Let the speculation begin.
The Orlando Magic have officially claimed the top pick in the NBA Draft, Emeka Okafor is picking out a suit for draft day, and David Stern is trying to figure out how to pronounce the names of Martynas Andriuskevicius and the multitude of foreigners among early entrants looking to be big winners June 24.
A record 94 players have foregone their college eligibility to enter this year's NBA Draft--21 more than last year and roughly 30 more than there are picks in the draft. Although many analysts believe that this may be one of the weakest senior draft classes in recent memory, there will be plenty of disappointed underclassmen come draft day.
Nonetheless, based on analysts' comments erstwhile Blue Devil Luol Deng and Duke signee Shaun Livingston appear to be poised to hear their names called within the top 10 picks on draft day.
Livingston, whose name had not even been mentioned in conjunction with the NBA Draft until midway through his senior season, might be a top-five selection. Weighing only 180 pounds, Livingston is at least 20 pounds in muscle mass away from making an impact on the NBA level. Right now, scouts believe that Livingston lacks the strength or physicality needed to guard NBA players off the dribble. Additionally, as a high school senior, executives might be worried that the lanky floor general lacks NBA-level polish and needs not only to improve his shooting consistency, but also the ability to look for and create his own shot.
Nonetheless, Livingston has NBA scouts drooling with the floor vision and ballhandling abilities of a 5-foot-11 point guard in a 6-foot-7 frame, drawing comparisons to an early Anfernee Hardaway. In an NBA Draft where upside is everything, those abilities alone have pegged Livingston as the top point guard in the draft, ahead of collegians such as Jameer Nelson, Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon.
Early reports had Livingston going to expansion Charlotte with the fourth pick. Recent reports, however, have indicated that Bobcats head coach/general manager Bernie Bickerstaff does not want to risk making that pick a high school player.
Livingston is evidently several years away from being ready to make an NBA impact, and some teams have particular jitters about selecting a high school point guard so early. Still, in a weak draft class Livingston's place as the top point guard is firm, and that position alone might lead him to a top-10 selection.
Deng's draft position is even more stable than that of Livingston. Though this NBA Draft lacks one clear-cut superstar, Deng--along with Connecticut center Emeka Okafor and Atlanta high school power forward Dwight Howard--is commonly acknowledged to be one of the top three players in the draft.
Deng broke through during the NCAA Tournament, establishing himself as one of the Blue Devils' top players and garnering the Atlanta Region's Most Outstanding Player. Dubbed "Do-all" Deng, NBA scouts rave about his athleticism and seven-foot wingspan. At 6-foot-8, Deng has good size for a small forward, and his superlative fundamental skills give him the versatility to play at least two positions on the floor, making him a matchup nightmare for opponents. The Blue Devil has said repeatedly that he patterns his game after Grant Hill, and scouts have taken notice.
Nonetheless, scouts think that Deng still may need to tweak his outside shot and get a little stronger, and with just one year collegiate experience, he may not make an immediate impact. Deng should still pay dividends faster than any of the high school players, however, and will more than likely go with the second or third pick in the draft to either the Los Angeles Clippers or Chicago, depending on how the Clippers feel about Howard.
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