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The '05 NBA Draft class' hidden gems, future flops

Posted: Friday June 24, 2005 1:31PM
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NBA teams have had roughly a month and half to work out, measure, prod, time, and interview the 2006 draft field, but for all the hours of film watched, scouting dollars spent and analysis gleaned, player selection is still far from an exact science. Who knew that the strange pick read by Russ Granik in the waning moments of the '99 draft -- some Argentine named Emanuel Ginobili, at No. 57 -- would be the driving force behind the Spurs' title run in 2005? On draft night, everyone wants to look smart, to find the next Manu or the next Dwyane -- and stay away from the next Kwame or Tskitishvili.

Herewith, my first NBA Draft Underrated/Overrated column, in which I look at potential steals and others who GMs might want to avoid:

Underrated: Rashad McCants, 6-foot-4, 207-pound SG, North Carolina

Rashad McCants
Will ex-Tar Heel Rashad McCants become a big-time scorer in the NBA?
Bob Rosato/SI

"He has all the right tools," one NBA source said, "and he may be the fourth-most athletic guy in the draft." But -- and but is the omnipresent word after any comment on Mr. McCants' skills -- his stock has been adversely affected by the findings of the background-checkers, who seem to have arrived at the same consensus much of the college world did: Fantastic player, if you can cope with the baggage (as in, attitude issues). To them I say, cope. The NBA is as well-versed as the TSA in the business of baggage handling, and McCants' perceived issues, which weren't a problem in the Heels' title-winning season, are trivial compared to those of Kobe or Ron Artest. "That's the problem with the draft," another NBA source said. "You can do all the scouting you want [about a prospect's background], and then if you pass on him and he uses that as motivation to become a five- or six-time All-Star, you can get fired for making such an 'obvious' mistake." I don't want to see anyone get fired. I'd advise against allowing McCants to slip too far beyond the Lottery.

Overrated: Monta Ellis, 6-3, 175-pound G, Lanier High School (Jackson, Miss.)

Ellis was Mississippi State's dream signee -- a homegrown two-guard who averaged 41 points per game at Jackson's Lanier High School and had the makings of a dynamic SEC scorer. He had designs on jumping straight to the League instead, and it, in turn, has designs on making him a point guard. Ellis may have been a prep wonder, but if there is an inherent risk in drafting a high-school point, isn't there an even greater gamble in selecting a high school two and presuming you can convert him into a one? Ellis was mediocre in the McDonald's All-American Game in March (just 3-for-10 shooting, two assists) and did not test well in the Chicago pre-draft camp's combine, where he was rated 70th (out of 75) prospects in athleticism. In the three-quarter-court sprint, Ellis clocked in at 3.31 seconds -- a slower time than both Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf and UConn's Charlie Villanueva, two players who made "laborious jogging" an art form in college. Ellis may have been slowed by an injured knee -- which will require arthroscopic surgery -- in Chicago, but there are enough concerns to make him a risky first-round pick.

Underrated: Jarrett Jack, 6-3, 202-pound PG, Georgia Tech

Jarrett Jack
On draft night, Jarrett Jack will have to wait in line behind a number of more coveted point guards.
Bob Rosato/SI

Did anyone fathom back in April of 2004, when Jack led Georgia Tech to the NCAA title game, that he wouldn't eventually be a lottery pick? Had he foregone his amateur status following that loss to UConn -- and entered a draft in which the top college point men were Wisconsin's Devin Harris and St. Joseph's Jameer Nelson -- Jack most likely would have received lottery consideration. And had he waited until the '06 draft (now sure to be devoid of prep talent, thanks to the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement) instead of making an 11th-hour decision Tuesday to turn pro, Jack would've been a lottery pick. That won't happen in '05; the reasons are four-fold, but hardly his fault: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Raymond Felton and Roko Ukic. It's the richest point-guard draft in years and Jack is option No. 5. "I like his size and I love his athleticism," one NBA scout said. "Once he learns not to make so many dangerous decisions, he's going to be a quality player." And a steal in the late 20s.

Overrated: Chris Taft, 6-10, 260-pound PF, Pittsburgh

As the draft nears, few vacancies remain on the Taft-bashing bandwagon. How much of the negativity is justified remains to be seen, but it has been open season on the Panthers' big man after a few poorly reviewed workouts. One NBA scout said he would have too many concerns to take Taft with a first-round pick, but there are still a number of teams considering him in the late teens and 20s. Taft's biggest flaw was that he had the basketball world expecting such great things -- what with his chiseled, 6-10 frame and sporadic flashes of eye-opening talent -- and never delivered during his sophomore campaign at Pitt. He relies too heavily on one post move (a jump-hook) and played lethargically in '04-05; perhaps a slight on draft night will be the grudge he needs to blossom as an aggressive player. For now, though, he hasn't shown enough. To take him before any of a slew of quality (albeit smaller) forwards on the board -- Channing Frye, Joey Graham, Hakim Warrick, Ike Diogu and Sean May -- would be a mistake.