Wizards have choices at No. 1
Updated: Tuesday June 19, 2001 5:48 PM
By Travis Richmond, CNNSI.com
Michael Jordan has less than two weeks to make up his mind.
Not whether to make a comeback, but which player to select with the first pick of the June 27 NBA Draft.
Jordan, the Washington Wizards team president, has yet to tip his hand as to which player he covets most. There are also rumors he could trade the pick in an effort to acquire a veteran who could make a more immediate impact rather than someone with little or no experience.
While college player of the year Shane Battier from Duke is the most polished player available, speculation has the Wizards more seriously considering Seton Hall freshman Eddie Griffin along with high school entrants Eddy Curry and Kwame Brown. This trio, with their combined one year of collegiate experience, are seen as the most talented prospects in the draft rather than the most ready for the pros.
Telling the teenagers apart
"If it is Griffin, Curry, and Brown, there are huge differences between them," said college basketball recruiting expert Brick Oettinger. "They are similar only in that they are all young."
Curry and Brown are considered the best of the Class of 2001, with Tyson Chandler and DeSagana Diop also likely lottery selections. Griffin, meanwhile, considered entering the draft last year put decided to give it the old college try for one season.
Griffin (6'9", 220) averaged just under 18 points and 11 rebounds for Seton Hall and was second in the nation with 4.4 blocks per game. But in the pros, Griffin is expected to play small forward.
"He is an extremely versatile player who could play center for Seton Hall because of his leaping ability, and he will block more shots than any point forward in the league," Oettinger said. "He is a truly great shot blocker with instincts, and he also draw his man out to 16-17 feet. The question is can he do it on a consistent basis."
Curry and Brown both stand 6'11", but while Curry boasts a frame of near-300 pounds and is a true center, the 250-pound Brown is seen as a power forward.
"Kwame Brown is the most ready of the high school kids," said draft analyst Chris Monter. "He has a pro body, he runs the floor well for his size, and he hits the outside shot. He has the prototypical power forward body."
Oettinger also is high on Brown, whom he compares to Danny Manning for his passing ability.
"He can really dribble the ball well and he has incredible court vision. You don't find that in guys his size," Oettinger said.
Still, NBA teams rarely find anyone in Curry's size with the type of talent the 18-year old possesses. Curry has drawn comparisons to a young Shaquille O'Neal, and with so many teams lacking true centers passing on Curry might be a big mistake.
"If you don't judge them based on next year and instead on three years down the road, Curry could be the best," Oettinger said. "He has a chance to be something really special. He comes at you with his strength and he wears you down. He has a soft touch and a jump hook -- you won't have to teach him to shoot. Shaq needed a few years in college and he still wasn't a touch shooter."
Atlanta Hawks coach Lon Kruger, who has the No. 3 pick in the draft, recently had Curry in for a private workout. He said Curry's size alone elevates him above a lankier player like Chandler, who stands 7'1" but weighs only 220 pounds and may play small forward in the NBA.
"People have a tendency, if two guys are generally even, to go with the more traditional low-post player," Kruger said. "The history of the NBA says that."
To prep or not to prep
Since the Minnesota Timberwolves chose Kevin Garnett with the fifth pick of the 1995 draft, 18 players have skipped college entirely for a chance to play in the NBA, including six this year.
Despite the fact that no high schooler has ever gone above No. 3, NBA Director of Scouting Marty Blake said that will not enter into Jordan's mind when deciding who to pick.
"That idea is overblown. Michael will have no qualms about taking a high school kid No. 1," Blake said. "If you can play you can play. There are lots of [college] seniors who can't play."
Teams have also historically had the benefit of watching a player for several years in college rather than having to predict what kind of player their pick may eventually become, something that applies this year only Battier among the draft's top talents.
"This draft is probably the most difficult to evaluate as any I have ever been involved with," said Timberwolves Director of Player Personnel Rob Babcock. "There are so many players with one or two years of college experience and high school kids with zero."
Babcock, whose Timberwolves do not possess a first-round pick in wake of the Joe Smith secret contract, said that an unproven player can make or break his draft position based on his private workouts for teams.
"This year the individual workouts are going to be more important than ever. We've all seen the high school kids but it has been against other high school kids. Even in the all-star games, where there is a higher level of competition, no one plays any defense," Babcock said. "You have to bring them in to see their desire, their ability to learn, their work ethic, and how they respond to coaching. You won't find those things out watching a high school game."
It was after witnessing Garnett's private workout in 1995 that the Timberwolves decided they would draft him with the No. 5 pick.
"We didn't want to draft a high school kid," Babcock said. "We were a very young team and we already had J.R. Rider and Christian Laettner. I had to talk [Timbervolves VP] Kevin McHale into coming to see him work out in Chicago. But when we left that workout you knew he had something special. We were overwhelmed by his passion for the game and his desire to learn."
Monter said teams have learned that passing on talented high school players can cause heartache sooner rather than later.
"In an ideal world, teams would like to not have to worry about taking high school kids, but you don't want to pass on someone who could end up being the top player in the draft," Monter said. "Garnett was the fifth pick and he would definitely be the top pick if that draft was held again today. Kobe Bryant went 13th, and Tracy McGrady went 9th. And, if you asked New Jersey and Vancouver, if they were honest, they would have to think long and hard about wishing they took Darius Miles last year."
The Wizards got their wish by winning the lottery. Now, it is up to Jordan determine which young player is best for his team.