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thebac
02-28-2004, 05:17 PM
Livingston, Iguodala among those on the rise

The trading period is over, and so is the season for many of the teams now mired in the realties of the lottery cellar.

With little hope of turning things around this season, a number of GMs left for Europe this week, kicking off the start of the serious scouting season. With league executives and scouts spread throughout the world, teams are beginning to form their first draft lists of the season.

Who's hot and who's not? Insider pulled together five trusted scouts and two league executives to get a handle on which prospects have helped themselves and which haven't since we wrote about them at the start of the 2003-04 season.

Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor are still locked in a battle for the No. 1-rating in the draft pool, but after that it's pretty wide open. Here's a look at 10 players whose stock is on the rise.

Shaun Livingston, PG, Peoria, IL
The facts: 6-7, 180, HS senior
2003-04 stats: 18 ppg, 6 apg, 6 rpg



LivingstonThe skinny: When we wrote about Livingston a month ago, the jury was still out on whether he'd actually declare for the draft. He had committed to Duke next season, and many scouts believed Coach K had a pretty firm grip on him. Since then, though, the belief is Livingston will declare for the draft. If he does, scouts believe he'll be a high lottery pick based on his play over the past few months. The comparisons to Penny Hardaway may scare some away, but there's a distinct difference between the two. Hardaway had point-guard skills but never really wanted to use them. Livingston is much, much closer to the type of "pure" point guard NBA coaches love. There's no question he needs to get stronger, but right now that's the only real knock on his game. The fact he posseses an excellent shooting touch and can score off the dribble at will is really gravy. Add in the flair with which he plays the game, and many believe he'll be the first-ever high school point guard to make a successful jump to the pros.
Andre Iguodala, SG, Arizona
The facts: 6-6, 200, Sophomore
2003-04 stats: 12.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 5.4 apg
The skinny: Last time we checked in with Iguodala in early December, we were writing that he would be a late lottery pick. Since then, the triple-double threat's numbers have actually gone down a bit, but his stock continues to shoot through the roof. Several scouts believe he's a Scottie Pippen-type player who can play multiple positions, handle the ball in most offenses and lock down anyone he has to defend. The jumper still needs some work, but if the draft were held today, Iguodala could go in the top six. Pretty amazing for a guy who only a few scouts had on the radar screen two-and-a-half months ago.

Andris Biedrins, F, Skonto Riga
The facts: 6-11, 240, 18 years old
The skinny: You knew Biedrins had arrived when he, along with his family, was making the rounds at the All-Star Game alongside super agent Bill Duffy. There has been an intense bidding war to represent Biedrins, but it now appears Duffy has pulled into the lead. A source close to Biedrins told Insider on Thursday that his club, Skonto Riga, has agreed to let him go to the NBA this year. If that's true, Biedrins is likely to be a top-10 pick on draft night. The comparisons to Andrei Kirilenko aren't hard to miss. Both players are great athletes and strong defenders, rebounders and shot blockers. Like Kirilenko, Biedrins is still a little raw offensively (his perimeter shooting needs a lot of work), but scouts are drooling over the potential. The fact he's starting to put up impressive numbers (22 points and 11 boards the other night) on the senior team also will help his cause.

Devin Harris, PG, Wisconsin
The facts: 6-3, 185, Junior
2003-04 stats: 19.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.7 apg
The skinny: He's quickly catching up to his closest college competition at the point, UConn's Ben Gordon. Both are having good seasons, but Gordon has been stuck playing two guard all year, raising questions among scouts about how quickly he'll adapt to running the point. Harris, on the other hand, appears to be the complete package. He has the size, speed, quickness, explosiveness and shooting stroke that scouts love. He has great floor vision and seems to understand how to run a team. In the words of one scout, "He has the perfect balance between a scoring point guard and a more traditional pure point. I love him." So do several other scouts Insider talked to. Harris is now looking like a late-lottery to mid-first-round pick.

Martynas Andriuskevicius, F/C, Zalgris (Lithuania)
The facts: 7-2, 250, 18 years old
The skinny: Watch this kid closely. Every year there's someone who comes out of nowhere, and this year it's Andriuskevicius. Insider was the first to write about him last June, when he played in front of NBA scouts and GMs at a junior tournament before the Euroleague Final Four, and again in January, when we reported scouts' claims that he was making drastic improvements. Since then, several of our most trusted scouts have been to Lithuania to see him play, and they're now saying Andriuskevicius might be the best young international player in the draft. Period.

"The progress is unlike anything I've ever seen," one scout told Insider. "He's grown, he's added at least 20 pounds of muscle and he just looks unbelievable in practices."

The comparison are quickly being made to a younger, healthier Zydrunas Ilgauskas. From what we hear, Andriuskevicius has grown much stronger without losing his athleticism. He likes to mix it up in the middle, isn't afraid of contact and plays well with his back to the basket. In addition, he has soft hands, a very nice outside jumper and his passing skills are considered top notch. He's under the tutelage of basketball great Arvydas Sabonis, which may explain the rapid development. Now that he has signed with agent Luciano Capicchoini, there's a good chance he'll be in the draft this year. If he is, scouts tell me he'll project into the high lottery once teams get a look at him in workouts.

Kirk Snyder, SG, Nevada
The facts: 6-6, 225, Junior
2003-04 stats: 18.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.5 apg
The skinny: The best player in the WAC is starting to get a lot of attention from NBA scouts. "He's one of the most complete guards I've seen in a while," one NBA scout told Insider. "He does it all. He's strong, athletic, has great speed, shoots the ball well, rebounds and defends. He even has some playmaking ability that's pretty rare for guys like him." With so few good collegiate players in the draft, look for Snyder to be a mid- to late-first-rounder if he decides to declare.


Sebastian Telfair has the talent, but scouts worry about his maturity and size.
Sebastian Telfair, PG, Brooklyn
The facts: 5-11, 180, HS Senior
2003-04 stats: 31 ppg, 8 apg
The skinny: Yes, Telfair has impressed enough scouts this season to earn serious consideration in the first round. But a few published reports calling him a lottery pick don't fit at all with what Insider is hearing from scouts. Telfair is a typical New York point guard. He's a great passer, can score on anyone and has a real flair to everything he does. He pushes the ball relentlessly and always controls the tempo of the game. The comparisons to cousin Stephon Marbury would be right on if he was a few inches taller. Concerns about Telfair's size, maturity and ability to make the transition from high school to the NBA have most scouts pleading with the kid to go to Louisville for at least two years. If he declares (and all signs indicate he will) his draft range will be wide open. There's a chance he could go as high as the mid-first round if he finds the right (or is it most-gullible?) NBA GM. It's more likely he'll land somewhere in the 20s if he declares now. However, with a couple of solid college seasons under his belt, he could go much higher. Maturity, not talent, is the issue right now. But when you're talking about point guards, that's a big issue.

Sasha Vujacic, G, Udine
The facts: 6-7, 210, 20 years old
The skinny: Vujacic impressed scouts with a good performance at the Chicago pre-draft camp last season. He's a 6-foot-7 combo guard with some definite point guard skills. He's had a great season playing two guard for Udine, but scouts feel he can make the transition to the point in the pros. He'll need to get stronger and speed up his game to succeed in the NBA, but several scouts see a young Brent Barry when watching him. He's now a lock for the first round and could go as high as 15 depending on how he looks in workouts.

Luke Jackson, G/F, Oregon
The facts: 6-7, 220, Senior
2003-04 stats: 21.9 ppg, 7 rpg, 4.8 apg
The skinny: Scouts were skeptical at the start of the season, but Jackson has done a lot to ease their concerns. He has the ability to handle the ball, shoot on the perimeter and is increasingly proving to scouts he can create his own shot off the dribble with a quicker-than-you'd-think first step. Defensively, he still has issues (his lateral quickness is a problem), and there's no question he needs to get stronger at the next level, but the comparisons to Mike Miller and Mike Dunleavy aren't totally absurd. With zone defenses taking over, his ability to shoot and create are valuable assets. Look for him to sneak into the late-first round.

Rafael Araujo, C, BYU
The facts: 6-11, 280, Senior
2003-04 stats: 18.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg
The skinny: Next to Emeka Okafor, he may be the second-best collegiate big man in the country. Araujo won't ever be a lottery pick, because he lacks the explosiveness and athleticism to be a dominant center in the league. But he's such a good rebounder and scorer he will go much higher than many had him projected a few months ago. Depending on who actually enters the draft, Araujo could go anywhere in the 20s.

Draft Cards


Too hot? Telfair is among several top draft prospects who may be a little too hot right now. The lofty draft expectations some are putting on them don't really fit with the actual scouting reports.
Take Jameer Nelson, for example. He's having an amazing season at St. Joseph's and certainly has solidified his status as a first-round pick in this year's draft. But recent published assertions that he's a top-10 pick? I haven't heard that from one scout. Not even close. Several scouts who didn't like him at the start of the season now believe he's an NBA player. But no one is saying he'll be a dominant player in the league. His lack of size (he measured 5-10 at the Chicago camp last summer), quickness and a so-so vertical matter to GMs. I'm not knocking Nelson. I could see him rising as high as the mid-first round because of the lack of other qualified college veterans in this draft. But top 10? It just doesn't mesh with the scouting reports I've read.

The recent flurry of press for Providence's Ryan Gomes is another example. The 6-foot-7 forward has been awesome for the Friars and is pretty close to a lock for the first round if he declares. But I've yet to find a scout who can figure out how his game translates at the pro level. The fact he's added a 3-point shot to his highly developed inside game has helped his stock. But what scouts are now focusing on is what position he'll defend in the pros. He's not quick enough to guard threes and not big enough or strong enough to guard NBA fours. That's going to be an issue. Gomes has been one of the best college players in the country this year, but unless scouts find a fit in the pros, his draft stock will suffer.

The waters also seem to be cooling for 7-foot-1 Russian-Canadian high school star Ivan Chiriaev. While some scouts are still in love (and claiming he's a lottery pick), others have been turned off in recent visits. What's the issue? With the lack of competition in Canada, most scouts believe the kid is years away from making an impact on the NBA level. With the recent first-year struggles of very young international players like Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Darko Milicic, teams are taking a closer look at kids like this and factoring in whether or not they can afford to wait for them to develop.


Cooling off: There are a few players who seem to be cooling off in scouts' eyes after some pretty big preseason hype.


GordonStart with UConn's Ben Gordon , who is having a good, but not spectacular, season. The fact Gordon has been stuck at the two all year has hurt his progress, in some scouts' minds.
"I think he has the skills to be a point in the pros," one scout told Insider. "But I don't know that. He's a two guard right now, plain and simple. If he's going to succeed in the NBA, he's got to be a one."

Jay Williams and Kirk Hinrich went through similar problems their last year in college and still were drafted high. But the difference for both players was scouts did get to see them run a team at least one full year in school. That's never happened for Gordon, and some scouts think he should stay in school one more year and take over the point. With Taliek Brown graduating, a spot will be open for Gordon to do just that, if he wants.

The issue may not kill Gordon come draft night as teams get a closer look in workouts, but it's clearly bothering some people at the moment.

Syracuse's Hakim Warrick is also suffering from expectations that were out of control at the start of the season. Warrick has put up nice numbers (19.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg) in Carmelo Anthony's absence, but scouts are still struggling to figure out his position in the pros. He's probably a three, based on his frame and lack of strength, but his shooting touch and ball handling are still very suspect. For Warrick to climb back into the lottery, he'll have to prove to NBA scouts at workouts that he's not Darius Miles without the handle. If he doesn't, he'll still be drafted, but he'll probably slip into the mid-first round.



PauldingMissouri's Rickey Paulding is another guy who appears to have hit rock bottom. Many scouts thought Paulding had a real shot at the lottery if he turned in a good season at MU this year. His big game against Oklahoma State notwithstanding, his numbers (15.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg on 39 percent shooting) are very disappointing and could cost him a shot at a guaranteed contract as a first-round pick come June. Some scouts believe Paulding will bounce back once he hits workouts because of his superior athleticism, but others aren't so sure. He's been accused of not playing hard all the time -- the kiss of death for most NBA scouts.
Texas A&M's Antoine Wright was another product of high expectations and poor execution. His 13.4 ppg on 36 percent shooting this year are a major disappointment after a stellar freshman year. At least he has the ability, after being hyped by some as a lottery pick this year, to go back to school another two years.

Head scratcher: Christjan Drejer's decision to dump the Gators and play professionally in Spain could come back to haunt him.
Let's be clear, though: His signing with Euroleague champs F.C. Barcelona wasn't the dastardly deed college scribes made it out to be. How many of you would be willing to work for free when someone was offering you millions to work at one of the top organizations in the world? Drejer made the same type of decision college coaches make almost every year. When does personal advancement and a big fat contract outweigh personal loyalty to a university? Drejer came to the same conclusion most college coaches do. He followed his passion and the money. If coaches are allowed to dump their recruiting classes at will, they should keep quiet when a player makes the same decision.

With that said, no one's clear how this will affect his draft stock. Drejer was seen by many scouts as potential mid-first-round pick before he left Florida. He's likely to get even less playing time for the Euroleague champs, who are stocked at just about every position. Playing against the likes of Dejan Bodiroga, Gregor ****a, Anderson Varejao and Juan Carlos Navarro every day in practice isn't a bad consolation prize, however. Drejer is signed with Barcelona through the 2004-05 season, but he does have a buyout figure should he decide to enter the NBA draft.

This is probably a wait-and-see situation.



Splitter, Perovic out? Two top international big men -- Tiago Splitter and Kosta Perovic -- may miss the 2004 draft, after all. Neither has an NBA buyout clause in his contract, and there already is evidence from their teams -- Tau Ceramica and Partizan, respectively -- that they do not want to let the players out of their deals this season.
Perovic is the most pressing. Partizan owner Vlade Divac -- yes, that Vlade Divac -- is telling NBA teams that, with the loss of Nenad Kristic to the Nets this summer (his agent confirms Kristic will play for the Nets next season), he doesn't want to give up Perovic for another year or two. Perovic wants to declare for the draft this year, and his representatives are trying to work out a compromise. If Vlade sticks to his guns, it's highly unlikely a team would be willing to draft Perovic in the lottery without assurances he'll be in the NBA next season.

Splitter's agent is still flirting with putting him in the draft, but limited playing time this year combined with no NBA buyout have them leaning toward keeping Splitter out of this year's mix. Splitter drew rave reviews from scouts after a strong performance on the Brazilian national team last summer, but he has struggled to crack Tau's rotation this year.

Are the refs ruining the game?

Nobody buys an NBA ticket to see the referees. The problem, though, is that fans may stop buying NBA tickets because of the referees.

"I know you're going to have bad calls and you live with it," Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley said in the Commercial Appeal. "But to see the people of Memphis so upset, it made me feel bad. I didn't think it was in the best interest of the NBA. That game didn't help sell pro basketball in Memphis. I was saddened by it more than angered by it because I'm an owner in the league. It's a partnership. In effect, what hurts the league hurts me. I'm thinking 'Oh my God. Are some of these people not coming back?' "

And that wasn't even the worst call of that particular night.

That dubious distinction goes to referee Michael Henderson, who was on duty Wednesday night in Denver with the Lakers in town. By now you know the circumstances. Shot clock winding down, two-point margin, final seconds of the game, Andre Miller's shot is missed, Carmelo Anthony rebounds, erroneous whistle and so on.

What you may not know is Nugget coach Jeff Bzdelik had to be physically restrained by an assistant coach from attacking Henderson.

"I think he'd have probably beat that big ref up," Nuggets forward Rodney White said in the Rocky Mountain News.

Fans pelted the referees with ice as they scurried for the safety of the tunnel and locker room. Or what they thought was safety. Center Marcus Camby hunted them down and lashed out with a string of obscenities and then launched a towel in the direction of referee Jack Nies.

Now, you can fine owner Michael Heisley for what he said. You can fine coach Jeff Bzdelik for what he did. You can fine players like Camby for what they say and do, but that doesn't change the fact that the Western Conference playoff race may very well come down to one or two games and the Nuggets were just robbed of one game.

"The call was incorrect because the ball, in fact, hit the rim. Once play was stopped, the game officials made the correct ruling by resuming play with a jump ball at midcourt. This was an unfortunate call at a highly critical point in the game, and we very much regret the error."

That was the official word from Stu Jackson at the NBA head office. Henderson has also been suspended for three games. But the Nuggets are still 32-27 instead of 33-26. And this was not an isolated incident.

As Peter Vecsey writes in the New York Post: "Yesterday's public disclosure by Jackson that at least one ref screwed up cannot diminish the damage to the declining reputation of the officiating corps. As a whole, their competence has never been more under attack on a daily basis. Over the last 35 years, I cannot recall so many abrasive complaints by executives, coaches and players. And it's not as if the frequent fines (minnow bites compared to what these people bank) by the league office are about to silence the across-the-board outcry."

Which brings us back to Wednesday night, not in Denver, but half way across the nation in Memphis, where a completely different set of referees was in the process of calling 62 personal fouls and six technical fouls and ejecting one head coach.

"I thought the game got completely out of control. There was excessive fouls called, and the number of technicals was ludicrous," Heisley said. "It was almost like a meltdown of the officiating. I was sorry to see it. I was somewhat shocked."

Which brings us back to Denver.

"You know the refs are going to hurt you at some point during the game, maybe even over a long stretch," a Midwest Division team president told Vecsey. "The most you can hope for is they don't decide the game. But, if you watch the game at all, you know those expectations stopped being realistic long before last night."

Peep Show

Los Angeles Lakers: If Mitch Kupchak was the self-proclaimed "Most Dominant Player Ever" on this particular team, he'd have Shaq taking notes from him on how to keep his mouth shut and not get beat on their home floor by a team missing its all-star starting center and all-star starting power forward. "I don't think comments like that are professional," Kupchak said in the Los Angeles Times after Shaq said that he could do a better job as general manager of the Lakers. "It certainly can be handled in a different way. I would hope for more professional behavior. Personally, it's not important to me whether somebody likes me or our coach or each other. What's important is they're professional and they're professional in their job." But Mitch is Mitch and Shaq is Shaq and these are, after all, the Lakers. "You have to write part of it off to Shaquille being Shaquille," he said. "I'm sure there's a degree of frustration there, also&. It's been a rough year. We're all a little edgy."

Boston Celtics: Danny Ainge is accepting the fact that he may be the most hated man in Boston these days. "What do you want me to say?" Ainge told the Boston Globe. "I take full responsibility for things that happened this year . . . I can't expect everybody to understand. It doesn't matter. If they cheered me with a team that wins 44 games every year, that means nothing. Significant changes needed to be made to be where we need to be . . . I know that I'm not on an island. The people I work for understand each and every transaction, although I can't sit here and say I thought we'd be 11 games under .500."

Sacramento Kings: Vlade Divac was thinking about retiring after this season until he saw a line forming outside his door to offer him more money. "Are you kidding?" Kings president Geoff Petrie told the Sacramento Bee. "Absolutely. Vlade is the heart and soul of this team. It's hard for me to imagine him playing anywhere else because of our style of play, the fixture that he is within the organization and community. And the fact that, with all the injuries, he has always been there for us, always. We will be the first in line." For free agent Vlade, it's a win-win situation. "That is the way I feel now," said Divac, who will earn $12 million this season. "The last couple weeks I have been feeling great. I was talking to (wife) Ana about this. If the money is even close to what I would get somewhere else, I stay here. But if it's big difference -- if (the Kings) offer me $2 million and someone else offers me $4 million -- I would have to leave. But I would love to come back to Sacramento. This is my city. I am comfortable here. My family is comfortable here. I just hope I don't get any crazy offers and have to leave."

Atlanta Hawks: Dion Glover had seen enough. Not only was he playing for one of the worst teams in the league he wasn't even playing anymore. So he asked to be released and the Hawks granted his wish leaving the team with only eight players. "He wishes it could've worked out in Atlanta," agent Brian Dyke said in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "We felt it was time for a fresh start elsewhere." The Hawks have now had 23 different players on their roster for the season.

Detroit Pistons: Center Mehmet Okur will miss the next five games due to back spasms that have placed him on the injured reserve list. "His back just stiffened up on him," Pistons coach Larry Brown said in the Detroit News. Okur has been battling the condition for the last three weeks and seemed to have it under control until the spasms flared up again Wednesday night.

Toronto Raptors: When it rains in Toronto, it pours. Now, Alvin Williams will be out four to six weeks after undergoing surgery on his right knee today. "That hurts us big time," Raptor coach Kevin O'Neill said Thursday night. "It just never ends, does it?" If you haven't been keeping track, the Raptors are already without the services of Vince Carter and Jalen Rose. "It's frustrating not being able to play and for me it's frustrating because it's been three years," Williams said. "I've had everything, you name it. Surgery, MRIs, X-rays, acupuncture, treatment; right now, it's just not responding to anything."

[Edit: Date in title]

aexchange
02-28-2004, 06:23 PM
has chad ford ever been right about anything?

the guy is such a tool. but thanks thebac for taking the time to post the articles none the less. i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif

Bayliss
02-28-2004, 06:48 PM
The funny thing about the international scene is the constant "upgrades" over Dirk. No one really knew Dirk was going to turn out the way he did. But he still gets so much disrespect by scouts.... How many guys the past 4 years have been proclaimed "better" than Dirk?

1) Pau
Pau is unfairly in Hubie Brown's system. But he still is not having as close to a career as Dirk. And probably never will. He just is not as dominant with the ball.

2) Skita
You remember him right? He needs minutes. No question about that. And he'll probably have to be moved to another team in order to shine. (Charlotte perhaps?) But he is a long ways to go to meet Dirk's level.

4) Darko
We'll see. I have a very sinking feeling that Brown is going to kill his career. He has to develop, and Brown is not going to develop him. But it will take a long while for him to be at Dirk's level.