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Posted: Tuesday October 21, 2008 2:59PM; Updated: Tuesday October 21, 2008 3:40PM
Steve Aschburner Steve Aschburner >
INSIDE THE NBA

Plenty to prove for '06 lottery picks

Story Highlights

Many top picks from the 2006 draft have yet to establish themselves in the NBA

Brandon Roy has been the best of the bunch, in terms of individual success

Adam Morrison, Randy Foye and Mouhamed Sene have struggled with injuries

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Looking to emerge in Year 3 are (clockwise from top left) Andrea Bargnani (No. 1 pick in '06), Tyrus Thomas (No. 4), Shelden Williams (No. 5) and Adam Morrison (No. 3).
Looking to emerge in Year 3 are (clockwise from top left) Andrea Bargnani (No. 1 pick in '06), Tyrus Thomas (No. 4), Shelden Williams (No. 5) and Adam Morrison (No. 3).
AP (4)
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There is a Rule of Three in almost every aspect of our culture, and the NBA is no exception.

Three, in fact, is one of our most powerful, pervasive numbers, providing the foundation -- a three-legged stool, actually -- of pursuits as diverse as science, religion, literature, show biz and sports.

Atoms have protons, neutrons and electrons. Education has readin', 'ritin' and 'rithmetic. Karl Marx philosophized on capitalism, socialism and communism. Freud had his ego, his super-ego and his id (but then, we all do). Pythagoras would have been lost without that third side to calculate.

Christianity has the Holy Trinity, Hindus have Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The Greeks, with Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, accounted for air, water and earth, while Maurice White kept it simply Earth, Wind & Fire. How many branches of government does the United States have? Colors in a traffic light? How many Musketeers were there? Stooges? (Do not get me started on Shemp, Joe or Curly Joe). Goldilocks had three bears, the wolf went after three pigs and the farmer's wife with her carving knife went after not one, not two, but three blind mice.

Sports are awash in threes: Ready, aim, fire. On your mark, get set, go. Gold, silver and bronze. Win, place and show. Rock, chalk, Jayhawk. Three strikes and you're out. Three outs in an inning. Three downs and out. Hat tricks, turkeys, Triple Crowns and shots from beyond the arc all are big deals because, while two is good, three is better.

Then there is this NBA Rule of Three: A player's third year is pivotal in his development, especially if he was drafted high and still hasn't tapped into his potential. Third seasons are when franchises expect to see real returns on their lottery picks, if they haven't already, and when some heavy-duty decisions on contract options, court time and even careers get made, yea or nay.

That figures to be particularly true this season for the draft class of 2006, a group in which most of the top picks still have something to prove. For some it's a little, for others it's a lot. For every exclamation point you can attach to one of the guys now beginning his third season, there are two or three lugging around question marks.

"People think just because they put on a professional jersey ... all of a sudden they're pro players,'' Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said early in training camp. He was talking about one of the Bulls' third-year guys, Tyrus Thomas, but his comments applied to others. "Well, a lot of these guys maybe played one or two years of college. They're still young, and there's a lot of development to do. When you get to this level, you're not playing against college kids anymore. You're playing against men. It's a whole different level. These guys have to get out there and figure it out, and we have to help them do that.''

Flipping back one year, we realize how much we learned about the class of 2005 in its third season among the pros. Top pick Andrew Bogut continued his steady improvement, showed he could anchor the Bucks in the middle for a decade and earned a $60 million contract extension. Utah's Deron Williams, drafted third, cemented his spot among elite point guards alongside No. 4 pick Chris Paul. Still-raw Andrew Bynum, the 10th pick, had shown enough that many fans wondered what might have been, if the 20-year-old center had been healthy for the Lakers last spring. Indiana's Danny Granger, picked 17th, has made a half dozen clubs drafting in front of the Pacers look silly. A few players settled into the "employable'' level, a few others (like Charlotte's Sean May) were slowed by injuries and a few more might never make it.

So here's a rundown on the lottery picks of 2006, in order, with their current teams. Will their third years be charms? Hard to know. If in doubt, we can always play a little rock, paper, scissors.

1. Andrea Bargnani, Toronto. Sam Mitchell looks at Bargnani and sees a 7-foot, 250-pound player whose appetite for shooting three-pointers makes the coach want to toss his Canadian cookies. That's why Mitchell required the Italian import to work on his post game and mid-range shots. But with Chris Bosh and Jermaine O'Neal available and Toronto feeling some pressure to win, Bargnani could slip considerably off Mitchell's radar, especially if he doesn't rebound and defend better.

2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland. Actually, Aldridge is right where he should be, with the bonus of having attention -- defensive and media -- shift to Greg Oden.

3. Adam Morrison, Charlotte. Knee surgery and deflated expectations didn't stop Morrison from getting his $5.3 million option picked up last week by the Bobcats. But it wasn't a reward to the underachieving player as much as it was a business decision; he still is considered an asset, if mostly for trade possibilities. On a roster heavy with shooters and wing players, Morrison hasn't shown the all-around game that would earn Brownie points with coach Larry.

4. Tyrus Thomas, Chicago. Thomas is typical of a frustrating third-year player: He admits that it took him two whole seasons just to get his head on straight. Now he's maturing, but the clock already was ticking on him. He's said to be more affable this fall, but the key is whether he's accountable. He still blames a lack of playing time for his modest stats and mental lapses, rather than vice versa.

5. Shelden Williams, Sacramento. Kings president Geoff Petrie said the other day that his club is unlikely to pick up the $4.3 million fourth-year option on Williams, which in a perfect world would light whatever fires his trade from Atlanta didn't. He did drop 15 pounds over the summer but needs some scoring skills.

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