An inexact science

Toughness doesn't always match players' skills

Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2004

By the time expected top draft pick Emeka Okafor steps up to the podium to shake hands with NBA Commissioner David Stern and hoist up his new jersey tonight, he will have been measured, poked, watched and put through more hoops than a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sky hook.

So why and how could current and future All-Stars such as Ben Wallace, Michael Redd, Brad Miller and Juneau's Carlos Boozer end up in the second round or go undrafted?

The answer is simple. No matter how many pre-draft (Chicago) camps, summer tournaments, individual workouts and interviews are held or how many shooting drills and physicals a player is put through, one muscle that can't be measured lies underneath the player's jersey.

"It's certainly not an exact science. You can't measure the heart or how driven they are to get better," said Miami Heat director of player personnel Chet Kammerer, who spent more than 200 nights in hotels and more than 100,000 miles in the air last year as he circled the globe in search of potential talent.

"Some haven't reached their plateau or their level of commitment could still be on the rise. Or their college system hasn't showed what they can do. Others, like Brad Miller, kept improving as he got older ... the late bloomers."

Miller and Wallace, both two-time All-Star centers who went undrafted, are prime examples that point out the fallibility of the evaluation process.

"You looked at (Detroit's Tayshaun) Prince, who was so thin, and mistake his lack of physical stature for a lack of toughness," said Washington Wizards scout Scott Howard. "I never thought (Boozer) was that good of an athlete. We all failed on Ben Wallace. The guy who fails the most is unemployed."

Miller, the Sacramento Kings' lumbering center, thinks scouts pay too much attention to a prospect's ability to drive while overlooking the inner drive.

"It seems like they didn't realize how hard I play, that I'm in this game to win," Miller said during All-Star weekend. "I guess scouts thought you had to be able to jump over the rim, but I've proven that theory wrong."

Just as perplexing are the countless number of draft disasters. The Portland Trail Blazers will never live down taking oft-injured center Sam Bowie with their second pick in 1984 instead of Michael Jordan, who fell to the fortunate Chicago Bulls.

The perennially hapless Golden State Warriors might have been battling the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals rather than the Minnesota Timberwolves if they had taken high schooler and 2004 MVP Kevin Garnett in the 1995 draft instead of Joe Smith at No. 1.

"Getting insight from a guy like me is like calling two stockbrokers. One tells you Intel is great and another tells you to bail out," said Boston Celtics scout and assistant coach Paul Cormier.

Led by Atlanta prep star Dwight Howard and Peoria (Ill.) Central High point guard Shaun Livingston, nine high school standouts are following the gold-laced preps-to-pro paths taken by Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal, Amare Stoudamire and LeBron James.

"We used to be able to log a player's progress for three, four years from high school to college," Kammerer said. "Now with high school kids we have to project not just what he would do in college but as a pro, so it's more about projection than established criteria.

"You wonder could he become a Jermaine O'Neal? You're afraid to miss on a guy like that, but for every success story there's a guy who hasn't developed."

The Wizards are still waiting for 6-11 preps-to-NBA center Kwame Brown to live up to their No. 1 expectations.

"The general rule is how tough is this kid," Howard said. "You can get a false reading and mistake toughness if the kid is giving you bravado."

The current trend is for teams to draft young, raw foreign players and send them back to Europe for a year or stash them on the end of the bench (a la the Pistons' Darko Milicic) while developing their minds and bodies.

"Will that player still be hungry to compete after all of a sudden things aren't going well for him, but they're still getting a paycheck?" Cormier said. "Or are they just happy to be here?"

The Heat, which owns the 19th, 47th and 53rd picks, struck out on the athletically gifted Harold Miner with its 12th pick in the 1992 draft, while Latrell Sprewell (24th) and P.J. Brown (29) remained on the board.

Yet, GM Randy Pfund and Co. hit home runs in the past two drafts with Caron Butler (10) and Dwyane Wade (5).

In both cases, the Heat ignored potential obstacles. Butler had a well-documented past involving juvenile misdeeds, while Wade had a poor workout for the Heat and was being asked to shift from a shooting guard to the point, an experiment that usually fails.

"A GM said to me last spring, no matter how much testing we do ... two years later we're trying to trade for the guy," Pfund said with a laugh. "You get the definitive stats in Chicago. After all that you go back and say, 'What has that player done when playing the game of basketball?' At the end of the day, is this guy a difference-maker or not?"

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