The biggest suspense in this year’s NBA draft likely will come with the first pick. Will the Portland Trail Blazers take Ohio State center Greg Oden or Texas forward Kevin Durant with the first pick? The Seattle SuperSonics then get an excellent consolation prize with the second pick, taking the star the Trail Blazers pass over.
Many of the draft experts, including ESPN’s Jay Bilas, think Portland will select Oden, who has the potential to be a dominant center. “I think you have to think long and hard, but I think it’s Greg Oden,” Bilas said in a conference call. “Kevin Durant is going to be an all-star, but getting a dominant center is difficult to do in the NBA. Greg Oden is going to be that. I think it’s easier to build around a dominant center than a great scorer. I tend to think it will be easier to hang (championship) banners with Greg Oden than Kevin Durant.”
Bilas said Oden is an “unbelievably high character guy” in the mold of San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan. “He’ll allow himself to be coached.”
For the fifth year in a row, ESPN will broadcast the draft live at 6 p.m. Thursday from Madison Square Garden. Mike Tirico will host, with Bilas and analysts Mark Jackson and Stephen A. Smith. Other contributors will be international expert Fran Fraschilla, Dick Vitale, Stuart Scott, Lisa Salters, Ric Bucher, Andy Katz and field reporters Rachel Nichols (Charlotte), Sal Paolantonio (Philadelphia) and Jim Gray (Los Angeles).
ESPN will have a one-hour preview at 9 p.m. Wednesday. A segment will include Bilas playing H-O-R-S-E with top prospects Corey Brewer, Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Brandon Wright and Julian Wright.
Bilas’ Top 10 prospects:
Greg Oden, Ohio State: “Greg Oden is the best center prospect since Tim Duncan or Patrick Ewing, and will be a defensive presence and the foundation of a championship team.”
Kevin Durant, Texas: “Kevin Durant is a more athletic Danny Manning, and has a unique knack for putting the ball in the basket. Durant is a special scorer and talent, and only the promise of Oden could keep him out of the top spot.”
Al Horford, Florida: “Al Horford is NBA-ready. He has a high basketball IQ, a great touch, and he is a big-time rebounder. Horford wins the battle right now, but will he be better in five years?”
Brandan Wright, North Carolina: “Brandan Wright is the classic ‘upside’ guy. He’s a long, athletic lefty who just swoops in and makes plays. He can be truly outstanding, but he has to improve his shot and his body to realize that potential.“
Michael Conley, Jr., Ohio State: “Mike Conley is the best point guard in the draft. This kid is special, and he is a winner. He finishes ambidextrously around the rim like Tony Parker, and he wins like Joe Montana. The only question is his shooting consistency.”
Corey Brewer, Florida: “Corey Brewer is the most versatile player in the draft, and can guard anybody. He passes, handles the ball, can hit open shots, and he is a very solid prospect. He is a queen on a coach’s chess board.”
Joakim Noah, Florida: “Joakim Noah’s motor revs higher than anyone else’s in this draft. He can run, rebound and block shots, but his offense raises some questions as to how effective he will be.”
Jeff Green, Georgetown: “Jeff Green is undervalued in this draft. He can do everything, and is an underrated athlete. The only question is whether he has the temperament to be dominant and assertive.”
Yi Jianlian, China: “Yi Jianlian is a 7-footer who can really shoot it. He brings potential, and also brings your team a billion fans.”
Julian Wright, Kansas: “Julian Wright does everything but shoot it with consistency. Put him in a system where he can get out and run, and you will see an explosive NBA talent.”