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03-08-2003, 01:18 PM
The 2003 draft stampede
by Chad Ford

Brace yourselves college and international basketball fans. Come May, the NBA will experience the largest exodus of underclassmen (both college and international) in the history of the draft. Why? Rumors are running rampant among NBA GMs and player agents that NBA commish David Stern is working out a deal with Players Association president Billy Hunter that would create a 20-year-old age limit for the 2004 NBA draft.

Currently, American high school players are eligible for the draft after their high school senior class graduates. International players must turn 18 by Dec. 31st of the year of the draft. The new rule would destroy the distinction between American and international players. Essentially any player wishing to put his name into the draft would have to turn 20 in the year of the draft. Stern, who's been pushing for the rule for years, may have finally found a way to get the NBPA (which has always opposed such a rule) on board.

The rumored compromise would create cap relief for teams that want to sign older veterans but can't because of luxury-tax fears. Older players, who happen to dominate the leadership of the players' executive council, have been complaining for the past few years that aging veterans have been the most adversely affected by the new rules.
NBPA spokesperson Dan Wasserman refuted a report in Sports Illustrated that a deal was imminent. He did however confirm that the age limit was on the table as the NBA and the NBPA begin their next round of collective bargaining.

"I think we've been philosophically opposed to age limits in the past," Wasserman told Insider. "However, if the league makes a serious proposal that addresses some of our concerns with the collective bargaining agreement, we'd certainly take it to the players. Right now it's negotiable." NBA spokesperson Tim Frank also said that while the league would start negotiationing with the NBPA after the season, nothing was in the works now. "At the conclusion of the season we'll sit down and everything will be on the table," Frank told Insider. "But I don't anticipate anything happening before that."

If the two sides work out an agreement before the draft expect NBA player agents to begin working overtime with teenagers in high school, college and overseas to get them into the draft this year. "It will dramatically affect how we handle some of younger clients overseas and some of the kids we're recruiting in high school and college," one prominent NBA player agent said. "If a kid is 17 or 18 right now and NBA teams are interested, it's now or 2005 or 2006. I think some of these kids don't want to wait that long." It's already likely that LeBron James (age 18), Darko Milicic (17), Carmelo Anthony (19) and Chris Bosh (19) will declare for this year's draft.

Top high school prospects like Luol Deng may consider skipping college if the NBA passes an age limit for 2004 But several other players, including top high school prospects like Kederick Perkins, Luol Deng, Charlie Villanueva, James Lang, Travis Outlaw and Kris Humphries, who were on the fence before, may now be pushed into the draft if the rumors persist. None of them, according to several respected NBA scouts, are ready for the NBA. However, the lure of guaranteed money now, as opposed to two years from now, may be too much to pass up. Of course, if they declare, teams will draft them, ready or not.

"The draft is still about upside," one GM told Insider. "At the end of the day you take the guy who will eventually be the best player, not the kid who's the best player right now." Expect an even bigger flood of international players to consider bolting. The advantage they have is that NBA teams can keep them overseas for a few more seasons and develop them. Over the past week young prospects such as Yugoslavia's Kosta Perovic (18 years old), Senegal's Malick Badiane (18), Brazil's Tiago Splitter (17) and Poland's Maciej Lampe (17) have all been rumored to be considering throwing their names in the draft because of the rule change. That puts a heavy burden on international scouts.

The problem, as even the most enthusiastic international scouts will admit, is that international scouting is following the same trend as American scouting. "The kids we are looking at are getting younger and younger," one assistant GM told Insider. "Even three years ago, you pretty much waited until an European kid established himself over there before you seriously looked at him. There were exceptions, like Andrei Kirilenko, but for the most part teams were only comfortable drafting guys who had already become stars on the international scene. Nowadays, we're trying to evaluate kids like Nikoloz Tskitishvili. It's becoming a much riskier proposition."

That's what made Denver's selection of Tskitishvili, currently the second-youngest player in the NBA, such a risk. Everyone could see his skills in workouts, but no one got a good look at him in a game. Without any real game film to go on, teams must rely on international junior competitions, grainy game film, practices (increasingly difficult to get into) and a lot of second-hand accounts. This year, Milicic, who turns 18 just weeks before the draft, will be the youngest player ever drafted in the lottery. Fortunately, he starts for his team, giving teams plenty of game film to examine. But for a number of other blue chip international prospects, scouts must increasingly rely on their gut and a little bit of faith.

Inside the NBA Draft: Foreign Lottery

The top spot in this year's NBA Draft Lottery may already be owned by a high school kid named LeBron James, but after LeBron is gone will a slew of young international phenoms take over the rest of the draft?
By now you know that Yugoslavian big man Darko Milicic is the consensus No. 2 pick. A dominant 23-point, 19-rebound, four-blocked shot performance in front of 15 NBA teams in Greece this week should seal the deal (if it wasn't already). We know that college freshman Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh are widely considered high lottery picks if they declare. UConn's Emeka Okafor would also be a lock, though he has sent pretty clear signals he'll return for his junior season.

After LeBron, Darko, Anthony and Bosh, the rest of the field is wide open. Increasingly, NBA scouts are claiming that the void will likely be filled by a strong group of young international players. "This may be the best class of international players ever," one scout told Insider. "NBA scouting overseas is better than it's ever been. We're identifying kids younger and getting out to more places. I think the general consensus from the start of the year was that this was going to be a pretty weak collegiate draft. So what teams have been doing all year is going out and finding kids who are truly worthy of lottery picks. I think there's a lot to choose from." Today Insider gives you an inside look at several international players who may end up in the lottery when the smoke clears on draft night.

Brazil's Sideshow Bob

Ben Wallace and Moochie Norris may currently hold the title as best (or worst depending on your point of view) hair in the NBA. Brazilian prospect Anderson Varejao has scouts buzzing But come draft night, Brazil's Anderson Varejão will win the honor hands down. Varejão's floppy hairdo most often evokes comparisons to the Simpson's Sideshow Bob. His curly ringlets pulsate up and down like a sea sponge as he effortlessly glides the floor for his pro team, F.C. Barcelona.

"Everyone in America likes to talk about my hair," Varejão told Insider. "I think they should be talking about my game." Probably. The problem is it's difficult to get NBA scouts to say much about Varejão. That's partly because the 6-foot-10, 234-pound combo forward only averages about 15 minutes a game for Barcelona."Everyone loves his athleticism and agility," one NBA scout said. "He's a little laid back in personality, but he'll still get aggressive on the boards, and he's developed a nice mid-range game. However, he's a little tough to figure out. I don't think anyone knows for sure what he is yet. Some people think he could be a more athletic version of Drew Gooden. I'm just not sure he's cut out to play power forward in the pros. Of course I wasn't sure that Gooden was either."

Skepticism aside, most NBA scouts in the know claim Varejão will be the second international player taken in the draft behind Darko Milicic. Almost all of them claim the 21-year-old Brazilian big man will go somewhere in the early-to-mid lottery.The words "lottery" have to sound great to Varejão. He actually put his name into the draft last season and was on the verge of staying in the draft after the Spurs told him that they were interested in drafting him with the 26th pick. However, the Spurs began talking about a trade with the Sixers that would eventually bring Speedy Claxton to San Antonio. At that point the Spurs hedged and Varejão decided to pull out of the draft and wait until next year.

While many scouts claim they've yet to see him excel (he also played for the Brazilian national team at the World Championships in Indianapolis), the more seasoned international scouts all seem to agree he's a diamond in the rough."He's on a real good team and he's young, so that's why his playing time is a bit limited," another scout said. "But if you've followed the kid long enough, and that's really the key anymore, you know that there is a lot of talent there."

One scout pointed to a recent game against Benetton Treviso where Varejão went off for 17 points on 8 of 12 shooting in just 22 minutes. Against Alba Berlin, Varejão had 12 boards, nine points and five blocks.
Scouts are also in love with his body. He has long arms, runs the floor like a guard and he can flat out jump out of the gym."He's no Nene Hilario," another scout said. "He may take another year or two to develop in the NBA. But I think he has so many unique abilities for his size, he isn't going to last long."

France's Mickael Pietrus on the rise

While just about everyone in the NBA has a good feel for Brazil's Anderson Varejã, France's Mickael Pietrus may be suffering a little from under exposure. Mickael Pietrus, 20, is a 6-foot-6 guard who some think has Jordan-esque ability. Pietrus is, without question, the most athletic player in Europe right now. Europe has produced a number of great players, but with the exception of Drazen Petrovic, most have been big men. Pietrus has an upside no one else from Europe can claim. His game is more American than European. He won't be the next Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol. No, he's much more reminiscent of Michael Jordan.

At 6-foot-6, Pietrus is a prototypical NBA two-guard. He has great range from the perimeter, loves to slash to the basket and is a big-time rebounder. Just to sweeten the pot a bit, scouts also claim he's a tenacious defender. His coaches rave about his work ethic and his humility on and off the court. Right now his game reminds some of the Sonics' Desmond Mason. But, his highlight reel dunks and acrobatic moves on the drive have a few scouts whispering Jordan.

"I was blown away," one assistant GM said. "I can't believe more people aren't talking about this kid. Maybe I should shut up. Everyone here is enamored with Carmelo Anthony, but I think you can make the case that Pietrus has more upside. He's a much better shooter, and he's a great defender. Great. And he can really jump out of the gym." That's not to say there aren't knocks. Another scout discussed the downside.

"He's young and he's inconsistent," one scout said. "He's done much better when he gets away from his team. His coach doesn't use him right. I saw him in a French All-Star game right before Christmas, and he absolutely dominated. His game is much more suited to the NBA. I think his coach holds that against him." Pietrus doesn't like the Jordan comparisons."I like Ray Allen," Pietrus told Insider in December after I saw him play in Croatia. "I know most people like the guys with the fancy dribble, but anyone can do that. But not many good athletes are also good shooters. That's what I want to be."

"You just like shooters because you shoot too much," his older brother Florent, a potential second-round pick, said, laughing. But Pietrus' talent is no laughing matter. Spurs point guard, and fellow Frenchman, Tony Parker told Insider that Pietrus is the real deal. "He's got the skills to be a really good NBA player," Parker said. "He's really fundamentally sound. He can kill you either way. If you step back, he'll sink a jumper in your face. If you get too close, he's gone. He plays with a lot of energy and heart. I think he's going to be real successful." How successful? His agent is planning on putting his name into the draft this season. Several scouts believe that once he gets over here for workout, he'll be a lock for the lottery. "Other than Anthony, there isn't another swingman even close in the college ranks," another scout told Insider. "He's running a little under the radar now, but that will change. Trust me."

Best of the rest

While Darko Milicic, Anderson Varejão and Mickael Pietrus may be the only international players who are a lock for the lottery, several other top prospects also could slip into the lottery in June. Pietrus' teammate, Boris Diaw, was once considered the best prospect in France. But injuries, slow development and the emergence of Pietrus this season seemed to kill his chances of ever landing in the lottery. Well, scratch that. Diaw has been on fire the last month in France. With more teams heading over there to get a look at Pietrus, more and more have walked away equally impressed with Diaw.

"Like Pietrus, his game better suited to the NBA," one scout said. "He's a great athlete and a terrific defender. There aren't many guys out there that, at 6-foot-9, could easily play shooting guard in the pros." While scouts in the past have complained about his lack of an offensive game, teams now say that it seems to be emerging."I'm not sure what he did over the last few months," one league executive said. "But whatever it was, he's playing himself into the lottery."

Greece's 17-year-old "Baby Shaq" Sofaklis Schortsianides also continues to draw a lot of attention. Schortsianides' agent, Mark Fleisher, is considering entering his name into the draft. While some scouts have come away from Greece questioning his height (they claim he's no taller than 6-foot-9), no one can deny that at 17 years of age, he has unparalleled strength and an NBA body."He's very raw, but he's a real man-child," one scout said. "He'd be a major project, but I think some teams look at him, at 17, and think he's still got some growing to do. If he ever hit seven feet, watch out." Another scout was less enthusiastic. "Think a shorter version of DeSagana Diop."

Ouch. That was uncalled for.

Yugoslavia's Aleksandar Pavlovic may be the hottest riser in the draft. Several teams made the trip to Yugoslavia to see his teammate, Slavko Vranes. Vranes, however, hasn't been playing of late. What they did see was Pavlovic, a 6-foot-7, super athletic swingman who some scouts are comparing to Emanuel Ginobili. "He's a real force offensively," one scout said. "He's clever with the ball, fearless taking it to the basket and he can stick the mid range jumper. He really sees the floor well and he's an excellent passer. I think he could be a real sleeper in the draft."

While scouts say that he struggles as a defender and doesn't have a great long range game, the latest buzz has him hanging around the latter part of the lottery. Several other top prospects, including 6-foot-6 Croatian point guard Zoran Planinic, Georgian (the country not the state) big man Zaur Pachulia, and Pavlovic's teammate , 6-11 small forward Zarko Cabarkapa, are also considered bubble lottery picks at this point in the draft.

Peep Show

New Jersey Nets, San Antonio Spurs: Jason Kidd's agent, Jeff Schwartz, responding to rumors that Kidd may bolt this summer to join Tim Duncan, said that Kidd is happy in New Jersey. "Basically, we're waiting until the season is over. But I'll say what I've said all along: that he's happy where he is," Schwartz told the N.Y. Post. "He's happy playing for the Nets. He's going to make his final decision once the season is over but he's happy there. His family is happy there."

Denver Nuggets: The team wants Juwan Howard back next season. "I would love to find a way to keep him on the team next year," GM Kiki Vandeweghe told the Rocky Mountain News. "I tell him point- blank that I'd love to have him here. He knows it's just not lip service. . . . He's positive (about coming back). He knows we're on the right track here." Howard has won a lot of favor in the organization for playing hard every night despite the team's obvious struggles. "Of course it's hard," he said. "I'm a competitor and I care. When you care, it's tough. It hurts you inside. When you don't care, you can sleep at night, and you can say, 'What the heck. I'm going to go out there and get mine.' I'm not about that. I'm all about team and doing what's best to help my teammates."

Sacramento Kings: Hidayet Turkoglu's frustration continues over his lack of playing time. However, he's not ready to ask the Kings for a trade. "I am very happy right here," he told the Sacramento Bee. "I know I am part of the future of this team. I want to be here. But I know in this league, things happen. I know it's tough on the coaches right now to get everyone minutes." That's good, because the Kings don't want to let him go. "A lot of teams want him," coach Rick Adelman said, "but they're not going to get him."

Houston Rockets: Steve Francis may be the franchise, but according to coach Rudy Tomjanovich and forward Maurice Taylor, Yao Ming is the man. "He's a big-time player. He's the man," Taylor told the Houston Chronicle. "We've got to get the ball to him. We've got to let him go to work. And we've got to stick with him. He's the man." Tomajnovich is pushing his guards, especially Cuttino Mobley and Francis, to give Yao the ball more.

Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Dickerson is out for the season with yet another sports hernia. "If he came back (this year)," Griz coach Hubie Brown told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, "it'd be an upset."

Boston Celtics: While the Celtics may not want Vin Baker back, Antoine Walker sounds like he does. "I think he's going to be fine," Walker told the Boston Herald. "I think obviously he has to take care of his personal business and what he has to do, but I think we've got him for a couple of years and he's a terrific talent in the low post. I think on this team he can help us out a lot, and I think we can relieve a lot of pressure off him because he doesn't have to get 15-20 touches a game and have to deliver night in and night out. I think that's maybe where his career's headed right now. I think he needs to assess his goals and try to be like the sixth man of the year. And I think he can do that. He's shown flashes this year where he can score in the post and be very good in there."

Golden State Warriors: Mike Dunleavy plans to hit the weight room this summer after a disappointing rookie season. "I'm going to come back and be dramatically better," Dunleavy told the Contra Costa Times. "I'm not going to be a bodybuilder. I'm not going to back people down and pound them. That's not me. I need to bulk up a little just to be able to take contact and hold defensive position. The main problem I've had is my leg strength. I need to work on them. You look at a guy like (Utah's Andrei) Kirilenko. He's as thin as I am. But he has really strong legs and it works for him."

03-08-2003, 04:46 PM
You have to be really hardcore to care about the NBA draft wait three years until you help me draft.

03-09-2003, 05:11 PM
Thanks for posting the article OP. Wow this potential inclusion of a 20 year old limit for the next draft is huge. It will be really interesting to see how this plays out. Of course the best case scenario would be that this causes King David to be deposed, but we can only hope.

03-09-2003, 09:20 PM
I can't help it. I love the NBA Draft as well as the NFL Draft. (I am probably one of the only ones who listen or watch all of both of them.)

Anyone else love the possibility of getting Varejao? I was hoping he would've came out last year. The same team as Nene. Not a bull like Nene, but more polish (or what I've read).

Diaw wouldn't be bad either as a replacement shooting guard/small forward.

03-09-2003, 11:54 PM
Bayliss, I'm that way with the NBA draft. I love watching all of it. To see what they say about each player, what that player will bring to the team, etc...

03-10-2003, 12:01 AM
That guy from Brazil would be an interesting pick up if he could play either forward positions well. Another long hair foreign pothead would get u Texans ready to shoot up the AAC. Funny from an outsiders perspective.