Ironically, the most anticipated NBA draft in recent memory may lack intrigue in the early going thanks to a pair of can't-miss prospects. Still, as the big event nears (Thursday starting at 7:30 pm/ET, on ESPN) and as Portland prepares to pick first, there was plenty to talk about with ESPN analyst Jay Bilas.
TVGuide.com: A handful of analysts speculate that Kevin Durant could be the top pick, but is there really any doubt that Greg Oden will go first?
Jay Bilas: Not to me. I think the only reason you would take Durant is if you think he's going to be Jordanesque in his ability, the type of player you can build around and win championships. [Or] if you believe the game is headed to more of a perimeter game, and because of that you can move around a center more than you used to with the pick-and-roll.... Then I can understand [taking Durant first]. It's not an unreasonable position to take. I just feel like Oden is the real thing. He's the type of talent and player that comes around in the draft only so often. I think he's going to win in [the NBA] and win big. The hardest [players] to get in the NBA draft are 5s and 1s — a point guard or a center, and he's a center prospect who wants to play in the post. Oden is the best center to come out of college since [Patrick] Ewing.
TVGuide.com: Even considering Shaq?
Bilas: Yeah. Shaq was a different type of player, but I think [Oden's] more advanced, offensively, than Shaq was. Shaq was more of a physical specimen, but Oden is a more skilled player. He's also a bigger winner. I mean, the kid's never lost. Since middle school, he's won 800 games and lost only 16.
TVGuide.com: Portland finished 10 games out of the playoff race this year. Is Oden good enough take them to the postseason in this first year?
Bilas: I think so, especially since they have such a good, young nucleus. I do think he's going to make a significant difference in anchoring the middle defensively in rebounding, blocking shots and running the floor, and he's only scratched the surface of what he's capable of doing on the offensive end. In the NBA he's not going to have to deal with the same kind of foul trouble he had to deal with in college.
TVGuide.com: I haven't looked at his foul-shooting percentage in a while. Is it pretty solid?
Bilas: It's very solid, considering he shot the ball left-handed. That's not insignificant. I don't know that many players who would accept the challenge of stepping up as the favorite to be the No. 1 selection in the draft and shoot the ball with his off hand on national television, game after game after game, and shoot close to 70 percent.
TVGuide.com: Will David Stern even be able to finish the sentence, "The Seattle SuperSonics are on the clock" before the Sonics make their pick?
Bilas: They'll probably take the time to see if there's anything they can get out of it. I don't anticipate either [Portland or Seattle] trading their pick, but who knows. Maybe you get a deal that is too good to turn down.
TVGuide.com: It gets a little more interesting for the third pick. The Hawks need a point guard but may end up taking a power forward based on player talent. Would that be the right move, or should team needs come first?
Bilas: Just because you need a point guard doesn't mean you take one, if the talent disparity is such that it demands it. I happen to think Mike Conley Jr. is the real thing. If Conley were in the draft two years ago, you'd have a hard time picking between him, Deron Williams and Chris Paul. He's in that category. The only thing he doesn't do very, very well is shoot from the perimeter, but that's something I think he will improve upon. But I could understand if [Atlanta] wanted to go with Brandan Wright or Al Horford.
TVGuide.com: Have you gotten to see much of Yi Jianlian?
Bilas: I've seen enough to [know he'd] be dangerous. I saw him when he was in high school and he came over to play in the Adidas ABCD Camp in New Jersey, and I watched him in the World Championships this last summer. Very talented.
TVGuide.com: Franchise-type player? All-star-type player?
Bilas: He's got a ways to go to be that. He can really shoot it and he's very, very skilled, and he's very long. I don't know that I'd put him as an All-star right now. I don't have him ranked as high as some other guys do.
TVGuide.com: Besides Oden and Durant, which players are ready to make an immediate impact?
Bilas: [Al] Horford will make an immediate impact and be a contributor. I'm not saying these guys are Tim Duncan-type players that will give you 30 extra wins, but there are more players [compared to the 2006 draft] that are ready to step in and contribute, guys that could come in and be the top scorers on the team. But I think Julian Wright's an outstanding prospect.... Joakim Noah is going to be a very good player.... This draft is pretty deep.
TVGuide.com: This draft is dominated by forwards and centers. Which guards besides Conley do you particularly like?
Bilas: I like Acie Law a lot, though I don't like him as much as some other people do, and Javaris Crittenton from Georgia Tech has a chance to be very good. The one guy I think really highly of that I've seen [ranked] lower is Nick Young out of Southern Cal. He's got playmaking ability.
TVGuide.com: Oden and Durant are getting all the headlines. Which player isn't getting enough attention?
Bilas: Boy, that's a great question. I think Al Thornton out of Florida State. Just an explosive, gifted athlete with a great body that's got a high-revving motor. He can really finish, he's got range to about 17 feet, he can drive it and get to the rim. Jeff Green from Georgetown is undervalued. He's got the complete package: size, versatility, handling and passing ability. He can shoot it, he's got playmaking skills almost as a point-forward with his ability at 6-foot-9 to handle it. I really like him a lot.
TVGuide.com: Which likely lottery pick do you have the most doubts about?
Bilas: [Pauses] I can't think of anybody who is a major issue as far as, "Boy, I don't think this guy can play." I think Brandan Wright is going to be special, but we're going to have to wait a while. He's thin and he needs time to mature physically. I'm not as sold on Sean Williams from Boston College. He can block shots and rebound, but he's got a lot of question marks about him that scare me.
TVGuide.com: You've been covering the draft for ESPN since 2003, the year of LeBron, Wade and Carmelo. How does this class compare?
Bilas: It probably is a little bit deeper because of the logjam. This is kind of two drafts in one because of the amount of players that would have come out last year but were prohibited from doing so by the new collective-bargaining agreement, the "19-and-a-year-out" rule. You're probably going to see an extra 10 players in this draft who would have come out last year.
TVGuide.com: If LeBron had gone to college and stayed all four years, he'd also be in this draft. Who would you take, LeBron or Oden, to start a franchise if LeBron happened to be coming out this year?
Bilas: Now that's a great question! A sort of Jordan-Olajuwon question. LeBron was the best high-school player I had ever seen. By far. There was no question in my mind that he was going to be a great NBA player who was going to win championships or be right there. I would probably take [Pauses] LeBron. But that would be a really hard decision. That's how highly I think of Oden.
TVGuide.com: Have you heard anything on what the relationship between Oden and Durant is like?
Bilas: I think they like each other very much, and [each is] very respectful of the other. They're very much throwbacks in that way. They're hard workers, they're all about winning and the game. They're both great kids. That may be the best part of this whole thing: The two most talented kids and the two best prospects are two of the most high-character guys. Really terrific kids. Neither Portland nor Seattle has to worry one minute about character.
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