Sam Smith: Draft field another reason to push for the playoffs

The Bulls may as well try to make the playoffs. No one has the luck to jump up and steal the No. 1 overall draft pick two consecutive seasons. Furthermore, this summer's draft is shaping up as one of the poorest in recent memory.
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Sam Smith: Draft field another reason to push for the playoffs

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If the Bulls don't make a big trade, and no one really wants either or both of those No. 1 draft picks the team has, how would you feel about adding Jonny Flynn and B.J. Mullins? No? OK, how about a shot at UCLA's Jrue Holiday and North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough?

The Bulls are playing for the last playoff spot in the East, and the way things stand now, they are barely behind Milwaukee. And with the pick from the Thabo Sefolosha trade, the Bulls would have about numbers 16 and 26 in the draft. The assumption is the Bulls will want a backup point for Derrick Rose, perhaps a backup shooting guard if Ben Gordon leaves, and would like someone inside. Perhaps Pitt's undersized DuJuan Blair drops since most teams think he's too small for power forward.

The Bulls may as well try to make the playoffs. No one has the luck to jump up and steal the No. 1 overall draft pick two consecutive seasons. Yes, yes, the Orlando Magic did it before, though not from as far down in the draft as the Bulls would have to come twice. And in this NBA draft, there is one sure impact player, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin.

There'll be others, of course, as there always are surprises. But this draft, according to interviews with several NBA personnel directors and scouts, is shaping up as one of the poorest in recent memory, and most likened to 2000. That's when Kenyon Martin was an easy consensus No. 1, and has had a decent career, though just one All-Star appearance. But next was Stromile Swift, Darius Miles and Marcus Fizer. Mike Miller was rookie of the year at No. 5, though never an All-Star. The most successful player from that draft was Michael Redd, selected No. 43. And, yes, well after the Bulls made their sixth pick in that draft.

This draft doesn't seem quite that empty, but it's looking like the ultimate opportunity to add rotation role players. And that is becoming something of the future of the NBA, according to some team executives. It's the Celtics model of three stars and nine guys you don't have to pay because there isn't much demand for any of them. But they can help you win a championship and aren't going to begin believing they are worth more than they are paid.

Though there'll be changes with the NCAA tournament beginning this week. One executive even called it the Howard Porter effect. I loved that. Porter was the Villanova star who had a huge tournament in 1971 when UCLA won, but was named tournament MVP. Then Bulls coach Dick Motta, who had effectively taken over as general manager, was sold on Porter, who was a bit on the shady side as he'd already signed a secret deal with the ABA while in college. The word was out, so Porter dropped to the second round, and the Bulls took him and Motta gave Porter a record breaking deal, ironically, against the advice of then scout Jerry Krause. Porter was a bust and became a rarely used reserve for the three-year length of his contract.

So tournament watchers beware. Anyway, here's a look at whom the pros will be looking at and an early look at what June's first round could look like:

  1. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma, power forward. Everyone loves him and you hear a Carlos Boozer comparison most, though I see a better defender. Hard worker around the basket who'll step in and help right away.
  2. James Harden, Arizona State, guard. Truly a guard. Not the great athlete teams seek, which is why some passed on Brandon Roy. He's not as good as Roy, but a good old style player.
  3. Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut, center. I've heard comparisons to DaSagana Diop, Mouhamed Sene and Dikembe Mutombo. I'm not generally impressed with that, but he's supposedly a legit 7-2 shotblocker. Pros said he'll impact the defensive end.
  4. Jordan Hill, Arizona, power forward. A player who is growing on the pros. A guy who plays hard with an improving offensive game.
  5. Gerald Henderson, Duke, guard. A guy who'll defend, a slasher with an improving shot and team player. Another guy whom the pros are saying is on the move upward.
  6. Ricky Rubio, Spain, point guard. No, he's not Pete Maravich. Just the hair. And he's got a big buyout scaring off some teams. But someone will take a chance as he's a classic point guard talent though without the shot yet.
  7. Stephen Curry, Davidson, guard. Models for the shooting video. The only real question is strength, though there is some size issue. But he can shoot, and we've seen in Ben Gordon, who is shorter but stronger, it matters. He'll help someone.
  8. DeJuan Blair, Pitt, power forward. This is higher than most scouts have said. But I like guys like this, and NBA guys usually come around. See Paul Millsap, Carl Landry. Personnel mistakes are made all the time trying to hit the home run. Blair is well undersized at four, but will rebound and is a tough guy, and this isn't a draft for stars, anyway. Get someone who can help your team.
  9. Greg Monroe, Georgetown, center. Everyone was looking at him as a possible top three pick, but they've had a bad season with their bad offense and top guys get the blame. He's considered a huge talent, who drew Chris Bosh comparisons, though he's not that good. Perhaps someone takes a shot.
  10. James Johnson, Wake Forest, forward. They've got three potential lottery picks, though more likely firsts. He's the best for now, a hard nosed tough guy who also can play some three.
  11. Tyreke Evans, Memphis, guard. Perhaps can play point guard and then you'd really have something. A really good defender who's transformed that team this season as a freshman, and we know the last guy to do that.
  12. Ty Lawson, North Carolina, guard. Built more like a halfback, but quick end to end and the NBA has been kind to fast little guys of late.
  13. Willie Warren, Oklahoma, point guard. He bought into the system to feature Griffin though he liked to shoot. Has point guard skills and can make a shot.
  14. Eric Maynor, Virginia Commonwealth, point guard. Now they're comparing guys to George Hill, who has done well with the Spurs. Said to be better than that, so he should be able to fill in at two guard positions.
  15. Jonny Flynn, Syracuse, point guard. Everyone knows him now from the six overtime game. Super quick guy who's barely six foot and can score. But can he distribute?
  16. Brandon Jennings, Italy, guard. He's the kid who skipped his one year of college to go overseas and barely played. So it's a guess now. Can get his shot, but skinny and is he a one or two?
  17. Jeff Teague, Wake Forest, point guard. Another shooting point guard who draws Ben Gordon comparisons if he cannot play the point well enough. Though bigger.
  18. Sam Young, Pittsburgh, swingman. Big time athlete who probably will move up. Not a great ballhandler, though pros like him.
  19. Terrence Williams, Louisville, forward. Rick Pitino is said to spend a lot of time yelling at him and he could be a risk, but is said to be the best on that team.
  20. Kyle Singler, Duke, forward. No one seems to think he'll come out, but everyone likes him and as we need comparisons from the same school, you hear a better version of Shane Battier.
  21. Jrue Holiday, UCLA, guard. You're never quite sure with that program as they often play the better point guards off the ball. Some say he's a better point than Collison, though hasn't played it. So might move up after workouts.
  22. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina, forward. Pros don't like him and you hear Mark Madsen comparisons. But there's something to that Moneyball winner thing. The guy always has had success, and it's a draft of role players. So why not?
  23. DeMar DeRozan, USC, guard. Here's an all potential gamble guy who projected as a star and hasn't been. Doesn't seem to know how to play. One of those athletes who you could bust or strike it large with.
  24. Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest, forward. One of those wing slashers who doesn't have much range. Generally can find them in every draft, but some break through.
  25. Earl Clark, Louisville, forward. He's a highly skilled guy who can go higher with a good tournament as he's had the reputation of a Charlie Villanueva type who plays only sometimes.
  26. Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State, forward. He's a big time shot blocker, quick and a great athlete. That type of player. Better athlete, but smaller than JaVale McGee.
  27. Devin Ebanks, West Virginia, forward. Long and lanky quick jumper who is a sleeper and starting to catch on with many teams. A guy to watch.
  28. Evan Turner, Ohio State, forward. The Chicago kid is a shake and bake type ballhandler. Good passer and versatile player like Julian Wright.
  29. B.J. Mullins, Ohio State, center. Was considered a top 10 talent coming into the season and hasn't even been a starter. Many believe he'll leave because of that and though a project he could develop.
  30. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, forward. Another wide body and a tough guy type role player who is one of those eye of the beholder player as someone could like him enough to make him a first rounder.

There are several guys who could be in the first round, like Arizona's Chase Budinger, Kansas Cole Aldrich and UCLA's Collison. Iowa State's Craig Brackins is moving onto a lot of teams' radar and there are guys like Kentucky's streaky Jodie Meeks. Anyway, enjoy. And watch your brackets. The NBA guys are watching as well.

Around the league...

-- The Bulls won't have to see Kevin Garnett Tuesday even though Garnett said he's ready to return. The Celtics remain cautious and are playing for the Finals. But they'll see Stephon Marbury, who hasn't exactly had much impact. He is averaging 3.3 points on 30.6 percent shooting and is one of seven on threes. ... After averaging 39 minutes the first three months, Chris Duhon is pretty much worn out and now out with longtime back problems. Coach Mike D'Antoni said Duhon has lost his confidence, which Duhon denies. ... More bad news for the Knicks, as LeBron James friend Larry Hughes told New York reporters: "It will be hard for (James) to leave. He has a great situation there. They might win it this year. If they do win, why leave? I think he'll stay."

'Sheed's revelation

-- Who knew Rasheed Wallace would be the one to get it? Wallace is an unrestricted free agent and said he knows this summer will be unlike any other because of the economic downturn. Said Wallace to reporters after the game with Toronto last week: "It's going to change a whole way of living for some guys, having to take those pay cuts. It's a bad free-agent year for us. Guys who were able to get that big money contract the last couple of years, kudos for them. Myself and other free agents included, talking about signing for next season or the year after that, it's going to hit us hard. Definitely we're not going to get the money that some guys think they should get and deserve."

Maxtrix report from north of the border

-- Free agent Shawn Marion, who sped his way out of Phoenix because he said he wasn't appreciated in seeking a trade and celebrated his trade from Miami because he said he didn't like the deliberate offense, now is upset about the Raptors. Right. Better watch what you wish for. Said Marion to Toronto media: "I'm (deleted). I don't want to go out there and lose every night. I didn't come here for this. I didn't expect this. We've got no fire." Though Marion isn't as savvy as Wallace on the economics. Said Marion: "You see people in baseball and football signing these big (deleted) contracts and I'm pretty sure their attendance went down a little bit. Everyone is taking a hit, but at the same time it's not stopping people spending money."

Race for MVP

-- The NBA sends out award ballots to voters starting in April, so decision time is close. The biggest debate of late is MVP with Dwyane Wade making a run as well as Chris Paul, though it's generally thought to be a LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Wade race. Interestingly, Rookie of the Year is coming into question, though I cannot see anyone close to Derrick Rose. I believe he'll win. I don't usually mention studies you see on ESPN, though the network does dominate sports. One of their NBA analysts is a statistics specialist and made up a rating system called PER that they often use to analyze players for efficiency. Like many statistics programs for team sports like basketball, it is badly flawed. I first noticed this a few years ago when they did an analysis of Bulls defense and had Ben Gordon rated No. 1. Anyway, their rookie of the year analysis had Rose rated 10th. Yes. Some of the players rated ahead, at least among regulars, were Kevin Love, Greg Oden and Marc Gasol. Others who haven't played regularly included JaVale McGee and Greg Hibbard. Doesn't anyone watch games. Or just those highlights?

Superman a super man

-- The Cavs squeaked out a win over the Kings last week as LeBron James had some contretemps with Andres Nocioni, who still most annoys James and several times scratched James' face. It's why the Celtics were trying so much to get Nocioni after the trade to the Kings. ... The Heat is taking the extra step to accommodate Dwyane Wade. The potential 2010 free agent was allowed against typical Pat Riley rules to bring in his own trainer, Chicago trainer to the star athletes, Tim Grover. "He's a guy who really helped me get healthy," Wade told the Ft. Lauderdale Sun. "It's something I really wanted." ... You've got to love this one. Not only did Dwight Howard sign autographs for the fans waiting at the team hotel in Detroit, which is common in the NBA, he also bought them hamburgers. That's what helps get you to lead everyone in All-Star votes. OK, getting a bunch of 20/20 games, too. But players need to try a little tenderness as well.

Suns and Mavs, what could have been...

-- With the signing of Dontell Jefferson, the Bobcats now have had 24 different players on this season's roster. The record is 27. It's classic Larry Brown to remake a team, and it's looking now most like the Bucks and Bobcats as the main playoff challengers with the Bulls. ... Big win for the Wizards, who now are within three wins of not setting a franchise record for losses, now held by the old Chicago Packers. ... Interesting to see the fight for eighth in the West between the Suns and Mavs, the two teams that made the big trading deadline deals in 2008 for what they felt could be the final pieces for a championship. Turns out the deals were the final chances before that elusive window closed.

Vinny's report card

-- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is trying to take it lightly, but there's growing concern in San Antonio about Manu Ginobili's troublesome ankle injury. Joked Popovich to San Antonio media: "I keep saying a week or two. It's like the stimulus package. Pretty soon, it's going to start having an effect." It's also an object lesson for all teams about their players under major contracts and key to their seasons playing in international tournaments. Owners are joining Mark Cuban, who openly questioned the wisdom of it. The issue is it's become a priority with the NBA and the league is leaning on teams to refrain from keeping their players out of the competitions. ... Former Bull Drew Gooden finally was ready from his groin problems and spelled Tim Duncan in the post Friday in a win over Houston, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes and Duncan said he was excited. Said Duncan: "We were in a little bit of a slump there, and he came in and gave us some offense. That's something we're going to expect from him. If he can give it to us, he'll be a big boost to us." ... So how do people around the NBA view our Vinny Del Negro? The San Antonio Express did an analysis of the new coaches who started this season and rated Del Negro fourth with a B grade behind Miami, Charlotte and New York and ahead of Dallas, Detroit and Phoenix.

Another setback for Oden

-- It probably didn't help Greg Oden that the Trail Blazers are now conceding they misled everyone about the latest Oden knee injury, which could put him out the rest of this season. "It's like, dang, can I ever do anything right?" Oden told the Oregonian, which has opened as many eyes around the NBA as Oden's injuries. Many are now wondering whether Oden is just weak mentally and even if he recovers whether he always will be someone who shrinks in the media spotlight and is a follower. ... Amazing stuff in Golden State with the team saying they shut down Monta Ellis because of lingering ankle issues, and Ellis returning to the team and saying that was a lie and his mother had health issues. Then coach Don Nelson threatens Jamal Crawford that he'll trade him--that's a threat--unless he opts out and gives up some $20 million guaranteed. Nelson went through this with Al Harrington earlier this season in what insiders say was a typical scene with Nelson threatening and constantly berating Harrington. Nelson is believed to be betting Crawford won't be able to stand up to that abuse. ... Sad times around the NBA with the recent deaths of Johnny Kerr, Norm Van Lier, Jazz owner Larry Miller and this weekend Pistons owner Bill Davidson. Less noticed was the death of onetime Bulls No. 1 draft pick Kennedy McIntosh. It was an infamous Bulls draft in which McIntosh from Eastern Michigan went first and barely played along with celebrated second round pick Howard Porter. But the Bulls did get Cliff Ray in the third round. Getting Ray made center Jim Fox expendable, so the Bulls were able to trade Fox to Cincinnati for Van Lier, then playing behind Tiny Archibald. After just over a season, McIntosh was traded to Seattle for Gar Heard and played parts of three seasons there before retiring.


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