The intrigue won’t start until after the top pick has left the stage in tonight’s National Basketball Association Draft.
Anthony Davis, the 19-year-old forward who led the University of Kentucky to the national championship in April, will be the first pick by the New Orleans Hornets at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, according to draft analysts.
The Charlotte Bobcats are considering trading the No. 2 pick, and in a draft with only one “sure-fire star,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said, what happens once Davis shakes Commissioner David Stern’s hand can’t be predicted.
“After that, there are players with question marks but a lot of talent,” Bilas said this week in a conference call. “I don’t know what Charlotte’s going to do with the two pick, whether they keep it or try to trade down and get some additional assets, because they need everything. You have to be prepared for just about every scenario.”
Trading down would allow the team to tap into the uncommon depth of this year’s draft, according to Bilas. The prospect of grabbing future starters later has teams like the Houston Rockets, and possibly the Bobcats, collecting mid-round picks, where value might be higher than in previous drafts.
Davis, the Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year, averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks with Kentucky this season. He was also the Southeastern Conference’s Player, Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year.
Davis, who has hired a financial adviser to help manage his money, said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio’s “Taking Stock” that he won’t feel added pressure if selected first. He will make $4.3 million next season as the first pick, according to the league’s labor agreement.
“I’m about to play against some of the guys I looked up to and idolized my whole life,” Davis said. “But at the same time, it’s now your job. You have to go out there, play your hardest.”
The 6-foot-10 forward’s late growth -- he was a 6-foot shooting guard as a high school freshman -- gives him a unique blend of inside skills and shooting touch, according to Kentucky coach John Calipari. Davis said he’s modeled his game after Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, a nine-time member of the NBA’s all-defensive first team.
“I don’t think there is an NBA decision-maker out there that would take anybody but Anthony Davis No. 1,” Bilas said.
Kentucky’s all-underclassmen starting lineup -- freshmen Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, and sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb -- entered the draft in April shortly after winning the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. Senior Darius Miller is also in the pool of available players.
Bilas said he expects Kentucky to become the first school to have six players taken in one draft since the NBA moved to a two-round format in 1989.
“I am proud to say that I was able to spend a year with them,” Calipari said when the players announced their plans. “Anyone that tells you that in one or two years you cannot create a relationship and you are not going to have a bond, they are crazy.”
Kidd-Gilchrist, University of Florida guard Bradley Beal and University of Kansas forward Thomas Robinson headline the list of players who could be picked directly after Davis.
The New York Knicks have the No. 48 pick; the Brooklyn Nets have No. 57.
The depth of the 2012 class makes it possible for a team to find value later, as the Celtics did with Rajon Rondo, the No. 21 pick in 2006, Bilas said. Rondo averaged 17.3 points and 11.9 assists during the 2012 playoffs, and his three All-Star selections are one fewer than the combined total of the 20 players chosen before him.
“I’m not sure how much difference there is in the 10th pick or the 20th pick,” Bilas said. “There is some difference, but I’m not sure it’s that extreme in this draft.”
The Bobcats finished 7-59 in the lockout-shortened season, the lowest winning percentage in NBA history, and lost a franchise-record 23 consecutive games.
They’re not the only team possibly looking to capitalize on the depth of this year’s class. The Rockets traded forward Chase Budinger to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the No. 18 pick, and acquired the No. 12 selection and a trio of players from the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for the No. 14 pick and Samuel Dalembert. Houston, which has missed the playoffs for the past three seasons, now hold the Nos. 12, 16 and 18 selections.
“I’m happy because we like 18, 20 guys deep in this draft,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said this week. “So you know you’re going to get a couple guys you like at our picks, which is all you can ask for.”