- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Los Angeles Clippers are expected to make Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin the top pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday night.

That may be as close to a sure thing as it gets in this draft.

The Memphis Grizzlies own the second pick but reportedly have little interest in keeping it. Then come the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Sacramento Kings. At least, that was the picking order the day before the draft.

But as the Washington Wizards showed Tuesday, things can change quickly. The Wizards agreed to ship the fifth overall pick, Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov to the Minnesota Timberwolves for guards Mike Miller and Randy Foye.

The move gave Minnesota four first-round draft picks (Nos. 5, 6, 18 and 28) and added to speculation that the Timberwolves will try to move up to the second overall pick.

One report has the Timberwolves pursuing Spain’s Ricky Rubio. Another has them craving Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet. Another has them content to stay put and build for the future.

The New York Knicks, Thunder and the Boston Celtics are rumored to want to move up in the draft, but who they would pick remains a mystery. Grunfeld said the predraft chatter of maneuvering isn’t much higher this year than in past drafts. But he concedes that the varying opinions of players is slightly unusual and partly blamed a class filled with young players that teams have had only a year or two to scout.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Grunfeld said. “Every draft is different, but unlike some of the deeper drafts, we don’t have as much time to evaluate players as we used to maybe 10 years ago. Years ago, players could come in and produce; now it takes time to develop talent. But there are always good players in every draft.”

The required growth period of the talent in this year’s class has made it difficult to project where players will land. And it also has some teams willing to trade down or out of the draft to acquire veteran contributors rather than waiting for questionable draft prospects to mature.

Most mock drafts feature similar projections of the top picks, but the order of those players vary. Rubio may go as high as No. 2 overall or slip to No. 5. Davidson’s Stephen Curry - an undersized combo guard who can score but must learn the nuances of playing point guard in the NBA - has been projected to go anywhere from fourth to 10th.

Arizona power forward Jordan Hill, who has only played organized basketball for five years, is slotted as high as third overall and as low as 14th. American high school standout turned Italian point guard prospect Brandon Jennings is said to go anywhere from top five to the late teens. And North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough could hear his name called as soon as 10th or as late as the high 30s.

“I don’t remember a draft where you can look at a player and say, ‘He can go anywhere from 10 and 22,’ and we’ve got that this year,” ESPN draft analyst Jay Bilas said. “Just about every player has significant upside but also has a lot of question marks. I don’t know any player outside of Blake Griffin that you feel unbelievably confident about. I don’t think there are a lot of truly great players in this draft. There are some good pieces you can get.

“The problem is with some more of the more talented players, you’re going to have to wait on them for a little while,” he said. “You may have to overpay in the top spots two through seven, you might have to overpay a little bit and wait on that.”

One area teams can address is point guard: Nine players at that position are projected to go in the first round and early second round. But the next Chris Paul could be in the top five or as late as 30 or lower.

“This is one of these drafts where any one of 11 point guards can go in the top 35 picks,” ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said. “It goes back to the flavor of the month. I really think one of these guys picked late in the first round is going to be better than some of the guys that are right now rated higher. We all feel that in some ways it’s a weak draft, but guys that are taken in the 20s and 30s could end up being some really good players. And there will be some busts in the first 14 picks, as there are every year.”

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