Weekly Countdown: Execs' draft impressions, latest buzz and more
5 Draft dark horses
This is seen as a two-star draft featuring Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley, followed by eight to 10 players who are difficult to rank. "There's just not a lot of separation,'' a Western Conference general manager said. "Normally you're trying to get a certain guy, or hoping he'll drop to you. This year no one knows what's happening in front of them.''
With the talent in the lottery so tightly packed, I asked five NBA executives to each come up with a dark horse in this draft -- a player who will turn into a formidable pro.
5. Donte' Greene, SF/PF, 6-foot-9, 225 pounds, Fr., Syracuse. "If we were picking in the upper middle of the lottery -- I'm talking about picks 3-4-5 -- I would be looking at this guy. He has to get bigger and stronger. But he is a face-up 4 with a stroke, a shooter. I'm not a big fan of the combo guards in the draft, and I think Greene will turn out to be better than any of them -- [O.J.] Mayo, [Jerryd] Bayless, [Eric] Gordon, [Russell] Westbrook.''
4. Kevin Love, F/C, 6-9, 255, Fr., UCLA. "There are a lot of questions in this draft, but there are very few uncertainties regarding Kevin Love. You know he's going to rebound, he knows how to play, he's a good passer, he has good hands and he plays hard. There's value in knowing exactly what you're getting in a draft pick. He'll be a 4, and in today's [smaller] NBA he can guard some 5s. I haven't mentioned his shooting, which is a wrinkle to his game. He'll be a solid starter in the league.''
3. Joe Alexander, SF, 6-8, 220, Jr., West Virginia. "He's tough as hell. He comes in dressed like a prep-school kid, and on the court he bites your head off. He has the most unusual background: He grew up in China, he speaks fluent Mandarin. He's confident and he keeps improving. He can shoot it, he's a great athlete, he's tough. He hasn't shown he can rebound yet, but I think in time he'll be able to in our league. Eventually he'll play some 4. Plus he is the strongest guy in this draft according to the numbers, so he has got a lot going for him.''
2. Russell Westbrook, G, 6-3, 192, Soph., UCLA. "I like Westbrook because of his scoring ability, and he's able to handle the ball some too. His defensive ability is an obvious strength, as he demonstrated against some of the better players. Watch the Pac-10 semifinal game and the last UCLA [regular-season] game vs. Southern Cal, and you'll see that Mayo wanted no part of attacking him. So far he's relied on his athleticism offensively, but the underrated part of his game is that Westbrook can make shots. His shot looks good, and he's a guy who is going to work hard to keep improving it. He has a chance to be a guy who can score and handle the ball enough to play as a 1. He'll be a very solid player."
1. Robin Lopez, C, 7-0, 245, Soph., Stanford. "He has a physical presence, he has mobility and he has underrated offensive potential. He's going to get drafted a lot higher than anyone realizes -- anywhere from 10 to 13, I think. He'll be a good shot disruptor -- he won't be blocking a ton of shots, but he'll be altering them. He'll be a good rebounder because he's strong and mobile and he pursues the ball easily.
"But the main thing is I think he's better offensively than people give him credit for because of his twin, Brook, who is so good offensively. They get compared unfairly. But the truth is that Brook is not that bad defensively, and Robin is not that bad offensively. It's just that they've relied on each other to share the work and their games have suffered a little bit as a result, but they have the potential to do more. It's as if they're being penalized in these predraft assessments for being around each other.''