Chicago, June 9 –
Matt Bonner is the only Florida Gator to record 1,500 points, 750 rebounds and 150 three-pointers.
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Some NBA observers considered the 2001 NBA Draft to be a watershed event, as Kwame Brown
became the first player to come directly to the NBA out of high school to be chosen first overall. In 2002, Yao Ming
became the first player who had never played high school or college basketball in the United States to be chosen first overall, another watershed moment.
The 2003 NBA Draft may not offer a “first” of the magnitude of the previous two drafts, but it is shaping up as potentially one of the strongest and deepest drafts in the history of the league. Like most drafts these days, occupied as they are by increasingly younger and less experienced players, the 2003 Draft can only be evaluated fairly after these players have been in the NBA for four or five seasons, maybe longer.
The 2003 NBA Draft will be highly unusual in this respect: there may be a larger number of immediate impact players in the second round than in the first round. And many of these second round impact players will be the best of the group that played at the 2003 Pre-Draft Camp this past week in Chicago.
Ridiculous, you say? Before you regard the above statement as outrageous, consider this. A large number of vastly talented international early entry players (perhaps as many as 10) are expected to be drafted in the first round this year. Many of these players will remain in Europe for a year or two after they are drafted, as was the case with 1999 first round pick Andrei Kirilenko of Utah (who made his NBA debut in 2001) and 2002 first round choice Nenad Krstic (expected to join Eastern Conference champion New Jersey for the 2003-04 season). While NBA teams will retain the draft rights to these promising imports, the opportunity to make a roster and contribute will increase for 2003 second round picks.
Take a look at the 2002-03 got milk? NBA All-Rookie Teams. The First Team was comprised entirely of players chosen in the first 10 picks, but the Second Team had only one first rounder, Jay Williams of Chicago. Emanuel Ginobili of San Antonio, Gordan Giricek of Orlando and Carlos Boozer of Cleveland were all second round picks, while J.R. Bremer of Boston wasn’t even drafted. These players were older and more experienced than many of the first round picks and were able to immediately contribute to their teams. So while the majority of players who excelled at the Pre-Draft Camp will likely be second round picks this year, that doesn’t mean they won’t land on a roster and make an impact in their rookie seasons.
Here is a look at the players who got the best of the play in Chicago last week.
Troy Bell, Boston College
The Numbers: 18.0 ppg, 45.5 3-pt FG%, 95.0 FT%
The Performance: NBA player personnel experts said Bell (6-2, 178 pounds) needed to prove that he could play point guard during the camp, and to an extent he did achieve that goal. Bell is exceptionally quick and very smart about knowing how much room he needs to get his quick release jump shot off. He did look to pass when the opportunity was there, but defenders did not stick close enough to him to prevent him from consistently being able to launch open jumpers or find lanes to the basket. When you can score as easily as Bell did in Chicago (his scoring average led the camp by a whopping 4.7 ppg), it’s tough to justify making the extra pass. And Bell is certainly an NBA-quality shooter.
Keith Bogans, Kentucky
The Numbers: 13.3 ppg, 51.7 FG%, 41.7 3-pt FG%
The Performance: Bogans had his best game on opening night, never a bad time to shine at this event. He looked supremely confident on the court, as you might expect for one of the few players to be a repeat performer (he played here in 2001). Bogans made all three of his three-point field goal attempts in his opening night 8-for-10 shooting performance. While that type of deadeye long-range shooting is not a constant for Bogans, the consistency of his overall game improved significantly as a senior and he now appears to be ready to be a contributor to an NBA franchise. He is a physically strong player with prototype size for the shooting guard position (6-5, 213).
Matt Bonner, Florida
The Numbers: 12.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 52.0 FG%
The Performance: Bonner’s play never jumps out at you. He is rock solid in all areas and that consistency, a hallmark of his career at Florida, was in evidence throughout the week in Chicago. Bonner proved to scouts that he is a reliable scorer and rebounder, as he joined Robert Jackson as the only players in the top six in both scoring and rebounding for the week. Bonner can shoot the open jump shot out to 18 feet and is strong and smart enough to use his body to get shots around the basket. Bonner will never be a big scorer in the NBA, but he has enough scoring acumen to complement more explosive players and make teams pay for leaving him open.
Jermaine Boyette, Weber State
The Numbers: 12.7 ppg, 3.7 apg, 63.2 FG%
The Performance: No player has benefited more from the post-collegiate opportunities afforded to players by the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and the NBA Pre-Draft Camp than Boyette. A big fish in a small pond at Weber State where he was the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year, Boyette picked up where he left off after scoring all-tournament honors at the PIT. The 6-2, 187-pounder combines quickness and a deceptive dribble to penetrate where other point guards only hope to go. Boyette does his best work in the paint, where he sinks floating runners and finds teammates with ease. Boyette might not shoot a lot of three-pointers, but his old-school game reminds some of Eric Snow when the versatile Sixers star came out of Michigan State with a modest profile in 1995.
Carl English, Hawaii
The Numbers: 12.7 ppg, 2.7 apg, 45.5 3-pt FG%
The Performance: English might not have been seen by most of the early-to-bed crowd among college basketball fans in the contiguous 48, but the fourth-year junior from Newfoundland is a confident player and dangerous shooter. English was one of only a few players to register double figures in all three games, an accomplishment in a tournament where everyone averages close to 20 minutes per game. Teaming with Jermaine Boyette in the backcourt, English was a big reason why Team 6 won all three of its games and held opponents to an anemic 35.5 field goal percentage. English possesses a strong upper body and shoots the deep ball with ease. Except for a short lapse where he allowed Kirk Penney to notch back-to-back three-pointers, English shut down opposing guards in Chicago.
Willie Green, Detroit
The Numbers: 10.7 ppg, 52.4 FG%
The Performance: Like Jermaine Boyette, Green was Player of the Year in an unheralded conference (Horizon) and came to Portsmouth with something to prove. He proved plenty at the PIT, earning another chance to impress NBA teams in Chicago. While he did not get to the foul line as much as he did at the PIT, Green was more consistent with his mid-range jumper and again showed he is a tower of muscular strength in a smallish package (6-3, 201) for a shooting guard. Before Portsmouth began, Green wasn’t considered a likely draft pick by many around the league. But after two straight top tournament performances, Green’s calendar is filling up with scheduled individual workouts for interested NBA teams.
Robert Jackson, Marquette
The Numbers: 13.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 77.8 FG%
The Performance: Jackson started the post-collegiate process with the reputation of being a bodyguard for Dwyane Wade, a tough rebounder and nothing more. But as in Portsmouth, Jackson found ways to put points on the board in Chicago with his below-the-rim power game and led the Pre-Draft Camp in field goal percentage. Jackson has the size and willingness to bang bodies down low, but has shown enough offensive ability in the two camps to nearly ensure that he will be drafted. Jackson has fairly nimble feet for a man of his size, something that may have escaped notice at Marquette, where Wade and Travis Diener commandeered most of the shots. Now NBA teams are putting Jackson’s skill set under greater scrutiny.
Dahntay Jones, Duke
The Numbers: 12.3 ppg, 76.2 FT%
The Performance: Most NBA personnel people feel Jones is a consistent jump shot away from a spot in the first round of the draft. Jones did make a few jumpers in Chicago, but his ability to use his burst of a first step to slash to the basket is going to be his ticket into the league. Jones is a phenomenal athlete who is so quick and smooth he has no problem getting by defenders even when they are giving him room, hoping he will take the jumper. Jones led all 66 players at the Pre-Draft Camp in free throw attempts and he capitalized enough there to finish seventh in the camp in scoring. Even if Jones fails to push his way into the first round, he’s a good bet to stick in the NBA due to his explosiveness and defensive ability.
James Lang, Central Park Christian HS (Alabama)
The Numbers: 10.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 62.5 FG%, 91.7 FT%
The Performance: Lang’s debut at the camp was pretty predictable for a high school big man: he used his hands defending the post and quickly got into foul trouble. What happened after that initial speed bump was much less predictable: Lang showed he was able to score in the post and draw fouls against much more experienced players. Lang further surprised by nailing 11 of his 12 free throw attempts at the camp. While Lang’s measurements of 6-9 and 316 pounds take him out of center consideration, it’s possible a team that sees the possibilities in Lang will make him their project for the future. Lang also earned points with his camp coaches and teammates with his exuberance and ebullient personality.
Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph’s
The Numbers: 10.3 ppg, 6.3 apg, 54.5 FG%, 87.5 FT%
The Performance: Nelson, the fireplug point guard who was the engine of St. Joseph’s offense the past couple of seasons, gave a fine accounting of his abilities at the camp. Those who had not spent much time scouting the Atlantic 10 in recent years might have been surprised, but East coast scouts knew what Nelson would do: make the open shot when it presented itself, get his teammates in position to run the play correctly in half court sets, and penetrate and distribute the ball with very few turnovers. Nelson basically answered all the questions any NBA teams might have about his game, all in the affirmative. The only thing holding Nelson back is something he can’t do anything about: his height (6-0). Nelson is a junior who can go back to school if he chooses.
Luke Walton, Arizona
The Numbers: 7.7 ppg, 6.0 apg, 5.7 rpg
The Performance: The latest son of Bill to play Division I basketball is not the strongest or highest-leaping player on the court in most games he plays. He’s not often the best shooter or rebounder, either. But Walton sees the play happening a second before every other player on the court, and that’s simply a marvelous and remarkable talent to have. Scouts are always looking for players who can make their teammates better, and they have found one in Walton. In a draft most experts say features the deepest point guard collection in at least four years, Walton finished second in the camp in assists playing in the frontcourt. While Walton played with a talented group of players at Arizona, the thought of infusing his prescient passing prowess into a roster of athletically gifted NBA teammates can make any basketball purist smile.