Selecting a savior

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In the months and weeks leading up to the 2008 NBA Draft, which will take place Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, the debate of the summer was Rose or Beasley.

Would - or should - the Chicago Bulls use the top pick of the draft on Memphis freshman point guard and Chicago native Derrick Rose? Or would they take Kansas State freshman forward Michael Beasley?

Rose is billed as an electrifying player with the strength and defensive prowess of Utah’s Deron Williams and the quickness of New Orleans’ Chris Paul. Jason Kidd reincarnate was how one draft insider described Rose.

Beasley - a Frederick, Md., native - meanwhile, is described as the best athlete in the draft with great post-up power, impressive leaping ability, 3-point range and an NBA-ready body.

But who will deliver the Bulls - in the midst of revamping after a disappointing 33-49 season and the hiring of a new coach - to the promised land sooner? Which is the more critical cornerstone - guard or big man?

The same question was asked last season when the Portland Trail Blazers had to choose between Ohio State center Greg Oden or Texas swingman Kevin Durant. Portland took Oden, but he missed the entire season while recovering from knee surgery, so how the pick will pay off has yet to be seen.

Seattle took Durant at No. 2, and while he took home rookie of the year honors after averaging 20.3 points a game, the Sonics - fielding one of the youngest rosters in the league - went 20-62, second worst in the league.

Draft-day debates are rarely answered overnight, although it didn’t take long for Portland to wish it had selected Michael Jordan and not center Sam Bowie in 1984. But judging by the last four drafts, the better bet has been guard.

In 2006, Italian power forward Andrea Bargnani went first overall to Toronto. He hasn’t proved a Kwame Brown-type bust, but his 10.8 points and 3.8 rebounds a game over the last two seasons aren’t what is expected of a No. 1 pick overall.

Lamarcus Aldridge - taken next - averaged 17.6 points and 7.8 rebounds last season for Portland, but fellow forwards Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas and Shelden Williams have yet to live up to their predraft billing. Guard Brandon Roy, taken sixth, earned rookie of the year honors and is the Trail Blazers’ catalyst with 19.1 points and 5.8 assists a game.

The 2005 draft has proved to be the year of the point guard as Williams (third overall) and Paul (fourth) have far exceeded the production of the first and second picks, center Andrew Bogut and forward Marvin Williams.

Before selecting Deron Williams, Utah went 26-56. New Orleans went 18-64 the same season. The following season saw the Jazz go 41-41 and the Hornets post a 38-44 record. Williams has paced Utah to two consecutive playoff appearances, and Paul carried New Orleans to a tie for the second-best record in the Western Conference in 2007-08.

However, the first pick of the previous year, Orlando center Dwight Howard, has sparked the Magic’s revival and led them to two straight playoff appearances.

But while guards appear to be the can’t-miss pick as of late, those around the league say there’s no tried and true method of gauging which position will have a greater impact.

“It all depends on the system,” one league insider said. “The best coaches look at a player and find a way to get the most out of them by adjusting their system.”

According to the draft gurus, the Bulls - perhaps motivated by the past - are leaning toward Rose.

“You have to look at a strong point guard like Rose, and with the last few years what Williams and Paul have done can influence you,” one front office member speaking on the condition of anonymity said. “But really, it depends on what you need.”

No center is projected as a top two pick in this year’s draft, but the 6-foot-8 Beasley fits the big man billing. His work ethic and character have come into question, and Miami, which holds the No. 2 pick and would prefer a point guard to pair with Dwyane Wade, is fielding trade offers in the event Chicago takes Rose.

But while Chicago and Miami may lean toward point guard, Seattle, Memphis and the Clippers would all love to have Beasley and are reportedly in talks with the Heat.

The near future will indicate whether the guard trend continues or whether Beasley was the one who got away.

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