What Will They Do?
Posted May 24 2006 7:16AM
Uncertainty surrounds Raptors' No. 1 selection
SECAUCUS, N.J., May 24 -- Thanks to the ping-pong balls bouncing their way, the Toronto Raptors won the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NBA Draft Tuesday night.
Now what the heck are they supposed to do with it?
"In this case, there's still a lot of work to do to determine who that pick is," Raptors president Bryan Colangelo said following the Draft Lottery. "There could be some jockeying that could be done and we end up with two players. We'll see, we've got a lot of options out there.
"So it's a pretty powerful combination, hopefully we can manipulate it the right way. At this point we can't lose because there are pretty good players in this Draft if we use the pick alone."
Every executive we spoke with at the NBA Draft Lottery made it clear there's no consensus No. 1 selection in this year's eligible Draft class. Among the names Colangelo and other the NBA brass identified as candidates included Louisiana State forward Tyrus Thomas, Texas center LaMarcus Aldridge, Gonzaga forward Adam Morrison, Connecticut forward Rudy Gay and Benetton Treviso forward Andrea Bargnani.
"I think all of the players at the top of the draft have a chance to be good players." Portland general manager John Nash said. "What you're trying to find is the one that's going to be special."
Evaluating the Candidates
According to Nash, finding the player that separates himself from the pack involves an extensive process of interviews, background checks, psychological tests and workouts in front of the coaching staff.
"To make a decision in a year where it's as close as this, where you haven't completed the process is probably a little irresponsible."
Both Nash and Philadelphia 76ers Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Tony DiLeo believe Thomas has a chance to be the guy.
Thomas averaged 12.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game this season, and helped LSU make a NCAA Final Four run. He was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and was unanimously selected to the league’s All-Freshman Team.
"He's got tremendous upside," Nash said. "The job is to identify the guy who is going to be a star. If he's going to be a star you're willing to wait a year or two. He could be that guy in this draft."
Added DiLeo: "The thing I like about Thomas is that he's high energy, he has that intensity. I see him more in the mold of Amare Stoudemire in terms of that intensity, that high energy type of player."
"He probably has the most upside but he's a little bit raw right now," DiLeo continued. "That's one of the players teams will have to wait on. That could be worth the wait – he could be special down the road.
One concern, however, is Thomas made a quick jump from being an unheralded high school player to being a top NBA prospect in the span of a year, and it's unknown whether or not he can continue along his development curve at the rapid pace.
"I think that's a little bit of a risk," DiLeo said. "That's what teams will have to look for. Just looking at him now. Thomas has a big upside. A lot depends on what's inside. How much drive, how much work ethic they have? Looking on paper – a lot of players have the potential, but they never look up to it."
Morrison led Division I in scoring (28.1 ppg) while setting a school single-season record for total points with 926. He shared NABC and USBWA National Player of the Year honors with Duke’s J.J. Redick and was named Chevrolet Player of the Year as selected by CBS Sports as a junior.
"Morrison has experience," DiLeo said. "He's played college, was the leading NCAA scorer, so he's more similar to Bargnani, where offensively he'll be able to adjust and come in and have somewhat of an impact. The question is, how quickly will he be able to adjust to the defensive area of the floor.
Bargnani Considered Top International Prospect
Not many Americans know about 6-11 Benetton Treviso forward Andrea Bargnani, but NBA personal evaluators certainly do. In just over 20 minutes per game at the Euroleague level this past year – considered the second-best league in the world by some – the 21-year-old averaged 10.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 0.9 steals per game, shooting .558 on two-pointers and .434 from three-point range.
"He has a quick first step, a nice shot, and he's still learning the game on the inside," Bobcats Director of International Scouting Tim Shea said. "He's got a skill, which is shooting. He's got size. He's in there with the other candidates in the Draft this year. Just as Tyrus Thomas is a wonderful athlete, Bargnani is a very professional shooter. He's got a skill.
Added DiLeo: "I think he's a terrific offensive player. With that size and that shooting ability. He's got a quick first step. I think offensively, he'll have a quick adjustment. Defensively, I think it'll take a little longer for his adjustment."
When asked whether his international status could play a role in teams using the No. 1 selection on him, the Sixers official believed it would.
"What Orlando went through last year – I think that will have be cleared up – whether that player will come right away or what the buy out is," he said, alluding to the Magic's selection of Fran Vazquez in the 2005 NBA Draft with the 11th pick only to later discover Vazquez wanted to remain in Europe. "And then also taking into account some of the past international players, some of them succeed – like Dirk Nowtizki – and some of them have not."
Shea agreed that caution is needed with international prospect, but doesn't believe Bargani's buyout is significant.
According to the Spanish-based scout, Benetton Treviso's former general manager Maurizio Gherardini, recently named assistant general manager of the Raptors, doesn't typically include large buyouts in contracts with young players that would limit their career mobility.
"Like (Bobcats general manager and coach) Bernie Bickerstaff said, you have to do your due diligence, and know what intentions a player has," Shea said. "(But) he doesn't have a big buyout."
Nash also felt that it was important to exercise due diligence in the case of Bargnani, especially given how high he could be selected.
"One of the things we'd want to do is get a copy of his contract in advance, so we could determine for ourselves with the help of a translator, whether in fact there is a buyout opportunity," he said. "Then we'd try to get some verbal commitment from the players whether or not he intends to come."
Anything Could Happen ...
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder this year," Shea said. "There's no one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. It could be anything. It could go in any order.
"You look at Tyrus Thomas, LaMarcus Aldridge, Adam Morrison, Rudy Gay, Brandon Roy and Andrea Bargnani -- there's a lot of good players. (But) there's nothing that separates one player from the rest (to make them a consensus No. 1 selection). "
Might we see more trades in this Draft just because teams are focused on certain guys, because as Shea said, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder?"
"You've got an opportunity now to pick the No. 1 player in the Draft. If somebody really wants that player, maybe there's a deal to make, where we can facilitated that deal and end up netting more assets out of it," Colangelo said. "That's just one example. We go into this Draft not only having the No. 1 pick but also the cap flexibility to take on a pretty large contract."
"It'll be interesting," added Nash. "We moved down last year. We could do it again. The most complete player in the first round might be taken five or six. The reigning two-time MVP was taken outside the lottery – the 15th pick in the Draft. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year went undrafted.
"It’s not an exact science. As a league, we've made our share of good choices over the years, but there's also been a lot of omissions and mistakes along the way. That's what makes it exciting."