With the deadline for underclassmen and international players under the age of 22 to declare for the NBA Draft passed, this year’s draft board is starting to come together, so let the speculation begin. Though there’s plenty of playoff basketball left to be played, with the champion not being known until June, the teams that did not qualify for this year’s postseason and the ones that are slowly being eliminated are quickly turning their attention to the draft.
For some teams, there are many holes to fill, and the draft is one way to remedy a poor 2005-2006 season. Ask the Knicks, Raptors, Trail Blazers, Hawks and Bobcats, all of whom lost at least 55 games this season. Even some teams who didn’t have awful seasons, like the Jazz, 76ers and Hornets, each of whom fell just short of the playoffs, have some changes to make if they want to get to the next level next season. With that being said, let’s take a look at which prospects are ripe for the picking this June.
One fundamental change to keep in mind in this year’s draft is the lack of high school players declaring, due to the NBA’s new age requirement. With this change in place, more college underclassmen are declaring than in the past few years to test the waters and work out in front of NBA scouts. According to some popular mock drafts, the first three picks could all end up being underclassmen, despite some good seniors being available. LSU freshman F Tyrus Thomas, Texas sophomore F LaMarcus Aldridge and Gonzaga junior F Adam Morrison are each among the most talked about players to become the number one overall pick for whichever team wins this month’s draft lottery. Thomas and Aldridge, though both young, are already physically built for the next level and will be looked as instant-impact post players for teams in dire need of big men. Morrison, on the other hand, may be looked at as a savior for a lackluster squad because of his excellent offensive arsenal, including the ability to create and make shots from almost anywhere on the floor, an ability that has drawn him comparisons to the legendary Larry Bird. Another athletic small forward, sophomore Rudy Gay of UConn, seems like a lock to go in the lottery. Despite his at-times lackadaisical attitude, Gay is a talented and versatile player who can shoot from the outside and run the floor, but with the size to rebound, block shots and finish inside.
Not to be outdone are some of the seniors entering the draft that could be selected in the lottery. Players like Memphis F Rodney Carney, Villanova G Randy Foye, Washington G Brandon Roy and Duke’s inside-outside tandem of G J.J. Redick and F/C Shelden Williams will all be looked at to turn the experience they had being stars for successful teams into big success at the next level. Foye and Roy, All-Americans from opposite ends of the country, are both being highly touted as versatile backcourt players with the skills to run the point but the ability to score like a two-guard. It is not yet known if Redick, despite being the Naismith Player of the Year, will excel at the next level. Despite his status as one of the best pure shooters in the world, scouts have called into question his athletic ability, which may hamper him in the NBA.
After these top players, there are still many questions with regards to player stock that will be answered by player workouts and other proceedings over the next two months. The one thing that is known about the remaining field is that there is certainly talent to be found among some of the players who just declared before the recent underclassmen deadline as well as some of the lesser-heralded seniors. Many NBA scouts are excited about the point guard skills of Connecticut’s Marcus Williams, Temple’s Mardy Collins, UCLA’s Jordan Farmar, Villanova’s Kyle Lowry and Kentucky’s Rajon Rondo. Strong big men such as Bradley’s Patrick O’Bryant, Connecticut’s tandem of Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong, NC State’s Cedric Simmons and Louisiana Tech’s Paul Millsap could help bolster the frontlines of some of the better NBA teams later on in the draft.
When looking at potential second round picks, many familiar March Madness stars can be found. At this point in the draft, teams may be able to select guards such as Allan Ray from Villanova, Daniel Gibson of Texas, West Virginia’s Mike Gansey and Hassan Adams from Arizona. Skilled big men such as Kevin Pittsnogle from West Virginia and Steve Novak from Marquette, along with strong post players including Michigan State’s Paul Davis, Boston College’s Craig Smith and California’s Leon Powe could all be valuable pickups for size-challenged teams.
Since we’re in the early stages of the draft talks, there has not been much said about the international players that will be making the leap from foreign countries to play in the NBA, though one player from Europe and one from South America have already made their names known as potential first-round picks. The most talked about of this group has been 6-foot-11 power forward Andrea Bargnani of Italy, who’s shooting ability has been compared to that of Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki. Brazil’s Tiago Splitter is another 6-foot-11 international star with good shooting ability, though may need more time than Bargnani.
Despite the absence of high school sensations, this draft still appears to be deep with talent that can show immediate results in the NBA. Stay tuned over the next two months as college coaches with underclassmen in limbo sweat it out and professional coaches plan it out. Futures could be made or broken in this one day of important decisions, coming on June 28 at Madison Square Garden.