NBA pool: deep or shallow?

After probable top 5, draft's talent level is subject to debate

June 28, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The obvious fact about this year's NBA draft is that there are no franchise players in it. The party line about the draft, which will be held tonight at the Target Center in Minneapolis and televised nationally, is that the pool of talent could be deeper than any in recent memory.

But don't get out your snorkels just yet.

Al Menendez, a well-respected college scout for the Indiana Pacers who has monitored the draft for more than two decades, said you could view the 2000 draft in different ways. `There is depth - or there is mediocrity," Menendez said from Indianapolis earlier this week.

Which means that the draft, typically designed to help floundering teams turn their fortunes around quickly, could ultimately work in favor of the league's perennial powers. It is hard to distinguish between any of the probable top five picks, and it is even more difficult to see much difference between 10 and 35.

While most have agreed on who the top five players selected will be, where they will go and in what order is still being worked out. "If there are going to be any deals, they probably won't happen until Wednesday," Marty Blake, the league's director of scouting, said Monday

The New Jersey Nets, who won the right to pick first in last month's draft lottery, could wind up selecting Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin. Or they could trade down with the Orlando Magic for the fifth and 10th picks, or trade with the Chicago Bulls for the fourth or seventh, as well as getting a roster player.

The Magic, which also has the 13th pick, is the first team to have three lottery picks. The Bulls also have three first-round choices and will pick 24th.

"We've received some interesting offers," Rod Thorn, the new Nets team president, said in a national teleconference last week. "If we're going to trade No. 1, we need some combination of draft picks and players - or a player."

Aside from Martin, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound power forward, the other top players in this year's draft are LSU power forward Stromile Swift, Iowa State power forward Marcus Fizer, Texas center Chris Mihm and Darius Miles, a 6-9, 217-pound high school star from East St. Louis, Ill.

While the Washington Wizards won't be involved in the first round - the Wizards relinquished that pick for Chris Webber six years ago - new coach Leonard Hamilton remains optimistic of getting a decent player at No. 35. (The Wizards had the same pick in the second round last year, and chose Calvin Booth.)

"Every year there's a player in the second round who will end up helping you," Hamilton said. `You hope you can find a hidden gem."

Three players from Baltimore could fit that description, though probably not for the Wizards. Johnny Hemsley, who played for Hamilton at the University of Miami, as well as Mark Karcher of Temple and Bootsy Thornton of St. John's are not exactly unknown. None is expected to go until the second round.

Hemsley and Thornton played well at the pre-draft camps, but Karcher struggled with his shooting. All are projected to be shooting guards in the NBA, and each is considered to have a legitimate chance at making a roster next season.

"It's just a matter of time for Johnny," Hamilton said. "Johnny will be fine regardless of where he plays. He can play setup [in a half-court game] or in more of running system. I think he'll be better in the NBA than he was in college."

Or in high school, as is the case with Miles. Expected to start his career at small forward, Miles had announced his intentions to play at St. John's before opting for the NBA. Along with Swift, who left LSU after his sophomore year, Miles is considered the most naturally gifted player in the draft.

"He's probably not ready to step in and play in the NBA right away," Thorn said, "but his upside is probably higher than anyone in the draft. You never pass up greatness."

That's what happened in 1995, when four teams passed up a high school phenom named Kevin Garnett, who wound up with the Minnesota Timberwolves. None of those drafted before him - in particular top pick Joe Smith of Maryland, now a teammate of Garnett's - has had as big an impact as Garnett.

As of yesterday, it seemed likely that the Nets would take Martin even though the reigning national college Player of the Year broke his leg right before the NCAA tournament. Martin will replace Jayson Williams, who is expected to announce his retirement after his broken leg did not heal sufficiently.

Barring any trades, the Vancouver Grizzlies would then pick Swift. The Los Angeles Clippers are expected to pick Fizer, whom many have compared to a smaller version of Karl Malone, at No. 3. If Miles is still available with the fourth pick, and Mihm with the seventh, the Bulls could end up with both players.

"Teams are always looking for centers, and he's one of the best in the group," New York Knicks general manager Scott Layden said recently of the 7-foot Mihm. "He comes from a good program. ... He's going to have a chance to play right away and have great success."

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