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Netting a big player will be a reality for many teams in NBA Draft 2001
Dream a Big Dream
By Chris Ekstrand
NBA general managers often go into the NBA draft dreaming big dreams -- big and tall. The hope is to land a big man who can provide an intimidating presence on both ends of the court. But many NBA teams shopping for a post presence instead choose an agile small forward or speedy point guard simply because in most years, the supply of quality big men doesn't meet the demand.

Griffin
Eddie Griffin is a potential top-three pick out of Seton Hall. (AP Photo)
This year, the big dreams will become reality because there is no shortage of height and strength among the top prospects.

"The depth in this year's draft will be at the power positions, center and power forward," said Marty Blake, NBA Director of Scouting. "The power forward position in particular is unusually strong, with the depth of good players at that position extending into the second round."

Interviews with general managers, scouting directors and NBA team scouts yielded 10 players who were garnering the majority of the attention immediately after the release of the early entry list in mid-May. Of the 10, only swingman Jason Richardson of Michigan State is under 6-8. Here is a capsule look at the top 10, with comments from some of the NBA personnel experts charged with making decisions on draft day, June 27, 2001.

The players are listed in alphabetical order:

Shane Battier, 6-8, 220, Duke -- Projected Position: Small Forward

One of the winningest players in college basketball history and the consensus College Player of the Year, Battier capped a storybook career with the national championship as a senior at Duke. NBA scouts said Battier is the type of player who could fit seamlessly into any team's system.

"He worked his tail off and he improved each year," said Rob Babcock, Director of Player Personnel for the Minnesota Timberwolves. "When he first came in, he was an average shooter who needed a lot of strength work and a lot of ballhandling work. He has improved in all of those areas. He's a good all-around basketball player who plays hard, has toughness and competes. You know what you've got with him."

Kwame Brown, 6-11, 240, Glynn Academy (Ga.) -- Projected Position: Center

Brown is one of several high school seniors likely to be selected early in the first round. At 6-11, he runs the court extremely well, covers lots of ground and is an excellent help defender and shotblocker. He was a member of the USA Today All-USA Basketball First Team and the Parade All-America First Team after averaging 20.1 points, 13.3 rebounds and 5.8 blocked shots for Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga.

"He's got offensive skills," said Chris Wallace, General Manager of the Boston Celtics. "He can score on the block and he has shown some range with the jump shot. He can handle the ball and pass the ball in the open court. He is a very intriguing combination of skill and size."

Tyson Chandler, 7-0, 235, Dominguez HS (Calif.) -- Projected Position: Power Forward

NBA scouts are more impressed by his end-to-end speed and agility than his height. He has shotblocking skills and has made the jump shot consistently in high school. Chandler was a Parade All-America First Team selection and was the Player of the Year in California.

"He may have the best floor speed of any big man in recent memory," said Jeff Weltman, Director of Player Personnel for the Los Angeles Clippers. "He's a new-look four. He's obviously not a power player, but because of his length and quickness, his ability to cover space in the lane and quickness off his feet, he can make an impact in the lane defensively. There are many successful fours today that are not power players, like Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace."

Eddy Curry, 6-11, 285, Thornwood HS (Ill.) -- Projected Position: Power Forward

Curry is a rare young player because of his size and strength. While not a great leaper, Curry does a good job of carving out space on the block, where he used his considerable power to get the close-in shots. He was named Parade's High School Player of the Year and was the MVP of the McDonald's All-America Game after posting 28 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.

"Eddy has a man's body and his strength is amazing," said Brent Johnson, a scout for the Houston Rockets. "He can run the court well for a guy his size, and he is talented offensively. He can shoot the ball facing the basket and he finds ways to score inside. He improved tremendously during the season."

DeSagana Diop, 7-0, 315, Oak Hill Academy (Va.) -- Projected Position: Center

Diop is a mountain of a man from Senegal who presided over Oak Hill Academy's undefeated season and the No. 1 national ranking by USA Today. Although he is an inexperienced player, Diop possesses a significant virtue: true NBA center size. Most NBA personnel experts characterized him as a long-range but worthwhile project.

"He's an on-the-block player," said Wallace. "There is a tremendous upside to him because he has only played about three years. He should go on to become a rebounder and intimidator. It will probably take his offense and overall feel for the game three or four years to catch up with his body and defensive rebound abilities. But he should be a good player in time."

Pau Gasol, 7-0, 227, F.C. Barcelona (Spain) -- Projected Position: Small Forward

Most big men in basketball are late bloomers, mainly because a spectacular growth spurt in the teenage years is usually followed by a period of adjustment. For Barcelona's Pau Gasol, his astonishingly rapid development in the past year marks him as the top European prospect in the 2001 NBA Draft. Gasol rarely played as a 19-year-old during the 1999-2000 season. Now, seemingly overnight, he's become one of the best young players in Europe.

"Of all these players in the draft, he's probably shown as much improvement over the last year as any," said Wallace, who saw Gasol play in Europe. "Despite his height, he's not a center. When he has made his mark this season, it's been at the three. He is not an intimidator, but he can block shots. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and hand dexterity. He is very skilled in his ability to put the ball on the floor and pass it. He is just starting to live up to his potential and to grow into his body."

Eddie Griffin, 6-9, 220, Seton Hall -- Projected Position: Both Forward Spots

Griffin has the long, lanky build of a Derrick McKey, but he was a powerful defensive force for the Pirates. Despite his slender frame, he finished second in the nation in blocked shots with 4.43 blocks per game and led Seton Hall in scoring (17.8 points per game) and rebounding (10.8 rebounds per game, fifth in nation). On the offensive end, Griffin is most comfortable shooting the 15-foot jumper or using his athleticism around the basket.

"In one year, he has proven already he is among the elite rebounders and shotblockers in college basketball," Weltman pointed out. "He has made significant strides since he was one of the top two or three high school players a year ago. There's no reason not to believe that as his body matures, as he gets more experience under his belt, he won't make the same kind of progress going forward."

Brendan Haywood, 7-0, 268, North Carolina -- Projected Position: Center

One of the most storied programs in college basketball has produced another player who should have a long NBA career. Haywood made slow but steady improvements to his overall game each year in Chapel Hill and departs as the ACC's all-time field goal percentage leader. Haywood is that rarest of finds: a bona fide center prospect with four years of high-level college experience.

"In the NBA, we have guards who can get him the ball in his favorite spots close to the basket, where he can finish," said Johnson. "He's an intelligent player. He knows his spots on the floor and doesn't try to play outside of his abilities. He's at his best when he has his back to the basket."

Joe Johnson, 6-8, 225, Arkansas -- Projected Position: Shooting Guard

Johnson led the Razorbacks (20-11) in scoring (14.2 points per game), rebounding (6.4 rebounds per game) and field goal percentage (44.3%) as a sophomore, but that was nothing new. A year earlier, he became the first freshman in Arkansas history to lead the team in scoring and rebounding. With the size of a forward and the shooting and ballhandling capabilities of a guard, Johnson is a handful for opposing defenses.

"He has a unique combination of size, skill and a feel for the game," said Weltman. "He handles, passes and shoots and is a multi-position player. He can contribute to your team in a variety of ways."

Jason Richardson, 6-6, 220, Michigan State -- Projected Position: Shooting Guard

When Jason Richardson scored 20 points against the USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team that would go on to capture the gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games, knowledgeable basketball people across several continents took notice. While still something of a raw talent, Richardson showed the unmistakable top-shelf qualities of confidence and athleticism that will one day make him a successful NBA player.

"The special thing about him is his athleticism," said Johnson, who echoed the comments of other scouts in saying that Richardson needs only to better his jump shot to become a major factor in the NBA. "He's got that Clyde Drexler body, strong frame and big-boned. He's a relentless offensive rebounder and major athlete that plays the game 100 miles an hour. He plays just as hard on defense as he does on offense."

 
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