CJ's Corner: Draft Day Predictions

Pac-10 fans will have an easy time tracking the conference's players in tonight's NBA draft. Only a handful of Pac-10 players have a shot at being drafted, and aside from Oregon's Luke Ridnour, none has a realistic shot at being selected in the first round. Here is a look at who in the conference may be drafted, and what is pushing them up or down NBA clubs' boards.

Luke Ridnour, 6-2 point guard, Oregon

What the analysts are saying:  A majority of the recognized draft analysts predict Ridnour will be taken among the first 15 players in the first round.  Several see the point guard from Oregon going to the Warriors with the 11th pick.  Most agree that Luke will thrive as a distributor on offense, particularly in an up-tempo system.  However, a couple of writers feel that Ridnour's stock has plummeted of late.  One of the analysts for CNNSI.com predicts Ridnour will fall to #23.  NBADraft.net has him dropping to #18, despite earlier projections that had him among the top dozen picks.  An inability to defend and lack of physical strength are being cited as the main factors hurting Ridnour's stock in some circles.


Rumors abound that Golden State may select Ndudi Ebi at #11 if they do not trade the pick.  The incumbent at the point guard spot for the Warriors, Gilbert Arenas, has the same agent as Ebi, so the thinking goes that the agent is trying to convince the Golden State front office that it will greatly improve its odds of retaining Arenas if it drafts Ebi at number 11.  Of course, the problem with that scenario is that most analysts see Ebi as a late first round pick who may not be worthy of such a high selection.


My take: This year's draft is remarkably deep in point guards, with as many as five or six points or combo guards likely to be taken among the first 20 or so picks.  Ridnour's draft position may well depend on the styles of play and the particular needs of the teams drafting between the 10 and 20 spots in the first round, and those teams are subject to change because of the probability of a large number of trades.  The plot thickens when you consider that the experts see Ridnour ranking anywhere from third among all eligible point guards (behind T.J. Ford and Kirk Hinrich) to fifth (behind Reece Gaines and Marcus Banks as well).  I would look for Golden State to take Rid at #11.  If the Warriors pass on him and take Ebi (which I would be tempted to do), Luke might drop a few spots, but predictions of his falling into the twenties seem unfounded. 


Luke Walton, 6-8 forward, Arizona

What the analysts are saying:  Although I've seen only one draft projection (by Mike Kahn of CBSSportsline.com) that has Walton being picked in the first round, the 6-8 combo forward is moving up most of the pundits' lists.  The consensus now is that he's a mid-second round pick.  Scouts love his instincts, basketball IQ and passing ability, but his lack of perimeter skills, quickness and athleticism are obvious liabilities. 


My take:  Somebody will select Walton no later than the middle of the second round, but I think that team will wind up being disappointed.  Walton was able to get the most out of his abilities at Arizona , where Lute Olson frequently ran his offense through Walton, who was an exceptional passer from the high post and had an uncanny knack for creating mid-range shots with a variety of spin moves and step-back jumpers.  But at 6-8 and with below average quickness and athleticism, Walton will have a very difficult time operating around the foul line in the NBA.  He will need to dramatically improve his outside shot to be a meaningful contributor, because he will not be given the opportunity to have the offense run through him as a second stringer.


Jason Kapono, 6-8 small forward, UCLA

What the analysts are saying:  Kapono's stock is rising with many scouts, to the point where he's a consensus mid-second round pick.  Analysts love his outside shot and court sense.  Some see him being picked earlier than Walton.  The knock against Kapono is his defense and lack of athleticism.


My take:  In a draft loaded with European players, Kapono is an anomaly.  He's a four year college player from the U.S. , but his game has a Euro feel to it.  Responding to a question about why he's not expected to be picked higher than the middle of the second round, Kapono joked that he'd be drafted much higher if his name were Kaponovich.  I like Jason's chances of contributing at the next level much better than I like Walton's chances, and would not be surprised to see the former chosen ahead of the latter.  When looking at probable backups, NBA scouts love guys who can fill a role and do something particularly well.  Players who are either great shooters or defenders are always in demand.  Kapono obviously fits the bill as a great shooter from deep, and he could make it in the NBA on his shooting ability alone.  Nevertheless, I think his passing ability is underrated (UCLA teams under Lavin could make any player's passing ability look worse than it really is), and his court sense is excellent.  Assuming Kapono is taken in the middle of the second round, he should make the team that drafts him happy next year.


Tommy Smith, 6-10 forward, Arizona State

What the analysts are saying:  Smith has gotten very little publicity, but he's seen as a probable second round pick.  The scouts and analysts love his versatility, length and athleticism.  On the other hand, Smith is not seen as doing any one thing exceptionally well, and his career at ASU wasn't necessarily all it could have been.


My take:  Smith may be worthy of a late second round selection.  I question whether he's worthy of being taken early in the second round, as NBADraft.net (which is not among the most respected sources) predicts, but a team enamored of his length and athleticism may jump on him.  Smith has a shot at making an NBA roster, but I would be surprised if he sticks around for more than a few years.  Guys who have length and versatility -- but don't do any one thing particularly well -- are a dime a dozen in the NBA.


Julius Barnes, 6-1 guard, Stanford

Read the April issue of The Bootleg Magazine and recent stories on the website (click here) for in-depth looks at Barnes' draft prospects.  In short, Barnes may sneak into the second round on the strength of individual workouts with NBA teams.  On the other hand, teams that are legitimately interested in him may opt not to draft him, thinking that he'll be available later as an undrafted free agent.


Players making late moves:

Up:  Marcus Banks, point guard, UNLV.  Scouts love his size, athleticism and defensive ability, and he may be chosen ahead of Ridnour, an outcome that was unthinkable just a month or two ago.  Banks may be chosen as high as the 15th pick of the first round, awfully early for a player whose true point guard skills are generally considered unproven.


Down: T.J. Ford, point guard, Texas .  He'll still be taken among the first 10 selections, but he's no longer considered a lock for top-5 status.  Quite a few analysts see Kansas ' Kirk Hinrich being taken ahead of Ford, as Hinrich is, in some respects, considered a safer bet.  Ford's lack of size and outside shooting ability are apparently causing some clubs to think he's not a sure thing, even though everyone loves his quickness, basketball IQ and the way he handles and distributes the ball.


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