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The Problem with Predicting Part I

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Ok quiz time.

Hands up folks.

How many people had UCLA, George Mason, LSU and Florida as their Final Four teams...

Anyone?

Oh you did Stephen A. Smith? Of course...

With the early exits of UConn, Villanova, Memphis and sob...my Duke Blue Devils, many opinions of draft prospects have changed recently. From the internet draft sites we frequent to various scouting reports in the media, it really sounds like people are singing new tunes on the various prospects expected to come out this year.

Rudy Gay, who seemed like a sure-fire top five pick hardly looks like a lock after such an up and down performance in the tourney. In fact he did nothing in our eyes here at RaptorsHQ to change our comparison of Rudy to the ghosts in Super Mario Bros. You know, in the original Nintendo game, the fourth level castles where the ghosts would follow you if you turned your back on them? Sorta like Rudy Gay...he puts up decent numbers...but never seems to take over a game (which he SHOULD be able to do) and at times simply disappears.

And even LaMarcus Aldridge. The individual who was tagged as maybe the closest thing to being a "can't miss" prospect at some point in his NBA career, just didn't dominate the way some expected and was bullied around by LSU's Glen "Big Baby" Davis in Texas' Big Eight match. Sure Aldridge won't run into many 300 plus pound power forwards in the NBA, but the concern is that he didn't use his quickness advantages to score on Davis, something Shelden Williams, a lesser touted and less athletic prospect, was able to do in the Sweet Sixteen.

No...now we have Tyrus Thomas as the top pick in many scouts' minds and I for one would have a tough time arguing that call at this point. After watching Thomas' game-changing abilities so far this tourney, especially on the defensive end, he became one of only a handful of future prospects in my mind who really stood out and may very well have the most upside of anyone who declares for this year's draft.

Oh upside...that magic word. Seems like that's all many of this year's prospects have to offer from Rodney Carney to even my personal fave Rajon Rondo.

The fact is I've been an avid draft follower for years and this upcoming one scares me to death. It actually reminds of me the draft of 2000, which saw an athletic power forward go first with little else after that. That year the New Jersey Nets made Kenyon Martin the first overall pick with LSU's Stromile Swift going second to Vancouver. This year we could have a near duplicate situation with Aldridge going first and Tyrus Thomas going second. Swift like Thomas also attended LSU and coming out of college had a similar explosive, raw game. The hope of course is that Thomas rounds out the other parts of his game, something the NBA is still waiting on Swift to do.

But let's look at the rest of the 2000 draft.

Darius Miles, the third pick, has hardly developed into the "KG Clone" he was touted as upon his selection.

Marcus Fizer, the following pick, is still battling for a spot in the league after being recently cut by the Sonics.

Sure Mike Miller has been a decent player in the league injuries aside...but is his game, for those who remember him as a Florida Gator, not eerily similar to a taller JJ Redick?

And let's not even get into Demarr Johnson, Keyon Dooling, Jerome Moiso, Etan Thomas and Courtney Alexander, five of the next eight picks.

The point of this is that no matter how much scouting is done, no matter how great a college career a certain player has had, it's EXTREMELY difficult to forecast talent and how it will translate from the NCAA or even overseas to the NBA. And making this even more difficult in the past decade has been the proliferation of underage players and European stars. Without sufficient experience many of these players are drafted purely on potential.

Is Patrick O'Bryant the next Nazr Mohammed? Or is he the next Samaki Walker?

Toronto's own Denham Brown? Could he favorably compare to a Keith Bogans type, someone who will have a long career in the league playing the tenth man role for squads? Or is he another Roshown McLeod, a player who was good at everything but great at nothing and thus found himself out of an NBA job?

And how about the latest draftboard favourite Joakim Noah? He seems to have star written all over him right? He's got the size, shooting touch, ball skills and tenacity to be successful in the league does he not?

In my moribund state after Duke's loss to LSU last weekend, I tried seeking comfort by watching Duke's 2001 NCAA Championship win over Arizona. The game featured many future NBA'ers including Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy Jr, Jason Williams, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Chris Duhon and none other than Arizona's "Player of the Game" - Loren Woods. Watching Loren block and alter shots, score at will and grab rebounds with his slender frame certainly made me wonder about Noah. The knock on Loren was that he would simply never be strong enough with his slender frame to have the rest of his skills translate successfully to the NBA. And sure enough scouts were correct.

Watching Noah I wonder if he too will be able to play past his slender build. He's not quite a legit seven footer so will he be able to man the center position in the pros? Noah does exhibit better defensive tendencies but lacks Loren's offensive skills during his days at 'Zona (yes, I do realize that typing Loren Woods and "offensive skills" in the same sentence is an oxymoron) and like some of this year's other prospects such as Hilton Armstrong and the aforementioned Tyrus Thomas, has really come from nowhere. So my question is will teams really know what type of commodity they're drafting come June?

It also begs the question from a Raptors' fans perspective...do you make the safe pick? I'm not saying a Rafael Araujo type "safe-pick" (which was a complete STRETCH from the get-go) but a Shelden Williams type. Williams will probably not be a star in the league but I think the Antonio Davis comparisons are quite fair. Shelden aka "The Landlord" is definitely a better offensive player than AD was at this stage in his career however. Williams also shoots a great percentage from the free throw-line, can run the floor well for someone his size, and while is a bit undersized perhaps to play the 5 spot, has an understanding and feel for the game well beyond most of the other prospects and is the best "help defense" player of the bunch. All of these attributes are certainly things Toronto is in dire need of.

So what's Bryan Colangelo to do? Assuming the Raptors stay on course and have a selection around sixth or seventh, it's likely that Aldridge, Adam Morrison, Thomas, Gay and Noah will all be gone. If Colangelo is looking to build a squad ala his former Phoenix one we may see an athlete of the Rodney Carney type being selected or even an international man of mystery like Andrea Bargnani. In any event, the purpose of this article is not to try and "make like Miss Cleo," as until workouts, draft camps and especially the actual lottery to determine draft positions, projecting who Toronto will pick is quite useless. Which is why, while entertaining, ESPN.com's draft lottery game (for Insider Subscribers) is quite ludicrous. At this point there is way too much up in the air and frankly I'm not sure how ESPN.com came up with their "projections" especially where the Raptors are concerned.

After running the mock scenarios to see Toronto's "likely picks" it's obvious that ESPN.com seems convinced that if the Raptors end up with a top three pick, they'll take Adam Morrison. Anyone else not convinced by this? It sounds like Sam Mitchell likes Morrison's game but I'm not sure another defensive liability playing the same position that Charlie Villanueva is currently enjoying success in makes sense. If, in their scenarios, Morrison has been taken, the Raptors end up taking Noah. Finally, in every other scenario if Toronto picks from the fifth spot on down, Rudy Gay is the choice. This makes even less sense to me. Sam Mitchell wants players who perform every game and impact both ends of the court. Can't you just see Sam next year staring out in blazing anger wondering how Toronto didn't guard a player only to see the blank expressionless faces of Bonner, Villanueva and Gay staring him back? Wait...that's assuming Mitchell will be the coach staring out in anger I suppose...

In any event, I just don't see ESPN.com's choices (Noah aside) as being that logical. However it will be interesting to see how these players' stock rises or falls as the draft nears and RaptorsHQ of course will be keeping tabs. Currently, as in if the draft was tomorrow, I would have no problem with the Raptors selecting one of the following players with our first pick, realistically based on the team's current record:

Shelden Williams

Brandon Roy

Marcus Williams

JJ Redick

Rajon Rondo

All I feel may fall within our projected range and while far from being perfect picks, I feel that each possesses skill sets that Toronto desperately needs.

Both Williams and Rondo are pass-first point guards from winning programs who could run the Raptors offense.

Brandon Roy's all around skill set, ability to create his own shot, and hard-nosed play and defence would be a great fit with this club. He could also fill-in at several positions.

Williams we've already discussed and Redick could be a great backup to Mo Pete, coming off the bench and giving Toronto a deadly outside shooter to dissuade double teams on CB4. He also comes from a winning program, is a tireless worker and while no Michael Redd, would be a lot cheaper than the taller yet just as defensively inept Peja Stojakavic.

Of course my opinions on these and others will be subject to change but after watching countless hours of college ball these past months, these are my current faves. What the Raptors decide, and where they'll even be picking at this point, is anyone's guess. I think Raptor fans however are going to have to lower their expectations with this draft and hope that Toronto finds a solid niche player out of their three current picks rather than a future starter.

After all, if draft history has taught us anything, you never know if you're getting the next Tracy McGrady or the next Michael Bradley.

FRANCHISE