBA scouts and GMs who have made the trip. All of them have walked away impressed with the 7-foot-3, 280-pound 18-year-old. One GM told Insider he believes Ramos will be a top-10 pick on draft night.
Why then, is he projected at No. 28 in Insider's mock draft? A couple of reasons: One, every team I talked to likes Ramos, but most of them don't love him. After seeing what happened to Maciej Lampe last season, forgive us for being a bit wary. Lampe was told by a number of teams in the 5 to 10 range in the draft that he was one of the top two or three guys they were considering. Lots of teams really liked him. No one, however, loved him. He ended up slipping all the way out of the first round on draft night due to a set of bizarre circumstances. A guy like Ramos, who just came onto the scene two months ago for many teams, seems ripe for the same type of situation.
Also, every team I talked to has real concerns about attitude and off-court issues. Ramos' agent, Andrew Vye, insists there is nothing to be concerned about. Any problems Ramos had were in the past, and at just 18 years of age, he certainly has the potential to mature. Some have questioned his work ethic, but coach Billy Bayno, who has worked him out in Puerto Rico the past few weeks, claims Ramos has a phenomenal work ethic and is a quick learner.
However, the perception is there -- especially among scouts who have been tracking Ramos longer. Those things tend to weigh heavily on draft night. If Ramos slips out of the lottery, it's conceivable all the teams from 15 down to the Spurs at 28 could pass on him. They all have other, pressing needs that this draft could fill, and the few teams in the group that do need a big man may opt for a more experienced guy who can help them win games now. In short, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Ramos ended up a lottery pick on draft night. But the consensus among the scouts I've talked to is that the second half of the first round is much more plausible.
Varejao, Khryapa rising? Going with the old-school theme today, several 22-year-old international players also are playing to pretty positive reviews right now. Brazilian big man Anderson Varejao arrived in Atlanta this week to begin workouts with NBA teams. Already, several are beginning to remember why they fell in love with him two years ago when he came over to work out. A lackluster two years coming off the bench at F.C. Barcelona have hurt his stock, but as a player, he's still pretty attractive.
Varejao's length, athleticism, toughness and energy around the basket are just the type of qualities veteran teams late in the first round are looking for. The Spurs have liked him for years. Same with the Nuggets and Pistons. He's a little bit of an "eye of the beholder" type player, because he's pretty raw offensively, but, at the end of the day he seems like the type of player who'd have a very good shot at the late first round. We'll follow his workouts closely and get back to you on how he's doing.
Russian forward Viktor Khryapa is another guy worth keeping tabs on. He'll begin working out with NBA teams soon, and there are several scouts (a minority however) who actually prefer him to his teammate Sergei Monya. Teams to watch on Khryapa include Boston, New Jersey and the Lakers.
Promises, Promises It seems like it's way too early to begin to talk about promises and the draft. We're still a month away, and most teams are just now beginning individual workouts. But the speculation continues to grow that several high school and international players already have been locked up.
Two teams notorious for giving promises -- the Celtics and Suns -- already are being accused of making such deals. Both teams deny it, but there are strong indications the Celtics have gotten very close with three prospects -- Peja Samardziski, Robert Swift and Dorell Wright. The Suns have been linked to Martynas Andriuskevicius for weeks, though there may be less truth to that one. It's tough to see how they could make a promise to a kid before the lottery had taken place. Now that the team knows it's drafting No. 7? It's possible they could make the call now.
There's been speculation for weeks that Russia's Sergei Monya was already locked up. Monya is not working out for any teams, causing whispers of "promise" around the league. Where might he go? The Jazz struck gold once in Russia, so why not try it again? Utah is one of many teams that really likes Monya. He's a great fit. He's tough, athletic and is an emerging shooter. He also happens to represented by the same agent, Marc Fleisher, who has Andrei Kirilenko and Gordan Giricek as clients. I'm not saying Utah has promised anyone anything, but it would sure make sense. Most likely Monya will have to play one more season in Russia before heading to the NBA, giving the Jazz time to sort out their logjams at the two and three.
There also has been speculation for weeks that Sebastian Telfair had been locked up. Why else would adidas give him that much money? There's a reason Insider put Telfair at No. 23 to the Blazers on Wednesday. They fell in love with him at a tournament in California and have been high on him ever since. It's pretty unlikely they'd use pick No. 13 on him, but No. 23 sounds just about right.
If that isn't enough to keep you interested, Insider also has learned that several agents are employing a new strategy this year -- asking for promises in the second round. It's not as crazy as it seems. What agents are searching for is guaranteed deals. If a team is willing to lock up a player for three years (which is allowable under the CBA), both sides win. The team gets the player's Bird Rights, protecting them from losing the player in free agency if he develops quickly. The player, essentially, gets the same guarantee as a first-round pick. Several agents are telling teams they will keep their clients in the draft if they get a second-round guarantee that's a good fit. Theoretically, you could see several interesting international players like Ha Seung Jin or Damir Omerhodzic going this route. It's a better alternative than returning to Europe, and it gives bad teams another great shot at locking up another talented young kid.
Trade Talk There's still a very good possibility the Bulls will at least consider trading their No. 3 pick along with one of the Baby Bulls for a more-seasoned veteran. Several interesting possibilities could exist.
One has the Bulls working out something with the Jazz, who would send their No. 16 pick and Matt Harpring to Chicago for the Bulls' No. 3 pick and Jerome Williams. That would give the Bulls the veteran small forward they've coveted in the past and allow them to move Williams' bad contract off the books.
Another, courtesy Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune, has them packaging Eddy Curry and the No. 3 pick to Memphis (for Pau Gasol and Shane Battier). Smith also suggests the Sonics would be interested in the No. 3, Curry and Antonio Davis in return for Ray Allen and the No. 12 pick.
I think that's a lot for Memphis to give up, but I could see the Sonics being interested. Allen hasn't exactly gotten along with everyone in Seattle, and the Sonics are desperate for a big man. They get two in the package and could replace Allen with a player they draft at No. 3. I also could see the Bulls sending the No. 3, Curry and Jerome Williams to Seattle for Rashard Lewis, Vladimir Radmanovic
, Ronald Murray and the No. 12 pick. The Sonics could replace Lewis easier with the No. 3 pick. Luol Deng and Josh Childress both would be interesting candidates there.
The only issue for the Bulls is who ultimately replaces Curry in the middle? There won't be a player with his upside at No. 12. I still believe they're much better off trying to move Tyson Chandler, but, admittedly, he doesn't have the trade value Curry does.