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Sizing Up the NBA’s 2006 First-Round Picks

Bargnani, who will never live this photo down

Wacky things happen to NBA general managers during the annual draft, especially in the first round. Positions of obvious need go unaddressed, unheralded guys with “raw talent”–usually from overseas–are drafted strictly on potential over more proven commodities, and players that most draft experts have pegged as late-first to mid-second round picks mysteriously hear their name called out during the lottery. It happens every year, and it’s bound to happen again.

The 2006 draft will probably never be as infamous as other recent drafts (namely, the superstar class that arrived in 2003 or the soon-to-be superstar class of 2007). Still, a number of players have already stepped up and exhibited the kind of talent and potential that should make them perennial All-Stars for years to come. There’s also a handful of guys who barely stepped on the court, a few that are still developing their game overseas, and, yes, even a couple that already have the “bust” label dogging them.

With less than a week remaining in the regular season, Empty the Bench takes a look at all 30 first-round picks from 2006, and checks in to see how each one has fared thus far in their professional careers.

1. Andrea Bargnani, F, Toronto Raptors: I’ll admit that I thought the first-overall pick was destined to be a bigger bust than the Matrix sequels. In and out of the starting lineup until requiring an emergency appendectomy late in March, the 6-10, 21-year-old forward has proved me wrong. Showing Dirk-like potential, Bargnani has all the tools: he can take it to the basket, work the post, and drain the 3-ball. He was neck-and-neck with Brandon Roy for ROY consideration, and will still likely be the runner-up in voting despite missing the last chunk of the regular season. No one thought Bargnani would contribute 11.5 points, 4 boards, and almost 2 three-pointers this early… and he’s only going to get better.

2. LaMarcus Aldridge, F/C, Portland TrailBlazers: Like Bargnani, Aldridge was making a huge impact for his team until being sidelined late in the season. An irregular heartbeat had some worried about his future, but fortunately a minor, mostly routine procedure should correct the problem and let him be ready to go for the 2007-08 season, likely as a starter for the Blazers.

Just 21 years old, the athletic 6-10 leaper flashed his massive potential on March 23 in an overtime win over the Atlanta Hawks, when he logged 48 minutes and put up 27 points on 57% shooting, tacking on 14 boards (9 offensive), 2 steals, and 3 blocks. He put up similar stats on March 13 against the Denver Nuggets. Aldridge has a great knack for offensive rebounds already, and it looks like the trade from the Bulls will end up as a rare misguided personnel decision by Chicago GM John Paxson. Along with Roy and Rodriguez (both below), the Blazers may have scored three guys that will be pillars on this team for many years to come. Paired with the similarly promising trio Jarrett Jack, Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw (assuming they all stick around), the future is bright in Portland for the first time in a decade.

3. Adam Morrison, G/F, Charlotte Bobcats: Although we understand that Morrison came very highly rated after finishing up a wildly successful collegiate career at Gonzaga, this still feels like a bit of a reach for a guy who doesn’t project to be nearly as successful in the NBA. The mustached Morrison was drafted strictly as a scoring threat, and though it’s still way too early to speculate about his future production in the league, the Bobcats can’t be all that thrilled with what they’ve seen so far. Through 77 games, 6-8 swingman has averaged 11.9 points, 3 boards, 2 assists, 71% FT, and just 37% FG; that kind of shooting percentage is just not going to cut it.

He needs to make great strides both in dealing with NBA-caliber defenses and in playing his own defense. Morrison isn’t athletic enough to keep up with the league’s SGs and SFs on the defensive end, and is having trouble creating and knocking down quality shots at the NBA level. Unfortunately, that doesn’t look to change in the near future.

Ty Thomas and ThaboSefolosha

4. Tyrus Thomas, F, Chicago Bulls: Thomas’ rookie season didn’t really get off the ground until he was given more minutes because of an injury to Andres Nocioni, but since then he’s earned the trust of his coach and teammates and has become an instant energy guy off the bench. His ill-conceived comments about the Slam Dunk contest painted him as an immature malcontent, but perhaps all the criticism that rained down upon him was a good thing. It may be part of the reason why his motivation and overall game improved by leaps and bounds after the All-Star game.

Especially for a rookie, Thomas has a big mouth on the court as well, which was shown by his recent squabbles with the Pistons’ Rip Hamilton and the Knicks’ Nate Robinson and Steve Francis… but you gotta believe Scott Skiles likes his edge.

The 6-9 forward from LSU could be ready to push for a starting job next season. He has a similar skill set to teammate Ben Wallace, as the athletic power forward looks to be a great source of blocks and steals from the position. He’ll need to polish his game in order to warrant his draft position, but he has all the natural talent in the world to do so.

5. Shelden Williams, F, Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks felt like they needed another big body (and they do), so they looked up at the draft board, saw Duke product Williams sitting there, and picked him. Nevermind that he has limited upside and that, despite signing Speedy Claxton to hopefully assume the starting point guard responsibilities, two very talented guards in Roy and Foye were still available. After mistakenly drafting Marvin Williams over both Chris Paul and Deron Williams the previous year, management clearly didn’t learn from their mistake, and now they head into the 2007 draft still in need of a young, reliable guy at the point. Williams already figures to be just a role player for his NBA career, and that’s just not enough from a guy taken with the 5th pick.

“The Landlord,” as he was known in college, is a solid rebounder with mediocre shot-blocking ability that became the fifth player in history to earn the NABC Defensive Player of the Year award two consecutive years. Obviously, Williams has the talent to become a solid contributor for the Hawks, but he just hasn’t shown any potential to be special in his rookie season. He’s come on strong late in the season, however, posting an impressive 12 point, 16 rebound, 3 steal effort in just 28 minutes of action on April 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. The jury is still out, but this pick looks like a classic reach.

6. Brandon Roy, G, Portland TrailBlazers: Here’s your likely Rookie of the Year, and everybody seemed to know that before the season started. Acquired by the Blazers in a draft-day swap for Randy Foye that’s already dredging up nightmarish memories of GM Kevin McHale’s other draft-day trade that worked out so well for his franchise. Will this end up being another Ray Allen-for-Stephon Marbury debacle? The similarities are considerable. Roy is the polished perimeter player who isn’t flashy but exudes confidence and can rebound, score and pass. Foye has a flare for the dramatic, but seems to lack the professionalism requisite of true floor generals. Time will only tell, but there’s no question who has come out on top in Year 1.

Level-headed, calm, and collected, Roy embodies everything that Portland has been looking for in a franchise cornerstone since the days of the JailBlazers came to a close over the last couple of seasons. Slowed early on by a nagging foot injury, Roy came on strong after missing 20 games to average 16.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 45% FG, and 83% FT through April 12. Upper management feels so confident in the tandem of Roy and the Blazers’ other first-round pick, Sergio Rodriguez (below), that Jarrett Jack might be considered expendable for the right price. Roy will become a mainstay in the annual All-Star game, perhaps as early as next season.

7. Randy Foye, G, Minnesota Timberwolves: When given minutes, the 6-4 Villanova product can score, dish, and and rebound well for a point guard. In fact, his per-35 minute averages compare very favorably with Roy thus far (15.2 points, 1.2 threes, 3.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks to Roy’s 16.6 points, 0.9 threes, 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks). Foye has also shown a penchant for knocking down clutch jumpers and free throws, and clearly has the talent to become a very good starter for the T’Wolves.

Still, if you polled 100 hardcore Minny fans (assuming you can find them), how many do you think would choose Roy over Foye? 90%? Considering the Wolves should have had no delusions about winning a title this year, Foye should have seen at least as many minutes as Roy has. Instead, through April 12, Foye has per-game averages of 9.7 points, 2.5 boards, 2.8 assists, and 42% FG. With his team having nothing left to play for for some time now, we’re still trying to figure out why he’s not logging 40 minutes a game.

Memphis Grizzlies rookies Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry

8. Rudy Gay, G/F, Memphis Grizzlies: Considered one of the most well-rounded-yet-raw talents in the draft, Gay is a big part of the young core of athletic, talented players that give Memphis fans hope for the future. Like many of his first-round peers, the 6-9 swingman didn’t exactly storm out of the gates, but displayed steady improvement as the season wore on and finally looks like he’s comfortable and cognizant that he can be a top-notch player in the Association.

Gay can fill up a box score in all the categories that matter, and for the season, he has per-game averages of 13 points, 1.1 blocks, 1.0 steals, 5.6 rebounds and a steal as a starter. He needs to work on his free-throw shooting this summer (73%), but Gay projects as one of the more versatile players in the league and should see a few All-Star games over the next decade.

9. Patrick O’Bryant, C, Golden State Warriors: O’Bryant has the physical size and tools, but what else? I’m talking on the phone with Chris Mullin. I’m playing in the D-League, wondering if my franchise has forgotten about me. My name has just been announced as the ninth overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. I’ve led my team to the Sweet Sixteen. I’ve become one of the first ever lottery picks sent down to the D-League. My foot is fractured. My coach, Don Nelson, says that I’m “a long-term project” and that I “haven’t gotten better one bit.” I’m leading the Missouri Valley Conference in blocks. I’m turning in mediocre performances for the Bakersfield Jam. No, I’m not Dr. Manhattan, I’m Patrick O’Bryant. I have the the physical size and tools, but what else? (ETB is a big fan of Alan Moore’s Watchmen).

10. Mouhamed Sene, C, Seattle Supersonics: Time will tell if the 6-11 native of Senegal ever develops into a capable NBA center, but of all the lottery picks this one screams “BUST” the loudest. NBA teams always reach for size in the draft, but sheesh, this was the third big man to be taken way too soon (along with Williams and O’Bryant). Sene won’t turn 21 until May, at which point he would have played the game of basketball for just five years. Apparently, the Sonics like his potential and think his basketball IQ will increase exponentially over the next few seasons.

Sene was the third center in three years that Seattle has drafted in the first round (the others being Robert Swift and Johan Petro); at this point, I think they’d be happy if just one of them eventually panned out. It’s looking more and more like a ‘throw enough shit at the wall and hopefully some of it sticks’ strategy. Sene spent some time in the D-League with the Idaho Stampede, where he didn’t exactly overwhelm in averaging 9.9 points, 7.2 boards, and 1.5 blocks a game in 21 minutes of action.

11. J.J. Redick, G, Orlando Magic: We’re not huge or even moderate fans of this pick for Orlando, but it does make some sense in that the Magic had a gaping hole at the shooting guard spot that needed to be addressed. They took what they thought was the best scorer left on the board, and as the ACC’s all-time leader in points, the 6-4 Redick certainly knew how to get it done on offense during his collegiate career at Duke.

The question remains, however, whether or not his game will translate to the professional level and if his obvious defensive deficiencies will allow him to stay on the court for extended minutes at a time. Coming into the draft, pretty much everybody knew that Redick’s lack of athleticism would make it nearly impossible for him to get open like he did in college. He has absolutely no ability to create shots for himself and I’m not sure there’s been a game this year when Redick has outscored the player he’s guarding.

J.J. is a ‘what you see is what you get’ type of guy, and there’s just not much upside with this kid. Sorry NCAA fans, but the defense, athleticism, and competitiveness in the NBA are that much greater at the pro level. Indeed, you have to wonder what the Magic thought about this Redick quote in the Charlotte Observer about his NBA prospects: “”I think I’ll be a role player like 80 percent of the players in the league are. I don’t expect to be a star, I’ll just shoot and be a team player.” Would you spend a lottery pick on a guy who sets such a low ceiling for himself?

12. Hilton Armstrong, F/C, New Orleans Hornets: I saw why the Hornets snapped up Armstong firsthand while watching New Orelans tangle with my Detroit Pistons on November 15. In the 100-99 win on the road, the 6-11 Armstrong looked like the real deal, muscling his way to 17 points on 7-11 shooting to go along with 9 boards in 29 minutes. As it turns out, that ended up being one of only three games the big fella scored in double digits through April 12. Scoring is not his strong suit, though, and the Hornets are banking on him developing into a gritty defensive player that can pair with Tyson Chandler to form an imposing, athletic shot-blocking tandem.

Picking some size made sense for the Hornets at this point since they have Chris Paul and had recently signed Peja Stojakovic. He wasn’t expected to be a contributor this year, but the plan for the next few years is to have a wealth of size to throw out there with the talented backcourt.

13. Thabo Sefolosha, G, Chicago Bulls: The Sixers took him here, then turned him over to the Chicago Bulls for ca$h-money and the rights to the 16th pick, which they spent on Rodney Carney. Though he’s seen limited time on the court in his rookie season, the 6-7 guard from Switzerland has a good deal of potential and has produced in spurts when given the opportunity. He plays a heady game and is a good defender, so he should easily work his way into Scott Skiles good graces.

Against Central Division rival Detroit on April 4, Sefolosha recorded a double-double in the blowout win with 11 points and 10 boards. Said Scott Skiles back in September: “Thabo’s got great physical gifts that, frankly, a lot of guys in the league just don’t have. He’s got tremendous length and has really quick hands. He grabs your attention whenever you watch him play. It’s easy to see that he knows what he’s doing out there. You can tell he likes to play defense, too. He’s eager to get after it.”

14. Ronnie Brewer, G/F, Utah Jazz: Brewer, originally from Portland, Oregon and a former Arkansas Razorback star, hasn’t seen the court much this season. That’s a general policy for Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, so don’t get too down on the guy just yet. Utah is fairly set at the point guard, center and power forward positions, so the wing spots are all that remain up for grabs in the starting lineup and Ronnie was drafted to fill one of those holes long term. His body of evidence at Arkansas was very impressive, as he averaged 18.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.6 steals. He also shot 75% from the line. He wasn’t the first Brewer to make an impact for the Razorbacks, either, as his father led them to the 1978 Final Four, and ended up being the #7 pick in the 1978 NBA draft.

Though it’s probably not the most prestigious stat, Brewer currently leads the Jazz in least turnovers per 48 with 1.5. He actually made a series of 10 starts at the end of November, but didn’t play especially well and rode pine for most of the season until this week. However, with the Jazz having the 4th seed locked up, Brewer has returned to the starting lineup for the last three games and played fairly well. In that time he has averaged 11.7 points and 2.7 boards on 68.4% FGs and 81.8% FTs in just 18 minutes per.

Those of you who have caught his games have undoubtedly noticed his incredibly unorthodox mechanics. Ronnie’s elbow flares out on jumpers as a result of a childhood waterslide accident (or Tubes of Death, as I call them), but he was still one of the top pure athletes in the draft. Basically, we can’t make any meaningful conclusions based on Ronnie’s limited playing time this season, but we fully expect him to be a legit NBA player in the next two to three years.

15. Cedric Simmons, F, New Orleans Hornets: We haven’t seen much of Simmons this season, and honestly I don’t have too much to say about the 6-9 youngster from North Carolina State. Cedric was the second piece of the Hornets’ Just Acquire Size project in the draft. He saw the court in all but two games for the Hornets through January 10, but has racked more than his fair share of “DNPs – Coach’s Decision” since then.

We’re not sure what’s keeping him off the court, perhaps the stellar play of Tyson Chandler, but there’s a good chance that head coach Byron Scott simply doesn’t trust the rookie to consistently produce as his team tries to squeeze into the postseason party. With Chandler sidelined for the rest of the season, look for Simmons to make a case for more playing time over the season’s final week. It’ll be interesting to see if he can work his way into the regular rotation next season; through April 12, he’s averaged 3 points and 2.5 boards in 42 games.

Sixers rookie Rodney Carney

16. Rodney Carney, F, Philadelphia 76ers: Like many Sixers, Carney has greatly benefited from Iverson and Webber being jettisoned. The 6-7 small forward stepped into the starting lineup in February, and has provided solid scoring and reliable defense. While making the occasionally explosive play, there’s nothing especially flashy about his game. However, the ex-Memphis star has a good basketball pedigree and figures to improve over time.

He was one of the best players in his conference and helped make Memphis one of the top-ranked teams in the country en route tp being named the Conference USA Player of the Year. I can’t see Carney ever developing into an All-Star caliber player, but the 76ers would probably be satisfied if he could average somewhere around 13 – 17 points a game, shoot a high percentage from the field, and man up on most guys his size.

17. Shawne Williams, G/F, Indiana Pacers: A 6-9 forward from Memphis, Williams was given the dreaded “project” label by Larry Bird after he was drafted, and immediately the name Jonathan Bender came to mind. In his professional debut on December 11 against Chicago, Williams was very impressive, notching 13 points on 66% shooting with 2 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal to boot in 27 minutes. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t score in double figures again until March 28 when he dropped 19 on the Nets.

As a freshman at Memphis, Williams averaged 13.2 points 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks, so he has some versatility and defensive awareness. The Pacers have made a concerted effort to give him consistent time on the court since March, which is either a sign that they’re pleased with his development, or that midseason acquisition Mike Dunleavy is still an underachiever and they’re desperate for some help at the wing. You decide.

18. Oleksiy Pecherov, F, Washington Wizards: Like many NBA observers, we don’t know a whole heckuva lot about the 6-11 Ukrainian. We get the sense that when their number was called a few guys in the Wizard’s front office looked at each other and said, “Hey, why not?” Only 21 years of age, Pecherov has been dominant at times in international competition, and was named the MVP of the 2004 Global Games for averaging 24 points and 10 boards while leading his team to a gold-medal finish. His M.O. can’t help but remind us of Darko Milicic, which is one reason we’re skeptical of his potential to succeed in the NBA: runs the floor well, doesn’t especially enjoy posting up, shoots the 3-ball, good shooting stroke, questionable motor.

Before the Wizards reached for him here, this was his outlook on DraftExpress: “At this point, Pecherov is probably nothing more than second-round material, a possible bet for some team willing to gamble on nice upside in the part of the draft where that makes the most sense. Even if his current situation in the French League might allow him to significantly change his current stock, it’s not clear that today’s Pecherov is the answer to what NBA teams look for in the first round.” Hmmmm, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

19. Quincy Douby, G, Sacramento Kings: The first Rutgers player taken in the first round since 1983 (Roy Hinson), the 6-3 Douby hasn’t made much impact in his rookie effort for the Kings. Appearing in just 38 games through April 12, Douby’s averages are so low that they’re really not even worth mentioning, though he did record a nice game on December 30 against the Golden State Warriors, when he put up 21 points on 69% shooting in addition to 5 boards, 3 steals, a block, and an assist.

Big changes are probably in store for the Kings this summer, which could mean Douby finds more minutes next season. Quincy is a pure scorer, averaging 25.4 points per for the Scarlet Knights in his junior season (good for 6th in the nation, first in the Big East). Unfortunately, this kid named Kevin Martin made a name for himself at the two this season as a pretty decent scorer himself. Douby only has three Myspace friends, so cheer him up by inviting him into your personal network.

20. Renaldo Balkman, F, New York Knicks: Luckily for him, Balkman survived his rookie season without being assigned the nickname “Balkie,” but, hey, there’s always next year. When his name was announced on draft day at New York’s Jacob Javits Center, the 6-9 forward was roundly booed, mostly because many had never heard of him and even those that had didn’t think he’d come off the board in the first round. “Fucking Isiah Thomas,” they said with dismay.

Well, it’s a shame that Zeke threw a ton of money at Jared Jeffries to bring him to New York because he’s basically Balkman Lite, and with that kind of contract no teams will be rushing to acquire him in a trade. Regardless, Thomas needs to get Balkman on the court. We’re very high on the kid, and we think he’ll definitely improve on his rookie per game averages of 5 points and 4 boards.

But the stats don’t tell the story. Renado is a hustle guy who is apt to tip rebounds to teammates, put his mitts in the passing lane, go after a loose ball, and take charges. What’s most important, on a roster of me-first players who need the ball in their hands to be effective, Balkman is a quintessential ‘glue’ player who can make everybody around him more effective. To be honest, we’re incredibly impressed that Thomas unearthed such a gem. This guy is a gamer.

Was Rondo drafted strictly because of his pretty smile?

21. Rajon Rondo, G, Boston Celtics: Acquired in a draft-day deal (along with Brian Grant) from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for a future first-round pick, Rondo is already light years better than his teammate Sebastian Telfair, who we’re predicting has about, oh, another two seasons to prove he belongs in the league. After that, it’s straight to the And-1 Tour for him. The lightning-quick 6-1 point guard from Kentucky has had his fair share of ups and downs in his rookie campaign, but he’s a very exciting talent who’s gotten better and better as he’s been given more minutes.

He’s had seven games of 4+ steals (including 7 against the Pacers on April 7), and has pulled down 10+ boards in three contests, an impressive feat for someone of his size. Along with Delonte West, Allan Ray, Gerald Green, and a healthy Tony Allen, the Celtics have the potential of fielding one of the best overall (young) backcourts in a year or two. Rondo has massive hands, is tough and durable, rebounds well, is a great distributor, and has a nose for the ball, which makes him a Tommy Heinsohn favorite. I don’t have the totals handly, but he’s up there in Tommy Points on the season. No one is denying Paul Pierce’s greatness, but now’s the time for Danny Ainge to move him with his value still very high.

22. Marcus Williams, G, New Jersey Nets: As it stands right now, the third of four first-round picks to come out of Connecticut in 2006 is the Nets’ heir to the point guard throne currently occupied by Jason Kidd. It’ll be almost impossible for the 6-3 Williams to fill Kidd’s massive shoes, a situation that’s like taking over for John Elway or Dan Marino in the NFL. It’s unfair to expect this kid to have anywhere even remotely close to the kind of career Kidd has had, but fortunately for him no one in their right mind does. Character concerns caused the guard’s stock to plummet, but the most pure point in the draft appears more likely to steal a basketball than a laptop at this point.

A smart decision-maker who shoots a high percentage from the charity stripe and can handle the ball well in pressure, Williams has had a solid rookie season in limited minutes, averaging almost 7 points, 3.3 assists, 2 assists, and 85% FT. He needs to work on his outside jumper (shooting just under 40% for the year) and you’d like to see more steals, but he’s still only 21 years old and will improve once he earns more minutes.

23. Josh Boone, F/C, New Jersey Nets: Head coach Lawrence Frank probably didn’t plan on using Marcus Williams’ teammate at Connecticut so much, or so early this season, but injuries (namely to Nenad Krstic) forced his hand. Luckily, Boone has acquitted himself admirably when called upon after getting over his own ailments. Down the stretch, he has become a regular contributor off the bench and in spot-start duty. Over a three-game stretch between March 24 and 30, the lanky 6-10 Boone averaged 20 points, 7.3 boards, and a staggering 83.7% FG. In a particularly impressive performance on March 28th, Boone had a career high in scoring with 22 points on 11-13 FGs to go along with 10 rebounds. He obviously hasn’t been able to maintain that pace, but the team has to like what they see so far with the second of their late first-round picks.

24. Kyle Lowry, G, Memphis Grizzlies: Though we’re not sure he’s the Grizzlies’ point guard of the future, the former Villanova standout had a solid start to the season before breaking his left wrist in November. He’s a fan favorite in Philly, and has the talent to be a successful pro. Kyle won’t return to the court until next year, but he should be fully healthy by then.

Known as quick-handed guy with good rebounding skills, Lowry registered his best overall effort they day before his injury: 16 points, 60% FG, 5 boards, 6 assists, and 5 steals in 30 minutes against the Orlando Magic. Another promising young player who should be a mainstay in the Memphis youth movement for the forseeable futue.

25. Shannon Brown, G, Cleveland Cavaliers: It could be argued that aside from Lebron and maybe Big Z that the Cavs had at holes at every position going into the 2006-07 season, and Z only has a few more years left in him (which may not be with the Cavs as his game isn’t complimentary to LeBron’s). Still, the backcourt was/is a desperate area of need, so they scooped up the 6-4 Michigan Stater in hopes that he could provide some scoring and athleticism to the position. It hasn’t exactly worked out yet, as Brown has seen action in only 23 games thus far, registering a grand total of 73 points, 10 assists, and 21 rebounds while shooting just 37% from the field. He was All-Big Ten as a Junior and an All-Big Ten Defensive selection last year, but it’s looking like a few years of seasoning are in order.

26. Jordan Farmar, G, Los Angeles Lakers: Point guard is a definite area of need for the Lakers, and though Farmar has not been spectacular in his rookie season, there’s a very good chance the team elects not to bring back current starter Smush Parker next year, perhaps pushing the hard-working UCLA standout into a much bigger role in 2007-08. Farmar biggest claim to fame thus far is becoming the first player to ever suit up for both a D-League and NBA team in the same day (April 1).

He’s an extremely hard worker, and word is that he’s the only Laker who shows up in the early morning at the gym before Kobe Bryant, a good sign for the Lakers. As it stands now, Jordan is the point guard of the future for the Lake Show and could be a solid player, but he will probably never be a star. Through April 12, Farmar has averaged 4.5 points, 1.7 boards, 1.9 assists, and 42% FG in 15 minutes of action a night.

27. Sergio Rodriguez, G, Portland TrailBlazers: We’re pretty confident that it’s only a matter of time until the 20-year-old, 6-3 Spaniard assumes the starting point guard job in Portland and takes his game to a higher level. Granted it’s only one game, but Rodriguez teased Blazers fans with his considerable talents on January 14 against Denver when he recorded 23 points (11-14 FG), 10 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals in 30 minutes. Said Allen Iverson of his performance: “If you can judge him off of tonight’s game, I mean, wow. It’s a long, grueling season, but if he stays with it, the sky’s the limit for him. This one will do a lot for his confidence. It’s a game that can make him feel good about himself and know that he can play and be successful in this league.” Spanish Chocolate is a flashy player with excellent ball handling and passing skills who is equally capable of leading a fast break or dropping a stylish dime. The local fans have already learned to appreciate Rodriguez’s exciting style of play, and he would be the steal of the draft.

Diehard Portland fan Henry Abbott has more on Rodriguez over at True Hoop. This is definitely a guy to keep an eye on in the coming seasons.

28. Maurice Ager, G, Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks really didn’t have room for Ager this season, as he played in less than 35 games, and even then only sporadically. In fact, it will be a while before he plays any significant minutes for Dallas, if he ever does. He suited up for nine games in the D-League for the Fort Worth Flyers, where he averaged 14 points, 3 assists, and 40% FG. You’d like to see better efficiency at that level from an NBA caliber player. The former Michigan State star has a long way to go before he becomes a regular contributor.

29. Mardy Collins, G, New York Knicks: Collins was forced into a starting role late in the season for Isiah Thomas’ squad because of injuries to Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, and Jamal Crawford. Before that, he was best known for sparking the December 16th brawl at the Garden when he laid a hard foul on Denver’s J.R. Smith and his was the face that launched Anthony’s 15-game suspension. Collins was suspended six games for his actions. During a six-game stint as a starter, Collins averaged a very respectable 13.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 2.1 steals, proving he’s capable of becoming a decent NBA player. He did post 16.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4 assists per game at Temple, so he was no slouch in college. Is he long-term starter material? No, but he should enjoy a long career.

30. Joel Freeland, F/C, Portland TrailBlazers: It’s not every day that a British-born basketballer is snapped up in the first round, but with four of the top thirty picks and solid prospects at all five positions, the Blazers felt they could take a flier on the 6-11 forward/center and stash him away in Europe for a few years. Now 20 years young and playing for C.B. Gran Canaria in Spain, Freeland projects as a David Lee, hustle-stats guy with a still-unpolished offensive game. Don’t expect to see him in the NBA until at least the 2008-09 season, at the earliest.

There you have it, your 2006 NBA first-round picks. If you have anything to add about your team’s pick, please feel free to leave your thoughts in our comments section.


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