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Parents, hide your children. Unless, that is, your child happens to be 6-foot-10 and can shoot a basketball.
There is an unprecedented stampede of American and international teenagers beating down the NBA's door this year. Will it be the end of civilization as we know it? Or is something else going on here?
After Insider's pieces the last two weeks detailing the flood of high school seniors and international teens mulling a move straight to the NBA, we've been inundated with reader letters protesting the wave of inexperienced players .
Why are more kids than ever rushing to get into the NBA -- even though many of them aren't ready?
The answer is simple. Their agents or "advisors" are telling them to. The growing fear both in America and abroad is that the league will push through an age limit this summer as part of the collective bargaining negotiations with the players' union.
While the union remains steadfast that it doesn't support an age limit, history says that David Stern gets what he wants at the negotiating table. Of all the important issues facing the union, this may be the least important (the kids aren't even in the league yet) and many think they'll eventually cave. In fact, union chief Billy Hunter has already said that they may be willing to compromise on the issue if the league offers them concessions in return.
Stern claimed at the All-Star Game that he was just trying to do what was best for the league and the players by pushing an age limit.
"I just think it would be a good idea as a league if we were not associated with the prospect of pulling kids who are now 10 years old, bouncing the ball and telling their parents they are going to be the next LeBron James, because everyone in this room knows they are not," Stern said. "And then they will be left with virtually nothing."
Hunter scoffs at the idea that the league is trying to be altruistic.
"What they are trying to do with an age requirement is reduce the number of bites at the apple that a player can take," Hunter told the Washington Post, referring to the number of times a player can get a maximum contract over the course of his career. "The owner's negotiating committee is about money. Their stance that an age requirement helps [players get an education] is a charade."
The rampant speculation that an age limit is imminent pushed a record number of young players into the draft last year. Will it happen again? The choice isn't a tough one for most teenagers. They can either declare now and get millions in guaranteed money or they can wait two years before getting another shot at the pros.
The shift in thinking has been most notable this year. Two years ago, advisors were telling high school kids that they should declare only if they were guaranteed a slot in the lottery. From time to time, kids got bad advice (or didn't qualify academically) and made mistakes, but for the most part only serious lottery picks applied.
That's changed. Now, high school kids are being told that they should declare for the draft as long as they're guaranteed to go anywhere in the first round. Travis Outlaw, Ndudi Ebi and Kendrick Perkins broke the mold last year when they knowingly entered the draft with a full understanding that they'd be late-first-round picks.
Now the floodgates have opened.
"I think everyone should go [pro] who has that opportunity, and you can quote me," Sonny Vaccaro said this week. Vaccaro, who works for Reebok, also runs an all-star high school game, the EA Roundball Classic, and is widely considered the most influential advisor in high school basketball.
"I think it's a no-brainer. They have to do it," said Vaccaro. "It's good that kid is getting an education. But that kid can put $3 million in the bank before he's 21 and still get an education later. I think if you're guaranteed to go anywhere (in the first round), then you've got to go."
American high school kids aren't the only ones hearing the siren's call.
"It's a serious issue that I'm advising all of my clients about," SFX agent David Bauman told Insider. Bauman, who represents mostly international players like Peja Stojakovic and Vladimir Radmanovic, has a young stable of international players that doesn't want to wait that long.
Two weeks ago, Bauman sent a memo to all 30 NBA teams announcing that he's putting all nine of his draft-eligible international clients in the draft this year. Most of them are under the age of 20. He even mulled putting in a 16-year-old client, Nemanja Alexandrov, and challenging the current NBA regulations that insist that international players must be 18-years-old before entering the draft. Alternatively, Bauman plans to officially enter Alexandrov's name into the draft the day after the 2004 draft is over. He hopes that the proactive move will protect Alexandrov in the event that the league develops an age limit this summer.
Alexandrov, a Serbian native who turns 17 before the draft, is widely considered among scouts to be a top-three pick in the 2005 draft. Bauman doesn't want Alexandrov to have to wait potentially three more drafts before becoming eligible.
He claims that if Alexandrov was in the draft this year, he'd still be a top-five pick. Several scouts contacted by Insider don't disagree.
"It's a slippery slope," one NBA scout claimed. "But the kid is really good and I don't think teams wouldn't hesitate to draft him. Scouts know him and love him."
That's got to be enough to send Stern into a tizzy. Stern has already been on the offensive, mocking the process and asking, rhetorically, how long it's going to be before teams start drafting 14-year-olds like O.J. Mayo.
"It used to be the next Michael Jordan; now it's the next LeBron James," Stern said recently. "Now it's down to 14-year-olds and ninth graders being focused on by the sports magazines. Elementary school, here we come. It's not the proudest moment in sports overall."
The answer commissioner? Sooner than you think.
The NCAA Tournament is in full swing and the high school kids just finished the first of what will be a plethora of all-star games over the next few weeks. Who's helping themselves?
Chris Paul, PG, Wake Forest: This comes as no surprise to Insider readers. We've been writing over a month that Paul has risen to the status as the top point guard prospect in the world over the course of the last month of the season. He had a stellar NCAA Tournament that cemented his status as top-five pick whenever he decides to declare. His ability to score, handle the ball, explode to the basket and make his teammates better has several scouts calling him the best college point guard prospect since Jason Kidd.
Scouts had their hearts broken when Wake lost to St. Joseph's Thursday night. The tight loss will probably keep Paul at Wake for at least one more season. Paul has maintained for weeks that he's returning to school next season. He grew up a huge Wake Forest fan and wants to lead them to a national title. With his stock so high, he's got to at least consider the possibility of coming out, but in all likelihood he's returning to school.
Marvin Williams, SF, Bremerton, Wash: There were several impressive performances at the EA Roundball Classic in Chicago on Wednesday, but no one caught the eye of scouts more than Williams. "He's really an amazing kid," one scout told Insider. "He's so versatile and strong. He's the type of kid who you can play anywhere on the floor. He's special." Several other scouts were saying the same thing before Williams dropped 15 points and three high-flying dunks (one over Dwight Howard, another over Josh Smith) on Wednesday night. Apparently, he also shined in practice sessions as well. Williams, who is committed to North Carolina, continues to claim that he'll only consider the draft if he's a top-10 pick. Two weeks ago that seemed like a real stretch. Now? He's got the buzz.
Martynas Andriuskevicius, C, Lithuania: He's not playing in an NCAA Tournament or high school all-star games, but as NBA scouts return from Europe most of them can't stop raving about Andriuskevicius. Insider was the first to report on the mystery man from Lithuania back in December. At the time we claimed that he could end up being the top international prospect in the draft once scouts got a look. That prophecy is quickly becoming fulfilled. After getting feedback from numerous scouts over the past few weeks, it appears that Andriuskevicius has passed Pavel Podkolzine and Andris Biedrins on most scouts' draft lists and could go as high as the top five in the upcoming draft.
What's the appeal? He's 7-foot-3, athletic and (most importantly) he's being tutored by Arvydas Sabonis. Scouts claim that his feel for the game and fundamentals are pretty amazing for a kid his age. While scouts caution that Andriuskevicius is a few years away from being an impact player in the league because of strength and experience issue, most of them feel he's worth the risk.
Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, G, St. Joseph's: The backcourt was awesome once again against Wake and pushed Paul and the Demon Deacons out of the tournament. Nelson is the leading scorer in the tournament and West is right there with him. As St. Jospeh's continues to defy expectations, the legend of Nelson grows. Scouts who were, two weeks ago, still skeptical are starting to change their tune slightly. While most scouts and GMs still wonder aloud whether Nelson has the size and lateral quickness to be a full-time point guard in the league, in a draft full of questions marks, at least you know what you're getting with him.
Once word leaked that West was also considering a jump this year, scouts started paying more attention and have liked what they've seen. West's real test will come in the Chicago pre-draft camp if he decides to declare. His value increases greatly if he can prove to teams that he can play the point, at least part time. The comparisons to Gilbert Arenas are the there. Right now West is still a bubble guy for the first round. Nelson? He's still hard to peg. He'll go anywhere from the late lottery to the mid-20s. If he wins a title for St. Joseph's, it will be closer to the lottery.
Shaun Livingston, PG, Peoria (Ill.): Livingston nabbed MVP honors at the EA Roundball Classic with a pretty classic performance. Without Sebastian Telfair on hand to steal much of the hype, Livingston dropped 12 points and seven assists. The numbers may not wow you, but scouts walked away impressed with how steady and mature Livingston is running a team. He protects the ball and has a great feel for the game. There just aren't many 6-foot-7 guys who you can legitimately claim are "true" point guards. Livingston's one of them.
Kirk Snyder, SG, Nevada: The Wolfpack's surprising tournament run has scouts buzzing about Snyder. Snyder has been on scouts' radar screens for a while, but his stellar play against some of the best talent in the country is cementing his status as a legit NBA first-round prospect. His ability to score, rebound, pass and defend combined with NBA athleticism make him a pretty strong prospect in draft filled with inexperience. Snyder still needs to convince scouts that he can shoot the NBA 3, but his 44 percent shooting from 3-point range in the tournament is a good start.
Who's In, Who's Out?
After claiming several weeks ago that his client would not declare for the 2004 draft, agent Marc Cornstein now thinks there's a good chance 7-foot, 17-year-old Peja Samardzski will put his name in this year. Why the sudden shift? Cornstein won't say, but several scouts who've made the trip to Serbia lately claim that there's growing interest in Samardzski.
"I'm surprised because I can't fathom that Partizan would give up [Nenad] Kristic, [Kosta] Perovic and Samardzski to the NBA," one scout told Insider. "That would leave them pretty depleted."
If Samardzski does declare, and leaves his name in the draft, you can be pretty sure that an NBA team fell in love with him and gave Cornstein an early promise to draft him in the lottery.
Mississippi State forward Lawrence Roberts is mulling a jump to the pros. He told the Biloxi Sun Herald that he likes his chances of becoming an NBA lottery pick.
"You definitely want to be drafted in the first round," he said. That's seems like a stretch for Roberts. Despite having a great season in the tough SEC, scouts consider Roberts a bubble first-round pick.
Roy Williams got some good news this week when two of his best players, Rashad McCants and Sean May, told reporters that they plan to return to school next season. League sources also believe that point guard Raymond Felton will return to school, though he has been mulling putting his name in the draft and testing his stock.
Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery claims that Josh Childress will likely return for his senior season.
"As far as we're concerned, Josh's intent has always been to come back to school, finish his degree and finish up his career with his teammates," Montgomery told the San Francisco Chronicle.
That's at odds with what we've been hearing. League sources claim that Childress is seriously mulling a move to the NBA after garnering first team All-American honors and playing himself into a likely lottery pick in this year's draft.
Florida's David Lee and Matt Walsh both told head coach Billy Donovan that they plan to return to Florida next season. Guard Anthony Roberson, however, is believed to be leaning toward declaring for the draft.
What do Reggie Evans, Jerome Williams, Brian Cardinal, Walter McCarty, Donyell Marshall, Kenny Thomas, Juwan Howard, Nene Hilario, Zach Randolph, Kwame Brown, Amare Stoudemire and Elton Brand all have in common?
They're the starting power forwards for the 13 teams that likely will land in the lottery this year. They can be placed in a couple of other categories, too. They are A) very good but lack much of a supporting cast (Brand); B) still too young to carry a team (Nene, Randolph, Brown, Stoudemire); C) are solid, but not spectacular (Marshall, Thomas, Howard, Cardinal); or D) have no business getting floor time outside of shoot-arounds (the rest).
Now compare that list with this one:
Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber, Ben Wallace, Karl Malone, Jermaine O'Neal, Kenyon Martin, Pau Gasol, Andrei Kirilenko, Lamar Odom, Carlos Boozer, Brian Grant, Kurt Thomas, P.J. Brown, Joe Smith and Kelvin Cato.
With the exception of the Rockets, every team in the playoffs this season has a good-to-great power forward. While they range from pretty good to all-star, there's no question that having a big forward makes a big difference.
In fact, the evidence is even more overwhelming when you get near the top of the standings. It just so happens that this year, the top nine teams in the league (according to record) also have, arguably, the top nine power forwards in the league -- Duncan, Nowitzki, Garnett, O'Neal, Webber, Wallace, Malone, Martin and Gasol. What a coincidence. The trend also explains why the West continues to dominate the East.
"Everyone talks about the disparity between the West and the East, but it really comes down to the power forwards," one Eastern Conference GM told Insider. "The West has a bunch of good ones, the East has three or four. And none of them are on par with the Garnetts, Duncans and Webbers of the West."
The Rockets are the only team in the West that will make it to the playoffs without an all-star caliber power forward. In the East, Toronto's Marshall is the only decent power forward not expected to make the playoffs. The big guys matter, folks.
That's why teams go nuts over power players in the draft. In 2002, six power forwards were drafted in the lottery. In 2001, the first three picks were power forwards, and nine overall were taken in Round 1. Last year was a major aberration. Only four players in the lottery were power forwards, and only six power forwards, overall, were drafted in the first round.
That, however, was because of a lack of talent, not a lack of need. The good news is that this is pretty decent draft at the power forward position. As many as 10 power players have a shot at getting drafted in Round 1, as many as five in the lottery.
They range from dominating players like Emeka Okafor and Dwight Howard, to big-time Euro projects like Andris Biedrins and Kosta Perovic. Like the rest of the draft, an influx of young international players is swelling the depth at the position.
Here's a look at the top 15 power forwards in the 2004 NBA Draft.
Note: The list includes players we believe might declare for the 2004 draft.
1. Dwight Howard, Atlanta Christian
The line: 6-foot-11, 245, HS Senior
The skinny: Is he the next Tim Duncan, as one scout claims? Or is he the second coming of Kwame Brown? Most scouts feel that he's much closer to Duncan than Brown which is why he gets the slight edge over Okafor as the No. 1 power forward and player in the country. That doesn't necessarily that doesn't mean he'll go No. 1. Several teams in the lottery have had their fill of high school players. While Howard should progress quicker than Brown, no one is claiming he'll be LeBron-like as a rookie. If the Bulls, Suns or Magic get the No. 1 pick, expect them to go with Emeka Okafor. Just about anyone else will take the chance on Howard.
2. Emeka Okafor, Connecticut
The line: 6-10, 252, Junior
The skinny: The comparisons to a young Alonzo Mourning seem right on. He's the best power player to come into the draft in awhile. He's also the most NBA-ready of anyone in the draft. He's a rebounding and defensive machine and is now adding some offense to his game. If he was two inches taller, he'd be far and away the best prospect in the country. As it is, scouts believe Okafor to really be 6-8 or 6-9, meaning he'll have to make the transition to power forward in the pros. That and a reoccuring back injury are the only things holding him back. Unless there is something seriously wrong with his back, Okafor will still be either the first or second pick in this year's draft. It just depends on the team.
3. Andris Biedrins, Skonto Riga (Latvia)
The line: 6-10, 235, 17 years old
The skinny: He's very difficult to project. Biedrins has drawn comparisons to Andrei Kirilenko because of his athleticism, shot blocking and defensive prowess at such a young age. But he's very, very raw. He's a likely lottery pick based on potential, but how high will he go? Some scouts think he could eventually be the No. 3 pick after workouts. Others think the hype has gotten out of control and he'll end up slipping into the late lottery. Unfortunately, we won't be able to see him play against some of the top high school talent in the country. Biedrins couldn't get permission to leave his team in Latvia to play in the Nike Hoop Summit, his agent, Bill Duffy, told Insider. It's probably for the best. He had very to little to gain (he's already a projected lottery pick) and a lot to lose by playing there.
4. Kosta Perovic, Partizan (Serbia)
The line: 7-2, 230, 19 years old
The skinny: Perovic has great skills for a big kid. He also has more experience than most young Euros entering the draft. For much of the season he was the starting center on a Euroleague team. Strength is the biggest question mark. He doesn't have the bulk to play in the paint right now, which is why we're projecting him at the four instead of the five. Scouts project Perovic as a top-10 pick who could go as high as No. 3 this year. While the concerns about his strength are real, people said the same thing about Pau Gasol when he came out, and look what happened.
5. Kris Humphries, Minnesota
The line: 6-9, 240, Freshman
The skinny: Humphries put up enormous numbers this season for Minnesota. He has a nice blend of athleticism, strength in the paint, quickness and a soft touch from the perimeter. He's an above average rebounder and a good defender. He's basically a double-double waiting to happen every night. He's already got an NBA body and projects to be a prototypical NBA power forward -- though he may be a little undersized to play that position full time. His quick feet and emerging jump shot suggest Humphries also will be comfortable at the three spot, when needed. The fact Gophers coach Dan Monson compares him to a young Karl Malone certainly isn't hurting his prospects. Right now scouts see him as a late-lottery to mid-first-round pick.
6. Hakim Warrick, Syracuse
The line: 6-9, 205, Junior
The skinny: The best athlete in the draft. Jumps like he's on a trampoline. Had a great season at Syracuse this year, and at the start of the season was a consensus lottery pick. Why is he slipping? No one is sure exactly what position he would play in the NBA. He doesn't have the perimeter or ball-handling skills to really be a three. He doesn't have the strength or low-post moves to excel at the four. Scouts wonder if he's the second coming of Darius Miles, an athletic big man without a go-to skill. Some scouts think he could be a very good four, because of his length and quickness. They believe he'll get stronger once he gets on an NBA strength training regimen and be just fine in the post. Only a few of them see him having a future at the three. He could go anywhere between the late lottery to early 20s.
7. LaMarcus Aldridge, Seagonville (Texas)
The line: 7-0, 225, HS Senior
The skinny: He's a quick, athletic, big kid with great feet and some pretty nice moves in the paint. Aldridge worked hard to improve his outside shooting and ball handling over the summer. He has succeeded to the point many scouts feel he could end up playing some three in the league. He's very thin, and some scouts have wondered about his effort and toughness in the paint. There's no question he needs to get much stronger, but so did Chris Bosh. Aldridge has made dramatic improvements over the past year, leading NBA scouts to take a second look. Will he enter the draft? If he does, he's projected as mid-to-late first-rounder right now.
8. Al Jefferson, Prentiss (Mississippi)
The line: 6-9, 265, HS Senior
The skinny: Anyone who averages 42 ppg is going to get the attention of NBA scouts. Jefferson already has NBA strength and really knows how to score in the post. Jefferson gets the Eddy Curry comparisons constantly thrown his direction. He's that type of skilled, low-post scorer, with the same type of conditioning issues Curry faced. The difference is he's a few inches shorter and can't play center. That's a pretty big difference. Scouts say he could really help his stock by going to school, but the word is that he wants to go straight to the NBA. He's a likely late-first-rounder.
9. Ronny Turiaf, Gonzaga
The line: 6-10, 230, Junior
The skinny: Scouts are very high on Turiaf. Though he struggles with inconsistency and hasn't lived up to his full potential in college, when he's on, he's one of the most devastating low-post scorers in the country. He had a good, but not great, tournament, so it's tough to read exactly where his stock is right now. Most of the scouts I trust think he'll be taken somewhere in the 20s.
10. Anderson Varejao, F.C. Barcelona (Spain)
The line: 6-10, 235, 22 years old
The skinny: The native of Brazil is a very active, energetic forward who runs the floor, crashes the glass, dives for loose balls and is really all over the court. But, he doesn't appear to be the type of guy who could ever average more than 10 ppg in the pros. Had a great game against Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament, scoring 16 points and dunking on Jermaine O'Neal. At this point, Varejao is a little underrated. Some scouts still swear he's one of the best international prospects. Others think he'd never develop into anything more than a role player at best. Right now the consensus is he's a late-first-round or early-second-round pick.
11. Lawrence Roberts, Mississippi State
The line: 6-9, 235, Junior
The skinny: One of the most-improved players in the country. Roberts is a big-time rebounder on both the offensive and defensive boards. He's a pretty good athlete who can run the floor and has good strength for the position. Scouts worry a little bit about his size (they think he's closer to 6-8) and his perimeter skills. He's not much of a ball handler or face-up shooter, but he's a pretty good prospect. Most scouts believe he should return to school for another year, but he'll be a bubble first-rounder if he applies now.
12. Uros Slokar, Benetton (Italy)
The line: 6-10, 230, 20 years old
The skinny: The Slovenian native is one of the best-shooting big men in the draft. Has a silky smooth stroke and even has some NBA 3-point range. The question really is about his position. He's too thin and weak to guard NBA fours, not quick enough to stop an NBA three. A few international scouts believe he's a very good prospect, reminiscent of the Warriors' Troy Murphy. The problem for Slokar is that there are younger, taller and more-athletic international prospects already in the draft. It's a horrible year for him to declare. Likely a second-round pick at this point.
13. Sergei Lishouk, Rovno (Ukraine)
The line: 6-11, 232, 22 years old
The skinny: The big man from Ukraine is the type of player who does nothing great but everything well. Good scorer with great range on his jumper. He can score anywhere on the floor. He's not very long, and he's not a great athlete. He's more seasoned than many of the Europeans in the draft, and some scouts are intrigued. He's probably not a first-rounder, but he could be one of the more popular names in the second round.
14. James Lloreda, LSU
The line: 6-9, 245, Senior
The skinny: Lloreda is a big-time rebounder who left LSU under somewhat mysterious circumstances. The native of Panama is very long with a great wing span. Lloreda is pretty versatile offensively and has drawn comparisons to the Hornets' David West. He can step back and knock down the 18-foot jump shot or take the ball in the paint and punish people. He's a good passer and ball handler for his size. Has some quickness and excellent footwork. Gets off the floor quickly. A good, but not great athlete. Scouts wonder a little bit about his defense. Does plenty of things well, but nothing great. Lloreda is an emotional player who plays with a fury. He actually went to counseling for anger management. An Achilles' tendon problem ended his season early, and he left LSU before the season ended after coach John Brady told him not to come back. He's now working out in Florida preparing himself for the draft. He was once thought to be a first-round lock, but his injuries and emotional issues have hurt his stock a bit. Could still recover in workouts.
15. Arthur Johnson, Missouri
The line: 6-9, 250, Senior
The skinny: Think Lonny Baxter. Johnson is a big kid who is going to have to make the transition from college center to NBA four in the pros. He's got a wide frame, is powerful and also has unusual quickness for his size. He's very long, which helps him out on the boards. No perimeter game and just so-so athleticism hurt his stock. If he were three inches taller, he'd go much higher based on his skills.
Best of the Rest: Erazem Lorbek, Skipper Bologna (Italy); Pape Sow, Cal-State Fullerton; Drago Pasalic, Split (Croatia); Andre Brown, DePaul; Mo Ke, China; Deng Gai, Fairfield; Amit Tamir, Cal; James Thomas, Texas; Jamar Smith, Maryland; Slobodan Ocokoljic, Weber State; T. J. Cummings, UCLA
Wait until next year: Nemanja Alexandrov, Serbia; Tiago Splitter, Brazil; Paul Davis, Michigan State; Wayne Simien, Kansas; Torin Francis, Notre Dame; Diego Brezzo, Argentina; Chris Taft, Pittsburgh; Andrew Bogut, Utah; Johan Petro, France; Linuys Kleiza, Missouri; David Lee, Florida; Leon Powe, Cal; Wojciech Barycz, Poland; Brandon Bass, LSU; Ike Diogu, Arizona State; Andrea Bargnani, Italy; Craig Smith, Boston College; Taylor Coppenrath, Vermont; Kresimir Loncar (Benetton)