An early look at the top prospects in NBA Draft 2004
Likely Lottery Picks

By Rob Reheuser

In his preview of the 2004 NBA Draft (slated for June 24 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden), Marty Blake, the NBA’s Director of Scouting, called this year’s draft one of the most difficult to decipher in years, citing a record number of early entry candidates from the high school, college and international ranks.

Here’s a look at some players who will merit consideration from teams drafting in this year’s lottery:

Connecticut's Emeka Okafor has the size, skill and composure to contribute immediately.
NBAE/Getty Images
Emeka Okafor, Connecticut, Power Forward:
Critics will argue he isn’t the most talented player in the draft. However, if talent is measured in terms of readiness, professionalism, coachability and impact, Okafor won’t wait long to hear his name called on draft night. Though some wish he was a few inches taller, Okafor makes up for lack of height with long arms, footwork and intelligence. Like Tim Duncan at the same age, there is very little wasted motion in his play, and he doesn’t take possessions off. There’s little doubt, Okafor will be able to contribute right away at the NBA level, more so on the defensive end at the start of his career.

Dwight Howard, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy HS, Power Forward:
Some see flashes of Kevin Garnett. Others worry about traces of Kwame Brown. What’s clear is that of the high school seniors available in this draft, Howard is the most coveted based on size, athleticism and versatility. He shined in several postseason high school all-star games and figures to be one of the first few players selected. Some feel he could make a fairly quick transition to the pro game.

Luol Deng, Duke, Small Forward:
Deng was the second-ranked high school player in 2003 behind LeBron James. In his lone season at Duke, he showed why. The 6-8 forward from the Sudan was named Third Team All-ACC as one of only two players in the ACC to rank among the top 10 in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocks. He was also named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Atlanta Regional. Though his overall game needs polish, Deng’s mix of skill, athleticism and intelligence should warrant early first round consideration.

Ben Gordon, Connecticut, Point Guard:
Is he a point guard? Is he a shooting guard? Here’s what we do know about UConn’s most consistent player in the 2004 NCAA Tournament. He can play either spot, though his height (6-2) suggests he’ll be more comfortable at the point long-term. Though not a natural lead guard, Gordon has the ballhandling and passing skills to play the point, while bringing an offensive awareness to the position. Think Chauncey Billups.

Devin Harris, Wisconsin, Point Guard:
Like Gordon, Harris is comfortable at both guard spots, though projects as a point guard at the NBA level. His quick first step and deep shooting ability make him difficult to guard. His long arms, lateral quickness and quick feet make him a pest on the defensive end. All this and he takes care of the ball, averaging only 1.9 turnovers per game.

Shaun Livingston, Peoria H.S., Point Guard:
Detractors worry about his thin frame, which carries about 175 pounds. Others rave about his size (6-7) and natural point guard instincts. Unlike Gordon and Harris, Livingston thinks pass first, while showing the ability to direct traffic, penetrate and make good decisions with the ball. Though he might not play right away, Livingston’s unique set of skills may be worth waiting for.

Andre Iguodala, Arizona, Shooting Guard:
This jack-of-all-trades player could eventually see time at both backcourt positions and small forward. He finished the season as the only player in the Pac-10 to be ranked in the top 20 in scoring and rebounding, and the top 10 in assists, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio. He posted three triple-doubles in only two seasons in college. Though he needs work on his shooting, he’s a top-notch athlete with an improving feel for the game.

Andris Biedrins, Skonto Riga (Latvia), Power Forward:
Unlike many Europeans making the jump to the NBA, he’s a seven-footer who doesn’t hang out on the perimeter shooting jumpshots. He lives in the paint, hustling for rebounds, blocking shots and spinning off of defenders for power dunks. He’s strong, athletic and can jump out of the gym. Although he only turned 18 in April, his affinity for defense could speed up his transition to the NBA game.

Josh Childress, Stanford, Small Forward:
A player with few weaknesses who many feel will contribute right away at the NBA level. Though he could stand to improve his ballhandling skills and show more range on his jumper, Childress can score, defend, rebound, pass and block shots, and is a terrific athlete. Teams also like his maturity, having spent three years at an excellent program at Stanford.