It is not surprising that the biggest story of the NBA Draft is speculation about the future of Mike Dunleavy, Jr. News about the Williams formerly known as Jason and Yao "But Can he Play Against Other Athletes?" Ming, was supposed to highlight the draft season--but it was Dunleavy's surprise announcement that has the sports junkies buzzing.
How a lightweight small forward broke into the ranks of draft heavyweights is truly a mystery. And when it comes to the NBA Draft, mysteries rarely end well.
Don't get me wrong--I like Mike. Every facet of his game has improved each year. At the same time, some of its aspects have looked somewhere between stagnant and listless--his energy at the end of a game, his drive down the stretch, his consistency. He is not Williams at the free-throw-line-at-the-end-of-the-game inconsistent, but for all the impressive numbers, there are some serious doubts about his finishing ability--take one look at how last season came to a close, especially note the games against Indiana and Notre Dame where less complete players had their way with Dunleavy.
What is Dunleavy's name doing ahead of those like Wilcox, Gooden and Butler? All three of them have thrown up equally impressive numbers, play comparable positions and played their respective roles better than Dunleavy during the stretch run.
In defense of Dunleavy, testing the waters is a brilliant move. When you have better-than-an-agent working on your behalf, are able to get an honest answer out of everyone involved in the draft and possess the best back-up plan in the world (another year with the greatest hoops program)--it makes sense to keep everyone guessing, and to use your advantages to secure the most favorable outcome.
But is that outcome going to be the best thing for any of the teams in the top five of the lottery?
Draft experts across America have Dunleavy departing no lower than fifth. If we are to assume that Dunleavy will stand by his recent suggestion (not that we should given his reneging on the four-years comments), that he'll return to college should he go somewhere lower than the top-echelon of the lottery, then the doorway to another year of Dunleavy is all but shut.
None of the teams at the top should have the future small-forward at the top of their list.
The draft's top dogs, the Houston Rockets, went for a younger, with-room-to-grow player last season. Even though it didn't pan out as well as they had hoped, given their completeness at the backcourt and competency elsewhere, it's likely that they will make the gamble on Yao Ming. Dunleavy will get no consideration for this position--the Rockets management has made it clear that they yearn for Yao.
The second team in the draft, the now-laughingstock Chicago Bulls, has got to make Dunleavys--Jr. and Sr.--uneasy. The Bulls picked up a couple of inexperienced and overmatched high schoolers last year, and managed to mismanage the draft, sending their one proven player away on draft night. Weak at every position, Krause may elect to trade down to land a player from another team along with another lottery pick. Or the Bulls could pluck Dunleavy and force the showing-their-hand-too-early Memphis Grizzlies into trading away a marquee player in order to obtain the rights to Dunleavy. Never put it past Krause to screw with another team. Krause--after the referee's--is the NBA's closest thing to a wild card. And given the Bulls' impotency during the regular season, mucking around on draft day could be the only way the Windy City doormats have any impact on the next few seasons.
No. 3 Golden State will not pick Dunleavy--they already have an under-performing, "still-developing" forward. Troy Murphy played all 82 games, and put up miserable numbers down low, but with two more years on his contract, the Warriors need another forward who needs development like they need a kick in the head. The Warriors are shopping for a guard and will land a guard, possibly Williams. If Williams is gone, it will be Dajuan Wagner.
This takes us to the fourth pick and the aforementioned Grizzlies. We've heard about how Jerry West and Dunleavy Sr. are friends. We know that the Grizzlies would love to reunite Dunleavy with Shane Battier. And we also know that Dunleavy will be playing behind Battier and rookie-of-the-year Pau Gasol. Still, all of this analysis is forgetting that a forward with a lot more strength and a lot more defense (steals and flops do not make a great NBA defensive player--outstanding rebounding does) like Maryland's Chris Wilcox will do Memphis better. Wilcox is more aggressive than Dunleavy and despite being younger, is a more prepared player for the physicality of the league. The same can be said of Kansas' Drew Gooden, or if the Grizzlies want to move Battier to small forward, they should pick an instant-impact player like Connecticut's Caron Butler.
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The last of the big five, the Denver Nuggets, is also solid at forward, with Antonio McDyess returning from a season off and the rather proven Juwan Howard. If Butler is around, look for him to get gobbled up here. If not him, then Missouri's Kareem Rush could make a big move up the draft ladder, or the Nuggets will go for Wilcox for his instant athleticism.
When you get past the media hype of three Duke players leaving in the same season, a coach's kid going in the top five and the usually premature excitement about "developing players," it becomes clear that the spot for Dunleavy lies somewhere around the bottom of the top ten selections in the draft, if not at the cusp of the lottery. The Clippers--the one team that it is rumored Dunleavy does not want to play for--hold some developing players eager to be traded and two picks in the top twelve. The fear of that franchise should be enough to scare Dunleavy back into school.
Dunleavy has suggested that he has no bad options--a chance to fulfill his dream of playing the NBA or a chance to make another run at the title with Duke. Next year, there won't be a question about the No. 1 selection (or the national player of the year front-runner) if Dunleavy stays in school. If he makes the jump this June, mysteries abound, and none of them have great endings.
Martin Barna, Trinity '02, is a former editorial page editor of The Chronicle.