In search of the next Westbrook
Four weeks until the draft, and it is impossible to avoid the intersection of past and present in a sign that lottery teams are grabbing for any safety vest while staring at greater risk than usual. So, UCLA's
Evans and Holiday epitomize a draft filled with the unproven and one-hit wonders. Similar uncertainties are everywhere past
It gets especially interesting with Holiday and Evans, though. They are projected at point guard in the NBA despite playing there some (Evans) or hardly at all (Holiday) in college. Evans is not a good enough shooter to handle the other backcourt spot and the 6-foot-3 Holiday is a bad fit at shooting guard without stud athleticism to offset the size disadvantage, so each will have to make it as a primary ball-handler. Westbrook, one year later.
Westbrook was at least a supreme athlete. He went No. 4 to the Thunder in what many at the time considered a big gamble, an inexperienced point guard for the position that requires instinct more than any other spot. It could have gone historically bad for Oklahoma City. Instead, Westbrook progressed, was the third-best rookie in a poll of coaches and immediately emerged as part of the foundation of a blossoming future there. General manager
Not only that, he is from a Los Angeles suburb, went to UCLA and played alongside starting point guard
"I think you naturally make the connection," one personnel boss said. "If there wasn't a
Said another decision-maker,
Westbrook may affect the 2009 draft that much, even though there are important differences in attempting to twin him with Holiday. Westbrook played two seasons in Westwood, though with a minor role as a freshman, and Holiday one. Westbrook got at least a handful of games at the point in 2007-08 with Collison injured, while Collison played the entire '08-09 season. Westbrook had more explosive moments to tempt the NBA, the thrill rides of attacking the basket on one end and locking up on defense at the other. Simply, he had a greater body of work as an untested point guard than Holiday as an untested point guard.
"He didn't handle the ball in college," one executive said of Holiday. "But he made some plays where you'd say, 'Whooaaaa.' Whether he can [play the point] full time, that's a tough call."
Evans is a better actual comparison to Westbrook, just without the geographical connection. Evans handled the ball enough at Memphis to erase a lot of the same doubts, even more noteworthy that he did it at 6-6 and 215 pounds, and with electrifying athleticism.
"An absolute freak of nature," one personnel evaluator said, adding, "He has
At least one team has Evans going as high as No. 4 to the Kings. Proving how wide open the draft gets past Griffin-Rubio-Thabeet or Griffin-Thabeet-Rubio as the top three, the mock draft of another club has Sacramento going a completely different direction with Hill, the Arizona power forward. Holiday is mostly being slotted somewhere around 8 to 12, though the Kings liked what they saw at an individual workout. Everything is subject to revision the next four weeks, of course, the way stocks of players rise and fall. Just as things changed for Westbrook a year before.
It doesn't look good for the Cavaliers. It especially doesn't look for the Cavs because they're getting mauled inside by
It's impossible not to consider what may end up being a history-altering decision, unless the Eastern Conference finals take a dramatic U-turn from Orlando 3-1. In February, Cleveland talked to Phoenix about acquiring
Alas, no. The Suns would have been very tempted by a package topped by the expiring contract of
If the Cavs are eliminated and Howard is the one pushing them out the door, they will have lost a real shot at the title over holding firm on Szczerbiak, who barely plays, and Hickson, a first-round pick who never plays. There would have been the additional, important consideration of another huge contract on the already-bloated 2009-10 payroll, but there is the alternative: the price the Cavs are close to paying for not making the trade.
• The predraft draft combine opened Wednesday in Chicago with team officials and most U.S.-based prospects gathering for physicals, light workouts and interviews. No actual games. This replaces the annual event in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., that had grown irrelevant as agents increasingly kept away clients who were not even safe bets for the first round, not wanting them to hurt their stock with a bad showing. It infuriated the personnel departments that began to wonder out loud about players being afraid of competition and drove commissioner
• Among the particularly interesting picks to watch in the lottery: the Warriors, who went college freshman in 2008 (
• Dwight Howard does not do self-pity very well.
Among the recent posts on how Orlando has always been a legitimate threat to beat the Cavs: "You would think people would see that by now after the way we fought back against Philly and Boston, but I guess we just have to keep on proving ourselves. But we're just lil' old Orlando and nobody is ever going to give us any credit for anything."
Woe is him. Cleveland had the best record in the regular season, went 39-2 at home and had been playing better than anyone in the league when the conference finals started. That's why the Cavs were favored. Finish them off within three games and the Magic will get credit for a lot.