As Thursday's NBA draft approaches, optimism prevails in many camps. Teams love to be able to get a contributor in the first round, even if they aren't picking in the lottery. Look back to 1995, when the Suns took Michael Finley with the 21st overall selection. What about Seattle's choice of Bobby Jackson at No. 23 in 1997? These two picks demonstrate that you can find talent later in the first round.
Everyone knows about the magical talent higher up in this draft. LeBron mania has been going on for quite a while, and Cleveland Cavaliers fans will be happy when the Cavs select LeBron James No. 1 overall. Serbian 18-year-old phenom Darko Milicic will go on to have a great career. The 7-footer can shoot inside and outside. Personally, if I were making the call for the Detroit Pistons, I would take Carmelo Anthony at No. 2.
|Boston College guard Troy Bell averaged 25.2 ppg and 3.7 apg in 2002-03.|
Since the top three choices appear to be set -- with the Denver Nuggets apparently set to take Anthony at No. 3 -- the draft really begins at No. 4 (Toronto Raptors). It's just a matter of where the big names will land. T.J. Ford, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade should be in the top 10.
Everyone knows about these lottery guys, but what about the sleepers?
I believe a number of prospects will be better than people have projected. When it's all said and done, and you look back three years from this draft, they will be contributors. It won't happen immediately, but I feel these players will be solid NBA professionals.
Let's start with Boston College senior guard Troy Bell. Some skeptics wonder whether he can handle the ball well enough and whether he can move to point guard. Bell is a hard-nosed player who knows how to score (25.2 ppg in 2002-03). Something tells me that teams who let him slip too far will be making a mistake.
Illinois senior forward Brian Cook is another player who will probably go later in the first round or possibly early in the second. He has inside-outside ability, and he will get stronger physically. With his versatility, he will be better than projected.
Some see Wake Forest senior Josh Howard as a mystery in this draft. He didn't play in Portsmouth or Chicago, but he has a mystique about his game. Howard will have to be judged on what he did with the Demon Deacons. If you watched him there, as I did numerous times, you see a winner. The rap is his shooting consistency. Can he be a small forward at the next level? Can he make the perimeter shot? A number of players have entered the NBA as suspect shooters initially, and they worked on their shooting and improved. I feel Howard will make people pay if they let him slide.
Xavier senior big man David West enjoyed an outstanding college career. He can also step out and play the small or power forward. West is a hard-nosed kid who is capable of getting to the foul line and crashing the glass. He's a legitimate 6-9 with a bright future and should go higher in the first round than most have projected him.
Those are four sleepers to keep an eye on, well past draft night. They probably won't be drafted that high, yet they have the potential to make some noise in the future as contributors in the NBA for many years.