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Tuesday, June 26
Updated: June 27, 1:49 PM ET

Draft is dangerous business
By Dr. Jack Ramsay
Special to

These days, the NBA draft is Russian Roulette. No one knows what the young kids coming out of high school are going to do. They may have a lot of potential, or show significant individual skills, but none of them are ready to come into the NBA and make a contribution.

Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant were the exceptions, not the rule. And even they struggled through their first year.

Highly touted when he entered the NBA fresh out of high school, Jermaine O'Neal in Indianapolis just had his first good season after five years in the league. Some guys drafted out of high school never make it at all. Drafting high school players is a huge gamble.

If a team wants to take a high school player, it better do its homework very carefully. Of course, they have to have seen him play, and tested him on the court; but they also have to test him mentally. They have to make sure they see something they believe will pay dividends in the coming years.

The challenge, of course, is predicting whether or not this unpolished, skinny, 18-year old kid standing in front of you could ever dream of stopping the likes of Shaq.
Jack Ramsay

How big of a project a team is willing to take on depends on the position and the status of the team.

General managers are more willing to take on a big man who has shown potential than a smaller player, because a good big man is so hard to find. If a team can get a quality center who could one day challenge Shaquille O'Neal, it'd be worth all the marbles.

The challenge, of course, is predicting whether or not this unpolished, skinny, 18-year old kid standing in front of you could ever dream of stopping the likes of Shaq.

Mark Madsen was the Lakers only rookie this year, and he seldom played. The Bulls had no rookies on their championship teams. If you have a solid, contending team, it may be easier to take a chance on an unestablished high school player that you can put on the end of the bench. The veterans and coaching staff can work with him on a daily basis, and he could be handed the baton of the franchise if he works out.

Teams lacking talent need to fill the gaps more quickly. All 13 lottery teams in this year's draft need players right now. Among Eddie Curry, Kwame Brown, DeSagana Diop, Tyson Chandler, there are some intriguing players out there, players who could conceivably be very good centers in the somewhat near future. Also, Eddie Griffin, who's had one year of college, Rodney White, Joe Johnson, and European Pau Gasol could all be big-time players in a year or two.

The lottery teams need at least one big-time player, and most of them need several.

After the breakup of their championship teams, the Bulls have had several first-round picks, and have gotten a lot of quality talent. But they still haven't had any success. No one player is going to take any of the lottery teams to the playoffs next year.

Although Shane Battier is the best of the players who have finished four years of college competition, he's not a guy who's going to carry a franchise. He is going to be a very good player, but no dynasties are going to be built around Battier. He's a very good contributing player, but not a dominating player.

Taking an established player who had a solid college career like Battier, Brian Scalabrine, Jeff Trepagnier, or Jamaal Tinsley isn't a great risk. They may not have greatest talent potential, but you know what you're going to get. They'll be there to contribute when their team needs them, and if they get drafted by a bad team, they'll start.

There is no exact science to draft day. You do your homework, and break it down as best as you can. It's next to impossible to measure the competitive nature of a player, or his ability to take the hard knocks he's destined to get, or how he's going to adjust psychologically and socially. There are tons of X factors that can't be predicted.

The funny thing is, when it's all over, every team in the league will tell you they had a great draft.

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