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"Some adapt," Finch goes on. " Reggie Miller says he doesn't like to lift weights, but he reads screens so well that he can create situations for himself. Lee Scruggs [the 6'11" Georgetown center] is tough and can shoot, but he'd have to play the three because he's so thin."
Finally, a stretch of man-to-man appears like sunlight through a break in the clouds. This allows Finch a few moments' insight into Villanova's Michael Bradley, the 6'10" junior who will make himself available for the draft: " Bradley will set a screen and pop out from it, but he won't shoot the ball. He can shoot it, and he needs to shoot it. Bill Laimbeer and Brad Lohaus made a living shooting that shot."
Evaluating nonseniors is fraught with uncertainty, and through the 1990s, scouts had to adjust to the volume of early eligibles, including high school players, entering the draft. "You have to assess most high school kids on how advanced their skills are—passing and catching and defensive concepts," says Finch, who prefers scouting regular-season high school games because all-star games feature little more than running and jumping. "And you can look at their bone structure. If they have narrow shoulders, the potential's not there to gain a lot of weight." The NBA's decision to allow zones next season introduces another variable: Can a prospect slide at the back of a 2-3 or pull up for the midrange jumper against some combination defense that hasn't been invented yet? The brain trust of Finch's club has only begun to factor the rule change into its judgments.
The matchup between St. John's and Seton Hall later in the day features Pirates freshman forward Eddie Griffin, whose eventual decision to declare for the draft is foretold in the way he plays. Here's someone I can easily see in the play-for-pays. To my eye he's light afoot. He'll lie back on defense, then use perfectly calibrated timing to challenge a shot. When he rises to shoot, he always seems to get an unobstructed look, which scouts love and for which they have an expression: He gets good separation. (A guy who gets good separation even after you factor in the hand check is someone to take very seriously.) Moreover, I tell Finch, even though Griffin has had some well-documented off-the-court dustups with teammates, he plays on an even keel, which strikes me as creditable.
Wrong again—at least on the last of those points. "That's not a good thing," says Finch. "You can't tell if he wants to be out there. If he hits a three-pointer, would he react even a little bit? Take [former Texas and current Cleveland Cavaliers center] Chris Mihm. Every fourth game he'd show emotion. You wondered, What really stokes him? Mihm likes tennis. Does he love basketball?"
Finch doesn't regard Griffin as a future Jordan or an Iverson, but he counts him among the few prospects with enough raw talent to trump many other doubts, including those about his intensity and motivation. "We can teach a lot of these little things I'm talking about," Finch says. "That's what the word potential is for. Maybe a guy hasn't gotten the fundamentals in high school or after one year of college. That's why footwork gets me so excited. If a guy has good footwork, he can learn so many things. But you don't learn without working at it. And is a kid willing to work? Defensive desire is a huge indicator. If a guy has an appetite for defense, that's a sign that he'll be willing to work. Everyone can get better at any skill. If Eddie Griffin stayed in college, he'd learn many of these things in due course."
Finch believes at least one freshman is draft-ready: Zach Randolph, the 6'9" forward from Michigan State. He loves Randolph's feel for the game, the softness of his hands and, most of all, those telltale feet. " Zach Randolph already has great footwork," Finch says, "but he's the exception: It appears that he's had the coaching that Eddie Griffin hasn't."
Finch mentions a former star at Southern Cal whom the Miami Heat made a first-round choice in 1992. " Harold Miner was a talented kid, but I don't think his heart was in basketball," says the scout. "He was out of the league within three or four years. I guarantee you, that's the biggest question about Eddie Griffin."
I've finally found someone who doesn't think Shane Battier is too good to be true. Finch likes a lot about the 2000-01 college player of the year, who led Duke to the NCAA title last spring. "If you draft him, obviously you're getting a cerebral player," Finch says. "If he never helped you on the floor, he'd help you in the locker room and in the community. You know he works hard. He's got good anticipation, and he's around the basket a lot. He's the guy who huddles everybody up before a free throw—and he actually has something to say.
"But there are things about him that don't add up. He'd have a hard time guarding some fours in our league, like Karl Malone or Rasheed Wallace. He's a good standstill shooter, but I'm still watching to see how well he can shoot on the move because that's one of the defined skills for a three."