With the top pick of last night's NBA draft, these were the options for the Los Angeles Clippers: take a close-to-polished point guard in Mike Bibby or an expected short-term project in 7-foot-1 Michael Olowokandi. Two words summed up the decision by the Clippers:
Unable to resist the potential of a man who has made tremendous strides in his three years of organized basketball, the Clippers selected Olowokandi. Size mattered to the Denver Nuggets, who pulled off a minor surprise on the third pick with the selection of 6-11 Raef LaFrentz from Kansas. And size mattered to the Milwaukee Bucks, who used the ninth pick to select 6-11 Dirk Nowitzki from Germany.
For the Clippers, the uncertainty of free-agent center Isaac Austin probably had a lot to do with the selection. With quality NBA centers a rare commodity, the Clippers feel Olowokandi, a.k.a. the "Kandi-Man," will provide a presence at the position.
"Bibby's going to be a very fine point guard in this league, but Olowokandi -- his size and all that ability -- you're looking at a good small man against a good big guy," said Elgin Baylor, vice president of basketball operations for the Clippers. "He improved each time we looked at him. His upside is as good as anybody in the league."
Bibby, whom many anticipated would be drafted first, did not drop much. The Vancouver Grizzlies, in dire need of a quality point guard, used the second selection to pick up the former Arizona star and son of former NBA player and current USC coach Henry Bibby.
It was a good day for North Carolina players in the draft. The Toronto Raptors used the fourth pick to select 6-9 forward Antawn Jamison, and the Golden State Warriors the fifth pick to select shooting guard Vince Carter. That marked the third time that two North Carolina players have been selected in the top five picks, although the two didn't stay with the teams that selected them long: Toronto traded Jamison to Golden State for Carter and cash considerations.
That wasn't the only trade of the evening. The Bucks dealt Nowitzki and their pick at No. 19, Notre Dame forward Pat Garrity, to the Dallas Mavericks for Michigan's Robert Traylor, the sixth pick. Garrity then was dealt by Dallas to the Phoenix Suns with swingman Bubba Wells, forward Martin Muursepp and a 1999 first-round choice for point guard Steve Nash.
The draft surprises? A mild surprise was the fall in draft position of Paul Pierce, a swingman from Kansas who was selected 10th by the Boston Celtics, who figure to use his versatility in coach Rick Pitino's demanding defensive scheme. Going into the draft, many felt Pierce, who averaged 20.4 points last season, would be selected among the top four.
"It's a little disappointing, but that's the way things go," Pierce said. "You just have to go on and use this as motivation. Boston's a great situation. With Antoine Walker and others and with me there, I think this is a playoff team and we can really build."
The first round also had a heavy influence of big, European players, with four taken in the first round. After Nowitzki, the Minnesota Timberwolves used the 17th pick on 7-footer Radoslav Nesterovic from Slovenia; the Houston Rockets used NTC the 18th pick on Mirsad Turkcan, a 6-9 forward from Turkey; and the Seattle SuperSonics used the 27th pick of the first round on Vladimir Stepania, a 7-foot center from Slovenia who played professionally last year in Europe.
For the fourth straight year, a high school player was taken in the first round, but, unlike the previous three years, this time it did not occur among the lottery selections. Al Harrington, a 6-8 forward from St. Patrick's High School in New Jersey, who was the USA Today national player of the year, had to wait until the 25th pick to hear his named called by the Indiana Pacers.
Neither Rashard Lewis from Elsik High School in Texas, who attended last night's draft in Vancouver; nor Korleone Young, from Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, were first-round selections, as more teams apparently have grown unwilling to take the risk on unproven talent.
In all, there were 14 early-entry candidates selected in the first round, eight among the top 10 picks. That number falls short of the record 17 underclassmen taken in the 1996 draft, the first time in NBA history more than half the players chosen in the first round were early-entry players.
Of the 28 players selected in the first round last year, 19 were seniors.
For the third year in a row, the Washington Wizards were without a first-round selection. The Wizards had the 43rd pick overall in the second round.
Pub Date: 6/25/98