June 27 (Bloomberg) -- A sharpshooting touch has given Glen Rice Jr. a chance to make history at today’s National Basketball Association draft as the first player from the sport’s developmental league to be taken in the opening round.
The son of three-time NBA All-Star Glen Rice led the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to a D-League title this season after being kicked off the basketball team at Georgia Tech during his junior year.
The two-round draft for the NBA’s 30 teams is set for tonight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The Cleveland Cavaliers have the top pick, followed by the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats and Phoenix Suns.
Rice, who’s 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, averaged 25 points and 9.5 rebounds in the D-League playoffs, and the NBA’s New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Suns and Portland Trail Blazers all brought him in for pre-draft workouts. Oddsmakers expect him to be a first-round pick.
“He played on the highest level of any player in this draft,” ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford said in a telephone interview. “As much as we love some of our college teams, a D-League team would exceed even the best college team. The talent level is higher. Not only did he excel, he led his team to the D-League championship and was MVP of the finals.”
The D-League was formed 12 years ago, and 41 percent of all players drafted by NBA teams since 2005 have spent time there. Twenty-six of last year’s 60 draftees played in the developmental league, including former Syracuse University center Fab Melo of the Celtics and lottery picks Jeremy Lamb of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kendall Marshall of the Suns.
While Rice played for the Houston Rockets’ affiliate, he’s eligible to be selected out of the D-League because he never declared for the draft as a college underclassman.
“We know when you’re playing the NBA game, with NBA rules, with an NBA 3-point line, Glen Rice can score the basketball and he was playing against former lottery picks and other elite players,” Ford said. “He’s a great athlete and he can really shoot the basketball -- those are things that teams covet. But he wasn’t in the D-League by choice.”
While Rice’s father ranks 14th in NBA history with 1,559 3-pointers, draft analysts say the son’s off-court difficulties in college might be a concern to some teams. Rice was benched at the end of his sophomore season at Georgia Tech and suspended twice for a total of nine games as a junior. He was kicked off the team in March 2012 after driving a car from which one of his passengers fired a gun.
Ryan Blake, the NBA’s director of scouting operations, said that Rice’s D-League performance has shown his maturity.
“He took the bull by its horns, he made it professionally,” Blake said. “He’ll tell you that he made mistakes, was immature, did things that were wrong.”
Rice, who hit 39 percent of his 3-point shots in 42 regular-season games for Rio Grande, said he appreciated the chance to play in the D-League. Rice’s father was the fourth overall pick in the 1989 draft of the Miami Heat and played 15 seasons in the NBA.
“They believed in me, coach believed in me, and when you get that opportunity with a bunch of guys behind you, you’re going to get much better,” said Rice, who added that facing bigger and more physical players was the most significant transition he had to make from college to the professional game.
University of Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel, who is coming back from a torn knee ligament that ended his college season in February, is the 2-3 favorite to be taken No. 1, according to online sportsbook Bovada.lv. That site puts the over/under on Rice’s draft position at 28 1/2, meaning it expects him to be gone by the end of the first round.
The University of Maryland’s 7-foot-1 center, Alex Len; Georgetown small forward Otto Porter, and University of Nevada-Las Vegas power forward Anthony Bennett are among other projected top picks, along with shooting guards Victor Oladipo of Indiana and Ben McLemore of Kansas. Len has 3-2 odds of being the top pick, with McLemore at 6-1 to be the first shooting guard drafted No. 1 since David Thompson in 1975.
The Cavaliers, Suns, Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks all have two first-round picks, while the Los Angeles Lakers and NBA-champion Miami Heat are among the teams without a selection in the opening round. The Brooklyn Nets pick 22nd, with the Knicks at No. 24.
Ford, who projects Rice to go 30th to the Suns, said he has as wide a range as any potential first-round pick, with the possibility of being taken as high as No. 15 by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Three players have been drafted out of the D-League, according to NBA records. All three were second-round picks, most recently in 2011 when Chukwudiebere Maduabum went 56th to the Lakers.
“I can almost assure you that he won’t get past the Houston Rockets at 35,” Ford said of Rice. “He played for their D-League franchise and they love him. They wish they could just claim him, but the NBA rules you have to go through a draft.”
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