Danger: Draft Ahead
With few college seniors of interest, this year's lottery has
higher risks than usual
Has there ever been a tougher year to be an NBA G.M. with a high
draft pick? It appears that for the first time in league history
no team will choose a college senior in the first 13 picks. The
highest rated senior is 6-foot point guard Dan Dickau from
Gonzaga, who is expected to go in the mid- to late teens. Before
this draft the latest pick at which the first senior was taken
was the Nets' selection of Kerry Kittles at No. 8 in 1996.
Of course, the risk of a botched pick only increases with
teenagers, whose talents are in an early state of development,
and foreigners, whose track records are tougher to read. The
surest shot in the draft is 6'2" Duke junior Jay Williams--and
even so, there are a few scouts who say his size will prevent
him from becoming an All-Star. Williams likens himself to
another NCAA title-winning point guard, one who overcame his
lack of height with quickness, sharpshooting and confidence to
become a 12-time All-Star. "Isiah [Thomas] was really good in
college and even better in the NBA," says Williams. "I'd like to
try to mark my game after him."
After 7'5" Yao Ming goes No. 1 to the Rockets and Williams is
chosen second by the Bulls, how will the June 26 draft shake
out? Here are the most interesting people to watch:
At week's end the second-team All-America hadn't decided whether
to remain in the draft or return to Duke for his senior year.
Though Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski rates Dunleavy as the school's
most versatile player since Grant Hill, some G.M.'s think he
might be pushed around as a rookie. "I need to get a little
stronger, but 6'9", 220 is pretty good for a small forward,"
says Dunleavy, who believes he will be helped by the experiences
of his father (and namesake), a former NBA player and coach. "I
should be able to make the transition better just from having
been around the league so many years."
As the new president of the Grizzlies, Mr. Clutch has the No. 4
pick. He hasn't chosen that high since he picked James Worthy
first for the Lakers in 1982. Rival executives don't know what
to expect of West, a master of deception. When he recently told
Kansas forward Drew Gooden that he should be a top four pick,
did that mean West plans to draft Gooden? Or is he creating a
smoke screen? Will he trade the pick, along with an unwanted
salary or two, in exchange for a veteran player? His friends
believe that West, 64, will guide the Grizzlies for no more than
four to five years, which means he'll try to put his personal
stamp on the team right away, starting on draft night.
The equally unpredictable G.M. of Denver will impact the draft
with a strategy opposite that of West. The Nuggets plan to use
the No. 5 pick on the player they feel has the greatest
long-term potential. That could be 19-year-old Nikoloz
Tskitishvili, a slim, broad-shouldered 7-footer from the
Republic of Georgia who runs, handles the ball and shoots like a
small forward. Many are calling him the next Dirk Nowitzki. But
some respected scouts point to the fact that Tskitishvili
doesn't start for his Italian league team and wonder about all
New York's No. 7 pick, packaged with one of its starters, is its
most valuable asset, and Layden, the Knicks' G.M., has been
discussing a variety of moves. He might try to deal the pick
along with Marcus Camby or Latrell Sprewell in exchange for an
established big man. For a team that's under a win-now-or-else
edict, that would make more sense than bringing in a young
player who will need three or four years to develop.
A Doctor in the House?
T-Wolves Playing With Their Heads
As the Minnesota Timberwolves consider how to use their
second-round pick, they will seek the advice of Jonathan
Niednagel, a.k.a. "the brain doctor." At the recent NBA predraft
camp in Chicago, Niednagel (who is not really a doctor) could be
found sitting under a basket, studying the motor skills and
facial expressions of 60 potential draft picks. He says there
are physical traits, including the way a player talks, that
reveal how his brain is "wired," and that wiring is what
separates the All-Stars from the underachievers.
Niednagel, who heads the Brain Type Institute of Notting Hill,
Mo., and has been studying brain types for 30 years, is one of
the country's more unusual--and popular--judges of athletic
talent. On June 4 he helped the Cincinnati Reds choose
Christopher Gruler with the No. 3 pick in the baseball draft. As
a consultant for the San Diego Chargers in 1998 he told club
officials that Peyton Manning had the ideal brain type for an
NFL quarterback--sharing the same inborn traits as Joe Montana,
Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath and Brett Favre--but that Ryan Leaf's
makeup wouldn't allow him to perform under pressure. The
Chargers drafted Leaf with the No. 2 pick anyway, only to
release him two years later.
"If I was ever a general manager in any sport, he would be my
first hire, because he would give me an advantage that no one
else would have," says former Suns coach Danny Ainge, who has
known Niednagel for 12 years and introduced him to Timberwolves
president Kevin McHale. "I don't think anybody in the NBA knew
how good Mike Bibby was until the playoffs this year, but I
remember Jon telling me that Bibby was capable of that
performance while he was still in college."
According to Niednagel, Bibby is an ISTP--the letters stand for
introversion, sensing, thinking, perceiving--which puts Bibby in
the same group as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Jerry West and
Is there a player with Jordan's mentality lurking in this year's
draft? McHale is the only G.M. who will know for sure.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Williams should go No. 2, but some scouts worry about his size.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM ZELEVANSKY Stoudemire, of Orlando, may be the first high schooler drafted.
Let the Picking Begin
A look at the players expected to be lottery picks in the June
TEAM POSITION PLAYER SCHOOL/CLUB
1. Rockets C Yao Ming (7'5", 296 pounds) Shanghai Sharks
Will China help or hinder his career in the U.S.?
2. Bulls G Jay Williams (6'2", 195) Duke
With Williams in charge, Bulls look like a potential finalist in
3. Warriors F Mike Dunleavy* (6'9", 221) Duke
A glue guy whose shooting and passing should bring order to
4. Grizzlies F Drew Gooden (6'10", 230) Kansas
Best player available, but how will he fit alongside Pau Gasol?
5. Nuggets F Nikoloz Tskitishvili* (7'0", 225) Benetton Treviso
Nuggets rebuild around the next Nowitzki (Italy)
6. Cavaliers F Caron Butler (6'7", 235) Connecticut
Ready-to-play scorer gives Cavs a potentially scary backcourt
7. Knicks F Chris Wilcox (6'10", 221) Maryland
Explosive big man fills a need but won't keep Knicks out of
8. Clippers F Curtis Borchardt* (7'0", 240) Stanford
Provides insurance if L.A. doesn't re-sign Michael Olowokandi
9. Suns F Jared Jefferies (6'10", 215) Indiana
May be raw and skinny, but he's the rare rookie who knows how to
10. Heat F Amare Stoudemire (6'10", 245) Cypress Creek High
The next Mourning? He's strong, tough and athletic (Orlando)
11. Wizards F Qyntel Woods (6'8", 221) Northeast
He's the kind of multitalented player Jordan will enjoy
12. Clippers G Dajuan Wagner (6'3", 200) Memphis
Because of the run on size, he slips down to become the newest
13. Bucks F Maybyner (Nene) Hilario (6'11", 260) Vasco da Gama
Milwaukee ecstatic to grab best athlete in draft (Brazil)
*Early entry candidate who may withdraw from the draft
To check out Ian Thomsen's predictions for the entire first
round of the NBA draft, go to cnnsi.com/basketball.