One year ago, six trades that involved first-round picks enlivened the proceedings at The Theater at Madison Square Garden. And there is an excellent chance for that sort of inspired activity again this year. I sense a perfect storm featuring: 1) struggling teams willing to move high first-round picks, especially Boston and Charlotte; 2) successful teams looking to move up or into the first round, like Phoenix, Indiana and Cleveland; and 3) a plethora of attractive players that teams feel they must make bold moves to obtain.A couple of things to look for:-- A really good player is going to slide down into the middle of the first round, a la Danny Granger's plummet to No. 17 two years ago. The candidate I have in mind is Kansas forward Julian Wright, but it could be Texas A&M guard Acie Law or even China's Yi Jianlian. -- See if you can identify a team selecting a player who makes absolutely no sense in terms of a team's playing style or positional need. That might be your first inkling the drafting team is actually selecting that seemingly ill-fitting player for another team as part of a trade that is in the works. Or it could just be Atlanta drafting another forward. -- Thirty is the new 60. The second round used to be a place where teams would stock up on European players who could be left to develop overseas while the team retained their draft rights in perpetuity. But San Antonio's pick of long-range French prospect Ian Mahinmi at No. 28 in 2005 and Portland's choice of even longer-range British project Joel Freeland at No. 30 last year has quietly ushered in a new era where teams bank Europeans at the end of the first round.
GM Kevin Pritchard has a creative mind, as evidenced by his role in Portland's multiple moves a year ago that landed both Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. But trading this pick or selecting Kevin Durant instead of Oden would be one of the riskier moves in draft history. Don't hold your breath waiting for a surprise. Oden's defense, shot-blocking and rebounding alone make him the most desirable player in the draft.
Durant should be able to score in double figures right away for the Sonics, who would joyously select Oden if the Blazers pull the ultimate shocker and take Durant first. New GM Sam Presti doesn't have a big decision to make where he is situated in the first round, but his inclinations will start to be known by what he does with the valuable 31st and 35th picks.
I moved Horford up from fourth to third last time around and I'm sticking with him here for two reasons. First, Horford is on more wish lists of teams that are trying to entice Atlanta to surrender this pick as part of a larger deal. Second, even after drafting so many forwards for so many years, the Hawks still need immediate rebounding help, and Horford is better suited than Brandan Wright to deliver that right away.
Noah is not only rumored to be one of the two finalists for this pick if Memphis keeps it, but he's also the target of at least a few teams that would like to move up to this spot for the express purpose of taking him. His relentless activity around the backboard on both ends is so attractive that it more than makes up for his developing offensive game.
This pick is much more likely to be traded than retained, but it makes sense to keep Brewer in this spot because he is attractive to so many teams. Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge understands offense, and if he keeps this pick, he's unlikely to pass up a player with Brewer's expansive offensive repertoire and vast scoring potential.
With incumbent point guard Mo Williams an unrestricted free agent who is dreaming of big dollar signs, Bucks GM Larry Harris may decide to guard against Williams' departure by tabbing Conley. Conley possesses superb quickness and would love to team with former Buckeye Michael Redd in Milwaukee's backcourt.
Many NBA observers have long felt that Kevin Garnett could be utilized more effectively if he played alongside an effective low-post center. I don't think that man is Hawes, since his best work comes facing the basket, but there's no question he is the next best center in the draft after Oden. Come to think of it, he may be the only other true center in the first round.
Wright was considered a candidate to go much higher than this a few weeks ago, but after ringing the bell at just 200 pounds at the NBA predraft camp and working out mostly by himself, teams cooled on him a bit. It wouldn't take much convincing for new Bobcats decision-maker Michael Jordan to pull the trigger on a fellow Tar Heel, even if Wright is not quite prepared physically for the NBA inside battles at this time.
Everybody in the NBA is waiting to see what GM John Paxson plans to do with restricted free agent forward Andres Nocioni. What Paxson does with this pick should begin to reveal the answer. Yi has excellent offensive potential, but is not someone the Bulls can count on to help them make a title run in 2008. Many teams have an interest in Yi, including Golden State, which could package a veteran along with its first-round pick (No. 18).
Geoff Petrie, himself a Princeton man, can certainly appreciate a player who excelled in the Princeton offense that Georgetown ran under John Thompson III this past season. Green is a smart player and unselfish passer who can score when needed. He is the type of fundamentally sound player the Kings will need as their rebuilding project moves forward.
I'm guessing GM Billy Knight turns away all the potential suitors for this pick and simply grabs a point guard who is an upgrade over the gaggle of solid professional backups currently occupying three spots on his team. Law is athletic, can shoot on the perimeter and plays hard all the time. More important, he has the leadership qualities this team so desperately needs.
Thornton has impressed in workouts around the league and may be moving up. The 76ers have bigger needs than a perimeter-oriented combo forward, but Thornton is a value pick. He is a polished one-on-one scorer and high-effort player who should play well off Andre Iguodala. Thornton is a prototype small forward who has perimeter shooting ability and can also get to the basket and finish.
The Hornets face the prospect of losing Desmond Mason, an excellent support player, to free agency. Young is a fantastic athlete who can get to the basket and score. He's also improved his jump shot, and if he can demonstrate consistency there, he has a chance to be a big-time NBA scorer.
Although he is far from a finished product, Crittenton is one of the very few bigger point guard prospects available this year. He showed that he is a willing and able defender, a big plus in a player this young. His decision-making with the ball will have to improve. The Clippers may retain veteran Jason Hart so that Crittenton can serve an apprenticeship for a year or two before taking over the point. The Sam Cassell era is just about over.
Stuckey floated the idea he had a guarantee from the Pistons, which probably isn't true, but that doesn't mean he won't wind up here. One of the better-kept secrets in college basketball the last two years, the explosive Stuckey can play both guard spots and has an NBA-ready body. Learning from stalwarts like Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton would only accelerate Stuckey's development.
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