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12-12-2003, 12:42 PM
NBA Draft: Down year for sophomores

The cream of the high school class of 2001 has already been skimmed off. Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh head the class and all three players look like they will be all-stars for years to come in the league.

"That class was pretty top heavy," one NBA scout said. "With the exception of Bosh and Stoudemire, there just weren't a lot of big men. Most of the really talented players left in the class are guards. That's a little disappointing, but there are some talented kids left."

Any given sophomore class is usually pay dirt for NBA scouts. Very few players leave after their freshman year, meaning the class is mostly intact. And, with two years of college ball under their belts, the really talented sophomores are usually ready to make the jump to the NBA and make an impact right away.

This year may be a little different. "The depth isn't there quite the way we like," one scout said. "I look at every player on this list and my gut reaction is for them to go back to school for one more year. I usually can point to two or three sophomores and say they're ready. It's a little tougher this year."

He's right. With the exception of Arizona's Andre Iguodala and Florida's Christian Drejer, scouts were split on almost every other prospect from the class.

Here's a quick look at 10 sophomores whom scouts will be watching this season.

Andre Iguodala, SG, Arizona
The facts: 6-6, 200; 13.2 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 7.2 apg on 38 percent shooting
The skinny: It will surprise some to see Iguodala at the top of this list, but of the NBA scouts and player personnel people Insider interviewed, all but one had him pegged as a lottery pick. Why? One, he's a phenomenal athlete (think Richard Jefferson) with an NBA body (again think Jefferson). The difference between the two is that Iguodala has extraordinary court vision for a player his size. While no one is claiming he's a point guard, he's got a fantastic handle and great feel for the game. The 7.2 apg is surprising everyone and has led many to believe that he'll play three positions at the next level. The knock on Iguodala is his outside shooting, but scouts feel that it's starting to come around. If he continues this pace and declares at the end of the season, you'll see him in the lottery.

Christian Drejer, G/F, Florida
The facts: 6-foot-9, 225 pounds; 10 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4 apg on 45 percent shooting
The skinny: Having Drejer at No. 2 will also come as a surprise. Drejer is a native of Denmark who flirted with going straight to the NBA in 2002. Had he done so, he would've been a mid-first-round pick. Injuries limited his production at Florida last season, but now that he's healthy and considerably bulked up, he's starting to shine. Again, the appeal is versatility and basketball IQ for someone his size. He's an extraordinary passer and draws the occasional comparison from some scouts to Toni Kukoc. He's a good athlete, has a nice mid-range jumper (though his 3-point shot still isn't very consistent) and he's also starting to turn some heads on the defensive end. Scouts see him as a point forward in the pros. Those are hard to come by, which is why Drejer has some buzz right now. If he waited another season and became a college star, he'd have a shot at a Top 5 pick. As it stands now, he's probably a late lottery to mid-first-rounder.

Paul Davis, PF, Michigan State
The facts: 6-11, 250; 12.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg on 43 percent shooting
The skinny: Davis resembles a European prospect because he's still much more comfortable on the perimeter than in the post. That's pretty much unheard of for a 6-11 American player. He's got an excellent jump shot, solid fundamentals, some nice post moves and is an OK rebounder. The biggest question scouts have is what position he'll play. He's not a great athlete, which pretty much rules out the three. If he's going to be a four in the league, he's going to have to get stronger. A disappointing start to his season hasn't helped his cause.

Torin Francis, PF, Notre Dame
The facts: 6-10, 240; 17.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3 bpg on 50 percent shooting
The skinny: Scouts can't seem to agree on Francis. Everyone loves his body, physical strength and agility for a power forward. He's a bruiser with decent moves around the basket and is one of the most talented rebounders and shot blockers in college basketball. That's where the consensus stops. Some scouts feel he's a great prospect and has a shot at the lottery. Others think that his lack of any face-the-basket game, combined with bad hands and a thin lower body, could be an issue. Most of Francis' bulk is in his upper body. That looks great, but in the NBA you need to have a strong lower body to hold your position on the block. They believe he needs at least another year at Notre Dame before even thinking about coming out.

Raymond Felton, PG, North Carolina
The facts: 6-1, 192; 8.6 ppg, 9.6 apg on 37 percent shooting
The skinny: Felton is considered the best "pure" point guard in the college ranks right now. With so many coaches clamoring for old school point guards to lead the show, and with a weak point guard draft class, Felton should rise based just on the fact that he's so good at what he does. It's funny that he gets that label considering he averaged 30 ppg in high school. He's adjusted his game in college, giving scouts hope that when he comes to the NBA, the'll get the best of both worlds. He's super quick, athletic, gets to the lane at will and has an extraordinary ability to find the open man. He's at his best when he's pushing the ball up the floor and hounding opposing point guards on the defensive end. He reminds some of a bigger, stronger version of T.J. Ford. He's a better shooter than Ford, but not a great one. He scores most of his points in penetration. He plays with an intensity that teams love. If he were two or three inches taller, he'd be a lottery pick for sure. Right now, scouts think the mid first round is probably where he'll be taken.

Ike Diogu, PF, Arizona State
The facts: 6-8, 250; 22.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.8 bpg on 56 percent shooting
The skinny: Another guy who draws a major split among scouts. Most were very high on Diogu before a disastrous performance at the junior trials in Colorado Springs this summer. Scouts felt that Diogu's lack of size and athleticism exposed him as a player who is smart enough to excel at the college level but doesn't have the skill to make it in the pros. Others look at what he's doing in the Pac-10 this season and laugh at that. Fundamentally, he's pretty skilled for a big man. He knows how to play in the paint, has great body control and finds a way to get the ball in the basket down low. He also had added a nice mid-range jumper to his repertoire.. He has NBA strength, gets to the line and shoots 80 percent when he's there. His lack of explosiveness limits his rebounding and shot blocking prospects in the pros. He'll be a hard guy to project. Some teams love him, others don't. He's an "eye of the beholder" player right now.

Jarret Jack, PG, Georgia Tech
The facts: 6-3, 200; 14 ppg, 8.4 apg, 6.3 rpg, 2.7 spg on 58 percent shooting
The skinny: He's the sleeper in the group. He's got great size and unbelievable court vision for a point. He's got a very nice outside jumper and has a little flair to his game that the fans love. He's got an NBA body and is a good athlete. Has been flying under the radar a bit, but scouts are getting turned on to him. He's still plays a little out of control sometimes, but most scouts feel that the talent is there. Probably will need another year of school, but then again, that doesn't stop most kids from declaring early.

Antoine Wright, SF, Texas A&M
The facts: 6-7, 200; 11 ppg, 3.4 rpg 35 percent shooting
The skinny: The Big 12 Freshman of the Year got a unusual amount of hype at the start of the season, but so far his performance has been shaky at best. He's a good athlete who can smoothly play multiple positions, but his streaky jump shot and terrible free-throw shooting are big issues with scouts. He seems more comfortable shooting the 3 than doing anything else on the floor. Scouts see the potential, but he hasn't really delivered enough to warrant being a first-round pick right now.

Sean May, PF, North Carolina
The facts: 6-8, 260; 20.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg on 63 percent shooting
The skinny: May may be the best offensive big man in the country. The son of former IU great Scott May, May is so smooth in the post it's amazing. The comparisons to Elton Brand and Zach Randolph come up all the time, so why is he not at the top of the list. A couple of things. One, conditioning is still an issue. He's had a weight problem in his career and that always gives scouts pause. Two, he's undersized for the position he plays. Three, with his injury last season, scouts still don't have a great feel for him. He develops some consistency, keeps his weight off and leads North Carolina to a title, he's going to move way up this list.

Bracey Wright, G, Indiana
The facts: 6-5, 200; 21 ppg, 6 rpg on 44 percent shooting
The skinny: He's a long, explosive two guard with a pretty dangerous 3-point shot. He can create his own shot, which is big with pro scouts. He can jump out of the gym and uses his long arms to play bigger than he actually is. Despite his solid perimeter game, he can be equally dangerous putting the ball on the floor and taking it to the rim. He draws a lot of comparisons to Cuttino Mobley from scouts. Scouts fear that Wright is much closer to 6-foot-3 than his listed height of 6-5. If that's true, his stock will fall a bit.

The best of the rest: Hassan Adams, SG, Arizona; Anthony Roberson, PG, Florida; Shelden Williams, PF, Duke; Kennedy Winston, SF, Alabama; Daniel Horton, PG, Michigan; J.J. Redick, G, Duke; Dee Brown, G, Illinois; Kelenna Azubuike, G, Kentucky; Denham Brown, F, UConn; Rashad McCants, G, North Carolina; Keith Butler, C, Temple; Shavlik Randolph, F, Duke; John Gilchrist, G, Maryland

Draft Cards

-A few weeks ago we wrote that scouts were still on the fence a bit about Syracuse's Hakim Warrick. Scouts have always loved Warrick's athleticism and energy, but questions about his position, perimeter shot, leadership and basketball savvy have haunted him.
Was Warrick's success last year the byproduct of defenders paying so much attention to Carmelo Anthony? Or is Warrick a star in the making?

That opinion is starting to change. Syracuse has played only three games, but in those games Warrick has averaged 25.7 ppg and eight rpg, and is shooting 50 percent from the field. The perimeter shot still isn't stellar, but it's getting there. Ditto with the ball handling.

Still, one thing bothers scouts tremendously about Warrick. He doesn't block shots. For someone so athletic and explosive, Warrick should be averaging a couple of blocks per game. Warrick tends not to gamble, which is why his average is low, but the concern still remains. He should be better. Maybe he just hasn't been taught.

As for his draft position, scouts are still mixed. Some see him as definite late-lottery material, others, still jaded by Darius Miles' poor NBA performance, think he'll never go high than the mid-to-late first round unless he gets a solid jumper.

-BYU's Brazilian center Rafael Araujo is wowing scouts with a strong start to his season. Araujo is averaging 20.5 ppg and 11.8 rpg on 63 percent shooting from the field. He's doing all of this in just over 25 minutes per game.
The 6-foot-11 Brazilian native is a wide load who, like Yugoslavian Predrag Drobjnak, prefers to face the basket. However, scouts have been impressed with his new found low-post moves this season.

"He's improved tremendously," one scout said. "He isn't the quickest or most athletic guy in the world, but he's doing some real damage offensively in the paint. It's tough to find guys in college who can do that."

While scouts claim that Araujo is just an average defender and passer and doesn't have great shot blocking ability, most of them now plant him firmly in the first round. By the end of the season, he could go even higher.

"There aren't many big guys who are his size and have his strength," the scout said. "I think he'll have a place in the league. We all love his learning curve. He really took a major jump this summer and that's what we want to see."

Nuggets' Nene feeling left out

Everybody knows about Carmelo Anthony and his team-leading 18.5 points per game. Voshon Lenard is right behind him at 15.2 along with the Nuggets' prize in the offseason free-agent market, Andre Miller. And if you haven't seen 5-foot-7 Earl Boykins play yet then you're really missing out.

But somewhere in between upsetting the San Antonio Spurs in the first game of the season and defeating the Golden State Warriors twice in three days last week, the upstart Nuggets compiled an amazing 13-6 record but somehow lost track of Nene Hilario.

"I'm not happy the last two games," the power forward said in the Rocky Mountain News. "I have the space in the low post. A lot of times I'm open. They (teammates) have cotton in their ears. They don't hear me . . . It's a difficult time. You play hard. You help. You run. You're in the low post and the ball don't come."

Nene Hilario
Denver Nuggets

16 11.9 7.4 1.4 .542 .693

As a result, Nene would argue, the Nuggets have lost their last two games and their power forward is falling further and further behind in shot attempts.

On the season, Anthony leads the category at 342, followed by Lenard at 259, Miller at 250, Boykins at 219 and Jon Barry at 133. No one in that group is shooting better than 43 percent and the last two players come off the bench.

Meanwhile, Nene starts, is second on the team in rebounds, second in steals and leads the entire squad by shooting 54 percent from the field but has only 120 attempts all season.

That's only six more than Marcus Camby, who is shooting a horrid 35 percent and averaging only 5.6 points per game.

"Sometimes when he doesn't get the ball, he gets a little frustrated, then he starts speaking Portuguese," Camby said. "That's when you know he's upset. We try to get him involved in the offense and make sure he's happy."

What's making it worse is that Nene has worked hard to improve his game after last year's rookie season in which he was named to the All-Rookie first team. Not only has his shooting percentage improved, but so are his scoring (from 10.5 to 11.9) and free-throw (from 57 percent to 69 percent) percentages. All the while, his shots per game have gone down, from 7.7 that rookie season to 7.5 this year at a time when he thought he was actually going to get and deserved more touches.

"Perhaps there's some kind of frustration that might take place because he didn't get the ball at the right time," said head coach Jeff Bzdelik. "He needs to stay focused about what's important . . . He's improving his game," coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "His perimeter shot has improved. His free throws have improved. He's expanding his low- post game with a variety of moves. He quietly has been lost in the so-called fast start (13-8) and the publicity of Carmelo (Anthony). He is a very quiet leader on this basketball team, someone I and his teammates have great confidence in."

Pippen's future in doubt

If Scottie Pippen really does retire, will he take the rest of the hopes and dreams of the Chicago Bulls, as well as general manager John Paxson, with him?

"We signed him for all the right reasons," Paxson said in the Chicago Daily Herald. "Obviously, we knew there were issues. But the fact that he played 60-plus games each of the last three years, that was our intention. The idea behind having him scoped is to see if we can get him back on the floor again, because I do know this: When Scottie's been out there for us in the role we envisioned for him, he's helped us win some basketball games."

Scottie Pippen
Chicago Bulls

12 7.1 3.4 2.9 .400 .643

Pippen is battling problems with his chronic left knee, leaving many wondering why Paxson would tie up so much money, $10.4 million over two years, on a player entering his 17th season with 1,375 regular and playoff games already under his belt.

"We did everything we possibly could have done," Paxson said. "At that time, things came back more positive than I thought they would. You base your judgments on those type of things. It's very possible that these problems have stemmed from the fact that he hurt himself again (in the second game of the season). I don't know. I made my best call on that at the time."

But that doesn't change the fact that the future hall of famer is having his worst statistical season since his rookie days and not demonstrating the leadership and wisdom on the floor the Bulls sorely need in a way that is translating into wins. In the 12 games he's played, the team is 3-9, which is pretty much the same record when he isn't playing (2-6).

"I'd feel really good about our team if Tyson [Chandler] were healthy and Scottie could give us those 20 minutes," Paxson said in the Chicago Tribune. "But those are all 'ifs' and 'should'ves' and 'would'ves,' and they still amount to a 5-15 record."

And it still leaves Paxson waiting for the results of Pippen's arthroscopic surgery on Friday, the second such procedure in the last nine months.

"We've talked enough that I know he wants to play," Paxson said. "He thinks he can help us. I know he can help us. I'm very confident he wants to play again."

Jazz have solid foundation in place

The Delta Center was not built in a day.

There are 29 teams in the NBA, but it's the Utah Jazz who have the 20-year run of consecutive playoff appearances, a former point guard who set the league record for consecutive seasons with the same team at 19, a former power forward who is second on the list at 18 and a head coach who is the longest tenured field boss in professional sports with the same team at 17.

This is not coincidence.

"We've had such a long run of success because we're stable and we get all the support we need from ownership," said a Jazz scout. "They've developed a philosophy of stability from the top down that extends to the front office, coaches and players.

"I can remember the day coach Sloan told us that whether we failed or succeeded we were all in this together and that has given us the chance to weather the bumps that come along and build something for the long run rather than other organizations who try to cut corners for the quick fix."

John Stockton retired last year as the NBA's all-time leader in assists and steals. Karl Malone signed a free-agent contract with the Lakers after scoring the second-most points in league history with the Jazz. But if you think much else has changed, then you're wrong.

A few of the names are different, but there's still a point guard bringing up the ball, still a power forward expected to rebound it and still a code of standards every time they put on that uniform. So does it really surprise you that the Jazz are 11-2 at home, are the fourth-best shooting team in the league at 44.8 percent behind only the Kings, Lakers and Timberwolves, or that four of their players are shooting above 47 percent?

Jerry Sloan's longevity is a testament to the Jazz's stability.
"We've changed the offensive system a bit to fit our personnel," the scout said. "But everything else is the same. We told the players that they could compete if they ran the offense and played defense. They knew they weren't good enough to win on their own, but if we relied on each other we would be successful.

"We knew we'd have the talent to win a lot of games down the line with our youth and cap space, but it is a bit surprising that we've been able to beat a lot of good teams this early. But that's a tribute to coach Sloan continually preaching basketball professionalism. After all, this is the NBA. This is the highest level of play and that carries with it a responsibility."

So it wasn't just the pick and rolls. It wasn't all Xs and Os, Stockton to Malone, give and go. You mean to tell me that there's more to coaching, more to leading an NBA franchise than simply rolling out the balls and giving quick one-liners after the game?

You mean it takes time to implement back-door cuts and help-side defensive shifts while developing player-coach relationships? You're telling me that it might actually help a franchise if the assistant coaches, trainers and scouts knew what the coach wanted and that that the coach, and his job, would be secure next week?

Or maybe I've been missing something because the last time I checked, Frank Johnson had just been fired as the coach of the Suns, Bill Cartwright was fired as coach of the Bulls before that and Doc Rivers was fired as coach of the Magic before that after winning Coach of the Year honors in 2000. And if I'm not mistaken, wasn't it Rick Carlisle who was named Coach of the Year in 2002 and then was fired a year later?

"Some teams fail to grow because they don't have the consistency that the Jazz have," said another NBA scout. "Absolutely. They don't have time to put systems in place and they don't have time to develop."

But you may not know how bad the problem really is.

The average tenure for an active NBA coach with his current team is only 181 games. That's about two-and-a-quarter seasons long, league-wide, with rumors of other coaches in jeopardy as we speak.

But there is even more evidence.

Many believe that the Eastern Conference is in such disarray due to lack of talent on the court. Wrong. It is in disarray due to lack of talent in front offices.

The average tenure for an Eastern Conference coach is 63 games. That's it. Not even a full season. Nine Eastern Conference teams started this season with new head coaches, so it should come as no surprise that there are more teams over there with losing records (8) than there are with winning ones (7).

It makes our jobs that much easier already knowing what everyone else is thinking.
Jazz scout
There isn't one coach in the entire conference who has been with his team for more than 3 seasons. There aren't two coaches in the entire conference who have been with their teams for more than three seasons. There aren't three coaches who have been with their teams for much more than two seasons.

Either the front offices are hiring the wrong guys, pulling the triggers too soon or simply don't know what the heck they're doing.

"We're lucky that we've got an owner who believes in us," said the Jazz official. "As well as a front office that is on the same page as the coaching staff and that we've been able to have this relationship for so long. It makes our jobs that much easier already knowing what everyone else is thinking."

So I'm wondering if I should even learn how to spell Mike D'Antoni and whether the A is supposed to be capitalized or not. After all, he's replacing a coach in Phoenix who had a total of 134 games under his belt before being fired midway through the 2003-04 season.

And it was Johnson who replaced a coach who had 195 games under his belt with the organization before leaving midway through the 2001 season. And it was Scott Skiles who replaced a coach who had 152 games under his belt before leaving midway through the 2000 season. And it was Danny Ainge who replaced a coach who was there for 57 games and gave up his coaching duties midway through the 1997 season after replacing the previous coach midway through the 1996 season after only 187 games.

Catch your breath and count. This will be six coaches, six different systems, six different approaches in nine years and we're wondering why Stephon Marbury, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire aren't passing the ball.

On the other hand, the Dallas Mavericks stuck with Don Nelson through some extremely tough times and he's coaching game No. 464 next. Gregg Popovich is on game No. 546. Phil Jackson and Rick Adelman were given gifted and talented squads but, still, they're going on games 357 and 397, respectively. Flip Saunders, who grew right along with his team, will be coaching game No. 626 for the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.

And then, of course, there's Jerry Sloan. He coached game No. 1,201 Wednesday night for the Jazz which, by the way, was a 95-73 victory over the New York Knicks, who have a payroll of $84.9 million. Sloan's team is at $35.7 million.

"I underestimated his coaching ability," said another NBA scout. "But he and his staff are hard workers and he's had the continuity between management and ownership to get it done again. And let me tell you another thing. They're in a very unique situation as far as the loyalty of their fans. I've talked to several guys around the league and the Delta Center is one of our favorite places to be because the place is always so clean and the fans are so friendly and really love their team."

And that, ladies and gentleman, doesn't happen over night.

Peep Show

Sacramento Kings: If it were up to Chris Webber, he would be playing three days from yesterday. "But I'm really going to listen to the doctors and to our trainer and trust them," he said to the Sacramento Bee. "You know, the team is playing great now, so hopefully I'll just come back and be healthy and keep us on the same page. If it were up to me, the minute I practiced, you give me three days, and I'm ready to play. But is that realistic? I don't know. I think hopefully, if I'm allowed to practice, I'll come back and practice, and we'll just take it from there." Webber had surgery on is left knee and will be visiting the surgeon on Monday to see the next course of action. He hopes to be playing by January. "I can't believe it," Webber said, "because this is the longest I've not touched a ball. I didn't get to touch a ball this summer. This is the longest I've not played basketball in my life. So it's hard."

Cleveland Cavaliers: So how does the most popular 18-year-old basketball player in the world feel about being 14th in the current all-star voting? "All-Star voting doesn't really matter to me," James said in the Medina County Gazette. "The only thing that matters to me is the fans. It shows I've got a lot of fans." But to start the game, he'll have to pass Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Jason Kidd in the polls. "I don't care about that," head coach Paul Silas said. "I just want him to get back to playing the way he's capable of playing."

Minnesota Timberwolves: Timber! With Mark Madsen hurt and Gray Trent standing only 6-foot-8, the Timberwolves are more and more concerned about Michael Olowokandi and that state of their big men. "We're looking at what's going to be the best course of action for him at this point," coach Flip Saunders said in the Pioneer Press. "We need to find out what is going to get him to where he'll have a chance to be as close to 100 percent healthy as possible -- whether it's more rest, another procedure or more rehab. Whatever the doctors think is necessary." Olowokandi is suffering from tendinitis in his right knee and has already missed the last three games.

Detroit Pistons: Tayshaun Prince may be left handed, but when it comes to shooting jumpers in the NBA, he needs the right one, too, which, at the time, is sore. "It's more than what people think," he said in the Detroit Free Press. "Obviously, your opposite hand has a lot to do with your shot because it can affect what's going on with your strong hand. It hasn't been bothering me too much, but when you're shooting the basketball it is in the back of your mind. It's something I have to get out there and not let it bother me. It doesn't bother me when I dribble, but when I get to the basket and get hit I'll think about it." He injured the wrist when Steve Francis whacked it in their game against Houston.

Philadelphia 76ers: If Allen Iverson is the Sixers best player then Glenn Robinson is their second-best, but the two have been on the same floor only for four games this season due to injury. Tonight just might be their fifth. "It is different," head coach Randy Ayers said in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We laugh about that, but it's different. There's a different set of plays run when you have Glenn and Allen on the floor.[Point guard] Eric Snow, to me, has the biggest adjustment because he has two guys now that you look for. Obviously, we tend to look in Allen's direction a lot more, but [Snow] has got to sort it all out and keep everybody happy."