Class of '92 starting out with straight A's Rookies making immediate impact

December 08, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

When pro basketball fanatics rank past NBA drafts, the Class of 1984 generally heads the list for producing the greatest the number of blue-chippers.

Breaking in that year were Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Kevin Willis, Sam Perkins, Otis Thorpe and Sam Bowie.

Others argue strongly for 1985, when the lottery was introduce-- a vintage year that yielded Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Karl Malone, Terry Porter, Detlef Schrempf, Wayman Tisdale and Xavier McDaniel.

But with considerably less fanfare, the neophytes of 1992 may seriously test those two illustrious classes. NBA scouting guru Marty Blake says it usually takes three years to assess a draft, but early returns may allow Blake and fellow scouts to be less cautious in evaluating the current rookie crop.

Everyone expected great things from Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner, and each has lived up to his pre-draft hype.

The addition of the 7-foot O'Neal has made the Orlando Magic an instant contender. The former Louisiana State center is averaging 22.3 points and 14.9 rebounds and is the main reason Orlando is challenging the New York Knicks for the Atlantic Division lead.

Despite missing training camp, Mourning has provided muscl and inside defensive help for the Charlotte Hornets, playing alongside Larry Johnson, last year's Rookie of the Year. The former Georgetown star is averaging 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds.

Laettner, the former Duke leader, has assumed a similar role for the youthful Minnesota Timberwolves, averaging 17.9 points and rebounds.

But the consistently impressive play of the less-celebrate lottery picks -- LaPhonso Ellis (fifth), Tom Gugliotta (sixth), Walt Williams (seventh), Clarence Weatherspoon (ninth) and Robert Horry (11th) -- has raised some eyebrows.

Ellis, of Notre Dame, is averaging 14.8 points and 8.9 rebound for the Denver Nuggets. Williams, the former Maryland star, is playing a sixth-man role at guard and forward for the Sacramento Kings, averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.

Weatherspoon is burdened by being compared by Philadelphia 76ers fans with the departed Barkley. But the muscular forward from Southern Mississippi has averaged 12.0 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Gugliotta has drawn comparisons with legendary Larry Bird by rival coaches for his immediate impact with the Washington Bullets. The former North Carolina State star, whose high choice was questioned by a number of draftniks, is out-rebounding (9.6) all other rookies except O'Neal, leading in assists (4.1) and averaging 16.3 points.

Another pleasant surprise has been Horry, the Alabama forwar who is averaging 10.9 points and 6.6 rebounds for Houston. Combined with Olajuwon and Thorpe, he gives the Rockets one of the most formidable frontlines in the NBA.

The Rockets were questioned for choosing Horry with the las lottery pick over Harold Miner, the high-

scoring Southern Cal guard who had been labeled "Baby Jordan." Miner was selected by the Miami Heat. But while Horry is now considered a "steal," Miner continues to struggle, averaging 6.2 points.

Big Macs, too?

Ever wonder what happened to Ledell Eackles, the explosivBullets reserve guard/forward who was not re-signed this year nor claimed as a free agent?

"We finally got some interest in Ledell," his agent, Ed Sapir, said yesterday.

"Detroit's [director of personnel] Billy McKinney wants to invite him for a tryout. And we also heard from the Rapid City [S.D.] Thrillers of the CBA [Continental Basketball Association]. They're offering Ledell $1,000 a week, a free car and a room at the Hilton hotel to get him in shape for another crack at the NBA."

New Jersey Nets general manager Willis Reed also has expressed interest in Eackles, who fought conditioning problems his three years with Washington. But as of yesterday, Reed had not called Sapir.

No Moe, please

Doug Moe, the former Denver coach who came out of retirement to guide the 76ers, is now second-guessing himself. After his last-place team lost its sixth straight game, to Detroit on Friday night, to drop to 3-10, Moe said to a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Do me a favor and shoot me."

L Moe then added, "We can't go any further south than this."

He was proven wrong when the 76ers again lost to the Pistons the following night.

Moe is squarely on the hot seat, having approved Barkley's tradthe Phoenix Suns for guard Jeff Hornacek, center Andrew Lang and forward Tim Perry (from hometown Temple). Hornacek has recovered after a slow start, but Lang and Perry have been major disappointments, with Perry now in Moe's doghouse.

Power forward Armon Gilliam, a starter last year, and sixth ma Ron Anderson already had fallen out of favor with Moe, who keeps experimenting with his lineup.

Discussing the skid, Moe said, "It's not that the players don't care, it's that there's not enough hurt in losing."

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