Writing is on the Wall

December 20, 2009

From here, I can see all the way to the NBA draft June 24. At least that's my story.

A furious debate is already under way … as to who the No. 2 pick will be.

Forget No. 1. That's locked up for John Wall of Kentucky.

Imagine Kobe Bryant as a point guard at 17.

"I was sitting there with (a Western Conference general manager)," said another Western team official of last week's Kentucky victory over Connecticut in New York. "After five minutes, we just looked at each other and started laughing.

"If New Orleans has the top pick, they would take John Wall, even with Chris Paul. That's how good Wall is. You would just take him and then work it out later."

A pass-first 6-foot-4, 195-pound point guard, Wall already takes over games whenever needed, averaging 18 points, shooting 54 percent overall and 37 percent on 3s. He's taller than Derrick Rose, a better jumper and even or above in all skill categories. And the 2008-09 Rookie of the Year isn't chopped liver.

"We played Derrick here when he was at Memphis a couple of years ago," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "(Wall) is all of that. Whatever that is, he is all of that."

As for the second pick, here's a look at the top four candidates.

Derrick Favors, 6-9, 245, Fr. Georgia Tech: Reputation pick this high right now. Has huge upside and some thought he could make it a contest for No. 1, but he's off to a merely solid start at 14 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

Ed Davis, 6-10, 245, So., North Carolina: Got top 10 mention last spring and since has raised freshman numbers from 7-7 to 14-9.5. More explosive than Brandan Wright, which is good because Wright hasn't exactly turned the NBA on its ear. Making it interesting is that it always has been hard to scout Tar Heels like Ty Lawson, or, for that matter, Michael Jordan, in a program with so many blue chippers in limited roles.

Al-Farouq Aminu, 6-8, 218, So., Wake Forest: Would have been top 10 last season but went back, going from 13-8 as a freshman to 16-10.

Wes Johnson, 6-7, 205, Jr., Syracuse: Here's a guy who is having an eye-popping season, a transfer from Iowa State who wasn't even on the radar when it started. Having worked on his game for a year while sitting out, he has gone from an undersized power forward to a prototype small forward, averaging 17 points, shooting 59 percent and 54 percent on 3s.

Here's how the rest of the top 10 shakes out.

•6. Evan Turner, 6-6, 205, Jr., Ohio State: Vying for No. 2 until he fractured vertebrae in a fall Dec. 5. Compared to Joe Johnson and Brandon Roy as a playmaking shooting guard. Expected back in February.

•7. Cole Aldrich, 6-11, 245, Jr., Kansas: Admirers see Joe Przybilla with an offensive game. Skeptics see Przybilla but not as athletic. Still the first center off the board.

•8. Solomon Alabi, 7-1, 260, Jr., Florida State: No one has him this high (ESPN's Chad Ford has him No. 12) and he could get even higher. Considered a more advanced Hasheem Thabeet, he's starting to shed his "project" label, averaging 19 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in his last four games.

•9. Donatas Motiejunas, 7-0, 224, Benetton Treviso: This year's Euro-prospect, but he's not yet knocking them dead in his first season in Italy.

•10. Xavier Henry, 6-6, 220, Fr., Kansas: More athletic James Harden. Not the playmaker Harden is but an even better shooter, 25 of 45 on 3s in first nine games.

He said it:Miami President Pat Riley on Dwyane Wade, noting he's not in top shape: "I know he'll probably say I'm nitpicking. His efficiency is down. We'll address what it is we can do to help you maintain that lean, mean scoring machine you were a year ago. … I manage the team and there isn't anybody that loves Dwyane more than me and there isn't anybody that will be more honest with him than me, either."

Mark Heisler covers the NBA for the Los Angeles Times.

mheisler@tribune.com

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