Friday, June 19, 2009

Hoop Dreams

With Ater Majok officially pulling his name out of the 2009 NBA Draft, there are four players with UConn ties who will be waiting to hear their names called next Thursday night – Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien and Nate Miles (remember him?).

Thabeet is likely to be the No. 2 overall pick; Miles will almost certainly not be selected at all. In between are Price and Adrien, who will await hearing their names with the most suspense.

With less than a week before the draft, here's how the four players size up, and what they can expect on draft day:

THABEET

***Will probably end up at Memphis with the No. 2 pick, though Grizzlies' GM Chris Wallace hasn't settled on anybody yet, and Thabeet has yet to work out for the team. He will work out for the Grizzlies on Saturday. Memphis is also considering dropping down in the draft, which is considered a pretty weak one.

According to the UConn coaching staff, Memphis and Oklahoma City have had the most inquiries about Thabeet.

***There are some worries about a shoulder injury. Not sure if this is related to the infamous DeJuan Blair flip-over. (Maybe this explains why Thabeet seems to have a Johnny Damon-esque throwing arm).

***An NBA director of player development on Thabeet: "He's never going to be a guy you can throw the ball in the post and run your offense through, like the Houston Rockets do with Yao Ming. He's just not that skilled … he's got an advantage with his size and length, but can he make the elbow jumper? … If he gets with a very good point guard who sets him up for dunks, like Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul in New Orleans, he has the ability to roll to the rim pretty much every time."

PRICE:

***Probably a mid-to-late second round pick. First round? "I don't think he's there," said an NBA source.

***Same director of player development on Price: "With A.J., people like his leadership, his ability to get in the lane, make jumpers, pull up around the elbow. The big concerns with A.J., are, defensively, will he be able to slide and stay in front of guys? Can he go side-to-side and keep quicker guys in front of him? Guys got by him fairly regularly in the zone, but the difference is he had Thabeet to protect the rim … (Also), in college he was primarily a shoot-first guy. He got some assists, but it seemed he'd look for his shot first, and it was contested, he'd find someone under the basket for a dunk. Some guys drive into the lane looking to set up their teammates."

*** Reports that Price had an aneurysm in his brain were "misleading," according to the NBA official. "Our team doctor went through the whole medical process (at the pre-draft camp in Chicago) and red-flagged a few guys. A.J. was not one of them."

In fact, a source close to Price said that Price underwent an MRA (Magnetic Resonance Angiography) that revealed no aneurysm.

***Price has had about seven workouts so far -- including Detroit, Sacramento, Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota – and still has two more lined up, with Denver and with the world-champion Lakers. The Nuggets and Miami Heat have shown the most interest in him thus far.

ADRIEN:

***Late second round, or could go undrafted.

***Our NBA guy on Adrien: "Teams like the kind of player Jeff is. Every team would like a player who rebounds that efficiently, who's that tough, who's not afraid of contact."

The source also noted that Adrien's measurements were "freakish." Though measured at 6-6 ½, Adrien has a 7-2 wingspan.

"That's way more valuable than a guy's size. Guys who are 6-6 with 6-6 wingspans, that doesn't do you much good. Guys like Jeff who are 6-6 with a 7-2 … you don't play basketball to the top of your head. Length is very useful."

***Adrien "needs to work on his shooting," said the source. "He's kind of got a long wind-up, he takes the ball behind his head. He needs to work on shortening his stroke."

***Adrien had also been slowed by tendonitis in his knee recently. "I don't know how serious it is, but it's hurting him right now," the source said last week, noting that at a group workout in Houston last month, Adrien was wearing a brace on one of his knees. "His stride was a little off. He was not running like he was at UConn, when he was healthy."

***If Adrien goes undrafted, it might not be such a bad thing. Second-round draft picks are non-guaranteed, anyway, so a team that drafts him could still cut him by early January. If he goes undrafted, Adrien could pick and choose a better fit for him as a free agent.

The typical route to take would be playing for a team in an NBA summer league, either in Orlando July 6-10 or Las Vegas July 11-20. If the team likes what they see, they'd extend him an invitation to training camp in the fall.

MILES:

***No chance he gets drafted. Miles has had workouts with several NBA teams recently, however.

Said our NBA source: "He's a skilled offensive player, pretty quick … his shooting is pretty special. He's got a good-looking stroke, a quick release."

But …

"Physically, he's weak … he looks like a high school kid … and defensively, he's bad right now. He'd be a below-average college defender."

Character concerns could also scare teams off.

***The economy is also an issue. In the past, most teams were allowed to keep the maximum 15 players on a roster. Now, there's a good chance most teams will be down to 13 or 14. The minimum is 13, and that can go down to 12 for a while. In other words, teams don't have the luxury of drafting guys who are few years away and can languish on the end of the bench for a few years. A couple of years ago, a guy like Miles may have been drafted. This year? No chance.

***Miles will likely end up having to decide whether to play in the NBA Developmental League for lousy money, but with the chance to get called up midseason by the NBA, or play overseas and make better money, but have virtually no chance of getting called to the NBA during the season, since the NBA and FIBA honor each others' contracts.

Most likely, Miles will get selected by a D-League team next fall and work his way to "The League" through that route.

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