The final group of NBA draft choices from the high school ranks could be the weakest in the past five years.
The practice of players skipping college to join the NBA likely ends after tomorrow night's draft. Players under 19 won't be eligible for subsequent drafts if last week's new collective bargaining agreement is ratified as expected.
Perhaps the agreement came a year too late. This year's group of NBA hopefuls from high schools is hardly spectacular.
None of the big men has the athleticism that Kevin Garnett possessed when the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him in 1995, and none of the smaller players features the polish LeBron James displayed before the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him with the first pick in 2003.
Whereas James was a consensus top pick and Dwight Howard was the first player taken last year, Gerald Green, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard from Houston's Gulf Shores Academy, is the only high school player mentioned as a possible high pick.
Though 6-7 shooting guard Martell Webster from Seattle (Wash.) Prep might join Green in the top 10, there's not the anticipation there would have been next year for Indianapolis center Greg Oden, or in 2007 for Cincinnati shooting guard O.J. Mayo.
"There are going to be players who will be good in time," said Walt Perrin, Utah Jazz head of player personnel. "But I don't know if there's a Howard and definitely not a Kobe [Bryant] or LeBron."
Beyond Green and Webster, who owe much of their ranking to the dearth of shooting guards, the other six players likely to be selected in the two-round draft fall into the category of those who didn't have college as an immediate option or players who wanted to get into the league before the age limit took effect. They range from 7-foot centers Andray Blatche and Andrew Bynum, both likely to go late in the first round, to long shots like Curtis Brown, a 6-9 power forward.
In the middle are guys like Louis Williams, a 6-2 shooting guard and likely second-rounder from greater Atlanta who signed with Georgia, but the possibility of an age limit played a role.
"It's a huge factor," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this spring. "We may be able to do something special [at Georgia], but I don't want to be in the position where I feel like I'm stuck [having to play in college for two seasons before being eligible for the NBA] either."
Ryan Blake, the NBA's assistant director of scouting, questions this approach for players like Williams, who had accepted an invitation to a pre-draft camp in Chicago, but did not show up. Blake wondered what Williams is hiding.
"This is a guy who isn't proven," Blake said. "How do you make that decision? If you're not good enough, you're going to be lost."
The same thing regarding pre-camp preparations could be said of Green, whose handlers insisted on solo workouts instead of playing against other competition. That could lead to his slipping behind Webster and Texas A&M;'s Antoine Wright among shooting guards.
If anything, the relative guesswork in scouting high school players they haven't seen against high-level foes is the part that won't be missed with the new age limit.
"It helps a little," Blake said. "Hopefully, it gives them another year. Now we get to see them against better competition."
When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
First pick: Bucks