For Sixers, evaluating potential draft picks is a workout

Posted: June 26, 2007

In one of the early drills that are part and parcel of an NBA predraft workout, Florida State forward Al Thornton got up the floor in four dribbles. The 76ers only hope they can get up in Thursday night's draft as swiftly and fluidly.

So far, it's been a long, hard climb, but not without progress at various levels of the process.

In separate sessions yesterday, the Sixers examined, among others, Thornton and Duke forward Josh McRoberts. They worked the phones hard enough to arrange an afternoon session today with forward Julian Wright, of Kansas, and get guard/forward Arron Afflalo, of UCLA, back for a second visit.

They struck out trying to persuade guard Rodney Stuckey, of Eastern Washington, to come in, and were still considering a possible visit with Florida forward Joakim Noah in New York sometime before Thursday.

(A report in Arizona's East Valley Tribune had Afflalo working out in one of two sessions today with the Phoenix Suns, but Sixers president/general manager Billy King said he was expecting Afflalo to arrive in town last night. Noah, according to the same report, was scheduled to work out today in Phoenix with Florida teammate Corey Brewer, Georgetown's Jeff Green and North Carolina's Brandan Wright.)

King sounded as if he would not use one of his three first-round picks (Nos. 12, 21 and 30) on Stuckey without a face-to-face meeting. At the same time, he intimated that he might bend that philosophy if he found himself in a position to select Noah.

Thornton, who averaged 19.7 points as a fifth-year senior, was back auditioning after sitting out a full week with a sprained ankle. He said he was "about 75 percent" yesterday; he tweaked the ankle early in his workout, then felt his back stiffen up at the end. Still, he fully intended to complete his round of visits by meeting today with the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold No. 6.

King said the Sixers have been "trying aggressively to get up" in the first round, either from No. 12 or 21.

"We have some things that we have on the table," he said. "We know [how high] we can get."

Conventional wisdom suggests that the Sixers have focused on an attempt to put themselves in position to acquire Green, Chinese power forward Yi Jianlian or Washington center Spencer Hawes, but King has offered no confirmation of any specific targets.

Going in to the final season of his contract, King has steadfastly insisted this is not "a make or break" situation either for the team or himself.

"As I've said all along, the plan is to do the best job we can to build a team," he said. "Trading Allen Iverson was Phase 1. This is Phase 2. Whatever we do, this is not going to end [the process]. It wouldn't, even if we had the No. 1 pick. Is that the guy who's going to make us the finished product?"

Nor will King look at the end result of picks Nos. 12, 21 and 30 as what he got in return for sending Iverson to the Denver Nuggets.

"No, because Andre Miller was part of that," he said. "A big part."

All through the process, players, coaches and team executives have said repeatedly that they pay virtually no attention to the various mock drafts generated by newspapers and Web sites, but they all are more than aware of them. That includes Thornton, who knows a large number of mocks have him slotted at No. 12.

"If [that] happens, I'll be more than happy," Thornton said. "Their style fits my game. I wouldn't mind."

In a league that thrives on getting younger, Thornton is an anomaly; he will turn 24 on Dec. 7. In sort of a self-deprecating attempt at humor, he describes himself as having been better suited for the track team than the basketball team when he enrolled in college. He redshirted before beginning his seasons of eligibility, and didn't become a full-time starter until his junior year. He paid attention to the draft each season, but knew he had to do what was best for his own development.

"I was considered by a lot of people as just a great athlete," he said. "That's something I hate, being a basketball player. That's one of the reasons I was driven."

That drive helped him score 1,174 of his career 1,521 points over his final two seasons, and brought this from Virginia coach Dave Leitao: "He's as good a basketball player as there is in America. Are you going to tell me that there are five or 10 better players? I'd disagree."

At least the NBA agrees that Thornton is a likely top 15 pick, because he's one of the 15 invited to attend draft headquarters in New York.

Oh, and whichever team chooses him won't have to wait for him to mature. "For the most part, I think [staying in school has been] a tremendous advantage," Thornton said. "I'm a lot more mature socially, mentally and physically, and I think I'm ready to play now."

Still, he knew he had to fight his way through his final workouts.

"I'm tired of working out, to be honest with you," he said. "I'm ready for the draft. I wish it was tomorrow."

Six shots

Josh McRoberts worked out with Ukrainian 7-footer Kyrylo Fesenko (described by Billy King as "a first-rounder") and 6-10 Croatian Luksa Andric.

worked out with Ukrainian 7-footer (described by as "a first-rounder") and 6-10 Croatian .

Al Thornton was on the court with Villanova's Curtis Sumpter and Temple's Dustin Salisbery, in for the second time.

Sumpter showed no ill effects from his twice surgically repaired knee. *

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