Two Biggest Prizes

Posted: June 24, 2007

They have the kind of talent that makes grown men swoon - and conspire quietly to tank basketball games.

But all that is over now, leaving Ohio State center Greg Oden and Texas forward Kevin Durant where they've been for the last six months - projected to go first and second overall in Thursday's NBA draft in New York, the linchpins of one of the best classes in recent history.

There are an unusually high number of quality big men in this draft, but Oden and Durant are the franchise-changers, generational talents likely to go to Portland, picking first, and Seattle, picking second, respectively.

"Nobody's trading those [first two] picks, unless you do something out of your mind," said Atlanta general manager Billy Knight, who will start the real draft in earnest with the third overall pick. The Hawks also have the 11th selection in the first round, right ahead of the 76ers, who have picks No. 12, 21 and 30 in the first round to go with an early second-rounder, 38th overall.

At 7-foot, 260 pounds, Oden is an athletic wonder at center, dominant at both ends of the floor, who saved his best game for his biggest game, the NCAA final against Florida in April.

Oden worked out for the Trail Blazers in Portland to great fanfare Wednesday with the usual not-his-agent-fueled speculation about whether he had serious wrist, back and knee issues. (Blazers fans were voting by 77 to 23 percent in an online poll on the team's Web site as of late Friday to take Oden.)

"We know he has some things with his wrist," Portland coach Nate McMillan said by phone Friday. "His knees are good. We haven't had anything that has said we really need to be concerned about him five to 10 years from now. Most of these guys coming in, they've got something, whether it's a bad ankle or some knee injury."

Durant, a 6-10 scoring machine who won just about every collegiate postseason award as a freshman, had a "really good workout" Friday, McMillan said. Durant was scheduled to meet with McMillan and Blazers owner Paul Allen late Friday evening, as Oden did on Wednesday.

McMillan was most impressed that, while pundits and fans around the country bemoaned the likely fact that Oden and Durant will be playing in the Pacific Northwest in relatively small markets, neither player expressed any reservation about Portland.

"I've never heard either one of them say at any point that they didn't want to be here," McMillan said. "I really respected that from them. They want to be NBA players. I thought that was big."

The Hawks are likely to take the best big man left at three, either Florida forward Al Horford, his teammate Joakim Noah, or Chinese forward Yi Jianlian, each of whom brings vastly different skills to the floor.

Horford is a prototypical, burly, 6-10 power forward; Noah is a 6-11 whirling dervish who runs the floor all day and plays excellent defense; and Yi is a 7-1 shooting freak with great athleticism that reminds NBA talent scouts of Dirk Nowitzki.

They are just a few of the excellent forwards in the draft, running the gamut from young, long and potentially dominant (North Carolina's Brandan Wright), to lanky and do-everything (Georgetown's Jeff Green), to versatile and defensively gifted (Florida's Corey Brewer), to fast and traditional (Kansas' Julian Wright).

There are the requisite scoring two guards (USC's Nick Young, Eastern Washington's Rodney Stuckey, Rice's Morris Almond), the usual international suspects (Spain's Rudy Fernandez, Italy's Marco Belinelli, Finland's Petteri Koponen), and the best guesses to become great NBA point guards (Ohio State's Mike Conley Jr., Texas A&M's Acie Law IV).

With all their picks, the Sixers have been busy since early this month, working out 35 to 40 prospects at their practice facility.

"It's just more or less having had a chance to sit down and visit with some of the guys," Sixers president and general manager Billy King said. "That's where the questions were for me. You can ask them, 'Look at the times in games you dogged it. Why?' Now you have a better sense of who they are as people."

Boston, picking fifth, and Chicago, picking ninth, seem to be the teams most interested in moving out of the top 10, while teams without first-round picks - Toronto, Dallas and Denver - might well trade their way back into the first round before Thursday's action begins.


Stay updated with 76ers happenings on Inquirer staff writer Marc Narducci's blog

at http://blogs.

phillynews.com/

inquirer/deepsixer/


Contact staff writer David Aldridge

at 215-854-5516 or daldridge@phillynews.com.

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