Nugget of info will help Bullets decide on first-round pick

June 24, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Adam Keefe or Tom Gugliotta?

That seems to be the Washington Bullets' toughest call, other than trying to figure out which way the Denver Nuggets are leaning going into tonight's NBA draft.

The Nuggets have the fifth choice in the first round -- the Bullets choose sixth -- and Denver general manager Bernie Bickerstaff is keeping Washington guessing.

Bickerstaff is said to be leaning toward Notre Dame power forward LaPhonso Ellis more than early favorite Keefe, Stanford's low-post forward-center. History indicates Bickerstaff favors athletic types, such as Shawn Kemp (his first-round pick for Seattle in 1989), over role players.

If this holds true, the Bullets would be able to choose between Keefe and all-purpose forward Gugliotta of North Carolina State to fill a pressing frontcourt need.

Some in the organization wouldn't choose either player -- team management, the coaches and scouting staff all seem to have favorites. There are a few ballots for Maryland All-America guard Walt Williams, and there is one for Southern Cal guard Harold Miner, an explosive scorer.

But this important choice -- the Bullets' highest since 1984 -- will not be decided by committee. It will be hammered out between general manager John Nash and coach Wes Unseld, who agree that the Bullets' prime need is a big man.

The argument then would be which candidate best meets the team's requirements. Keefe is a 6-foot-9, 230-pound inside banger who averaged more than 22 points and 10 rebounds in his last three seasons at Stanford. Gugliotta is a muscular, 6-10 forward with a soft shooting touch, three-point range and impressive ballhandling and passing skills.

Because Unseld has favored a motion offense the past two years, the guess is Gugliotta, a native of New York who blossomed during his senior year at N.C. State. He can play both small and power forward and he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rebounding average (9.8) in his senior year.

"I started a weight program during my freshman year," Gugliotta said, while undergoing pre-draft medical tests in Chicago. "I was pretty skinny, and all of a sudden I started filling out [he weighs 240].

"But I like to run the court, and I think a lot of NBA teams like the fact that at my height I'm able to play two or three positions. I've even worked out as a two [shooting] guard."

Unseld would want Gugliotta to be more than a finesse player.

"We've got to get meaner," said Unseld, whose Bullets finished 25-57 last season.

"We lost a lot of toughness when we traded Darrell Walker to Detroit last June, and then we also lost John Williams [medical suspension] and Bernard King [knee surgery]."

The Bullets were out-rebounded on a regular basis. Pervis Ellison, who was voted the NBA's Most Improved Player, is 6-10, 225. He averaged 11.2 rebounds but wore down in the final months after playing against centers much heavier.

The Bullets could consider trading their sixth pick for a proven rebounder, such as the Atlanta Hawks' Kevin Willis or taking a gamble by seeking a trade for backup Chicago Bulls center Stacey King. But Nash has said the Bullets will keep their pick.

Without question, a number of fans attending the draft party at the Capital Centre tonight will be clamoring for the Bullets to select Walt Williams, who made the Terps respectable last season by averaging a school-record 26.8 points, to go with his 5.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.1 steals a game.

There is also the belief that the presence of Williams, who played at Crossland High School in Prince George's County, could increase ticket sales for a team that has long ranked near the bottom in attendance. But the same arguments were made last year for the New Jersey Nets to draft Kenny Anderson, a flashy sophomore point guard at Georgia Tech who is from New York.

The Nets chose Anderson over multi-talented forward Billy Owens of Syracuse. Anderson spent most of a frustrating rookie season on the bench as a third point guard while Owens made the NBA's All-Rookie Team with Golden State.

Williams, at 6-8, probably can play more positions than Anderson. But scouts contend his best position is shooting guard, and the Bullets acquired shooting guard Rex Chapman and his $2 million contract from the Charlotte Hornets in February.

Since Washington also has LaBradford Smith -- picked 19th in the first round last year -- waiting in the wings, not to mention A. J. English and Ledell Eackles, shooting guard seems to be the least of its concerns.

Williams would prove more valuable to Washington as a playmaker, with his size a bonus. But a number of pro scouts didn't like his assists-to-turnovers ratio (3.6 assists to 4.2 turnovers in his senior year).

Williams could possibly play small forward, but a bigger Gugliotta might be more attractive in this role, allowing veteran Harvey Grant to shift to power forward.

There is also sentiment for the Bullets to select Miner, who some scouts compare to Jordan.

Nash has heard it all before.

"Potential is the key word," he said.

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