One thought for each pick in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft, which is about 28 more than I have on a normal Thursday.
1. LeBron James, G, high school, Cleveland Cavaliers: It’s hard to imagine now, but last year the first pick in the draft was a big, big question mark. Yao Ming was such a new thing, a 7-foot-5 center from China, that it was just impossible to know how he’d fare in the NBA. The answer: He fared quite well. No such questions this year. James is kind of a new thing too, a guy who was dominating NBA players in his mid-teens. But the only question with him is how good he can be if he stays healthy. This’ll be hard to imagine too a year from now, but for the last half-dozen or so years, it’s been easy to forget that Cleveland has a franchise in the NBA.
2. Darko Milicic, F, Serbia-Montenegro, Detroit Pistons: Commentators keep talking about the trade that got the Pistons this pick like it was some kind of idiotic move by the then-Vancouver Grizzlies. The Griz gave up this pick in 1997 to get Otis Thorpe, who was 35 and clearly on the downslope. Now it looks like they traded Darko Milicic, a 7-footer with mad offensive skills, to get a fading journeyman. But they didn’t. They traded nothing to get a fading journeyman, which is a good deal. It’s one thing to trade away next year’s pick, but if you can get someone to give you a living person for a draft pick six years from now, take the life form. Everyone involved with the ’97 Grizzlies is gone now, as they knew they would be. Where was the downside for them? Six years is forever in the NBA. Six years ago the Cavs were pretty good. How do you even know the draft won’t be done away with by six years from now?
3. Carmelo Anthony, F, Syracuse, Denver Nuggets: It’s interesting to think about how this draft would have begun if the first pick hadn’t belonged to the Cavaliers, who really couldn’t pass on James and expect to stay in business in Ohio. What if the Knicks had the first pick? Would they have gone with Empire State college boy Anthony? Hard to picture. There’s that memory of Portland picking Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan. You’d hate to go through life being the guy who didn’t pick LeBron James. Still, it’s not totally outrageous to think that Anthony will be a better player than James. I’m not saying it, but it’s not totally outrageous. Anthony’s that good. And I agree with Dick Vitale: The Pistons are going to be sorry they didn’t take him at No. 2.
4. Chris Bosh, F, Georgia Tech, Toronto Raptors: I don’t really have much to say about Chris Bosh, so I’ll use this spot to say that the first great moment of the draft was the shot of Darko Milicic’s dad repeatedly kissing a basketball. He did this while ESPN’s Michele Tafoya asked Milicic, I kid you not: “You were 10 years old when your father went off to war. How do you think that affected you as a player?”
5. Dwyane Wade, G, Marquette, Miami Heat: Whoa. I watched Wade in college and thought, “This guy’s going to be a terrific pro.” That usually means the guy’s going to go toward the middle of the first round, like Caron Butler last year. Surprised to see Wade go so high.
6. Chris Kaman, C, Western Michigan, Los Angeles Clippers: Before the draft, I thought, “If there’s one bust in this draft, it’s Chris Kaman.” Now that the Clippers have picked him, I know I was right.
7. Kirk Hinrich, G, Kansas, Chicago Bulls: Hinrich goes to the Bulls, which wouldn’t have been likely 10 days ago, because of the devastating motorcycle accident that’s put Jay Williams’ career in jeopardy. Now that he’s going to be in a big, sophisticated city, maybe Hinrich can get a haircut that doesn’t look like his cousin Gomer took the sheep sheers to him.
8. T.J. Ford, G, Texas, Milwaukee Bucks: Since Milwaukee’s right up the road from Chicago, Bulls fans can get a good look at the point guard their team should have drafted but didn’t, probably because he’s too small. You know, like Allen Iverson is too small. I’m agreeing with Vitale again here. Should I be worried?
9. Mike Sweetney, F, Georgetown, New York Knicks: I really can’t get a handle on how good Sweetney is, but the fact that Knicks G.M. Scott Layden kept talking about other Georgetown players the Knicks have had success with, as though that were relevant at all, would have me worried if I were a Knicks fan. Of course, I’d already be plenty worried if I were a Knicks fan.
10. Jarvis Hayes, G, Georgia, Washington Wizards: You know that beer commercial where the guy says he’d go a round with Holyfield for a million dollars? Is that really Evander Holyfield? Doesn’t look like him. But am I the only one who finds it really disturbing when the guy’s head gets knocked off? It’s not his head getting knocked off, which is cartoonish, the way the head keeps talking. It’s the way the headless body falls forward to the canvas, like … well, like a dead person. I’m not really squeamish, but I don’t need to see that.
11. Mickael Pietrus, G, France, Golden State Warriors: Tom Tolbert sums it up for the Warriors. “I don’t know what the hell you’re doing.” Tom Tolbert’s a great announcer. I’m also one of about 12 people in the world, it seems, who thinks Bill Walton’s a great announcer, and the two of them were great together during the NBA playoffs. Too bad they apparently don’t like each other, although that’s probably a large part of their appeal.
12. Nick Collison , F, Kansas, Seattle Sonics: Prediction: Nick Collison will be a better pro than Kirk Hinrich. Collison’s that rare elite college player whose arms don’t look like they came off a Greek statue. That’s going to have to change, but he’s a good player.
13. Marcus Banks, G, UNLV, Memphis Grizzlies (traded to Boston Celtics): Let’s just take a moment here to appreciate how much more fun the NBA draft is than the NFL draft. For one thing, the time between picks is five minutes, not 15, so that helps a lot. Listening to “draft experts” blather on for 14 minutes about some offensive linemen you’ve never heard of before and will probably never hear of again just isn’t much fun. ESPN’s coverage of the draft doesn’t have the loopiness of TNT’s Charles Barkley playing to the Madison Square Garden crowd, but it’s a nice, crisp little show. You get the draft announcement, a little highlight reel, the stage walk and hand shake, a little analysis, an interview with Tafoya, maybe an interview with Mom or a G.M. somewhere, and then it’s on to the next pick, who’s probably someone you’ve heard of before, and will hear of again.
14. Luke Ridnour, G, Oregon, Seattle Sonics: Ridnour’s another guy who gets knocked for not being strong. How strong does a point guard have to be? It helps, but I think you can be a pretty effective point guard without big strength. Experts just like to talk about physical tools. Having said that, I don’t think Ridnour will amount to much. He’ll be OK, but that’s all.
15. Reece Gaines, G, Louisville, Orlando Magic: I’d have taken Gaines before Ridnour. He’s stronger, for one thing. Just kidding. It’s a great deal for him, though. He gets to play with Tracy McGrady.
16. Troy Bell, G, Boston College, Boston Celtics (traded to Memphis Grizzlies): I don’t know much about Troy Bell, but Jerry West likes him, and Jerry West is pretty smart about these things.
17. Zarko Cabarkapa, F, Serbia-Montenegro, Phoenix Suns: When I worked at a newspaper in my 20s, my sunny personality earned me the nickname “Prince of Darkness.” I wish now that I’d heard of Darko Milicic then, because I’d have asked people to call me Darko, which is a great name. Zarko is even better.
18. David West, F, Xavier, New Orleans Hornets: Here’s another one of those guys I think is going to be better in the pros than all the experts think. He’s “undersized” because he’s 6-9. I don’t buy it.
19. Aleksandar Pavlovic, F, Serbia, Utah Jazz: Like Cabarkapa, he might spend another year or two in Europe. This is just a terrible rule. You shouldn’t be able to draft a guy and hold his rights while he plays in some other league somewhere. If you don’t sign him and suit him up by the All-Star break or so, he should go back in the pot next year.
20. Dahntay Jones, G, Duke, Boston Celtics (traded to Memphis Grizzlies): We’re into that part of the draft now where everybody’s kind of a forgettable college player or a European or South American you’ve never seen play unless you’re a total hoops junkie. It’s kind of hard to believe, with all that college basketball going on, and all those European leagues and everything, that the world can only spit up about a dozen guys who seem like real ring-ding players when compared to NBA talent. The NBA is really good. So how’d we end up with those Finals?
21. Boris Diaw, F, France, Atlanta Hawks: OK, they showed highlights of this guy, and he didn’t look like anything. Highlights! Also, I hope the NBA doesn’t go to that trapezoidal European key, which is wider under the basket than it is near the free-throw line. I get the point of it, to create space underneath. It’s just ugly.
22. Zoran Planinic, F, Croatia, New Jersey Nets: Does every player go to the same tailor or what? LeBron James wore a sharp white suit, by the way. Two summers ago I went to a wedding at which the father of the bride, a man in his 70s, wore a white suit and a Panama hat and looked like a million bucks. I asked my friends how old I’d have to be before I could pull off a white suit and a Panama hat, and while nobody could come up with an answer, they all agreed I wasn’t old enough yet, and probably never would be.
23. Travis Outlaw, F, HS, Portland Trail Blazers: Mike Tirico, given a few years of seasoning, could become every bit as annoying as Chris Berman.
24. Brian Cook, F, Illinois, Los Angeles Lakers: Living in St. Louis, I get to see Illinois play a lot without really meaning to. Cook hasn’t impressed me much.
25. Carlos Delfino, G, Argentina, Detroit Pistons: In the highlights he looks a lot like Hinrich, but his mugshot reveals him to be better looking. A good haircut will work wonders, Kirk!
26. Ndubi Ebi, F, HS, Minnesota Timberwolves: This is the first time since about 1837 that the T-Wolves have had a first-round pick because they cheated on Joe Smith’s contract. Joe Smith. It’s been years, and I still can’t get over that. It would be great if Minnesota invited undrafted guard Ebi Ere of Oklahoma to camp to try to win a spot on the roster with Ebi.
27. Kendrick Perkins, C, HS, Memphis Grizzlies (traded to Boston Celtics): He’s 6-11, 290, and the experts say he has to improve his strength. Holy cow.
28. Leandrinho Barbosa, G, Brazil, San Antonio Spurs (traded to Phoenix Suns): Did you see some of those international highlights they showed where the base of the basket is about 15 feet behind the end line? The backboard is on the end of this long cantilever apparatus, and when someone dunks, the whole thing dips halfway to the ground. It’s hard to believe it’s not still moving when that team comes back on offense the next time.
29. Josh Howard, F, Wake Forest, Dallas Mavericks: Mark Cuban is the most entertaining owner in all of sports, but jeez, Peter Pan, buy a shirt with a collar, would ya?
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