CHN: You just got back from the Reebok Eurocamp in Italy. Who stood out there in your eyes?
Ryan Blake: Serge Ibaka probably stood out the most at the camp - I think as a guy who is going to be sure-fire first rounder. He even pushed himself up to even further up the draft where either, not just someone from Seattle or San Antonio or Boston might pick him, but maybe someone else might take a chance on him. I mean his upside, just from last year at the Adidas camp to the Nike Hoop Summit – his progression was just that good.
CHN: Does he remind you of anyone? Dalembert?
RB: The thing that he was doing well, I think he shot the ball well from deep, from mid-range. His athleticism. His anticipation was great. He hadn’t been playing basketball that long – his natural instincts were beyond not just raw. Offensively and defensively his upside is just huge right now.
CHN: Do you see him in the NBA next year or will a team keep him overseas for a year of two?
RB: If it is someone like Boston or Seattle’s second pick or San Antonio, I think with the full roster that they have they don’t have a need to (bring him over to the NBA next year). So they can keep him over there – let him develop.
CHN: Who is the top European in this year’s draft?
RB: (Danilo) Gallinari will be the top dude, probably (pick) 8-16. Then you got (Nicolas) Batum and Ibaka. Batum is a guy that lost a lot of confidence I think last year. Kinda was sorta in that transition – didn’t know what he should do. But he has the ability to be a go-to guy. He only played one day at the Eurocamp. Shot the ball well. Came in and was assertive at least offensive(ly) – taking shots – which he hadn’t done before. Moves away from the ball like Richard Hamilton. Has great court awareness. Can be a great distributor, passer and a finisher. Can be a go-to guy. But will he develop like a Boris Diaw where he’s slow. Don’t know. That’s where GMs will have to make that decision.
CHN: He is very similar to his countryman Diaw, in that he has the ability to dominate but just doesn’t bring it every game.
RB: In an unselfish sort of cerebral way he does that. You gotta have that mentality to be a step-up guy. He has proven that in the Juniors when he won the MVP two years ago and the Schweitzer and the Euro U-18 he was a go-to guy. When the shot clock was winding down he would finish or get the ball when he was double-teamed to the right guy. So that was really what was impressive with him – he had the ability to do that. And confidence is the key when you go to the next level, whether it’s going from Juniors to Euro Division One or going to professional NBA.
CHN: Back to the States. The pre-draft camp, is there one guy who really helped his stock by showing up and playing?
RB: I think it’s a positive first for any guy who shows up and plays. It just tells a team that they want to play. I think some of the guys that didn’t come to play it will hurt. Obviously Lawson and Green and Ellington went back (to school). Smart choices in such a deep draft like that. Gary Forbes is the guy that I think it doesn’t matter where he gets drafted or not get drafted, I think he’s going to make a team. DeVon Hardin did well by playing.
CHN: Compare this year’s draft to last year’s.
RB: The depth is what stands out the most. I think you got a lot of guys who declared early that are going to miss out on their chances to make some money in the NBA. You got nine lottery (prospects probably picked in the lottery), add another 11 first rounds, we’ll call them sure-fires and of course there’s no sure-fires. Then you got about 31 dudes that are punching it out for 10 spots. You do the numbers and there’s only 30 picks (in the first round) - you got a lot of guys who are going in the second round. When you get first round guaranteed money that’s great. But when you get in the second round you are also punching out for maybe one roster spot if that’s there against international draft eligibles, international early entry, international guys under contract, free agents and other undraftable players. So your percentages go down for a little money.
CHN: Speaking of guys dropping into the second round, are you surprised Bill Walker kept his name in the draft, especially after his injury?
RB: Absolutely. I think he just wants to get out there and try to play. That’s his prerogative. No one is going to pick him in the first round, I just don’t see it. He’s got two injuries on one knee and one on the right and he has this injury. Your owner’s not going to put up enough money for that. He’s a good player but how good is he?
CHN: So would you say that this year’s draft is deeper than last year but last year had more top-end talent in Durant and Oden?
RB: We evaluate a draft after three years. For a guy to impact a team by the end of the year, you’ve got a great draft pick. And that impact could be - if you’re a big (man) - seven points and seven rebounds. That’s an impact. If you get a Horford that’s unbelievable. We got two good players at the top with Rose and Beasley. But …. it’s deep in the guards. The (George) Hill kid from IUPUI is a great guard. It’s beauty in the eye of the beholder with (O.J.) Mayo, (Russell) Westbrook, (D.J.) Augustin, (Eric) Gordon. I may feel that Gordon’s one of my favorite guards but that’s where they’re going to have a tough time picking which guy that they want. (Jerryd) Bayless is going to be up there at the top as well.
CHN: If you’re running the Bulls, who are you picking?
RB: That’s a tough choice. They’re in prime position to get what they want. They have (an) opportunity to be in the driver seat for trades. If they pick Rose are they going to have to do some player movement? Will they benefit if they feel he’s not the guy and they want Beasley? Then they’re in the driver seat as well there. They got a great staff and they’re going to have it nailed. I feel confident with it.
CHN: Are you surprised O.J. Mayo isn’t even in the mix for the top two picks? He seems to be underrated?
RB: Media-wise I don’t know. He progressed great – well - throughout the year. He stepped up. He’s a professional. He brings professionalism to his game. He keeps improving. It’s a hard guy to overlook. But again it’s beauty in the eye of the beholder. They can say the same thing for Bayless and Gordon as well.
CHN: Who are your top five prospects?
RB: I don’t really label them top five prospects. (Brook) Lopez as a true center he’s got to be the best one in the draft. Maybe not by upside. I think he’s got to be up there by the top. Gordon’s one of my favorite(s) – I think he’s a better shooter and a better ball-handler than some people think. He’ll have to improve on that to become more of a weapon to get inside and finish. But he’s definitely a better shooter than what he showed and I think the wrist injury really hurt him.
CHN: Isn’t Gordon stuck between positions in the NBA – maybe a “combo guard”?
RB: You know what you are going to get with him. You’ve got a guy who’s a great kid, works his butt off and is very professional. The risk there is a lot less than if you have some other players that might be young as well. He measured a little bit smaller. Could be a combo. Does he have that ability? Well he was required to score on that team (Indiana Hoosiers) and he had injuries.
CHN: Who are some second round sleepers?
RB: I think (Juan) Palacios is going to be good. I think Gary Forbes will do well. I think Hardin will get in there and be in the mix eventually. But you’ll see a lot of the guys who you think will be in the first round will be in the second round. Hill you got to throw in there too.