By: David Epstein  | 

From the Commie Archives (May 20, 2003; Volume 67, Issue 12) — The Big Three of the NBA Draft

Editor’s Note: As Lebron James rapidly approaches the all time NBA scoring record, currently held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, The Commentator has chosen to reprint a pre draft profile of the top prospects for the 2003 NBA draft.

This year’s NBA draft is little more than a crapshoot. To avoid a possible age cap that may be implemented in 2004 many high school players and young foreigners are rushing to enter. On top of that, this year’s crop of NCAA players is among the weakest in history. The result is that General Managers are scrambling to find the players who will make the most immediate impact, as teams are forced to draft most players solely on potential.

GMs are salivating about the possibility of a top-three pick, knowing they can’t go wrong with Lebron, Darko, or Carmelo, a trip that may comprise the best top-three in the draft’s history. Fans already know these players on a first-name basis, a condition that gives instant marketability and great publicity to the team that drafts any of them. Carmelo and Lebron have gained not only the adulation of the fans but the attention of sneaker companies that are waiting to throw millions at the two players before either one has played an NBA game.

His unusual assortment of skills, size, and hype makes Lebron James the consensus number-one pick and all but assured packed houses and many national television appearances for his team. At 6’8”, 240, and only 18 years of age, Lebron’s ceiling is so high that many think he will become the next Kobe or T-Mac and dominate the league for years to come.

Darko Milicic is a 17-year old, 7-footer from Yugoslavia, who has drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzmu. Though few Americans have seen him play in person, the word is that Darko can handle, shoot the three, take it inside, and D up. He is also supposedly very aggressive. Predictions are that when he grows into his body he will dominate the league. His competitiveness and nastiness are unlike the stereotypical demeanor of foreign players, and have vaulted him to his status as the probable number-two pick of this year’s draft. Whether he’s the next Dirk Nowitzki or Frederic Weiss remains to be seen, but many GMs are willing to take that chance on this 17-year old.

Carmelo Anthony will turn 19 a month before the draft after coming off what might have been the best season ever from a college freshman. He took the unranked Syracuse Orange all the way to the National Championship; they may not have even made the field of 64 without him. He carried them on his shoulders earning Final Four MVP honors. He is a scorer who can shoot, pass, handle, and an excellent rebounder at only 6’8”, 220. The consensus number-three pick has charisma and game, and all the makings of a star for years to come. 

Each of these players seems a sure bet to dominate the league for the next twenty years or so; the difficulty is choosing which star to take. LeBron and Carmelo are more marketable than Darko, and will bring in more revenue at the gates. During the Final Four weekend, many were saying that Carmelo should go number one, ahead of Lebron. While Lebron was dominating high school kids, many of whom will never play Division I ball, Carmelo was a man among boys against the best collegiate athletes in the country. People on Lebron’s bandwagon respond that if Lebron had been on Syracuse the Orangemen would have beaten Kansas by a wider margin.

The first meeting of the two stars, which may have been the first of many, came on February 20, 2002. Lebron’s Ohio school, St. Vincent-St. Mary, played Carmelo’s Oak Hill Academy of Virginia in the Prime Time Shootout. Oak Hill Academy, featuring eight DI players, defeated St. Vincent-St. Mary 72-66. The two players combined for half the game’s points. Carmelo finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds; Lebron had 36 and 9, taking home the game’s MVP award. Oak Hill was number one in the country for most of that year. Lebron has done for his team what ‘Meli did for Syracuse this year, taking the team in his back and carrying this group of no-namers to three consecutive state championships (even with this exposure, his teammates were not recruited to play for DI teams). That game showed that they are both great players and stars in the making. NBA teams should be happy with either one.

The league’s salary cap for a maximum three-year contract for rookies means that the real bidding will start three years from now when they become free agents. They will become superstars for the rams that sign them, not necessarily the teams that draft them. Everyone is dating based on what these players will be at 25, not what they are now at 17, 18, and 19 respectively.

The NBA is a business, and if these three reach their potential, they will probably do so for the Lakers, Knicks, or any other team that throws money at them. The Nuggets, Cavs, and whichever lucky team gets into the lottery should pick based on what’s going to help the team now. That’s Lebron and Carmelo at one and two because those are the players who will bring exposure and cash. Orlando threw all that money at Tracy McGrady even before he was a proven starter, and he turned into one of the best players in the league. Lebron, Carmelo and Darko have what it takes to be the next Tracy McGrady or Jermaine O’Neal, but like them, these three will probably do their damage for a different team then [sic] the one drafting them. NBA GMs should take the player who is best for them now, not the one going to be better at 25. At 25, he may be on another team.


Photo Caption: The Commentator Archives

Photo Credit: Dov Pfeiffer