Wizards' offense gets a shot in the arm

First-round pick Hamilton expected to provide consistent scoring

July 02, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

As Richard Hamilton's name was announced as the seventh pick of the NBA draft by the Washington Wizards, many in the crowd at the MCI Center expressed their approval by giving him a standing ovation. For once, the organization had made a move that pleased even the long-suffering Washington fans.

And at the end of a draft void of a dominant player, most teams with picks close to the top Wednesday got what they were looking for.

The Chicago Bulls will become a more physical team with the selection of power forward Elton Brand with the top pick. The Charlotte Hornets, in dire need of a point guard, got their floor general of the future in Baron Davis. And the Los Angeles Clippers, in need of anything, got perhaps the biggest steal of the draft -- and took maybe the biggest risk -- with the selection of Lamar Odom.

The Wizards showed off their first first-round pick since 1995 yesterday at the MCI Center. Washington also got a big body with the selection of 6-foot-11 Calvin Booth from Penn State with the 35th pick overall.

Hamilton is a swingman who can score points in a hurry. And for a team that often had trouble finding a consistent scorer, the offensive skills of the Connecticut All-American should help. If Mitch Richmond is re-signed, Hamilton would be the backup shooting guard. Should Richmond leave, Hamilton, 6-6, would assume the starting role.

"We look at him as a scorer/slasher," said new Washington coach Gar Heard. "He may have to get a little stronger [Hamilton is 185 pounds], and he may have to improve his ball-handling."

Hamilton, who after his name was announced on Wednesday pointed skyward in honor of his late grandfather, said he'll play any position. There's also a chance that Hamilton could play some small forward if free-agent forward Calbert Cheaney leaves.

"I just have to prepare for every aspect. I just want to be out there on the floor," Hamilton said. "Oh, and I can pass the ball. My favorite player is Magic Johnson, and a lot of people have never seen me pass the way I know how. I was put in a situation [in college] where I had to score."

So was Odom, and he'll be asked to continue that when he joins a Clippers team that is looking for any positive as it moves into a new arena (sharing with the Lakers) next season. With the development of last year's top pick, center Michael Olowokandi, the Clippers appear to have a bright future -- depending on whether Odom makes better decisions as a professional than he did in recent weeks before the draft, when canceling workouts may have cost him the top spot.

A Minnesota Timberwolves team that was reeling last season with the losses of Tom Gugliotta and Stephon Marbury improved its offense by drafting Wally Szczerbiak. Szczerbiak is the first player from Miami, Ohio, to be selected in the first round since Ron Harper in 1986 (eighth overall), and he won't have much pressure on him while playing alongside Kevin Garnett. Garnett and Szczerbiak came out of the same high school class four years ago.

"I think we can make an impact together," said Szczerbiak. "With his abilities and his talents, you can't really guard him at his size with how good he's become."

The Atlanta Hawks, one day after moving up to No. 10 in the draft by trading point guard Mookie Blaylock to the Golden State Warriors, got their replacement in Arizona's Jason Terry.

Two big questions after the draft were whether Steve Francis would remain with the Vancouver Grizzlies and grow to like the Canadian city. Francis was clearly displeased with being selected by the Grizzlies with the No. 2 pick overall.

Vancouver already has a point guard in Mike Bibby, who was named a member of the All-Rookie team. Though the team said it drafted Francis with the intent to keep him, the organization will also entertain offers for the 6-3 guard out of Maryland.

"This guy can score," Marty Blake, the NBA director of scouting, said of Francis. "He's a terrific ballplayer, and he'll be able to create his own shot."

Maybe the Grizzlies will eventually use Francis as the trade bait for the veteran front-line player the team really needs. In the meantime, he's still a member of the Grizzlies, and the team will fly Francis and Maryland teammate Obinna Ekezie (37th pick overall, second round) to Vancouver this weekend. Once there, the team is hoping to persuade their top pick that the city is not such a bad place.

"I've never been there," Francis said. "I don't know anything about the place."

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