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Draft Buzz 2/18/04

Wed, 02/18/2004 - 8:01pm

By Aran Smith

Making the "Jump"

[img_assist|nid=4525|title=Dwight Howard|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=200|height=287]It may not be what's best for the NBA. It's definitely not what's best for the NCAA. However, for a young 18 year old phenom who can guarantee financial security by turning pro out of high school, it is often what is best for the individual and their family. Despite the "stigma" and media scrutiny that has accompanied it, high schoolers jumping to the NBA is becoming more and more common.

The NBA has gone the way of the baseball draft with high schoolers turning pro without the "stepping stone" of college. However, unlike baseball, there are no minor leagues for these talented prospects to hone their skills. It's straight to the bright lights, big city and all the distractions and alluring elements that accompany it.

Unfortunately for the NBA, the examples have not turned out the way they were supposed to. Nearly every modern day high school to pro player, from Garnett to LeBron has exceeded their expectations given time. This has only perpetuated the NBA's perceived problem: The NBA is getting younger and more immature by the minute. Immature people make immature decisions. Bad decisions by (the NBA's key) players can cause an overall disenchantment with the league causing an overall drop in the sport's popularity. Therefore the need for a 20 year age limit.

But for a number of young fans, seeing 19 year olds LeBron and Carmelo Anthony torch a bunch of 30 year olds (in their prime) in their first seasons, and put up 20 points a game leading their teams to victories, makes all the 18-21 year old check-cashing-bench-riders worth their while.

This year as many as 8-10 high schoolers could declare for the draft, which would be an all time high. Depending on a number of factors: workouts, underclassmen, International entries, etc. It's likely that most of them would get into the first round, with a few possible exceptions.

While there is no high schooler in this draft class that will have the instant impact upon the NBA that LeBron has had, this could be the biggest year for high schoolers ever in the first round. Here is a closer look at this year's high school draft hopefuls:

Dwight Howard 6-10 240 PF Atlanta, GA HSSr. -- Scouts flocked to watch Howard face Randolph Morris’ Landmark Christian in the Nationally televised game. While Howard put up decent numbers, and showed great potential, scouts felt he’s a long ways from contributing in the NBA. And because of Emeka Okafor's ability to be an instant impact player, many feel Okafor has the inside track for the top pick in the draft now. It will depend on which team gets the top pick. If it's a team that can afford to wait, and wants the player with the most upside, they'll have to go with Howard. If it’s Atlanta, look for them to go with the local product. The recent serge shown by Kwame Brown only helps Howard's cause. Brown appears to be on a similar ascent to the games elite PF's that Jermaine O'Neal made. Like Kwame, Howard lacks a nastiness to his personality, ala Amare Stoudemire, however he possesses both toughness and motivation. Howard is a freak of nature, with good skills, and with some dynamite workouts it's possible he will overtake Okafor.

Draft projection:
Top 2 pick. Odds of entering: 99%.

[img_assist|nid=4526|title=Shaun Livingston|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=65|height=90]Shaun Livingston 6-7 175 PG Peoria, IL HSSr. -- While Livingston is still just a “twig”, and very weak, his skills in a 6-7 package are unbelievably rare. He is a legit PG with tremendous ball handling and passing skills. Scouts feel he’s a legit top 5 pick and could go as high as 3. The Charlotte Bobcats own the 4th selection in the draft and are following him closely. Some scouts feel there’s a chance he will go ahead of Josh Smith. Livingston hasn’t ruled out the possibility of going to Duke for a year, but is leaning towards the draft. When a player is projected by scouts to go this high, there can be no second-guessing any decision they make. Scouts have noted that his jump shot could be a weakness, however it’s pretty solid. His real weakness is his body. While other high schoolers (esp Dwight and Josh) will have to focus on developing their skills and the mental aspects of the NBA game, for Shaun developing his body will be the biggest hurdle.

Draft Projection: Top 7 pick. Odds of entering: 55%.

Josh Smith 6-8 220 SF Smyrna, GA HSSr. -- Smith is a solid 220 pounds and looks noticeably bigger than in the summer when his Atlanta Celtics team won the Big Time tournament in Vegas. Smith has obviously been working out, his arms are (honestly) as big as LeBron’s, and his quickness has not suffered in the least. Smith still has some shortcomings in the skill department, with his handle and feel for the half court set. However, he consistently hits shots from outside, which is a great sign for his ability to develop his overall offensive game. He still has a ways to go with his shot off the dribble, though it has improved. Smith struggled in the Feb 7 weekend tournament in New Jersey in front of a number of scouts which hurt his stock some. Josh's year at Oak Hill (with all the travel and great competition) is almost the equivalent to a year in college. Josh is further away skill wise than both Shawn and Dwight, however he has more potential than anyone.

Draft Projection: Top 7 pick. Odds of entering: 98%.

Sebastian Telfair 6-0 170 PG Brooklyn, NY HSSr. -- Like LeBron, he just keeps rising to the challenge every step of the way. He has become a media phenomenon in NYC over the past several seasons with a cover feature with LeBron in Slam magazine and a Nationally televised game on ESPN. One thing's for certain, the lights aren’t too bright for this kid. Some scouts feel he has a legit chance to go in the lottery, which wasn’t the case two months ago. Even his cousin Stephon Marbury spent a year in college. “Bassy” would have been better off with a year or two of college experience, but he's intent upon becoming the first small PG to make "the jump" and be a first rounder... TJ Ford with a jumpshot? He’s not as strong, or quite the floor general, however he’s got the offense that TJ lacks, which closes the gap. Playing in college wont raise his ability to play against good players cause he’s been doing that his whole life at Rucker park, however it would give him a structured season closer to the one he’ll face in the NBA. Five years from now he could be joining his cousin Stephon in the back court with the Knicks.

Draft Projection: 12-25 pick. Odds of entering: 90%.

LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 225 PF Dallas, TX HSSr. -- One of those players who people seem to either love or hate. He’s a physical specimen along the lines of a Chris Bosh. Not as talented, but very long and agile and with a good skill set. His upside is very impressive. Detractors point to the fact that he’s a post player who lacks the nastiness to bang and fight for rebounds, and because of his preference for the finesse game, will struggle in the NBA. He’s had injury woes in the past year, and some have questioned his heart and claimed that he ducked playing top competition at times during the AAU season. College would help his body and game develop but word is that he’s leaning towards entering the draft. He’s committed to Texas but will explore his options with the draft.

Draft Projection: 12-25 pick. Odds of entering: 75%.

Marvin Williams 6-9 230 SF Bremerton, WA HSSr. -- There was some buzz early that he might consider entering the draft. He figures to be a lottery pick after a year at UNC. He had a tremendous performance against Josh Smith and the Atlanta Celtics in the Big Time tournament putting up 34 points in a loss. Right now, it looks like he’s leaning towards college. With tremendous leg strength and an advanced offensive game, he’s a terrific talent, and could really be something with a year or two under Roy Williams at UNC.

Draft Projection: 20-35 pick. Odds of entering: 20%.

Al Jefferson 6-8 260 PF Prentiss, MS HSSr. -- Jefferson is a complete man-child on the high school level. He’s been destroying players with his physical style for close to 3 years. Some wonder if he’s one of those early developers however, since it appears he uses his strength to score most of his points. He’s probably closer to 6-8 than his commonly listed (6-9) height. And his offensive skills have become somewhat stagnant. He's a bullish Elton Brand type, but lacks the upside to warrant a high draft pick, however it's possible a team wanting toughness would nab him in the late first round area. He's committed to Arkansas, and could improve his draft status by showing the same ability to dominate college players as he has on the high school level.

Draft Projection: 25-40 pick. Odds of entering: 30%.

Randolph Morris 6-10 250 PF/C Fairburn, GA HSSr. -- Has fared well this year against both Howard and especially Swift. Morris dominance of Swift in a game earlier in the year put him over Swift according to some scouts. Morris is obviously the stronger player now, but unlike Morris, Swift is far from physical maturation The biggest question mark surrounding Morris is his size for the center position, as he likely doesn't have the mobility to play the 4. He's roughly the same height as Alonzo Mourning, however he lacks the huge wingspan and athleticism that Zo had which made up for his size disadvantage. At worst Morris should be a very good backup in the league, which could warrant a late first round pick. Morris is still deciding between a few schools and it appears he will play college ball.

Draft Projection: 25-40 pick. Odds of entering: 25%.

[img_assist|nid=4527|title=Robert Swift|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=150|height=200]Robert Swift 7-1 245 C Bakersfield, CA HSSr. -- Bigman who made his mark in the summer playing at the NBA players camp. He had some nice performances against pros such as Rasheed Wallace, and shot up the recruiting charts. Swift won back his eligibility after having had it stripped from him for transferring. He’s had a decent season, and though he’s still weak and a project, the upside could get him into the first round. He has committed to USC, however he has a learning disability which will make becoming eligible very difficult. Swift is a nice athlete for a center and should be a defensive presence at the least. His biggest drawback is the weight, and the questions of how well he’ll be able to add weight, and also without losing mobility. He may have a hard time gaining eligibility at USC. His best bet would be trying to get a guarantee in the first round, and opting out of the draft if he's not successful at that.

Draft Projection: 25-35 pick. Odds of entering: 75%.

Other High School players

Juan Palacios 6-8 240 SF Centereach, NY HSSr. -- Scouts project him as a lottery pick for the 2005 draft. He’s a super aggressive forward with special offensive abilities. His body is well advanced for a player his age. He previously had a weight problem, and now that he's slimmed down his mobility has allowed him to show some amazing skills. He's similar to a Jamal Mashburn, in that he's so skilled offensively with similar below the rim offensive moves.

Rudy Gay 6-8 205 SF Baltimore, MD HSSr. -- A player who has immense potential who will benefit greatly with a year or two at UConn He’s got a superb package of skills, with developing offensive game and athleticism. He’s a player who years down the road will probably overtake a number of the preps-to-pros guys, but only if he uses college as a stepping stone. There is no word about to him looking to enter the draft, and lets hope it stays that way.

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