Clippers make big decision Club drafts 7-footer, taking Olowokandi, not Bibby, at No. 1

June 25, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

With the top pick of last night's NBA draft, these were the options for the Los Angeles Clippers: take a close-to-polished point guard in Mike Bibby or an expected short-term project in 7-foot-1 Michael Olowokandi. Two words summed up the decision by the Clippers:

Size matters.

Unable to resist the potential of a man who has made tremendous strides in his three years of organized basketball, the Clippers selected Olowokandi. Size mattered to the Denver Nuggets, who pulled off a minor surprise on the third pick with the selection of 6-11 Raef LaFrentz from Kansas. And size mattered to the Milwaukee Bucks, who used the ninth pick to select 6-11 Dirk Nowitzki from Germany.

For the Clippers, the uncertainty of free-agent center Isaac Austin probably had a lot to do with the selection. With quality NBA centers a rare commodity, the Clippers feel Olowokandi, a.k.a. the "Kandi-Man," will provide a presence at the position.

"Bibby's going to be a very fine point guard in this league, but Olowokandi -- his size and all that ability -- you're looking at a good small man against a good big guy," said Elgin Baylor, vice president of basketball operations for the Clippers. "He improved each time we looked at him. His upside is as good as anybody in the league."

Bibby, whom many anticipated would be drafted first, did not drop much. The Vancouver Grizzlies, in dire need of a quality point guard, used the second selection to pick up the former Arizona star and son of former NBA player and current USC coach Henry Bibby.

It was a good day for North Carolina players in the draft. The Toronto Raptors used the fourth pick to select 6-9 forward Antawn Jamison, and the Golden State Warriors the fifth pick to select shooting guard Vince Carter. That marked the third time that two North Carolina players have been selected in the top five picks, although the two didn't stay with the teams that selected them long: Toronto traded Jamison to Golden State for Carter and cash considerations.

That wasn't the only trade, as the Dallas Mavericks later dealt the sixth pick, Robert Traylor from Michigan, to Milwaukee for Nowitzki and Pat Garrity (19th pick). Dallas then packaged Garrity, the rights to Bubba Wells and Martin Muursepp and a 1999 first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns for promising point guard Steve Nash.

Later, the Utah Jazz traded the last pick of the first round, Nazr Mohammed from Kentucky, to the Philadelphia 76ers for future considerations.

Meanwhile, the New York Knicks and Raptors were reportedly working on another deal. The Knicks would send veteran forward Charles Oakley, 34, and a second-round pick to Toronto for 6-11 forward-center Marcus Camby, 24, the New York Times reported.

The draft surprises? A mild surprise was the fall in draft position of Paul Pierce, a swingman from Kansas who was selected 10th by the Boston Celtics, who figure to use his versatility in coach Rick Pitino's demanding defensive scheme. Going into the draft, many felt Pierce, who averaged 16.4 points last season, would be selected among the top four picks.

"It's a little disappointing, but that's the way things go," Pierce said. "You just have to go on and use this as motivation. Boston's a great situation. With Antoine Walker and others and with me there, I think this is a playoff team and we can really build."

And the big winner in the draft might be the Orlando Magic, whose four selections could yield players who can help: 6-11 center Michael Doleac (12th), 6-11 forward Keon Clark (13th), 6-8 forward Matt Harpring (15th) and first-team All-America guard Miles Simon (42nd).

The first round also had a heavy influence of big, European players, with four taken in the first round. After Nowitzki, the Minnesota Timberwolves used the 17th pick on 7-footer Radoslav Nesterovic from Slovenia; the Houston Rockets used the 18th pick on Mirsad Turkcan, a 6-9 forward from Turkey; and the Seattle SuperSonics used the 27th pick of the first round on Vladimir Stepania, a 7-foot center from Slovenia.

For the fourth straight year, a high school player was taken in the first round, but, unlike the previous three years, this time it did not occur among the lottery selections. Al Harrington, a 6-8 forward from St. Patrick's High School in New Jersey, who was the USA Today national player of the year, had to wait until the 25th pick to hear his name called by the Indiana Pacers.

Rashard Lewis, from Alief Elsik High School in Texas, went to Seattle with the 32nd pick, and Korleone Young, from Hargrave Military Academy in Virgnia, was the 40th pick, by the Detroit Pistons.

In all, there were 14 early-entry candidates selected in the first round, eight among the top 10 picks. That number falls short of the record 17 underclassmen taken in the 1996 draft, the first time in NBA history more than half the players chosen in the first round were early-entry players.

Of the 28 players selected in the first round last year, 19 were seniors.

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