Can’t miss prospects often do

To listen to Michael Jordan say it, it seemed like the Washington Wizards had found the next, for lack of a better adjective, Michael Jordan.

“We feel his potential is unbelievable,” Jordan said. “In a couple of years he may be a star. It became apparent after we saw him work out that he has the skills and desire. We bought him in for a second workout and were convinced.”

From the description, this player was bound for greatness, destined for glory and tabbed to be the best thing since Bill Russell. He was a can’t miss. A future All-star. A player the team would be able to build around for years and years. But the player Jordan was gushing about?
Kwame Brown.

On Wednesday night, the NBA will hold its 2006 NBA draft at Madison Square Garden. Just five years ago on that very stage, Michael Jordan and the rest of the NBA world anointed Brown the new king as the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft, despite Brown never having scored a single professional basket, or won a championship.

It’s a common disease among scouts at around this time. Rudy Gay is the next Scottie Pippen. Adam Morrison is the next Larry Bird. Andrea Bargnani is the next Dirk Nowitzki. But, could it be possible, that Gay is actually the next Harold Minor? Morrison the next Keith Van Horn? Bargnani the next Maciej Lampe?

Instead of drafting the next Kevin Garnett, could the Raptors instead draft the next… Kwame? It’s certainly possible. Just ask Jordan.

But even Jordan, for all of his shortcomings as an NBA executive, has lots of company.

How about this scouting report: “Keep the binoculars on. He’s awesome. A Pro Bowler for 10 or 12 years.”

That was ESPN NFL analyst Mel Kiper describing Ryan Leaf, used more as a punchline than as a starting quarterback in San Diego.

Try this one on for size: “He has an all around game. He’s strong on the boards. He has good ball-handling skills. He is quick, with a great understanding of the game (he is smart as a fox). He’s going to help his team win an NBA championship.”

That was a scout describing Darko Milicic. Ironically, he did win an NBA championship his first season with the Detroit Pistons – as a cheerleader on the bench.

Does anyone remember Washington Capitals defenseman Greg Joly? The Caps virtually tripped over their own feet to draft the rear guard, who had just led Regina to the Memorial Cup, scoring 92 points in 67 games. Joly, Washington’s first-ever pick, scored 21 goals in 365 career games, and was a minus-68 in his first year.

Just around the time I started following college basketball, Ed O’Bannon, fresh off a national championship at UCLA was imported by the New Jersey Nets with the No. 9 pick. The only thing O’Bannon did in his two seasons in the NBA was lead the woeful Nets back to the draft lottery.

The Leafs, Milicics, Jolys and O’Bannons of the game should lead you to the conclusion that the science of drafting players is inexact, at best. It’s how a player like Nikoloz Tskitishvili can get drafted 30 spots over Carlos Boozer. It’s how Michael Redd and Rashard Lewis can slip all the way to the second round.

It’s why an NBA legend like Jordan can go so wrong with Kwame Brown.

So before anyone goes and drives LaMarcus Aldridge straight from Madison Square Garden to the NBA Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Wednesday night, make sure he actually plays a couple of NBA games, first. Because the next Michael Jordan might actually be … something entirely different.

Wesley Cheng is a senior columnist at Knickscity.com. You can reach him at: wes@knickscity.com.

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