2003 NBA Draft 2003 NBA Draft

Posted: Wednesday May 21, 2003 12:14 PM

Is LeBron James the no-brainer No. 1 pick?
Read both sides, now read what you had to say.
Hell yeah

A shout-out to all my peeps at Reebok! Stephen Dunn/Gett Images

By John Hollinger

Back in the real world, LeBron James will be the first pick even if the team that holds it secretly thinks heís the second coming of LaRue Martin, because the merchandise sales and sellouts alone will guarantee a financial windfall to whomever drafts him.

But if we think about a parallel universe where all we care about is wins and losses, my colleague Stewart Mandel raises an interesting question: Is LeBron James still the right pick?


Sure, he has his faults. His jumper is erratic, he hasnít faced NBA-level competition (including those practices with the Cavaliers), and he doesnít fill a scarce position.

Center Darko Milicic, the likely No. 2 pick, can put a check mark next to all three of those boxes.

It doesnít matter, because of everything James brings to the table. Ball handling. Passing. Superior athleticism.

A 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame that is already more chiseled than that of many NBA vets. And by all accounts, heís got the love.

Compare him to other players of similar size and skill, and thereís only two that fit the bill: Grant Hill and Magic Johnson.

Heís as athletic as Hill was pre-ankle-surgery, and like Hill he struggles with the J. But heís also an inch taller and 20 pounds stronger.

Magic couldnít shoot when he entered the league either, and he was an inch taller than LeBron.

But he didnít have nearly the hops and shot a flat-footed push shot; LeBron will be much more effective getting his shot off in traffic.

So basically, weíre looking at a guy who is somewhere between Grant Hill and Magic Johnson -- at age 18. Which means, in two words, draft him.

He may not be the next Jordan, and Mr. Mandel has aptly pointed out some of the reasons why.

But heís a heck of a lot closer than anybody else.

Sorry, you're not the one

Want a sure thing? It's Melo Time! Craig Jones/Getty Images

By Stewart Mandel

LeBron James may well be a more talented basketball player than fellow prodigies Darko Milicic or Carmelo Anthony.

But if I'm a rock-bottom franchise like the Denver Nuggets and I'm holding that No. 1 pick, I'm going to ignore popular logic. I'm going to select either of the two not named LeBron.


Because Milicic and Anthony are relatively safe investments -- future superstars around whom you can build your future.

James is an implosion waiting to happen.

Milicic and Anthony will receive their share of hype, no question, but no more so than a typical top-flight rookie. Coaches and management will be afforded the luxury of patience as the teens are slowly groomed into their eventual roles.

James, on the other hand, will be a circus. He will sign a $100 million shoe deal before he ever dons an NBA uniform. He will have a daily press contingent. He will be treated like royalty wherever he goes.

But most of all, he will be thrust into a leadership role well before he's ready. Now how do you think that's going to sit among the veterans in the locker room?

NBA execs will contend that the hype surrounding James is exactly what makes him attractive. His mere presence on an otherwise lousy team is sure to create a spike in interest and attendance.

But that's exactly the kind of reasoning that can blow up in your face.

Michael Jordan provided that same kind of spark for the Washington Wizards upon his arrival in 2000. Three years and zero playoff appearances later, Jordan is out on the street, leaving behind an unworkable roster, an expensive disaster (Kwame Brown) and a franchise in disarray.

Similarly, LeBron may score 30 points per game, but whichever team drafts him may get worse before it gets better.