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Beware the High Riser By Gabe Kahn

Gabe does his best Flava-Flav imitation: Don't Believe the Hype!

Every year, about three weeks or so before the NBA draft, certain players, initially thought to be high first round picks, suddenly find their stock falling further than Mike Tyson's. At the same time, some eligible players rise to prominence and become the darlings of the dance, and we begin to hear words like upside, potential, and athletic, followed by whispers of promises.

This phenomenon is a yearly occurrence and is happening as we speak. Once surefire early first round picks such as Monta Ellis, Jarret Jack and Chris Taft have to hope they'll be selected in the first round. Channing Frye, Roko Ukic and Yaroslav Karolev, on the other hand, are all now being talked about as good shots for the lottery.

Why does this happen? For one thing, many team officials will give high praise to players their club has no intention of drafting in an attempt to fool teams with higher picks into allowing a desired player to slide down in the draft. Say what you want about this process, but I think we can all agree that a smokescreen like this would fool Isiah Thomas just about every time, and as long as he's in charge of the Knicks, many teams will be picking after New York.

Probably the leading reason for the rapid fluctuations of draft eligible players that occurs in early June is the trend known as workouts. When players work out for different teams, they perform in numerous drills that test the players' strength, ability to shoot, speed, quickness and their vertical jump, to name a few. Many general managers make their decisions on a player after witnessing these workouts, having become infatuated with a prospects' overall athletic ability, even if they had not seen those abilities during said players' college or high school career. Truth is, so often these excellent overall athletes don't translate into good basketball players. And almost as often, players that have proven they have skills will have skills even if they don't have all the raw talent some of the others possess.

Need proof?

Let's start out with a look at last year's draft. Now, while it is way too early to judge many of these players, you can get a good idea of how this process works when you see which players rose and fell before the draft. Remember, by the way, that when I say a player rose or fell, I'm not talking about where he was drafted, but rather his stock at the start of draft season until right before the draft. Where they are actually taken isn't as essential, especially because of the aforementioned GM smokescreen.

Here goes:

As we said before, it's still too early to judge whether or not Araujo, Jackson or Swift are busts, but they certainly were far from stellar in their inaugural seasons. It is interesting to note, though, that while Ramos was underwhelming, the rest all look like they will have long careers in the NBA and Smith might have a legitimate shot at superstardom.

Although the list of risers isn't particularly large, Banks, fast as he is, has yet to show that he can use his speed effectively at the point guard position, and Bell is already out of the league. Close to the draft, Ford was tabbed too short and Ridnour too slow, yet each of them displayed an innate ability to lead a professional club in their first season. Howard is potentially the biggest surprise of that draft after being the last player taken in the first round,and Barbosa proved a capable backup for the team with the NBA's best record.

Again, not an extensive list of either, but it's hard not to notice that 2002's hottest riser, Skita, was chosen ahead of slight dropper Stoudamire. That Boozer slipped all the way to the second round is almost criminal. But for the ultimate example of all this, just wait until you check out 2001:

This list just staggers the mind. All five of the risers, led by Kwame Brown who was the first overall selection, were off the board by the time Jefferson was taken at 13. Also like Kwame Brown, all five were certifiable disasters. The Wizards will probably let Kwame walk this summer and Griffin was back in the league for the first time in a year while Kedrick Brown ate himself out of it. No one has any idea what's up with Diop or White.

On the other side, six of the nine sliders are better than average players and at least four are at an All Star level. Jefferson and Randolph received close to maximum salary extensions and the extensions given to Parker, Murphy, Tinsley and Haywood were quite healthy as well. While the NBA experiences of Forte and Cook were pretty horrific and Woods never really made it, either, a few of the rest are studs and all of them can play.

The point of all this is, when draft time comes around, don't get caught up in all the hype. How much a player can bench or how high he can jump is not nearly as important as whether or not he can play basketball. Unless the rules committee decides to institute some sort of triathlon, that's still what they do in the NBA.

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