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Draft Buzz 2/11/04

Wed, 02/11/2004 - 8:55pm

By Aran Smith

Okafor On Top

[img_assist|nid=4520|title=Emeka Okafor|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=206|height=300]Emeka Okafor has taken over the top spot on the latest mock draft. With his consistent play all season, combined with scouts feeling that Dwight Howard has a ways to go before being ready to produce in the NBA, it's starting to look more and more like Okafor will be the top pick in the 2004 draft.

He is such a dominant player on the defensive end, and he's proven that he has the ability to work on facets of his game with the impressive development that he's shown on the offensive end. Athletically he'll be amongst the elite forwards on the next level, with the potential to be a dominant shot blocker.

Kenyon Martin was the top pick in the 2000 draft and has become an All Star in his fourth season. Okafor, like Martin used college to steadily develop his offensive skills to complement their freakish athleticism. Okafor though is a much more imposing defensive player.

He always seems to know his limitations, and though he's not asked to do anything too fancy offensively, his decision making on shots is excellent. He's such a cerebral player, both on and off the floor, that he is close to a surefire non-bust.

Howard has more upside, but Okafor is the safer pick and the type of player that will be a difference maker on the defensive end right away.

The Atlanta Hawks seems to be the team highest on Howard, and maybe they figure since it worked for Cleveland with LeBron, they can possibly reap the same rewards with a local prep in Howard. However, don't expect Howard to have near the same success right away as Amare Stoudemire, much less LeBron, due to his need for further development to his body and game.

Euro Advantage

[img_assist|nid=4521|title=Viktor Khryapa|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=200|height=243]With a number of the elite teams in the league looking to resign their own free agents, there could be a direct effect on the draft with more European players sneaking into the late first round area.

The Spurs will have both Hedo Turkoglu and Manu Ginobili to resign in free agency. Detroit, a team with a recent history of nabbing European players, will look to resign (of all things) another European, Mehmet Okur.

All of which plays into the hands of Europeans draft hopefuls such as Anderson Varejao and Viktor Khryapa, two players who have previously entered the draft and pulled out. Both players are considered borderline first rounders, but with teams current salary situations, they could slip through the backdoor into the first round.

European draft picks come with the added advantage of teams having the ability to leave them in Europe for a few seasons allowing the team to save the salary cap space to resign their own free agents and be aggressive in free agency. In the mean time, the player will hopefully continue developing their games into a ready-to-produce 23-25 year old in a couple of seasons.

High School Focus

[img_assist|nid=4522|title=Josh Smith|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=150|height=158]Josh Smith suffered a rough weekend with his play at the Prime-Time Shoot Out in Trenton, New Jersey in front of numerous scouts. He had decent scoring numbers with 18 and 21 points against good competition. However, scouts came away unimpressed with his half court skills. Scouts commented that, "He looked lost in the half court, and the court appeared too small for him."

He had a much better showing against Westchester, California's top team, at Loyola two weeks ago. With all the biggest shoe execs drooling over his every move, there's no question Josh has enormous marketing appeal, and will undoubtedly net the biggest shoe deal of any player in this draft.

Smith followed up his lackluster weekend performance with a 40 point effort going 6-8 from 3-point land on Tuesday night against Bonner Academy. The fact that he will be such a gate attraction will only help his draft potential.

Shaun Livingston is a long term project guy, and still hasn't made a decision on turning pro, but it's looking more and more likely that he will enter the draft and be one of the top 5 picks. He's still severely underweight at around 175, but he's got unbelievable skills for a player his size.

The draft has become a futures game. And with Livingston you'll have a PG with immense potential. The new Charlotte Bobcats franchise has been following him closely, and there's a good chance he'll end up as the team's first ever pick.

Bashy In

[img_assist|nid=4523|title=Sebastian Telfair|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=200|height=292]Sebastian Telfair had another great showing in New Jersey this past weekend, and scouts are starting to entertain the thought that he could squeak into the lottery. According to inside sources, he has made it clear that he will enter the draft, leaving the chances of him attending Louisville slim to none.

Right now he's the fourth rated PG on most teams lists after Livingston, Gordon and Nelson. However it's possible all 4 could go in the lottery.

News and Notes

Arizona State's Ike Diogu is showing signs that he will enter his name in the 2004 NBA draft. He's having a huge season, and has shown improved athleticism with blocked shots and rebounding to go along with a dominant post game.

His ability to get to the free throw line is second to none in college. Right now he's a borderline first rounder depending on the number of underclassmen and International guys that declare. With a strong finish to the season, he could get into the late first round area.

Stanford's extraordinary 20-0 start has only helped Josh Childress' cause, he is seen as a top 20 pick this year and is said to be leaning towards leaving. He lacks a great first step off the dribble, but he's got a good combination of length, leaping ability, and his bread and butter, his outside shot. He's kind of like a bigger Reggie Miller, but lets not get carried away with George Gervin comparisons, he's nice, but nothing close to the "Iceman". Pulease!

There is word that Devin Harris is being wooed into leaving early. He's slowly shedding the reputation of being too much of a combo guard. Amidst a tremendous junior season, becoming one of the elite players on the college level, he would almost surely get into the first round. However, his point guard skills appear to still be developing, and returning to Wisconsin could have similar effect as they did for Jameer Nelson.

Nelson went from not being able to get a first round guarantee last year, (teams like Portland and Minnesota were too busy giving guarantees to high schoolers Travis Outlaw and Ndudi Ebi) to a likely lottery pick this year.

Raymond Felton will probably enter the 2004 draft and not sign an agent. He'll then weigh his draft position before making a decision. He'll most likely fall in the 15-20 range, and he may decide to return to North Carolina for his junior season, and a shot at a National Championship and getting into the lottery in 2005. His three main teammates, Sean May, Jawad Williams, and Rashad McCants are all rumored to be considering the draft, however no Tar heel would likely get into the first round besides Felton.

It looks like another European who is playing in the NCAA may look to return to Europe before entering the draft. We earlier reported that Linus Kleiza would probably declare for the draft, and likely pull out, and play in Europe for a few seasons before declaring again for the NBA draft. Now it appears that Christian Drejer will be the next to pull a "Lorbek" and enter the draft, only to pull out, play in Europe for a year, and then enter in 2005.

Remember 6-11 PF Erazem Lorbek of Slovenia, who played for Michigan State last year as a freshman, but then returned to Europe and is now playing for Kinder Bologna. The sloth-like Lorbek has struggled for playing time in Italy and now looks destined to be a quality European player at best.

Christian Drejer has faultered in taking command of the Florida team and appears to struggle with the quickness of the NCAA. He has the same problem that the player whose game he most resembles, Toni Kukoc. Both players are great passers and very skilled, but seem to lack the aggressiveness to be top notch scorers in the NBA.

Scouts like Rafael Araujo's strength and toughness combined with a good shooting touch. He is considered a better center prospect than both Ha Sueng-Jin and David Harrison. Araujo had an issue with a performance enhancing substance while playing for the Brazilian National team during the summer which got him banned from international competitions. Could this be a factor that will affect his draft status? Only if he tests positive between now and the draft.

Word from European scouts is that Tiago Splitter will wait another year before entering the draft. "He's just not ready." said one NBA scout, "and why not develop his game further and improve his draft stock?"

Splitter has recently received a Spanish passport which will allow him to play in twice as many games. On a team with stars Arvydas Macjauskas, Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni, Splitter struggles for shots and usually only gets garbage baskets. His offensive moves have a long ways to go. Having the Spanish passport will allow him to develop faster over the next year and a half.

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