NBA

BURLISON notes: Draft's top two small forwards

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Frank Burlison

 
   
 
In the 2002 NBA draft, at least, the term "small forward" is going to be more than just a bit of a misnomer. In basketball terminology of the 21st century, a "small" forward (aka, "three man" or "wing forward") is the forward who spends a lot less time in the post than the center or "power forward" and needs to, in theory, be stationed along the baseline or on the wing, 15-to-17 feet from the basket. He could also be his team's third option as a ball-handler, and be expected to be able to create shots for himself (and, sometimes, for teammates) on the perimeter, and shoot well enough — since he's often lined up on the same side of the court as the center — to keep opponents from collapsing in the lane. In by-gone eras, that position was almost always manned by a player in the 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-7 range. Now meet the two best small forward prospects among the next batch of NBA rookies: Nikoloz Tskitishvili, who apparently stands close enough to seven feet tall to be called a 7-footer, and , a legit 6-10 without having to wear shoes or stand on his tippy-toes. They're young (Tskitishvili, who is from — the country — and plays professionally in Italy, turned 19 in May while Jeffries, who led to the NCAA championship game, doesn't turn 21 until Nov. 25), tall and oh-so-skilled. So skilled with the basketball in their hands, and possessing so much dexterity, quickness and fluidity, in fact, that one would be short-changing them as players by keeping them locked into a 10-foot radius of the basket on the offensive side of the floor. Tskishvili was a little used reserve — he didn't even get into the final game of the Italian League championship series — for the best team (Benetton Treviso) in Europe this past season. But that hasn't deterred NBA talent hunters in the least. His combination of skill level, athleticism and overall feel for the game has led some GMs and personnel directors to compare him to everyone from to to to . And, one more thing: Almost everyone who's watched him extensively believe he's as good a long-range jump shooter as there is in this draft pool. But no one — even those who are most enamored with his future — believes he'll be ready to be a NBA standout any sooner than two or three years down the road. Yao Ming and Jay Williams almost certainly will go 1-2 next Wednesday night and that's when the fun for the Tskitishvili (try it as "skid-ish-vill-e") watchers begins. Most think he's likely to be tabbed at No. 5 by Denver but Golden State and Memphis (Jerry West reportedly may head to Europe next week to get his first in-person look-see at him) are dropping enough hints to lead the draft watching populace to wonder if they might beat the to the punch. There's no telling how good Jeffries might have been after one or two more seasons at . But, even in force-feeding (he has gained about 12 to 15 pounds and is now checking in at a very sturdy-looking 230 or so) his NBA timeline, Jeffries shouldn't have to wait long before a lot of people are seriously debating if he won't eventually turn out to be this draft class' best player. The more lbs. — and muscle — he adds will enable him to survive in stretches in post-up situations but his marvelous handling, passing and shooting skills will enable to play just about anywhere his coach needs him. As for some more "big" small forward prospects in this draft, we also have to toss in of and Mike Dunleavy of (evaluated in earlier power forward and "big guard" rundowns on FOXSports.com). As for more traditionally sized (6-7ish to 6-8ish) 'three men" liable to end up in the first round of the draft, look for Commissioner David Stern to stroll to the podium Wednesday and announce the names "Bostjan Nachbar, Qyntel Woods, " and, possibly "John Salmons and ." Nachbar, from Slovenia, is a couple of years older than Tskitishvili, was much more of a contributor for Benetton and reminds some scouts of Vladimar Radmanovic, who ended up the season as a rookie starter for Seattle last season. Woods, offensively, is a lottery talent but his apparent lack of a convincing positive attitude toward defense and rebounding, may help lead to his being selected as late as a few picks beyond the lottery (13). Prince (Kentucky) is one of four college seniors (along with of , of and of ) most apt to be chosen in the first round. Salmons (Miami) — who, at about 6-6, is liked by just as many scouts as a point guard as he is a small forward — and Jefferies might make it five seniors getting first-round guaranteed bucks. Jefferies (also from Fresno) is still recovering from in-season knee surgery which has limited his effectiveness during workouts. He's due in Portland Saturday for a workout along with Prince and another small forward prospect, of .

DRAFT NOTES:

  • The foreign player who seems to have the most first-round range (he's mentioned as a possibility from No. 11, with , to No. 20, with Toronto) is 6-6 Jiri Welsch (from the Czech Republic). He worked out with Indiana on Friday, along with and . Doug Collins — and maybe , too? — will check him out for the on Monday.
  • has had marvelous workouts for everyone but, seen as primarily a 6-1ish "scoring guard" right now, it's conceivable he could be still around for the at No. 12 in the first round. It's strictly a case of three or four teams picking in the earlier (namely, New York at No. 7) that loved him really needing much more help up front right now than they do in the backcourt. But everyone — coaches, GMs and players he's working out with and against — are raving about the guy.
  • Detroit, which, thanks in large part to the presence of its international scouting director Tony Ronzone, is tapped into the foreign market as well as anyone in the league, has a workout set the day before the draft for one of the draft's best shooters (6-8 Mladen Sekularac of Yugoslavia).
  • The best guess as to the numerical range of foreign first-round possibilities goes from five to nine right now. Frank Burlison can be reached at his e-mail address: fburlison@foxsports.com.
  • Tagged: Bulls, Nuggets, Clippers, Timberwolves, Wizards, Grizzlies, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Memphis, Indiana, Illinois, Denver, Duke, Kentucky, Georgia, Marshall, Wagner, Miami (FL), Missouri, Kansas, Gonzaga, Portland, Fresno State, New Mexico

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