Pippen potential should make Williams a Bullet


PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Washington Bullets need a center first and a power forward second, but they just may draft Walt Williams, a shooting guard with designs on the point whom they envision as a small forward.


Welcome to the sixth pick of the 1992 NBA draft, where the Bullets can't get what they want, won't get what they need, but better get some help.

With the top four picks set and Denver expected to take Notre Dame's LaPhonso Ellis or Stanford's Adam Keefe at No. 5, the Bullets' choice probably comes down to a pair of ACC rivals: Williams of Maryland or Tom Gugliotta of N.C. State.

You would think the Bullets would recoil from drafting another player named Williams, given their history with Big Bad John, but maybe the Wide One can lend the Wizard a few pounds.

Whatever, this is not an easy choice.

The head says Gugliotta, a 6-foot-10 three-point shooter who eventually could help the Bullets at all three frontcourt positions. But the heart, racing nervously, says Walt.

Not because he's a local kid from a local school who could prove a big draw, a rationale the New Jersey Nets used last year to blow the No. 2 pick on Kenny Anderson.

No, because he's a versatile, creative sort with far greater upside than Gugliotta, who would be a piece in the puzzle, nothing more.

"What you see with Gugliotta is basically what you get," Maryland coach Gary Williams says. "With Walt, I think there's a lot of room to get better."

How much better?

Well, Gary Williams likens Walt to Scottie Pippen, a player he coached at the pre-draft camp before Seattle made him the fifth overall selection in 1987 and traded him to Chicago.

It sounds like a stretch, but Bullets general manager John Nash also envisions Walt as a Pippen-like incarnation of that funky NBA hybrid, the point forward.

"The comparison can be made," Nash says. "Walt is a much better perimeter shooter than Scottie Pippen was at this stage. Pippen was far superior at taking the ball to the basket. Pippen's stronger. Walt's every bit as tall . . ."

Whoa there, John.

If you truly believe the 6-foot-8 Williams can become Pippen, this decision is exactly how local basketball guru and part-time Bullets scout Paul Baker describes it:

"A no-brainer."

Not to alarm anyone, but the Bullets drafted Kenny Green one place ahead of Karl Malone in 1985, Tyrone Bogues 10 places ahead of Reggie Lewis in '87 and Tom Hammonds five places ahead of Tim Hardaway in '89.

All that was the work of Bob Ferry. Nash has done better, acquiring Pervis Ellison his first week on the job, and sending the eighth pick last year to Denver for Michael Adams and the 19th selection (LaBradford Smith).

The situation now is this:

Assuming the Bullets don't want Keefe, Gugliotta is probably the best fit. He's a self-made player who can provide outside shooting at forward and possibly develop into a banger as well.

But an obvious choice?


"To me, he's a very good outside shooter who handles the ball well and is pretty strong," Gary Williams says. "But Gugliotta has yet to make his first post move. He never played with his back to the basket at N.C. State."

That's a problem, for the Bullets want to reduce the burden on Ellison underneath the basket. As it stands, their power forward is Harvey Grant, whose skinny body would be better suited for small forward, if only he could handle the ball.

Maddening, isn't it?

Marty Blake, the NBA director of scouting, concedes Gugliotta is "a half-step slow." But beyond the Fab Four -- Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner and Jimmy Jackson -- this draft is a crapshoot anyway.

"There are probably 12-14 guys who could go from five to 15," Blake says. "Everyone is scared to death to make a pick."

Nash says he turned down an offer from Denver for the No. 5 choice, reasoning, why bother? Of the five players the Bullets interviewed -- Ellis, Keefe, Williams, Gugliotta and USC's explosive Harold Miner -- four will be available at No. 6.

Now back to Williams.

"Walt has the potential to become a star in this league," says his agent, former Maryland star and 10-year NBA veteran Len Elmore. "His skills afford such flexibility, for a team with more than one need to fill, he'd make a logical choice because of his size and ballhandling skills."

Blake insists Williams can't play the point, but the issue for the Bullets is whether he can play small forward. He might not be quick enough. He might not be strong enough. He might not defend well enough.

True, Williams has gained approximately 40 pounds since his freshman year at Maryland, and probably could add 10 to 15 more to his 220-pound frame. True, he's a quick jumper who could become an effective offensive rebounder, but would he ever get off a shot?

His natural position is shooting guard, where the Bullets are overloaded with Smith, Rex Chapman, A.J. English and Ledell Eackles. Elmore contends Williams would contribute "more than any of those guys," but that's not the point.

Gugliotta is the safe pick.

Williams is the gamble.

What has John Nash got to lose?

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