Archive for Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Smith: Jayhawk rookies will have a shot in NBA

July 1, 2008

Enough has been said about the draft night drama surrounding the former Kansas University basketball players selected in the 2008 NBA Draft - the rights to all five players were traded, Darrell Arthur's stock plummeted apparently because of a kidney ailment, Mario Chalmers wasn't selected in the first round, etc., etc.

It certainly made for an entertaining few hours of television that night and great storylines the next day but it's time to look to the future - all the way to the month of October when the former Jays start battling other professionals for playing time and begin their respective careers.

Obviously, NBA rosters are always in flux and the make-up of each team will almost certainly be different by the time training camp arrives in the fall. But let's look at the teams that picked up a 2008 NCAA champion and project what kind of role the former Jayhawks can expect to play with their newfound franchises.

Brandon Rush, 6-6 shooting guard, Indiana Pacers

Although it won't be official until July 9 at the earliest, Rush should be in a Pacers uniform this fall. NBA general managers regarded the Kansas City product as the most league-ready player from KU and if that proves true he will have to take playing time away from Mike Dunleavy, who started all 82 games for the Pacers last season and averaged 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Rush likely already is a better defender than Dunleavy but also will have to contend with backup Marquis Daniels. Rush and Daniels are equal defensive threats but Rush is the better shooter, which bodes well for him on a team coached by three-happy Jim O'Brien. Daniels only made 27 of 103 threes last season, meanwhile Rush was 80-for-191 from deep during his final year in Lawrence.

Look for Rush to supplant Daniels as Dunleavy's backup and play around 20 minutes a game.

Darrell Arthur, 6-9 forward, Memphis Grizzlies

Generally considered one of the worst teams in the league (22-60 in '07-'08), one would think Arthur shouldn't have much trouble finding minutes. His biggest competition at the power forward spot - assuming he will play on the block and not the wing despite his wiry frame - should be the even slimmer Hakim Warrick (he of the locally infamous wingspan that amazingly blocked a Michael Lee three in the waning moments of Syracuse's championship game defeat of KU in 2003) and no-lift-layup expert, veteran Antoine Walker. The 6-9 Warrick averaged 11.4 points and 4.7 boards in 23.4 minutes a night for the Grizz and Walker (8 points, 3.7 rebounds) just finished the worst year of his career while playing in obscurity for Minnesota.

If Arthur can't crack this lineup, don't expect for his NBA career to ever blossom.

Mario Chalmers, 6-1 guard, Miami Heat

The 2006 NBA champs were the worst team in the league last season (mainly because franchise centerpiece Dwyane Wade missed 31 games due to injury). Neither a true point nor shooting guard, Chalmers should have some flexibility in a lineup that, at this juncture, only boasts three surefire starters - two-guard Wade, and forwards Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley (the No. 2 overall pick out of Kansas State).

If Chalmers can crack the starting backcourt - I know I'm not the only one who can already see Mario lobbing passes toward the rim for Wade, Marion and Beasley to flush - he'll only have to beat out Jason Williams, Chris Quinn and Marcus Banks. Not exactly a threatening threesome. Williams is nearing the end of his career, Quinn (6-2, 175 pounds) has the frame of a high school player and Banks is regarded so highly he has played for four teams in his five NBA seasons.

Put your money on "Miracle Mario" as the Jayhawk to make the biggest impact on the NBA scene in his rookie campaign.

Darnell Jackson, 6-8 power forward, and Sasha Kaun, 6-11 center, Cleveland Cavaliers

Both KU big men were drafted in the last nine picks of the second and final round by other franchises before becoming teammates once more for the Fightin' LeBrons.

Although it appears Kaun will play for CSKA Moscow in his native Russia for at least one season, Jackson has already appeared for a Cavs press conference and been issued a jersey number (00) in Cleveland, so one would assume the hard-working forward will get a chance with his first pro club, which isn't guaranteed for second-round picks.

The biggest hurdle for Jackson to leap over or plow through might be the Cavs' first-round selection, J.J. Hickson, a 6-9, 242-pound forward from North Carolina State. But there are other obstacles for the 52nd pick in the draft. Veterans Anderson Varejao, Joe Smith and Ben Wallace are all similar players to Jackson at this stage of their careers. None of the players will get an offensive play drawn up for them, but all will play physical basketball and crash the boards. Jackson will really have to impress Cavs brass with his athleticism and hustle to see significant action.

And don't count Kaun out as a solid NBA backup one day. Whether or not it's in Cleveland, expect to see the big man running the floor, battling in the paint and turning alley-oop passes into vicious slams for some lucky club in the future.

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