Place your wagers
Only two sure winners among NBA Draft lottery prospects
Posted: Wednesday May 26, 2004 4:01PM; Updated: Wednesday May 26, 2004 5:53PM
By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
Last year's NBA draft lottery produced two instant superstars in Cleveland's LeBron James and Denver's Carmelo Anthony, not to mention such high-impact rookies as Miami's Dwyane Wade, Toronto's Chris Bosh, Chicago's Kirk Hinrich and Milwaukee's T.J. Ford.
Will this year's lottery be as fruitful?
Most observers agree there is no James or Anthony in this year's draft class, but there are two potential stars who tower above the others: Final Four MVP Emeka Okafor and high school standout Dwight Howard.
"It's a pretty big drop off after the top two," said NBA draft analyst Chris Monter, publisher of Monter Draft News. "You want to be in the top two."
The lucky team that emerges from Wednesday night's drawing with the No. 1 pick in next month's draft will have the luxury of choosing between two immensely talented power forwards. It's believed most teams, including the two that hold the most ping-pong balls, Orlando and Chicago, will lean toward Okafor, the more seasoned of the two prospects. But a team that's willing to wait for its selection to develop (i.e. Atlanta, Portland) may prefer Howard on the assumption he has more upside.
With 14 teams (including the expansion Charlotte Bobcats) set to find out their selection-order fate in Wednesday night's ping-pong ball drawing, here is a look at the prospects for which they'll be vying:
The Cream of the Crop
Emeka Okafor, 6-9, 252, PF, Connecticut: The most accomplished big man to come out of the college ranks since Tim Duncan, Okafor was the nation's most dominant defensive player, averaging 11.5 rebounds and 4.1 blocks for the national champions. He has good hands, excellent footwork and a model work ethic. While not as tall as the traditional post player, his arms are long, and recent NBA standouts such as Ben Wallace have proven you don't need to be 6-11 to dominate the paint. While there's no question he can play right away, some scouts question whether he'll evolve into an all-star type player. He'll be asked to play facing the basket more than he was in college and will need to improve his offensive repertoire.
Dwight Howard, 6-11, 245, PF, Southwest Atlanta Christian (HS): A versatile big man who can both post up and step out and shoot, Howard was the consensus No. 1 prospect in this year's high school class. He'll be able to draw defenders out of the paint with his wing skills. Howard's athleticism and ability to run the floor draw comparisons to Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire, who had no trouble making the transition from high school to the NBA. Then again, former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown had a similar game and struggled immensely. Howard will have to get stronger to bang with the league's better big men, but his rebounding and shot-blocking abilities are considered good.
The "Duke Tier"
Luol Deng, 6-8, 220, SF, Duke: A former native of England and Sudan, Deng was impressive in his freshman season with the Blue Devils, averaging 15.1 points and 6.9 rebounds for a team loaded with stars. The No. 2 prospect behind LeBron James in the high school class of 2003, he's long and athletic, capable of both slashing to the basket and spotting up from outside. He's a lot like his idol, Grant Hill, in that he creates matchup problems because he doesn't fit a specific role. He needs to work on his outside shot, and it's unclear how much of a contribution he'll be able to make right away.
Shaun Livingston, 6-7, 175, PG, Peoria (Ill.) Central (HS): Livingston was set to be Mike Krzyzewski's next point guard but a likely top-five selection proved too much to resist. Scouts are enamored with the idea of a point guard much taller than most guys he'll be playing against. He's a gifted passer who sees the floor well, and he can score. Two big concerns: A) He's thin as a rail and B) No point guard has gone straight from high school to the pros; in all likelihood because it's the hardest position to make the transition. Some scouts also wonder whether he'll have as much trouble defending smaller guards as they'll have defending him.
The Leaders of the Pack
Devin Harris, 6-3, 185, PG, Wisconsin: A likely player-of-the-year candidate had he returned for his senior year, Harris is a big-time scorer (19.5 points per game last season) who can drive and create his own shot, capable of scoring inside or out. A tenacious defender who thrived in coach Bo Ryan's disciplined system, he's quick, explosive and makes remarkably few mistakes. He needs to get stronger, and scouts are taking somewhat of a leap of faith projecting him as a point guard -- though he was often asked to handle the ball, his main focus was scoring -- but the Heat's Dwyane Wade made a similar transition last season and excelled.
Ben Gordon, 6-2, 195, PG, Connecticut: Time and again during the Huskies' title run, Gordon showed his ability to take over a game, scoring 20 or more points on 18 occasions. His outside shot is impeccable -- he made 43.3 percent of his 3-pointers -- and his strength and athleticism allow him to get by people. He's also an extremely tough perimeter defender. Like Harris, he'll have to answer questions as to whether he can truly run the point; he did it on numerous occasions at UConn but was never noted for his passing. One scout compared him to Tony Delk at the same stage of his career.
Josh Smith, 6-8, 220, SF, Oak Hill (Va.) Academy HS: An Atlanta native and AAU teammate of Howard's, Smith gained valuable experience last season playing against Oak Hill's national schedule. One of the most athletic prospects in the draft, he's a high-riser who runs the floor with ease. He also has a decent jump shot. He's extremely raw, however, and the team that picks him will be gambling that he can learn the nuances of the game and become a better all-around player (his ball-handling and rebounding skills need work). All indications are he has a better work ethic than recent similar prospects like Darius Miles and Gerald Wallace.
Martynas Andriuskevicius, 7-2, 240, C, Lithuania: A surprise draft entry (many felt he would wait until next year), the 18-year-old is considered this year's top international prospect for one simple reason: his size. Having excelled in several European junior tournaments, scouts feel he has a wealth of potential. Phoenix, for one, is reportedly drooling over him. The latest in a long line of European big men with perimeter skills, he's got good hands and is a great passer. He's being tutored by former NBA star Arvydas Sabonis, and many feel he has a similar game. Having yet to face a high level of competition, he's still extremely lanky and raw and will need time to develop.
Andris Biedrins, 6-11, 240, PF, Latvia: A dominant junior player in Europe, Biedrins is widely compared to Utah Jazz star Andrei Kirilenko. He spent time playing for an AAU team in the States last summer and was dominant in the prestigious Big Time tournament in Las Vegas. Numerous scouts traveled to Riga, Lativia, to see him. An excellent interior defender with advanced rebounding and shot-blocking skills, Biedrins can play in the open court but is more of a traditional post player who likes to bang. He's got a ways to go in terms of gaining size and strength and isn't expected to be able to contribute much early.
Andre Iguodala, 6-6, 207, SG, Arizona: Extremely athletic, this jack-of-all-trades was only the fourth-leading scorer for the Wildcats last season (12.9 points per game) but led them in rebounds (8.4), assists (4.9) and steals (1.6). Scouts feel his defense and passing ability will allow him to be a key contributor off the bench right away. Great in transition, he can handle the ball and run the offense when needed. The only problem: His outside shooting. In two seasons he made just 32 of 117 3-pointers (27.3 percent), not good for someone whose size may dictate playing more shooting guard than small forward.
Josh Childress, 6-8, 205, SF, Stanford: One of the most complete players in the draft, Childress is long and athletic and capable of playing multiple positions. He led the Cardinal in scoring (15.7 points per game) and rebounding (7.5) last season. A solid ball-handler with a quick first step, he can drive the lane but can also spot up from mid-range and outside. He rebounds and blocks shots fairly well and is an intimidating defender. Some scouts are concerned about his unconventional shooting form. While his work ethic is solid, there are some questions as to whether he can become strong enough mentally and physically to handle an 82-game season.
The Rest of the Best
Jameer Nelson, 5-11, 190, PG, St. Joseph's: Coming off an MVP senior season in which he averaged 20.6 points and 5.3 assists, Nelson is a fearless scorer -- with a deadly outside shot -- whose strength allows him to beat defenders to the basket, where he has a dizzying array of moves. His toughness late in games helped St. Joe's to a dream season. An excellent defender, he comes in more experienced than any other top prospect. The knock on him, of course, is his height, plus, sadly, there are some teams who feel like he's maxed out and would rather take a chance on a promising high schooler.
J.R. Smith, 6-6, 210, SG, Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict's HS: The North Carolina signee was barely on the draft radar until turning heads on the spring all-star circuit, scoring 25 points in the McDonald's game and 16 in the EA Sports Classic. In doing so, he demonstrated a lethal outside shot and NBA range. He's also a big-time athlete who can jump (44-inch vertical leap) and explode to the basket, making for some nifty dunks. Scouts would like to see him do a better job creating his own shot off the dribble, and his defensive skills aren't yet developed. He'll also need to add a rebounding element to his game.
Pavel Podkolzine, 7-4, 300, C, Siberia: After dazzling scouts at a workout in Chicago last year, the 19-year-old was set to be a high pick until a pituitary disorder caused him to withdraw at the last minute. Though the condition is still of some concern, it's under control, a relief to the many teams infatuated with this thick giant who many feel has the makings of a Shaquille O'Neal or Yao Ming. He appears to be athletic and well-conditioned. However, he's very much a project who's had limited experience. After being plucked from obscurity in Siberia, he's played sparingly for an Italian team the past two years.
On the brink: Sergei Monya, 6-8, 200, SG, Russia; Sebastian Telfair, 5-11, 175, PG, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln HS; Kosta Perovic, 7-1, 235, C, Serbia; Robert Swift, 7-0, 245, C, Bakersfield (Calif.) HS; Dorell Wright, 6-7, 210, SG, South Kent (Conn.) HS; Peja Samardziski, 7-0, 240, C, Macedonia.
SI.com's Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com