Chris Wallace 2007 Draft Q&A - Part II

After talking about the process of how teams attack the draft and how scouts and teams evaluate players in Part I, we talked to Celtics General Manager Chris Wallace about the actual players in this year's draft. Given the high profile of Ohio State's Greg Oden and Texas' Kevin Durant, fans have probably neglected the rest of the field when considering the Celtics' draft prospects. But the truth is, the 2007 Draft runs much deeper than just the two names that everyone knows.

Wallace spends plenty of time on the road watching the top college players in person, and has scouted many of these players multiple times. In Part II, he offers up candid evaluations of many of the consensus top picks, and gave us some insider nuggets you won't find anywhere else.

>> Return to Part I

Looking at this draft, would you consider this a deep draft?

Greg Oden

Everyone knows about Greg Oden (above) and Kevin Durant, but many observers feel that the 2007 Draft has the potential to be one of the deepest in recent memory.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty

"Yes it is, I think this is a very good draft. At the top end, you have some players who could be special, obviously, but I think there will be more big-time players come out of this draft when we have the benefit of hindsight to evaluate the 2007 Draft five years from now than just Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. I see very few drafts that are just two players deep. There's a very intriguing pool of players with size, frontcourt players, who are going to come into play right beyond the first two picks. And there's also sufficient depth of talent to make our 32nd pick very intriguing as well.

And you never know what trades could happen on draft night?

"Sure. For example, last year, when the draft started at 7:30 in New York, we had no indication that the situation with Phoenix for Rajon Rondo was going to occur. That just arose literally out of thin air as the draft proceeded."

So you had to be ready to evaluate other guys on the board, even though we'd already traded our pick?

"Right. That's why you rank the players by position and overall, so when the draft begins it's a simple process, you just mark them off as you go along. You don't always take the highest-rated player but in most cases you do."

You mentioned the talent near the top of the draft with regard to the 6'8", 6'9" guys, but at the guard position, it doesn't appear to be as top-heavy. Is it fair to say right now that Acie Law and Mike Conley are the two guys who stand out as point guard prospects?

"Those guys are right now, although we haven't had the benefit of observing all of the workouts. But at this point in the process it looks like they're going to be the first two point guards selected.

When you look at players who may play shooting guard but project to be a point guard, or power forwards who may play small forward in the NBA, how do you make that type of a projection?

"Most NBA players who are very successful and have long-running careers in this league have a true position. At the same time, basketball is basketball, and we are now seeing that with the smallball that's been so successful for Phoenix and Golden State. But your top players generally have a position. Steve Nash is a point guard. Yao Ming is a center. So when you scout college players that's one of the first questions you want to answer: What is this guy's NBA position going to be? If he's going to have to make too extreme of a change, you've got to factor that into your evaluation.

Let's say a guy has been playing inside in college at a very small height, and his whole career has been around the basket, but he's going to have to project as a small forward or even a second guard? That's a big jump to make. It's not as radical if you go from small forward to off-guard or from center to power forward. If you've never been a point guard, and now you've got to become one, that requires some careful deliberation to determine a player's realistic chances of making that type of switch."

So looking at guys like Kevin Durant or Joakim Noah, taller guys who have a slighter frame at 6'9 to 6'10", they may have played center or power forward in college but may project as a three in the NBA...

"Well, Noah is an interior player. He's not an outside shooter, but he rebounds well, can block shots, and plays on energy. He can face the basket on the perimeter and make plays, drive the ball to the basket and he's a very good passer. Despite the fact that he still needs to get stronger and fill out physically, he's still going to play the same position in the NBA. He'll be a power forward.

It's great, though, when a player has played the same position forever like Conley, and he has to make no switch at all. That's advantageous to him.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant needs to add size to his lanky frame, but his statitics in just one year of college are eye-popping.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty

So you'd say Durant projects to be a small forward?

"Durant will start out as a small forward, being close to 6'`10", he could end up being a face-the-basket Phoenix-type forward which also means playing some power forward. Not as your traditional banger at power forward, but someone who creates match-up problems because he forces defenses and guys who can't guard him off the dribble to go out and chase him. But I look at Durant, in a way, as almost beyond position. I think he's sort of a "rover" who can play anywhere. Charles Barkley, to me, was like that. Barkley was technically a power forward but he could take the ball off the defensive boards and lead the break. He could shoot from the perimeter and handle the ball. He did it all and this guy is the same way. Now he obviously doesn't have the same body as Barkley, there's an immense difference between them physically, but he's just as gifted, an all-around talent who can do everything."

So with the advent of smallball, maybe being a "tweener" isn't that bad anymore?

"I think it may be a little easier to overcome, but it's hard to be great and be a tweener. Look at the great players in the league and they have a definite position. When you're a tweener, that means you have a physical inferiority or skill deficit at some point with the players you'll match up against."

How about a guy like Spencer Hawes? He probably doesn't have big name recognition, maybe people haven't seen him play as much. What do you think about a guy like him, will that lack of name recognition keep him out of the top 10?

"Well, he could hit it. I think it's early to do projections, but he's a guy who to me is probably like an 8-12 in the draft, if he decides to stay in, I haven't seen where he's signed with anybody yet. But as is the case with almost all players in the draft, you don't get everything in one package. Spencer has excellent size, he doesn't have overwhelming athletic ability, but he is extremely skilled for that size. He has a real feel for the offensive end of the court for someone that size, and as young of a player as he is."

What about Al Thornton? He's one of the few seniors with lottery hopes and seems to be one of those guys with a lot of upside...

"Al Thornton is one of the older players in the draft. I believe he's 23, and Al has shown maybe more improvement over the course of his career than maybe anyone who is in this draft. If you check the numbers, he averaged no more than 3 PPG as a freshman at Florida State, and by the time he was a senior he was pushing 20 PPG and was a dominant player on the Florida State team. He started off as a freshman as a player who some evaluators thought was a questionable ACC scholarship recipient; now he's a potential lottery pick as a senior. So he has worked extremely hard to get to this point, has pushed himself to great extent. And this guy is someone who could be a significant scorer down the road in the NBA. He can make shots from the perimeter, drive the ball, get to the foul line.

He had huge games against some of the best teams in the country; check his game against Florida, I think he was 28 points and close to 10 rebounds as Florida State upset their in-state rivals. He plays with a tremendous intensity and sense of urgency. When you watch Al Thornton play, you know basketball is something he loves and it's important to him. And that's important to us, to know that the game is important to the player. If you strip away the so-called glamour of the NBA life and the fact that these players are going to be making more money than they ever anticipated growing up, they still have to love the game. If you don't love the game, you're not going to be able to handle year after year of 90-plus game schedules and all the time you need to spend refining your craft. You have to be able to retain that little boy's love of the game, even though this is a very serious profession. Al Thornton has that love of the game, there's no doubt about that."

What about the kids at Florida, playing for a two-time championship team, and what that does for them in terms of preparing them for NBA success?

"That really has polished those players and hardened them in a very positive sense. They faced tremendous competition. This year, they had that late-season swoon, where they just couldn't get anything going for a couple of weeks, yet they managed to turn things around in the SEC tournament and then march right through six games to win another NCAA tournament. Florida's the first repeat champion in what, 14 years? That's very impressive in itself. These players have been very well coached by Billy Donovan and his staff, they put a tremendous amount of time in year-round to developing their skills, and they have all produced extremely well consistently against a great schedule at the highest levels of college basketball. You're looking at probably three of them in the top 10 of the draft."

"We've talked about Noah already, but as for Al Horford, he improved every year at Florida. His father Tito was a second-rounder for Milwaukee in 1988, so he also comes from a great basketball background and has a high basketball I.Q. Corey Brewer is a swing player who can play small forward and second guard, I also look at him to go very high in this draft and be potentially a big-time NBA player down the road."

Brewer is certainly a defensive standout and an athletic freak. When you see guys all playing together on the same team, does that give you a better sense of how they will perform in the NBA where everyone on the roster can play?

"I think that shows something that is very important for us, that they are willing to put their individual stats and goals aside to immerse themselves in the team. That is what winning basketball is all about at any level. Let's face facts, most players, almost 99% of the players in the NBA will never be good enough to be "The Man" on a team that goes deep into the playoffs, so you've got to figure out how to contribute, not only offensively, but defensively and off the court, and play your role to help the team win. These players have been trouble-free off the court, they stayed academically eligible, they have great attitude and they stayed together for an additional season when they all could have gone to the NBA and fared very well. There's so much to like about this group."

Let's move on to Brandan Wright. What's your take on him?

"He's a young player coming out after just his freshman year at North Carolina. Brandan Wright is very intriguing because of his athleticism, length, his jump hook and ability to block shots and his potential. He needs to continue to develop his outside shot, his weight and strength, but we're in the projection business. It's not about just delivering immediately, but where are you going to be 4-5 years down the road. Wright has the ability and physical characteristics to be one of the elite players out of this draft 4-5 years from now. And at the same time, he's good enough to deliver in the short term as well."

And of course, there's Oden and Durant. How would you compare and contrast the different things that they bring to the table? Oden is regarded more as a defensive presence, and given the wrist injury, he didn't really show a lot of offense until the National Championship game, whereas Durant put up some pretty gaudy numbers over the season.

"Well, they're two completely different players. Greg Oden is a classic low-post center, a defender, shot blocker, rebounder. He has a well-developed body for someone his age. He's that classic "man in the middle" that every team covets. Most NBA teams, because there's a shortage of that type of player, go years, in some cases well over a decade, without having an elite-level center. And he's got a great attitude, loves school, was never in any trouble or any hint of trouble. People who've been around him tell me he's just the most cheerful, upbeat kid who cant do enough in terms of signing autographs, doing his media obligations, so everything you hear about the guy is first rate.

He wasn't the focal point of Ohio State's offense until late in the year as he came back from that injury that you alluded to, because the team was very deep in talent. But I think he's going to be able to do everything you need from a center and be a big time player in the NBA. He'll put points up on the board, rebound, block shots, and whatever team is fortunate enough to draft Greg Oden, their defense will improve dramatically, almost overnight.

Durant is a more finesse-oriented, face-the-basket type of player who's comfortable from the deepest part of the perimeter to all the way inside. What he has done statistically in college is mind-boggling. It's one of the great seasons that any freshman has had in the history of college basketball. I don't have all his numbers in front of me but I remember being at a Big 12 Conference game and they passed out the Big 12 Conference leaders. He was ranked in the top eight in the Big 12 in about 6-8 different categories, and categories as diverse as rebounding to shotblocking to free throw shooting and three-point percentage. He just spanned the spectrum with his statistical contributions in a manner that is seldom seen. You usually have players on the interior who are shotblockers, rebounders and shoot a great field goal percentage, but they're not great from the free throw line and they don't shoot the three. This guy not only protected the basket as a shotblocker, but he led the league in rebounding and scoring, and also ranked high in free throw shooting, three-point shooting, he got steals. He did everything. That just is never seen from a young player as a freshman in that strong a league. That's a tremendous indicator of future success in the NBA."

Are there players that either of these two guys remind you of? You mentioned Barkley for Durant...

"Durant has some Nowitzki in him, he's got some Bob McAdoo, a little George Gervin. The guy is just a fantastic offensive player. He's one of the best offensive players to enter the draft in a long time. There's nothing he can't do offensively.

As for Oden, it's not fair to Greg to compare him at this young age to players who rank among the all-time players of the game. He has the physical ability, basketball skills and intangibles necessary to become, in his own style, a force in the NBA. I think he can be one of the elite big men in the game going forward. That's extremely important, despite the advent of smallball. Every NBA championship team for quite some time has had a strong defensive and rebounding presence in the middle."

When the team knows it will be drafting in the top 5, does it make sense to draft more for need or just taking the best available guy?

"I'm a proponent, and Danny is too, of taking the best talent. Letting the draft come to you; the late great Stu Inman, the general manager of the Portland Trailblazers who guided that team to their NBA Championship in 1977, that was his philosophy. If you look at most of the big mistakes that have happened at the top of the draft, they've happened when teams have opted for need rather than mere talent, like the Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan thing. It can be very dangerous just to let your needs overshadow the real task at hand, which is to enhance the talent on the roster. This is a free shot at talent. There's no other method to acquire players in the NBA that's a total free shot like this."

Jianlian Yi

Wallace says Yi would have been a "major, major" player in the NCAA this season, and that seven-footers with his athleticism are hard to find.
Guang Niu/NBAE/Getty

But beyond those two guys?

"As good as Oden and Durant are, this draft is deeper than those two players. Take a look at the Florida players. You have to be very encouraged about their prospects, they're going to be very, very good. Then there's Yi Jianlian; we haven't discussed him much. I've watched him play three times this year, I saw Yi in Qatar at the Asian Games in December where his team won the gold medal, and there's no question in my mind that this past season he would have been a major player in college basketball. In college there are very few players at his size with comparable athleticism and outside shooting skill.

You just don't find too many guys in college basketball who are around 7'0" who have his athleticism. And he doesn't have a totally skinny body. He's probably somewhere in the 240s, and his body could add some strength to it. He can also step out to 15-17 feet and make shots. It's a very impressive package that he has."

What about his commitment to the Chinese National Team?

"That will be a factor in his development, but the team that drafts him will just have to work through it, because the national team commitment is very important in China. Probably for several years after he enters the NBA, most of his offseason time is going to be taken up with his national team commitments. Yi will probably play for the Chinese National Team in the Vegas Summer League this July. Obviously, as the Chinese National team makes its push for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Yi will be spending a significant portion of his offseasons with the National Team.

That said, his national team participation has been advantageous to his development, as he's gone up in practice against the likes of Yao Ming, Wang Zhizhi and other experienced Chinese big men. He also has benefited from playing against some of the best players in the world during the actual competitions that the team has participated in. While most American fans don't know a great deal about the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association), Yi has faced a steady diet of experienced, older, physically mature big men and basically has played against more size than any of the players coming out of college in this draft faced in their respective conferences.

Check back with next week for Part III of the interview, where Wallace goes in-depth about the International game and the impact it's having on the evolution of the NBA game.

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