What personality will the 2008 NBA draft develop?

Sat, 05/31/2008 - 6:30am

By Nick Prevenas

[img_assist|nid=1964|title=Derrick Rose|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=432] Every draft has a personality.

Some drafts come attached with an aura of greatness, when all die-hard NBA fans know they are witnessing history in the making (1984, 2003). Other drafts kick things off with an amazing start, then fall apart faster than the 2007 Mets (1982, 1992).

A handful of drafts come charging out of the gate before losing steam, then catch a miraculous second wind near the tail-end of the lottery (1996, 2002).

There is even the occasional draft where the top player(s) taken get blown out of the water by the legends-in-making selected shortly after (1995, 2005).

What type of trajectory will the 2008 draft follow?

Before we can answer that, we have to accept that it is an exercise in futility to classify a draft's place in NBA history before it actually takes place. What we can do is look at the speculation surrounding recent NBA drafts and attempt to put this year's crop of prospects into a similar context.

From what I can tell, there isn't the destiny-altering type of talent (i.e. Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, LeBron James) available this year, which means the 2008 draft will likely fall short of the lofty standards set in '84 and '03. No shame in that.

But clearly, there are some serious prospects in this draft that deserve and command any NBA fan's attention, which sets it apart from the sleep-inducing 2000 draft. Only Kenyon Martin (No. 1 overall) and Michael Redd (No. 45) have made All-Star appearances.

At this point, it appears as if there are two can't-miss, all-world, upside-spewing players available. Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley are this year's "Pavlovian" prospects, since the mere mention of their names seems to turn most scouts into salivating canines.

Rose is a dynamite 6-foot-4 point guard with more natural ability at his age (19) than should be legal. It's nearly impossible to envision a scenario — injuries notwithstanding — where Rose doesn't develop into one of the game's best floor generals. At worst, he'll still be better than Andre Miller. At best, he'll become a more athletic Jason Kidd or a less volatile Gary Payton circa 1994.

Beasley, on the other hand, was the most dominant college basketball player last season (sorry, Tyler Hansbrough). Players with his size shouldn't come equipped with his quickness or his shooting range. How does anyone guard a kid like Beasley when his head is in the game? Worst case, he falls into some of the bad habits he picked up during his high school days and develops into another Derrick Coleman. Best case, he maintains his maturity level and becomes one of the league's premier scoring threats.

But for the 2008 draft to achieve a level beyond those top-heavy drafts from '82, '92 or even 1997, which featured Tim Duncan at No. 1, Mr. Big Shot at No. 3, T-Mac at No. 9 and little else, it will need some depth beyond Rose and Beasley.

Of course, depth just happens to be this draft class' specialty. Most insiders believe that there are an especially high number of NBA-level prospects based simply on athleticism and skill level. But as we all know, that isn't enough to secure a roster spot. Often, that talent must be developed under optimum circumstances.

[img_assist|nid=1965|title=Michael Beasley|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=448] After the "Big Two," the draft is completely wide open. A player like Brook Lopez could go anywhere from No. 3 to No. 9 and nobody would bat an eyelash. The same could be said for everyone else in that mix.

For the rest of these lottery-bound prospects, the situation they're thrust into will have almost as much to do with their success as their actual basketball ability. This year, the teams picking in the 3-6 range (Minnesota, Seattle, Memphis, New York) don't exactly foster the most productive environment for an incoming rookie. How can anyone reasonably expect to see an athlete who has yet to hit the legal drinking age flourish in those surroundings?

For example, our NBADraft.net mock draft currently has Jerryd Bayless going to Seattle at No. 4. If Bayless thought the chaos surrounding Lute Olson's leave of absence was tough, just wait until he has to deal with the disastrous Clay Bennett situation.

Meanwhile, the teams picking near the end of the lottery aren't that far removed from genuine playoff success. Each team also has some reasonably attractive trade pieces at its disposal, so a few savvy moves could create a more hospitable situation for an incoming lottery pick.

This is why the 2008 draft will have a lot in common with 1996. Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby got things going before Shareef Abdur-Rahim (by no fault of his own) was banished to Vancouver. One pick later, Stephon Marbury began his long, strange NBA trip in Minnesota, while a pre-Jesus Shuttlesworth Ray Allen set forth on his own string of disappointing playoff exits in Milwaukee (and again in Seattle, before landing with the Celtics).

Next up, Boston snatched up Antoine Walker with the sixth pick, where he would alternate between beloved and despised, sometimes within the hour. Picks No. 7-12 vacillated between "decent" to "ghastly" before Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash and Jermaine O'Neal got things going again.

Read that list one more time.

Now does the 2008 draft feature anyone nearly as talented as Bryant who will be available at No. 13? Obviously not. But circumstance is everything. There is some excellent talent for the taking, even after the Bayless/O.J. Mayo/Anthony Randolph types come flying off the board.

Take someone like Joe Alexander. If he had to come in and carry the load in Minnesota or Seattle, he might never develop his unique skill-set properly. But if he comes into an ideal situation like Portland's, we might be looking at another Shawn Marion.

Could D.J. Augustin step in immediately and command the respect of a dozen NBA veterans while learning the nuances of the point-guard position? Seems like a tall task for the diminutive Texan, doesn't it? But let's say he stumbles into a situation where he gets to play behind a two-time league MVP and get his feet wet in minimal pressure situations? Now we're talking. By the way, the Suns pick 15th this year, the same spot where they drafted Nash in 1996.

Can someone like Robin Lopez effectively score on the block with his back to the basket against NBA competition? Not likely. But if a team in the mid-to-late first round asks him to be a rebound/hustle guy for 15 minutes a game, he could absolutely become a key contributor for a quality team.

Some might say Chris Douglas-Roberts doesn't have enough muscle mass to withstand the pro game's physicality. How about if he landed on a roster full of strong spot-up shooters and an All-NBA manchild in the middle (like, say, Orlando)? Could CDR's quirky slashing style find a spot in the league?

The 1996 draft provided a much-needed talent infusion for the post-MJ basketball landscape. While some of the prospects available were destined to succeed no matter what, some of them benefited from landing in the right situations. Others needed to bounce around for a bit before tapping into their considerable gifts.

This year's class features roughly the same amount of raw talent. How it will develop is still anyone's guess.

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