A primer for Thursday's draft ...
1. Who goes for Ricky Rubio? Not only has the 18-year-old point guard made it clear he'd just as soon avoid going No. 2 in the draft to Memphis, but he also faces a troublesome buyout worth as much as $8 million to his Spanish club, DKV Joventut. A further complication is that the buyout is now held by the Spanish IRS in lieu of old tax debts incurred by Rubio's club.
Does Memphis risk taking him at No. 2? (Not likely.) Does Oklahoma City use the No. 3 pick on him after taking promising point guard Russell Westbrook at No. 4 last year? Does Sacramento grab him with the fourth pick despite the doubts raised by his buyout? Do concerns about his Spanish contract cause him to slide, or does another team trade up for Rubio at No. 2 or 3?
2. Is Thabeet a top-three pick? The believers covet his mobility at 7-foot-3, his ability to block shots with either hand and his Mutombo-esque promise. The doubters wonder if he has the toughness to dominate defensively while questioning whether he'll ever be relevant offensively. If Thabeet goes No. 2 or No. 3, that will push another point guard back to teams picking later in the lottery.
3. Who will trade for Washington's No. 5 pick? The Wizards are seeking a package that sheds salary while adding a veteran to help them next year. Potential dealers could trade up for Thabeet, Jordan Hill, Tyreke Evans, James Harden, Jonny Flynn or Stephen Curry. The unpredictability of who will be picked at No. 5 makes it difficult for the teams holding the next four picks to gauge their options.
4. What will the Knicks do? They've been linked to Curry but -- unless they trade up with the Wizards -- at No. 8 they'll be at the mercy of the teams picking in front of them. They need to come up with a useful player who can help them reach the playoffs next season, as their unprotected first-round pick in 2010 will go to Utah as part of the long-ago acquisition of Stephon Marbury.
5. Point guards: Upside or experience? This is an undersized draft heavy with potential point guards. The highest-rated prospects are young -- Rubio is 18, Evans is a freshman and Flynn is a sophomore. But upperclassmen Ty Lawson and Eric Maynor can be had later in the first round, and Florida State senior Toney Douglas is a first-round talent. "Any one of them could turn out to be better than those guys [in the lottery]," an Eastern Conference team president said.
1. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma ... The soon-to-be No. 1 pick will enable the Clippers to reinvent their roster while trading away their wealth of frontcourt veterans over the next two years. More than anyone else in the draft, he has the potential to be a star.
2. Stephen Curry, Davidson ... He may not be ready to take on full-time responsibilities at the point, but as a combo guard he'll provide deep shooting and smart passing. He'll know how to play as a rookie.
3. Jordan Hill, Arizona ... He'll arrive with the strength and skills to score from the paint or out on the floor.
4. James Harden, Arizona St. ... Some teams worry about his motor -- will he play hard? -- but Harden may be the most skilled player in the draft, and one evaluator predicts he will be Griffin's chief competition for Rookie of the Year.
5. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina ... He won't be one of the top picks in the draft, but he's a big man who knows how to play and he plays hard -- and that's why he'll make an immediate impact for any team smart enough to pick him.
1. Hasheem Thabeet ... Can he score? "He's so big that you'll be able to lob it to him up near the rim," an Eastern team president said. "He'll get a few of those dunks every night." But other teams worry that Thabeet's presence defensively will be negated at the other end because opponents won't have to guard him.
2. DeJuan Blair ... A lot of teams like him as a strong forward who loves to mix it up inside, but he underwent surgery on both knees in high school. His medical report may cause him to tumble out of the lottery -- which means someone could steal Blair in the teens or 20s.
3. Brandon Jennings ... He's gifted physically, but will he be able to earn enough playing time to develop his skills and deepen his shooting range?
4. DeMar DeRozan ... He is viewed as a raw athlete who lacks three-point range. But a few scouts see him as talented swingman who understands how to play -- and so he could be another steal.
5. Austin Daye ... He could create nightmarish matchup problems as a 6-10 perimeter shooter. But Daye is skinny at 190 pounds and he's coming off a difficult sophomore year: Will he be able to play enough to develop the strength and confidence he needs?
1. Memphis ... The rest of the league can't make plans until the Grizzlies decide what to do with the No. 2 pick.
2. Hasheem Thabeet ... How high does he go? The next true center to be picked will be B.J. Mullens, who will go in the latter half of the first round after failing to start as a freshman at Ohio State.
3. Agent Dan Fegan ... After taking a hard-line approach with the Bucks two years when they picked Yi Jianlian No. 6 overall, Fegan has remained behind the scenes as client Ricky Rubio has expressed doubts about playing for Memphis. Without drawing attention to himself, he has been encouraging teams to trade up for Rubio.
4. Washington Wizards ... Someone is going to trade for their No. 5 pick, and that will change the pattern of the draft.
5. David Kahn ... The new Minnesota Timberwolves president has no track record and no head coach -- and therefore there is no predicting how he will spend his three first-round picks.
Most teams are going to demand increased production from their rookies. "Teams are going to have to use young players in their rotations because of the economy," a Western Conference GM said. "Because they need to save money, they've got to have some players on low [salary] numbers."
Starting with this draft, the long-running demand for upside is going to start trending the other way. You won't notice among the top 10 picks, but later in the draft you'll see experienced collegians like Hansbrough and Maynor being recognized for what they can deliver during their rookie contracts.