Posts Tagged ‘2013 draft’

adidas Eurocamp: The Wrap-up


TREVISO, Italy – News, notes and observations as the adidas Eurocamp concluded Monday and NBA front offices began to return home for the final push toward the June 27 draft:

  • All indications are that Croation small forward Dario Saric will withdraw from the draft before the June 17 deadline for international players. While his agent, Robert Jablan, told that the decision has been made, some teams are understandably wondering if this is an attempt to secure a promise. After all, Saric previously went from signaling he would stay in Europe to applying for the draft and now has turned around again about five weeks later despite no change in his standing with his stock still somewhere around the teens. One executive said chances are “about 99.9” Saric will jump out of the pool, meaning the NBA is not yet closing the door on 2013. Another said “It sure sounds like it,” when asked whether Saric is staying in Croatia. They’re waiting for 100 percent by June 17.
  • The positive reviews continue for Alex Abrines, who is getting looks for late in the first round without getting much publicity. It didn’t help his North American marking that Abrines was not at Eurocamp because his season in Spain was still in progress. “I don’t like him. I love him,” said one scout who has watched the Spanish shooting guard many times. “His feel for the game is incredible.”
  • Australian shooting guard Dante Exum is draft-eligible for 2014 and would open next season as one of the top prospects, but said “My gut tells me right now I’m going to college,” partly because he is intrigued by the idea of a run with a top U.S. program and partly because that would allow him to avoid the packed Class of ’14 led by Canadian phenom/incoming Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins. That would position Exum for 2015. The son of Cecil Exum, who won a national championship with North Carolina in 1982, has made one campus visit, to Indiana, and puts the Hoosiers at the top of his working list if he goes the NCAA route for 2014-15. He loves the college feel in Bloomington and the basketball tradition. He is also getting attention from a lot of other elite programs – mentioning Louisville, Kentucky and Michigan – so no decision is imminent.
  • The Bulls’ 2011 investment pick of Nikola Mirotic looks better all the time. Chicago got him at 23 while planning to keep him in overseas to develop, some teams said a year ago he might have cracked the lottery in 2012, and now this from a European scout when asked where Mirotic would go in the 2013 draft: “Lottery, easy. Five-six-seven-eight.” Lottery very easy, in other words. Mirotic, who might be able to play some small forward at 6-10 but is likely destined to an NBA future at power forward, was recently named MVP of the ACB in Spain, the second-best league in the world. Indications are that he will spend one more season there before negotiating with the Bulls.
  • Eurocamp may relocate. The gathering of top prospects and talent evaluators from several leagues around the world will return to the traditional home of the La Ghirada complex in Treviso in 2014, but adidas officials have had initial discussions about moving the event to Paris, Berlin or Munich closer to its global headquarters in Germany, or Spain. The shoe company wants to make a big push on the basketball front in Germany and Russia.
  • The reviews for Giannis Adetokunbo on Sunday night with the Greek national under-20 team in a tournament in nearby Jesolo were a step forward. They weren’t terrible 24 hours earlier – can’t shoot, not strong enough, but a very good feel for the game for an inexperienced player that has mostly faced bad competition. But Adetokunbo was more assertive on offense Sunday and in stretches more looked the part of an NBA first-round pick against an age-group field. He needed to show that.

Adetokunbo Scouting Run An NBA Event

JESOLO, Italy – No mascots, no Red Panda or Quick Change at halftime. No lob dunks, no TV timeouts, no air rifles shooting balled-up T-shirts into the crowd in the upper deck. No crowd in the upper deck.

But what an NBA happening Saturday night.

Greece-Croatia in the opener of a four-team under-20 tournament inside Pala Arrex was not just another age-group matchup in another neutral setting in another sleep gym that couldn’t build excitement if it had a quarry’s worth of equipment. It was Giannis Adetokunbo, international man of mystery, in a real game at the same time the adidas Eurocamp was taking place 30 miles away in Treviso, and that meant it was a league event.

Dozens of executives and scouts broke away from Eurocamp in the early-evening to make Jesolo by the 6:15 p.m tip, putting recognizable faces everywhere among the crowd of approximately 300, in the latest attempt at a decision with the June 27 draft bearing down and Adetokunbo still tracking to the end of the first round.

Is he a worthwhile investment for a team willing and able to be patient with a long learning curve or a one-hit wonder of 2012-13 who has gone from nowhere to the guaranteed money only because he faced very weak competition in a lower-division Greek league?

Saturday offered little in the way of concrete answers. Or as one front-office veteran said when asked afterward what he learned from Greece 62, Croatia 52: “Not much.”

Adetokunbo is smooth and has a good feel for the game for a 19 year old with little, and maybe less than that, experience against elite players. He can handle the ball at 6-foot-8, a particularly intriguing aspect, though nowhere near well enough to seriously be considered a possibility for a matchup nightmare at point guard. He can’t shoot. And he needs to get a lot stronger.

“Three or four years,” one scout said of a realistic timeline for Adetokunbo to make an impact in the NBA. “Maybe five.”

The Croatians were probably a step up from the competition Adetokunbo had faced in Greece, the equivalent of Division II or III in U.S. colleges. He did not, however, overwhelm the opponent in the way a prospect with size, mobility and court sense should torch a junior national team 19 days before the draft. The unknown to at least some of the NBA evaluators, and maybe all, was whether he was unable to assert himself or was simply fulfilling the role handed down by the Greek coach.

To members of personnel departments seeing him for the first time, it was not a great first impression. But there will also be more chances. The age-group tournament continues Sunday evening with Greece against Turkey, as the Europcamp also continues in a dose of convenient timing and location for NBA front offices. Before leaving Jesolo on Saturday, some had already bought game tickets to return.

The Eurocamp itself faced further attrition with the loss of two of the biggest names, with French center Rudy Gobert going from planning to play one of the three days in Treviso to withdrawing all together because of food poisoning and Australian shooting guard Dante Exum skipping at least the opening day to rest a foot injury. Exum instead did light shooting on a side court in the La Ghirada complex.

Neither absence will have a major impact – Gobert, trying to make a push to get into the end of the lottery, was at the Chicago pre-draft combine and has a full schedule of visits to NBA teams leading to June 27, while Exum is not in the draft until 2014 at the earliest and possibly 2015. Additionally, small forward Sergey Karasev, who would have been a candidate to play at Eurocamp, or at least show up for private workouts and interviews with NBA executives, has cancelled all visits, Yahoo! Sports reported. Karasev apparently has a promise from a team, but also gives up the chance to impress someone else enough into pick him higher and make more money.

Centers Position For Middle Of 1st Round

They can pose for a group picture today in the gym in Santa Monica, Calif., four NBA-bound centers linked by draft class, for sure, by the range they will be picked June 27, probably, and by projected role in the pros, maybe.

2013 NBA DraftThe group workout in two sessions is particularly important to Gorgui Dieng from Louisville, making his first appearance in front of scouts and executives since the sprained right ankle about three weeks ago put him in a walking boot at the Chicago combine. But it could be an impactful few hours for all four in a showdown of centers who could be part of a run on bigs from late in the lottery through the late-teens or early-20s.

Steve Adams of Pittsburgh, Kelly Olynyk of Gonzaga, Jeff Withey of Kansas and Dieng will all be in Santa Monica today, and a little less than four weeks later could all come off the board in rapid-fire succession. Rudy Gobert, a power forward-center from France, will likely be in the same mix.

It’s the projected grouping on draft night – all possible to be go within eight or 10 picks of each other – that makes this a particularly intriguing workout. It’s far from the last time they will be seeing each other, too, as scheduling for auditions for individual teams ramp up.

Adams and Olynyk are the highest-rated of the four, though as different players. Olynyk has an advanced offensive game for a big man, while Adams is more of a physical presence who is starting to show signs he can be more and, in fact, the better prospect.

Dieng and Withey are projected as backups, both known for their defense and hoping to use the next month to show teams they are not one-dimensional. Withey in particular has made that a priority. More than Adams, still relatively inexperienced against top competition after growing up in New Zealand and playing one season at Pitt, Withey and Dieng are picks for teams wanting a big man with a better chance of contributing right away, the very clubs that mostly start picking from the late-teens into the 20s.

Thunder Are Still Playing The Lottery


In their strangest of times, the response begins in the strangest of places.

The Thunder, absent from the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2010 while contemplating what could have been if not for the Russell Westbrook knee injury, are in the lottery again — a land they appeared to have left behind.

James Harden got traded, Westbrook got hurt, Oklahoma City got beat in five games in the semifinals and, now, the Thunder will be picking 12th on June 27. Of all the developments that would have been difficult to imagine nine months ago, this is the one they welcome.

2013 NBA DraftOr sort of welcome. The ideal OKC outcome would have been for the Raptors to land in the top three on lottery night. Toronto would have kept this pick and had the choice set to be conveyed to the Thunder carried over to 2014 in what is shaping up as a much better Draft. But Toronto held at 12, the protection became irrelevant, and the Thunder would have to be satisfied by having one of the best teams in the league and still being able to add a late lottery pick.

No. 12, part of OKC’s three picks in the first 32, is still a good spot to address needs (or at least uncertainties) with Westbrook coming off a knee injury and Kevin Martin heading into free agency. OKC is in the right range for Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk if it wants an offensive-oriented big man to offset Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, or inexperienced German point guard Dennis Schroeder to develop behind Westbrook. They could also nab scoring guards C.J. McCollum from Lehigh or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from Georgia in case Martin prices himself out of a return. (The mock draft has Olynyk going to Loud City.)

The Thunder liked the fit with Martin accepting a reserve role, making his spot next season more a financial issue more than anything. They’re encouraged by what 2012 lottery pick Jeremy Lamb did in the NBA D-League, so going shooting guard when they will have at least one backup returning seems unlikely. Bad Draft or not, OKC has options with picks, prospects and veterans, along with a history of an aggressive approach. GM Sam Presti with options and in win-now mode is potential trouble for the rest of the league.

The pick started in Toronto, went to Houston in the Kyle Lowry trade of July 2012 and then from the Rockets to the Thunder in the October 2012 Harden blockbuster. When the Raptors did not beat long odds in the lottery to finish in the top three, the choice was handed over to Oklahoma City.

“I think it’s somewhat hypothetical because the draft is so much more art than science,” Presti said of the bad break of getting the pick a year before it likely increases in value. “But our organization, we’ve always looked at the draft as another opportunity to find a way to improve, whether it’s marginal or on a bigger scale, and we’ll try to look at every opportunity available to us at that time.”

Especially in their organization. Presti made a hard call on Westbrook, with a limited body of work at point guard, at No. 4 in 2008 and got a huge payout. The same night, he gambled again at 24 with Ibaka and it paid off. A year later, he nailed the Draft again by taking Harden third.

This year, the Thunder also have their own pick, No. 29, and also No. 32, a choice that started in Charlotte.

Seth Waits To Be Next Curry In The NBA

HANGTIME HEADQUARTERS — The never-ending competition to determine the best shooter in the family is on hold.

“[For] right now,” Seth Curry interjected.

The younger brother of the NBA star is recovering from a stress reaction in the left shin, and maybe this isn’t the best time for anyone – in the family, in the league, in the solar system –to call out the older brother after the way Stephen Curry dismantled defenses during the Warriors’ playoff run. So, yes, for right now.

2013 NBA DraftThe problem is, this is a critical time as Seth tries to follow dad Dell Curry, an elite 3-point threat as a 16-year veteran with five teams, and Stephen to the NBA. The draft is about five weeks away and Seth, a possibility for the second round, said he expects to be sidelined another three weeks or so, and maybe longer. The realization has set in that he may go from playing hurt as a senior at Duke to not getting a chance to audition for teams before the June 27 selections to prove what he can do healthy.

“Late-June,” Seth said of the schedule to get back on the court. “I might be able to work out. I might not be able to work out. … Not being able to play in front of them during this process is a tough thing. But hopefully they just see my body of work this year and realize I was injured all year. I’ll come back stronger and see what happens.”

He does have the lengthy resume – the experience of being a prominent player in an elite program, the time running the point that expanded his game beyond being more than strictly a shooting guard, the toughness to play hurt. Even the senior season that could have been so bad resulted in an impressive line. Curry considered sitting out the season after learning of the shin injury in September, but played and finished first on the team and second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring while making 43.8 percent of his 3-pointers, and only then had surgery in mid-April to insert a rod to help the leg heal.

He can’t run or cut for another few weeks and only recently began to do light work to strengthen the muscles and build up both legs that have mostly been kept inactive for a month. He can take stationary shots close to the rim.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever been injured in my life,” Curry said. “Not being able to go on the court whenever I want and work out, and seeing all these other guys being able to compete in workouts and I won’t be able to do that. It’s tough.”

For right now.

This Isn’t About The 2014 Draft For Cavs


Of course the Cavaliers are going to consider trades for the No. 1 pick. That’s not news and that’s not a Cleveland thing. Nerlens Noel has serious holes in his game – mostly anything to do with offense – and is coming off a torn knee ligament, and the Cavs have lived the youth movement long enough, so the only real development would have been to not open the phone lines.

There is the Lake Erie-sized bit of flawed logic being tossed around in the wake of the lottery win Tuesday night, though: One benefit to going with Noel over Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore is that the Kentucky power forward-center does not expect to return until around Christmas, allowing the Cavaliers to build a better roster while simultaneously positioning themselves for a high pick in the loaded 2014 draft. Yes, because if there’s one thing fans should want after years of losing it’s to angle for another season of missing the playoffs.

2013 NBA DraftWelcome to the Andrew Wiggins Effect. Wiggins is a Canadian who just played his senior season of high school in West Virginia, the son of former NBA veteran Mitchell Wiggins, and bound for Kansas. He would have, at the very least, challenged Anthony Davis for No. 1 in the 2011 draft as a junior, would have lapped the field this year, and is projected as the clear favorite to go first in 2014. Beyond Wiggins, several other major prospects could be in the next draft, from elite one-and-done freshman to returnees like Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart to international shooting guard Mario Hezonja.

The Bobcats, the Kings, the Pelicans, the Suns, the Magic – they are at least a year away from a playoff push. This isn’t that. The Cavaliers are in go mode. You take Noel if he is the best prospect on the board and then deal with the delay, not because missing months is a benefit.

Cleveland should absolutely be thinking postseason, as colleague John Schuhmann noted in his report from the lottery. It missed by 14 games in 2012-13, a pretty good distance, except that the team that finished eighth, Milwaukee, could lose important free agents, plural, while the Cavaliers are clearly in an upward trajectory. Anderson Varejao is expected back after being limited to 25 games, Kyrie Irving can be counted on for more than 59 games, and Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller will be off the rookie learning curve. Fourteen games in the Eastern Conference is not exactly insurmountable.

The draft options are a trade, to add experience, or McLemore because he grades out as a better two-way prospect, even after taking Waiters in the lottery last June. Orlando, picking second, would then take whoever is left between Noel and McLemore, or possibly Trey Burke to address a need at point guard.

If the Magic don’t take him, Burke, the college Player of the Year from Michigan, is in a precarious spot. The Wizards are third, and they have John Wall. The Bobcats pick fourth and are liking Kemba Walker enough that point guard is far from a pressing concern. The Suns will pick fifth one season after spending big on free agent Goran Dragic and taking Kendall Marshall in the lottery. The unknown in Phoenix is the view of new GM Ryan McDonough, without any track record in the job.

That scenario gets Burke to the Hornets/Pelicans at six. That, in turn, would be trouble for Austin Rivers, but there was always a question whether New Orleans reached by drafting him to be a true point when a lot of teams saw combo guard. It’s hard to imagine Burke getting past the Hornicans. If he does, there is Sacramento with its annual point-guard decision in the draft.

The Burke picture is not unlike Damian Lillard in 2012, when he went into the draft as the top prospect at the position and lasted until No. 6 because many of the teams picking at the very top were already committed. Davis was the obvious No. 1 for New Orleans, followed soon after by the Wizards with Wall at 3, the Cavaliers with Irving at 4 and the Kings at 5 a year after they spent a lottery pick on Jimmer Fredette. Things seemed to work out for Lillard.

Trey Burke Takes His Shot At No. 1


This is his last best chance to go No. 1 in the Draft, tonight as the lottery unfolds and Trey Burke plans to be watching on the big screen in the living room of his Columbus, Ohio, home and, as he put it, “hoping one of those teams gets the top pick.”

One of those teams with a pressing need for a point guard.

In what has been a Nerlens NoelBen McLemore world for much of the second half of the season in the race for No. 1, Burke is the other possibility, however distant, to crash the party. His decisions have been made with the coveted spot on June 27 in mind, too, and tonight the Michigan product needs the ping-pong balls to bounce just right. He’s a long shot anyway, but this is the shot.

Burke has circled Orlando, which has the greatest chance of landing No. 1, though mathematical probability has traditionally meant very little in the lottery. Detroit, too. And even Phoenix, which may come as news to the organization that a summer ago signed Goran Dragic and used a lottery pick on Kendall Marshall. (Or maybe he knows something that all bets are off with a new GM, Ryan McDonough, hitting town.)

“With the way we played this year, not only myself but how far my team went, I definitely think I have a winning mindset and a winning mentality,” Burke said. “I think I could be the No. 1 pick. If I don’t think that then I won’t be. So I definitely think so.”

He knows his stock went up when Marcus Smart returned to Oklahoma State rather than enter the Draft as the top point-guard prospect, creating a well-timed opening for Burke coming off a sophomore season as national player of the year. Burke weighed the Smart factor as he decided whether to leave Michigan. He factored in the realization that he not only would be the best player at his position in the Class of 2013, he could be the only one good enough for the top 10.

“Definitely,” said Burke, also aware of the concerns at measuring 5-foot-11 ¾ without shoes and 6-foot-1 ¼ with. “I looked at the whole draft and looked at everyone that was coming out. I realized that this isn’t one of the best drafts as far as point guards. I knew that that would help me out as well. Then again, I knew that I still have to continue to work and prove myself to these teams and coaches.”

Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse, Dennis Schroeder from Germany and C.J. McCollum of Lehigh are also likely or possible lottery choices among point guards, though McCollum has been more of a combo guard. That could be it for the position in the first round.

Noel Anticipating Christmas Return

CHICAGO – Potential No. 1 pick Nerlens Noel said his recovery from a torn knee ligament is going better than anticipated but that he expects to make his NBA debut sometime around Christmas, an assessment that should end speculation about whether he could be ready for the start of the season.

The Kentucky power forward/center is rivaled by only Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore as the clear favorites to be chosen first overall in the June 27 NBA Draft. Noel has an edge in their head-to-head matchup but McLemore is a realistic option based on team need once the lottery order is set Tuesday. But Noel has the unique risk for a possible No. 1 of coming off knee surgery in March, late enough that he not only is unable to work out for clubs but also will force him to miss summer league and training camp.

His report on the current rehabilitation in Birmingham, Ala., offers the prognosis of a successful recovery yet also the reality he will probably miss at least the first two months of his rookie season. Noel said the timetable is based on what he calls ‘very encouraging’ feedback on the recovery efforts along with the initial estimate of needing six to eight months to get back on the court.

“I have no doubt that I will be 100 percent, [and] even better than before, especially with everything I’m doing now,” he said. “I’m strengthening everything – upper body, lower body. I’m sure I’ll be better than 100 percent when I get back.

“It’s [going] better than I expected. I expected to be moving at a fast rate, and I definitely am. I’ll be looking to make a comeback as soon as possible. I just want to make sure my knee is in a good state.”

While it is impossible to get a definitive read on the knee, there is the other update on his conditioning and prep work for the draft: Noel measured at 4.2 percent body fat earlier this week as part of all prospects from U.S. colleges going through physicals, a very good outcome for anyone but particularly a player who isn’t able to go through the same training regimen. He measured 6-foot-10 without shoes and 6-11 ¾ with shoes, and 206 pounds.

“There’s no risk at all,” Noel said of a being chosen first with the uncertainty of a knee injury. “I definitely have the mindset that I’m going to come back from this…. When I get back, I’m going to be the hardest worker I can be and do what I have to do to be the player I want to be and do good things for the team I get drafted by.”

Other news, notes and observations as the second and final day in the gym at the pre-draft combine concluded Friday afternoon:

  • Rudy Gobert, on the bubble for the lottery, scored points with teams by participating in drills when it has become common for most prospects with a good shot for the middle of the first round to skip the basketball portion of the event to protect draft stock. Front offices are annually frustrated by players ducking the competition. Gobert, a center from France, did not duck. “It shows that somebody’s aware,” one executive said. “The knock on him is that he doesn’t want to compete. Whether he listened to an agent or a coach or decided on his own, it’s a good sign that he’s here.”
  • Gobert looked stunned to learn there were doubts about his drive. But he did say he liked the idea of sending the message that he wants to face the top competition to get better after so far spending his entire career in Europe. Gobert also has the “Wow” factor with a wing span of 7-8 ½ and a standing reach of 9-7 in addition to standing 7-2 in shoes, meaning he can at least come close to touching the rim without jumping. His wingspan has been an obvious attribute for a long time, with people often asking him to stand and stretch his arms, just to get a look. One executive, seeing Gobert in person for the first time, said it’s a sight just to watch Gobert’s reach while standing next to another player. Teams want to fall in love with this guy. He had a disappointing 2012-13 in Europe, but with his potential plus the physical, Gobert easily moves into the lottery if he does anything in the individual workouts. He was No. 16 in the last ranking.
  • Jeff Withey, center from Kansas, is aware teams like him around the middle of the first round for defense and rebounding, and has been working to improve his mid-range and post game since the end of the season. The result was some positive feedback off drills in the gym.
  • Steven Adams, was the big man who impressed the most in that area, showing a mid-range game that didn’t get noticed in one season at Pittsburgh. That Adams is expanding his game is especially noteworthy as a relatively inexperienced player, and very inexperienced at a high level of competition, after learning the game in his native New Zealand. He is an aggressive, fluid 7-footer.
  • Dennis Schroeder, the German point guard making a late charge up draft boards, has singled out Utah and Milwaukee as preferred destinations on draft night. The disclosure is particularly relevant because the interest may be mutual and both will probably be picking in the right range, with the Jazz at 14 barring a long-shot climb into the top three on lottery night and the Bucks at 15. As Schroeder himself pointed out, the Jazz have the position need as Mo Williams heads into free agency (with a good chance they’d have the need even if Williams wasn’t). When asked what he considered the best place to start his NBA career, he mentioned Utah first. Milwaukee is a possibility with Brandon Jennings about to become a free agent. That draft-night decision by the Bucks, if Schroeder is available at 15, will be as much about weighing their future with Jennings as weighing Schroeder. And if they draft one and re-sign the other, it creates trade chips. Schroeder said he has scheduled a work out with the Rockets as well as the Jazz and Bucks. Houston picks 18, though. At this rate, he’ll be long gone.
  • McLemore-Shabazz Muhammad was once shaping up as the best matchup once individual workouts got underway for the top prospects following the lottery. No more. Now it’s Schroeder-Trey Burke, even if Michael Carter-Williams, not Schroeder, remains the second-best prospect among point guards. The warp speed of Schroeder, the tournament-tested experience of Burke, the drive of both – that’s a great show.
  • One GM, on Tony Mitchell, once a possibility for the lottery but now trying to hold on to a spot in the first round after a difficult season at North Texas: “He’s the best athlete here. It’s not even close. He’s a freak of nature.”

Another Hit To Muhammad Draft Stock

CHICAGO – NBA executives are raising the possibility that Shabazz Muhammad could fall out of the first top 10 picks in the NBA Draft and possibly the lottery entirely, the latest draft setback for the UCLA swingman who began the season in the conversation for the No. 1 pick.

Muhammad being on the board until the middle of the first round on June 27 was once inconceivable, and still is to some within the league, for a prospect with the potential to be a scoring star. But in noting his selfish play, poor body language and the new perspective after the discovery Muhammad had been lying about his age, some teams had turned shockingly cold as the annual pre-draft combine Thursday began the first of two days of drills and workouts.

One executive said, on the matter of Muhammad dropping in the draft, “I’m not saying it happens. But I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Out of the lottery?” another personnel boss said. “I guess it’s possible.”

And from another head of basketball operations, without hesitation, when asked if Muhammad could fall from the top 14: “He could.”

The climate has turned so bad that another general manager savaged the prospect even while saying there is no chance Muhammad gets out of the lottery, and maybe doesn’t even reach double digits.

“It’s his overall attitude,” that executive said. “His presentation of himself. It’s an all-about-me presentation. I think that’s his biggest knock…. His selfish tendencies on the floor show up at certain times. But that’s what scorers do.”

Indeed, there is the possibility that Muhammad is in the common role of former high school phenom struggling to transition to the college game and now the pros, all with a large spotlight as a recruit expected to help rejuvenate a prominent program. It may simply be a matter of maturing, in play and personality.

Either way, Muhammad has a bad image as the draft approaches, and not just in the moment. Scouts and executives had been increasingly hard on him during his freshman season at UCLA, noting his selfish play with various versions of “He doesn’t get others involved,” the way a star should elevate an entire team. The concern among losing franchises that might take him near the top of the draft was that Muhammad would be little more than a stat stuffer. Clubs in the lottery that already had pieces in place worried that continued work as a volume scorer would create problems on a roster.

His play is the primary concern, but that hit also comes in the wake of the strange discovery in March by the Los Angeles Times that Muhammad, while listed as a 19-year-old by the school, was actually 20. While some teams have already gotten past the concern of what other secrets could jump out down the line, the real issue of the adjusted age became his development. He had been overpowering younger players in high school and some in the one college season, an advantage he would not have among grownups in the NBA, and he suddenly had one less year to develop. Muhammad, simply, was not as advanced for his age as once thought.

“I don’t think that’ll hurt me,” Muhammad said. “To know I’m 20, I’m still pretty young, one of the youngest guys in this draft. I’m just going to see where it takes me.”

Asked what questions he anticipates from teams once he sets a schedule for individual workouts following the lottery outcome on Tuesday night, Muhammad said, “It’s up in the air. It’s going to be really interesting, so I’m looking to that and looking forward to talking to teams and telling them a little bit more about myself.”

But, there will be birth-certificate questions.

“Probably so,” he said. “But I’m going to answer the questions truthfully and tell them what’s really going on.”

McLemore Believes He’s Best Player In The Draft


CHICAGO – He spent the last several months lobbying through actions, with his play as a Kansas shooting guard, and then Ben McLemore finally said it.

He is the best player in the draft.

“Deep down I think I am,” he told as the pre-Draft combine got underway with physical testing in advance of most players, but not McLemore and other top prospects, taking the court Thursday and Friday. “I have that mindset that I am. Just going out there and showing my abilities.

“People know what I did in college and know what I can do throughout my career. A lot of people know I really haven’t reached that point in my basketball life, so I know deep down inside that I have it in me. I’ve just got to keep working.”

The pre-Draft combine will be televised on ESPNU (10 a.m.-2 p.m. ET) and ESPN2 (2-3 p.m. ET) on Thursday and again on Friday at the same times and on the same channels.

Whether McLemore is actually first off the board on June 27 will depend partly, if not largely, on the results of the lottery – the winner will likely go for Nerlens Noel of Kentucky if it needs a big man and for McLemore if it needs a shooting guard. Neither has distinguished themselves enough to be the dominant figure of the Class of 2013.

Some teams might take Noel regardless of position because of the value of a defensive-presence at power forward or center, but others could be scared away by the risk of using the No. 1 choice on a player coming off knee surgery. On health reasons, McLemore is a safer bet and has a lot of upside as well.

“I think it’d be important to me, especially being the No. 1 draft pick and that a shooting guard [hasn’t] been a No. 1 draft pick for a while, for years,” McLemore said. “It’d be very important to me to make history to me. It would be great to be No. 1, being able to help my family out.”

Meanwhile, injuries continue to create problems for teams hoping to begin to arrange individual workouts with possible first-round picks. With Noel, Anthony Bennett and Alex Len already out because of health issues that are scheduled to sideline them through summer league, Louisville center Gorgui Dieng and San Diego State shooting guard Jamaal Franklin were both in walking boots Wednesday. Dieng, No. 17 in the latest ranking, reported a sprained right ankle suffered in a training session, Franklin a sprained left ankle in similar fashion.

Both described their injuries as relatively minor, though also enough to possibly delay the start to individual workouts. Dieng said he is scheduled to see a doctor on Monday and hopes to ramp up his conditioning with an eye toward full practices and scrimmages soon after.

Duke guard Seth Curry is also here to meet with teams, but estimated he is a month away from being able to return to contact work while recovering from the stress fracture in his right shin. The brother of Stephen and son of Dell is a possibility for the second round.