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Sun., June 21, 2009

Draft picture unclear after Griffin

We’re less than a week away from the NBA draft, and there’s at least some consensus as to who will be among the top five selections in the first round.

Well, OK, maybe we only know who the top three picks will be. Actually, on second thought, there’s really only one guarantee – that Oklahoma power forward Blake Griffin will be the Los Angeles Clippers’ No. 1 selection.

After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

“I do think this year, other than maybe the first pick, there’s a difference of opinion among a lot of teams as to who they would take,” New Jersey Nets president Rod Thorn said after the draft lottery.

“Somebody that we may think is the fourth or fifth player in the draft may drop to 11 based on differing opinions about different players.”

After years of deep and talented drafts, filled with international players and teenagers with tremendous promise, the 2009 NBA draft appears to lack a lot of superstars. There is a strong class of point guards, and it’s possible as many as 11 of them will be taken in the first round.

But the depth at other positions may be lacking, and a good percentage of the first 30 picks will need time to develop.

It’s possible that only two centers – Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet and Ohio State’s B.J. Mullens – will be taken in the first round. Besides Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, there is also a dearth of quality international players who could contribute to a team right away.

Six internationals were taken in the first round in 2006 and four were taken last year. On Thursday, it’s possible that only two or three will be taken.

Besides Rubio, small forwards Victor Claver of Spain and Omar Casspi of Israel are projected as late first-round picks.

“It varies from year to year,” Nets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe told The New York Times. “It’s similar to some years, you may have a lot of big players, and some years, you may have more point guards. The year you develop more point guards, people say you don’t develop enough centers.”

What the Memphis Grizzlies decide to do with the second pick could go a long way in determining what happens with the third, fourth and fifth picks. If the Grizzlies choose Rubio, Thabeet likely goes to Oklahoma City and Sacramento chooses either Arizona State guard James Harden, Arizona forward Jordan Hill or Memphis guard Tyreke Evans.

But Memphis and Oklahoma City already have Mike Conley Jr. and Russell Westbrook at their respective point guard positions. Still, one of the two teams may draft Rubio and trade him to another franchise.

Rubio is also trying to work his way out of an estimated $6.6 million buyout from his club team, DKV Joventut, which could scare off the Grizzlies, Thunder and Kings.

Although a majority of the players expected to be taken in the first round are at least 20 years old, teenagers like Rubio, Evans, guards Jrue Holiday and Brandon Jennings and forward DeMar DeRozan will all likely be lottery picks. They all want to prove they belong.

“I come here to play and to play the minutes. I didn’t come here to play in the NBA and (be) done,” Rubio told the Sacramento Bee. “No, I want to be a really good point guard here in the best league in the world, and I want to have minutes. So I have to find the team who wants me, who really wants me.”


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