06-02-2004, 04:56 PM
06-02-2004, 05:06 PM
Chad Ford's mock draft: Standard version | Slideshow version
TREVISO, Italy -- Two-and-a-half years ago, Pavel Podkolzine was a big oaf stumbling through the frozen tundra of Siberia in shoes three sizes too small, squeezing basketballs like grapefruits, wasting his life away in the middle of nowhere.
One year ago, Podkolzine appeared virtually out of nowhere to take the NBA world by storm at the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago.
Then he just as abruptly dropped out of the draft after he was diagnosed with a rare growth-hormone disorder called acromegalia.
Monday, he was here, at the Reebok Eurocamp, and after two days of workouts with NBA coaches in front of a plethora of NBA scouts and GMs, Pavel once again has risen from obscurity into the upper echelons of the NBA draft.
Pavel Podkolzine (left) towers over 6-foot-11 Anton Dudukinhas at the Eurocamp.
Emeka Okafor may be more battle tested. Dwight Howard is certainly more athletic and skilled at the same age. But there is no one in the draft with a bigger upside than Pavel. At 7-foot-5 and 300 pounds (his measurements in Treviso), Pavel has the potential to dominate physically in the league some day. He is huge, strong, fairly athletic for a player his size and bursting with energy.
"The camp lit up the second he walked in," Warriors scout Ron Michaels told Insider. "The guys were feeding off his energy. I've never seen anything quite like it, or quite like him."
Neither has anyone else here. Most were left just shaking their heads after Pavel stepped into the camp and pummeled (literally) the top competition. He may not have played more than token minutes on his team in Varese this year, but the consensus from scouts who saw him work out here and in Chicago last year was that he's improved dramatically.
"Where do you find someone like that?" one longtime international scout asked. "Where do you find a player that size, that tough, that aggressive? He's going to be great."
That wasn't just the minority opinion here. It was the unanimous one. While a couple of NBA people were still worried about the risks associated with drafting Pavel, the 25 NBA people Insider talked to over the past two days unanimously agreed Podkolzine was the top international prospect in the draft.
Most went further. Twenty of the 25 NBA scouts, coaches and executives Insider interviewed claimed he should be a top-five pick based on what they saw here. Three scouts said he should be the third player taken in the draft. One respected international scout and one NBA executive said they'd take him No. 1 -- over Okafor and Howard -- if their team owned the No. 1 pick (they don't, by the way).
“ Where do find someone like that? Where do you find a player that size, that tough, that aggressive? He's going to be great. ”
— A veteran international scout, on Podkolzine
Ironically, just a few weeks ago many of these same scouts were claiming Podkolzine's stock was slipping.
Why the abrupt change? Scouting is an inexact science. Much of it has a flavor-of-the-month feel to it. Many of the scouts and executives Insider talked to here were unimpressed in recent trips to Italy to watch Podkolzine play. Pavel received very little playing time this year. When he did play, he almost never got the ball and often drifted to the perimeter. He broke a bone in his arm last month, keeping him off the radar entirely.
Meanwhile, other top center prospects like Peter John Ramos and Rafael Araujo were tearing it up in games and in workouts. But minutes after Pavel stepped on the floor in Italy, almost everything changed.
Pavel has retained his amazing strength and coordination for a big guy. In individual workouts, no one could guard him in the post. He was just too strong, physical and aggressive. On the perimeter, he's a dead eye. During the 3-point drill run for big men by Mavs vice-president Donnie Nelson on Tuesday, Pavel hit 18 of 25 from behind the international 3-point arc -- the second-best tally in the camp.
What surprised a lot of people was Pavel's ability to handle and pass the ball in the open court. Several times during the event Pavel decided to play "point center" and was surprisingly adept running the show. He often got into showboating with the ball, making no-look passes and executing cross-over dribbles. Several scouts told him to quit clowning around, but privately they said he was the first kid that size who they've ever seen do something like that.
Tracking the Russian Giant
# Insider's Chad Ford has followed the discovery and development of Pavel Podkolzine as an NBA draft prospect for the last 18 months: From Serbia, Dec. 2002
# From Italy, May 2003
# From Chicago, June 2003
Pavel also won fans with his demeanor on the court. He was constantly cheering on his teammates, translating the coaches' instructions from English to Russian for several players and, at times, even wandering into situations to give advice to the younger players at the camp.
Overall, scouts and coaches got a good 12 hours of work in with Pavel -- significantly more than they had ever seen of him previously. If there was a facade to be exposed, they would've found it here. They did.
Pavel's problems are still pretty obvious. For starters, he had very little stamina in the workouts. He hadn't played in more than a month because of the broken bone in his arm, and it showed. He was usually exhausted after five minutes of drills. When the fatigue set in, he began really lagging behind the other players on the floor.
Pavel's decision making and basketball instincts also are very raw. He just hasn't played enough basketball yet for observers to get a clear read on what kind of player he'll be. While it's clear he's a quick learner, in game situations he often pauses too long before making a decision. You can see from watching him in five-on-five scrimmages that he's still learning the game and looks lost a lot of times.
His biggest problem, however, probably has to do with identity. While he showed plenty of strength and toughness in the post, too often he took the ball out on the perimeter, tried to take his man off the dribble or shoot a 3-pointer. He thinks he's Magic Johnson, but I don't know a coach in the league (with the possible exception of Don Nelson) who would ever want a kid that big to play that way.
The bottom line with Pavel is that it will be at least two years before he'll begin to realize his full potential on the basketball court. But at that size and with that much talent, someone is going to be willing to wait. After his performance here, the reward is substantially outweighing the risk.
Pavel also has more medical obstacles to overcome. Over the past year he's been on medication to stop a pituitary adenoma from producing any more growth hormone. The medication has been working, but according to a medical report sent to all 29 teams that Insider obtained exclusively from Pavel's agent, Justin Zanick, Pavel will need minor endoscopic surgery after the summer league.
The surgery will remove the adenoma altogether, stopping the need for medication. According to the report, signed by Dr. Hrayr Shahinian of the Skull Base Institute in L.A., the recovery period is just two weeks.
"I am confident," Shahinian writes in the letter, "that in the long run Pavel will achieve his potential both as a normal young man and a professional basketball player without any long-term effects from the surgery."
How will all of that ultimately affect his draft stock? Only one team Insider talked to was overly concerned about the medical portion. They claim the potential of surgery might prohibit them from taking him, but it didn't necessarily preclude it. No one else seemed overly concerned. Most NBA teams had their doctors look him over last year, and he was rated a mild-to-moderate medical risk. It's unusual for teams to pass on someone with that rating.
“ I just want to play in the NBA. I know that I need better coaching. I know I need stronger competition. I don't care where I go in the draft. Just playing in the NBA is my dream. As long as I get to a team who will teach me and let me play, I'll be happy. ”
— Pavel Podkolzine
Where does that put Pavel on draft night? While he might be the perfect long-term fit in Orlando and worthy of consideration at the No. 1 pick, it's highly unlikely the Magic would take him there. The Magic want and need a player who can help them now, and Pavel just doesn't qualify. If the Magic were to trade down in the draft, however, they'd have interest.
The Clippers are interested. It was their international scout, Fabrizio Besnati, who discovered Podkolzine three years ago. The team flew in coach Mike Dunleavy to see him play on Tuesday. If the Clippers want him, chances are they'd trade down to No. 6 with the Hawks and hope to take him there.
It's unlikely the Bulls, Bobcats, Wizards or Hawks would select him, based on needs and the fact most haven't scouted him heavily.
The Suns at No. 7 seem like a realistic fit. They like international players, know Pavel well and need a center down the road. Coach Mike D'Antoni and big-man coach Marc Iavaroni would be great with Pavel.
The Raptors at No. 8 (they got a private workout Wednesday), the Warriors at No. 11 and the Sonics at No. 12 are all big fans after watching him here. It's unlikely he'd slip past Seattle at No. 12.
There's also a chance a team will trade up into the lottery to get Pavel. Several veteran teams like the Mavericks, Nuggets (they also got a private workout Wednesday) and the Pacers are high on Pavel and could try to leverage a few of their veteran players to get up high enough to take him.
All of this, of course, has Pavel's head spinning again. "I just want to play in the NBA," Podkolzine told Insider. "I know that I need better coaching. I know I need stronger competition. I don't care where I go in the draft. Just playing in the NBA is my dream. As long as I get to a team who will teach me and let me play, I'll be happy."
Andriuskevicius shocks scouts
If Pavel is the No. 1 international player on the board, where does that leave the guy who was atop our draft board for most of the year?
Lithuanian big man Martynas Andriuskevicius also took part in the Reebok Eurocamp and played to mixed reviews the first two days. Day one and two were mainly big-man drills, and most NBA folks were disappointed with how physically weak Andriuskevicius was. As we reported from Israel last month, he really struggled to gain or hold position in the block -- an essential skill for any NBA big man.
Andriuskevicius struggled in the paint, but impressed scouts with his perimeter skills.
However, after two days of lackluster drills (a bad back also was slowing him down), things changed dramatically Tuesday, when Andriuskevicius got into 5-on-5 drills.
Because there are no point guards in the camp right now, the coaches let big guys volunteer to run the point. Andriuskevicius stepped up and stunned scouts with ball-handling and passing skills that rivaled Dirk Nowitzki.
Andriuskevicius was much more comfortable out on the perimeter. He showed excellent court vision and made a number of picture-perfect passes off the dribble to driving big men. He has great court instincts and always seemed to know when and how to make the right play. The game comes easy to him. He ran the floor as well as anyone in the camp and showed impressive athleticism for a guy his size. He also has a stellar perimeter shot. He shot 15-for-25 from the international 3-point line and has the ability to shoot off the dribble.
In other words, the scouting report on him was just totally wrong. He's not a center. He's much closer to a four or even a three than he is to a center right now. He's not the next Sabonis. He's much closer to Nowitzki or Pau Gasol. At 7-foot-3, that's impressive.
While he's at least two years away from becoming an NBA center, could a team draft him early with the intention of turning him into a four/three like Nowitzki or Gasol?
At least one guy familiar with Nowitzki thinks so. "I saw Dirk when he was 18, and I'm not sure he was as comfortable with the ball as this kid is," Donnie Nelson told Insider. "I think his true position in the pros is at forward. He's really talented."
Still, don't expect Andriuskevicius to go in this draft. As Insider reported Monday, his agent is looking for a top-five guarantee and also asking teams to allow Andriuskevicius to stay in Lithuania one more year. It's unlikely any of the top five teams in the draft would go for something like that.
Instead, look for Andriuskevicius, if he continues to develop, to challenge Nemanja Aleksandrov for the No. 1 pick in the draft next year.
Miralles a big hit with scouts
Scouts were impressed with Albert Miralles' toughness.
One other draft-eligible player at the Eurocamp really stood out for NBA scouts. His name is Albert Miralles. Miralles is a 6-foot-11, 240-pound power forward from Spain. He's probably the toughest, most experienced player in the camp. He also recorded the biggest vertical jump (29 inches) of any prospect here.
Teams were impressed with how hard Miralles played on every possession. He was one of the few kids in the camp who knew how to defend, and his grittiness earned him praise from a number of NBA folks. He has a decent mid-range jumper and is pretty aggressive taking the ball to the basket.
Nelson compared him to Eduardo Najera, an energy guy who comes off the bench and does all the little things coaches ask of role players. That should be enough to get him drafted in the second round.
Gomenyuk the next BIG thing
The big discovery in this year's camp was a 17-year-old kid from the Ukraine named Roman Gomenyuk, who measured 7-3½. He's still very, very skinny (217 pounds) but showed great determination and good athleticism and skill for a player his age.
His coach claims Gomenyuk only started playing basketball two years ago, and the rawness certainly shows. However, almost every scout agreed he was the best under-18 prospect in the camp. That probably will change when Nemanja Aleksandrov arrives on Thursday.
The thing that teams really like about Gomenyuk is how his body is proportioned. He has low hips and a long torso that should give him great stability in the post once he puts on weight. He's already a good shot blocker, and he already can finish around the basket. He's also a decent leaper and is fairly athletic. He still needs a lot of work, but there wasn't a kid who progressed more over the past three days than Gomenyuk.
Expect to hear his name prominently over the course of the next year.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. Send him an e-mail here.
06-02-2004, 05:08 PM
"There's also a chance a team will trade up into the lottery to get Pavel. Several veteran teams like the Mavericks, Nuggets (they also got a private workout Wednesday) and the Pacers are high on Pavel and could try to leverage a few of their veteran players to get up high enough to take him."
Very Interesting! A bigger guy than Smit's who can shoot three pointers. Sound's like someone both Bird and Walsh would like to have.
06-02-2004, 05:34 PM
I'm going to move this to the front page, but I won't post the article. I want to see some comment on it. That's ok isn't it? As long as I don't post Insider?
I assumed it was okay.
06-02-2004, 06:43 PM
I think technically this IS Insider, but I'll let this one pass; I doubt anything negative will come from it.
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