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Scott Howard-Cooper

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, John Calipari
Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (left) is one of four favorites to go No. 1 in the 2012 Draft.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Race for top spot in 2012 Draft is wide open at this point


Posted Jan 25 2012 11:08AM

A veteran NBA executive -- a respected talent evaluator, a man who has been successful in the Draft -- said teams are now talking about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as a possible No. 1 pick in June.

This says a lot about the high-energy Kentucky forward, about exceeding expectations and putting himself on a path to be picked, at worst, high in the lottery. It says that projections at the start of the season may turn meaningless for the second year in a row. It says that there's a logjam for the top spot with 5 months still ahead.

Already lining up as one of the most anticipated Drafts in years, loaded with star power and depth, the 2012 proceeding has three established contenders for No. 1 and a fourth forcing his way into the conversation. Anthony Davis of Kentucky, Andre Drummond of Connecticut, Harrison Barnes of North Carolina, Kidd-Gilchrist as a long shot ... and constant, shifting fortunes for all involved.

The battle for the glamour spot on June 28 is a great debate. There's Barnes' offense vs. Davis' defense vs. the tease of Drummond's combination of size and athleticism.

There wasn't nearly this intrigue in 2011, when Barnes, the preseason consensus choice as a freshman, had a slow start, ended up returning to Carolina and Duke's Kyrie Irving became the clear No. 1.

In 2010, John Wall of Kentucky separated himself from the field as the Draft drew near. The year before that, Blake Griffin from Oklahoma was an easy wire-to-wire winner, from projected first selection as the season opened to no-brainer call on Draft night.

But this, if it holds, is different. A strong case can be made for all three. Winning the lottery will bring excitement for an organization and immense pressure for a general manager in a year with chances to be seriously wrong.

NCAA tournament and postseason workouts can always sway the top of the lottery, but 2012 has been uncertain from the start. It was only last spring, after all, that Barnes, Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and Perry Jones of Baylor turned their back on the chance to go in the top five and stayed in school. Now, Drummond has already said he will return to UConn for his sophomore season.

"As of right now, I know I'll be back," he told SNY.tv on Saturday. "That's all I could tell you, I'll be back."

Even headed to the top five and possibly the top one?

"Yeah, I'll be back," Drummond said.

It's the "As of right now" that will stick with front offices. A lot of players change their minds, especially when the pronouncement comes this early in the process, and double-especially when it comes from a player who only now has started to string together some strong showings that suggest he may live up to the hype. Certainly no pro team is calling off a scouting mission based on Drummond's statement, though teams would be stalking Connecticut no matter what with Jeremy Lamb tracking to the top half of the lottery.

Drummond is 6-foot-10 and 270 pounds with strength and agility. Playing to his potential means playing in 10 All-Star games.

But:

One scout went to watch him play, arrived early to spend time watching warmups and couldn't help but be impressed by the physical presence of the freshman. Then the game started.

At that point, Drummond was nowhere to be found.

"He hasn't played worth a damn," said an executive with another team. "But everyone says he's talented. It's too early to tell."

Barnes and Davis have had many more resume-building moments and, like Drummond, could be looking at showcasing their talents in long tournament runs. In the eyes of personnel departments, though, none has taken control of the race for No. 1. That may not happen until March or beyond, into the individual workouts.

That may not happen at all.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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