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After Duncan, draft is pick-'em Youth, inexperience mean NBA teams play guessing game

THE BALTIMORE SUN

During a selection process that will surely hold many surprises, there will be little drama at the start of tonight's NBA draft. But what happens after the San Antonio Spurs take Tim Duncan with the first pick is anybody's guess.

With a record 40 early-entry candidates, this draft is loaded with inexperienced young players. Which leaves NBA executives in a quandary: Do you draft a Tracy McGrady straight out of high school, hoping he becomes another Kevin Garnett? Or do you draft a player with maybe three or four years college experience, looking for immediate impact?

"There are so many young players," said new Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino who, even with the third and sixth picks, has labeled this draft weak.

"If you look at Ron Mercer [who played two years at Kentucky for Pitino], what's he going to be in three years? What's Tracy McGrady going to be in four years? Take all of these guys, and they are so young."

So it's only fitting that the top pick, Duncan, is a player who stayed in school for four years and developed into the best big man in college basketball. It's very rare that a player like Duncan, who averaged 20.8 points and 14.7 rebounds, gets an opportunity to play on a veteran team alongside an established player such as David Robinson.

But an injury-marred season by the Spurs put them in position to get the top pick and suit up the latest version of the "Twin Towers".

Duncan, who will not likely face the same pressures as other top picks, is ecstatic. He'll likely play most of his minutes at center, since Robinson is an effective player facing the basket.

"I'm excited to be able to play both positions [power forward and center]," Duncan said. "I think it's a great opportunity to be able to play with David. There will be a lot less pressure on me, because David will be the focal point."

After Duncan is selected, the fun begins.

"The strength is in the No. 1," said Gary Fitzsimmons, director of player personnel with the Cleveland Cavaliers. "After that, it's wide open. It's a free-for-all."

A free-for-all such that a player like Utah's Keith Van Horn, who, at the end of the college season had been expected to go as

high as No. 2, may not be selected in the top five; a free-for-all such that three respected players who weren't exactly household names -- Tony Battie (Texas Tech), Chauncey Billups (Colorado) and Antonio Daniels (Bowling Green) -- might be picked directly behind Duncan.

The fans of the team that drafts Daniels might respond the same way Toronto fans greeted Damon Stoudamire two years ago, but Daniels, a 6-foot-4 guard, could be the biggest surprise of the draft. An honorable-mention All-American last season, he averaged 24.0 points (fifth in the nation) and 6.8 assists (10th in the nation).

"Among the seniors, he has all the attributes you would look for in a point guard," said Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting. "I think eventually he can be a starting point guard in the NBA. He has good size for the position, he takes care of the ball and he can score enough to keep the defense honest."

The only thing Daniels has lacked is exposure on a national level. He definitely doesn't lack confidence.

"I think I'm the best point guard in the draft," Daniels said. "I make the guys around me better. That's what being a point guard is all about."

Once again, a team will look to take a chance in the first round on a player coming right out of high school. With the success two years ago of Garnett (Minnesota), the effective play last season of Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) and Jermaine O'Neal (Portland), McGrady has entered the draft right out of Mt. Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina -- and will likely be among the top 10 picks.

"He's athletic and he can shoot the ball," said Ed Gregory, player personnel director of the Golden State Warriors. "He's not Kevin Garnett. I always tell people about when I first saw him [Garnett], I thought, 'In 40 years in this game, I've never seen a player like him in high school.' McGrady's not on that level."

Among local players, there are two with a possibility of being selected: Keith Booth (Maryland) and Terquin Mott (Coppin State). If their names are called, it will likely be either in the middle or latter part of the second round.

For the Washington Wizards, this will be the second straight year they will be without a first-round selection. The Wizards forfeited their first-round pick this year -- it would have been the 16th pick -- because of the re-signing of forward Juwan Howard last summer, leaving the team with the 45th and 48th picks in the second round. Last year, the Wizards had the 55th pick.

"I would say anytime you're kind of at the disposal of other teams and you're sitting back to the mid- to latter part of the second round, you're hopeful someone would slide to the position you like," said Chuck Douglas, the team's player personnel director.

"You don't control your own destiny in regard to where you're drafting. From my standpoint, I have to plan for a number of different scenarios at 45 and 48. You're not as excited."

But in a draft in which the only sure thing appears to be Duncan, Washington's two second-round picks may not be that much different than the players selected in the latter part of the first round.

And as players leave school earlier and earlier for a shot at the NBA, it doesn't appear future drafts will have excessive drama.

"I think it's spotty," Allan Bristow, vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets, said. "It's not that power, one through eight or one through 10, that you want to see."

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Jerry Bembry's mock draft

Team, Player, Ht., College

1. Spurs, Tim Duncan, 6-10, Wake Forest

2. 76ers, Tony Battie, 6-11, Texas Tech

3. Celtics, Chauncey Billups, 6-3, Colorado

4. Grizzlies, Antonio Daniels, 6-4, Bowling Green

5. Nuggets, Keith Van Horn, 6-10, Utah

6. Celtics, Tracy McGrady, 6-8, Mt. Zion Academy

Nets, Tim Thomas, 6-9, Villanova

8. Warriors, Ron Mercer, 6-7, Kentucky

9. Raptors, Adonal Foyle, 6-10, Colgate

10. Bucks, Kelvin Cato, 6-11, Iowa State

11. Kings, Austin Croshere, 6-9, Providence

12. Pacers, Olivier Saint-Jean, 6-6, San Jose State

Cavs, Danny Fortson, 6-7, Cincinnati

14. Clippers, Marc Jackson, 6-10, Temple

15. Mavs, Jerald Honeycutt, 6-9, Tulane

16. Cavs, Derek Anderson, 6-5, Kentucky

17. Magic, Brevin Knight, 5-10, Stanford

18. Blazers, Chris Antstey, 7-0, Australia

19. Pistons, Paul Grant, 7-0, Wisconsin

20. T'wolves, Johnny Taylor, 6-9, Tenn.-Chattanooga

21. Nets, Jason Lawson, 6-11, Villanova

22. Hawks, Maurice Taylor, 6-9, Michigan

23. Sonics, Kebu Stewart, 6-8, Cal St.-Bakersfield

24. Rockets, Jacque Vaughn, 6-1, Kansas

25. Knicks, John Thomas, 6-9, Minnesota

26. Heat, Marko Milic, 6-6, Slovenia

27. Jazz, James Cotton, 6-6, Long Beach State

Bulls, Dedric Willoughby, 6-3, Iowa State

1997 NBA draft

Where: Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, N.C.

When: 7: 30 tonight

TV: TNT

Radio: None

Rounds: Two

No. 1 pick: San Antonio

Wizards pick: No. 46

Pub Date: 6/25/97

Top 10 players

A look at the top players in the draft, listed alphabetically, with comments by Jerry Bembry (*-early entry player):

Player, P, Ht., Wt., Stats

Tony Battie*, C, 6-11, 230, 18.8 ppg, 11.8 rpg

Comment: Quick big man with shooting range, needs to gain bulk

Chauncey Billups*, G, 6-3, 202, 19.1 ppg

Comment: Good shooting range, second-team All-American

Kelvin Cato, F, 6-11, 255, 11.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg

Comment: Intimidator, averaged 3.4 blocks in two years at Iowa State

Antonio Daniels, G, 6-4, 195, 24.0 ppg, 6.8 apg

Comment: Best point guard in the draft

Tim Duncan, F-C, 6-10, 238, 20.8 ppg, 14.7 rpg

Comment: Can't miss, seasoned big man

Adonal Foyle*, C, 6-10, 250, 24.4 ppg, 13.1 rpg, 6.4 bpg

Comment: Great size, timing

Tracy McGrady*, G-F, 6-8, 210, 27.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 7.7 apg

Comment: High school player of the year, compared to Anfernee Hardaway

Ron Mercer*, G, 6-7, 210, 18.1 ppg

Comment: Suspect perimeter skills caused stock to drop

Tim Thomas*, F, 6-9, 230, 16.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg

Comment: Completed just one year of college, needs to improve strength

Keith Van Horn, F, 6-10, 220, 22.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg

Comment: Effective both inside and outside

Pub Date: 6/25/97

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