Centers no longer big draft deal

June 27, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

In the past, when the dominant center theory was in vogue, NBA teams seeking upward mobility spent considerable time screening big men before the annual draft.

But the way pro basketball has evolved in recent years has created a different philosophy on building a contender. Quick forwards and the three-pointer have opened up the floor, diminishing dependence on the power game.

After Chicago and Phoenix made it to the championship round without outstanding centers and with strong perimeter shooting, strengthened the conviction that players such as the Bulls' Scottie Pippen and the Suns' Dan Majerle could prove just as valuable as a less-than-mobile center.

That is why when the 1993 NBA draft unfolds Wednesday night (TNT, 7:30), Kentucky forward Jamal Mashburn and Memphis State guard Anfernee Hardaway will be lottery picks. Both are capable of playing several positions, providing their coaches with more flexibility in matchups and strategy.

After the Orlando Magic, unusually fortunate to land the No. 1 lottery selection two years in a row, chooses Michigan power forward Chris Webber and the Philadelphia 76ers take a king-size gamble with 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley, with only a year's seasoning at Brigham Young, the Golden State Warriors are expected to pick Mashburn with the Dallas Mavericks then claiming Hardaway.

A rumor circulating the Bay area has Warriors coach Don Nelson trading the pick, whether he chooses Mashburn or Hardaway.

"Obviously, drafting a big man like a Patrick Ewing or David Robinson is the quickest way to become a winner," said Washington general manager John Nash. "But it's no longer the only way. There are no instant impact players, like Shaquille O'Neal or Alonzo Mourning, available this year, but you will definitely be getting a good player picking three through nine."

Bradley, who spent the past two years on a Mormon mission in eastern Australia, is the biggest and most intriguing player in the draft.

"He's more than a shot blocker," said Nelson, who covets anyone over 7 feet. "He has great hands, he can pass, he can score outside or from the low box. He's truly an amazing tall person. I really don't think we've seen a guy like him in our league."

Added Sacramento Kings general manager Jerry Reynolds: "Five years from now, Bradley could be another Bill Walton."

With the exception of Bradley, there are no highly regarded centers among the current crop.

Such hopefuls as Seton Hall's Luther Wright, Iowa's Acie Earl and New Orleans' Ervin Johnson come with reputations as one-dimensional players.

There is also a marked scarcity of legitimate power forwards. Webber, who led Michigan to two straight Final Four appearances, is considered the best of the lot, but still has to develop a low-post game.

Two Atlantic Coast Conference products -- Florida State's Doug Edwards and Georgia Tech's Malcolm Mackey -- are projected as bottom-half first-round choices. Mackey's inconsistency turned off a number of scouts.

The small forward position offers a more promising group headed by Mashburn, Indiana's Calbert Cheaney, Hartford's Vin Baker (6-11 with a feathery shooting touch) and Arizona's Chris Mills.

The Washington Bullets, who were seeking Nevada-Las Vegas swing man J. R. Rider to provide instant offense, are now expected to choose Cheaney as a frontcourt replacement for Harvey Grant, who was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday for center Kevin Duckworth.

With the mounting importance of the three-point shot, the stock ofsuch premier outside shooters as Tennessee's Allan Houston, Seton Hall's Terry Dehere and Kansas' Rex Walters improved considerably.

Strong auditions in pro camps also strengthened the reputations of Indiana's Greg Graham and Lucious Harris of Long Beach State.

The weakest representation comes at point guard, making Duke All-American Bobby Hurley a highly desirable commodity. He is expected to go as high as the seventh pick when Sacramento has its turn.

Hurley, a frail-looking 6-footer, is a born playmaker and used his passing skills to lead Duke to two straight national titles as a sophomore and junior. His floor leadership and toughness also impressed Magic Johnson and the U.S. Dream Team in pre-Olympic workouts.

The usual pre-draft trade rumors are circulating, with teams seeking to move up in order to select a particular player. Several lottery teams also reportedly were prepared to swap their

position for a proven veteran.

This was particularly true of Golden State, which was looking to move shooting guard Sarunas Marciulionis, and the Detroit Pistons, who own the 10th and 11th picks.

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