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THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : Re-Draft: Coleman Still No. 1, Others Fade

It’s too early to say anything definitive about rookies. Most NBA players make their greatest strides between their first and second seasons, rendering first-year analysis premature and capricious.

OK, let’s get to the premature, capricious part.

We asked three NBA general managers and an NBC research whiz to re-draft the top of last spring’s lottery as a way of grading this crop of turkeys . . . er, talent.

Here’s how it went, with actual selection order in parentheses.

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1. New Jersey--Derrick Coleman (1).

He is a unanimous selection of our board. If there was minor enthusiasm for him last spring, there’s more now. Despite lackadaisical lapses (what do you want?--he’s from Syracuse) such as in the Laker game when he had three inbound passes stolen after baskets, he’s living up to Indiana General Manager Donnie Walsh’s claim that he’s the best young power forward since Karl Malone and Roy Tarpley.

One of our general managers dropped out at this point, declaring of the No. 2 pick, “I’d hate to be in that position.” That will do for a definition of a weak draft.

2. Seattle--Kendall Gill (5).

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The SuperSonics actually took talented-but-wacky Gary Payton. Gill is averaging 15 points a game since becoming Charlotte’s point guard. He’s 6 feet 5, athletic, perhaps a Brian Shaw who can shoot. Admirers give him a chance to be an All-Star.

3. Denver--Lionel Simmons (7).

The Nuggets took Chris Jackson, like Payton, a big-bucks disappointment.

Simmons was the consensus college player of the year, but general managers tripped over each other getting out of his way. At 6-7, he’s not big, quick or a leaper, just a player. Simmons is making a second-half push, trailing only Dennis Rodman, Charles Barkley and Dominique Wilkins among small forwards in rebounding.

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4. Orlando--Dennis Scott (4).

He has some admirers (hello), more detractors. Scott has already broken the rookie record for three-pointers but lacks confidence in anything shorter than a 23-footer. At 6-8, he’s slow, pudgy and no rebounder. But it’s a shooter’s game these days, so the jury is out.

5. Charlotte--Felton Spencer (6).

This 7-footer from Louisville was an eyebrow-raising draft choice by Minnesota’s Bill Musselman, again demonstrating that beneath Musselman’s other-worldly persona is a sharp basketball mind. Spencer is expected to be a representative NBA center, if not a star. Taking him would have spared the Hornets that Armon Gilliam-for-31-year-old-Mike Gminski deal.

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6. Minnesota--Willie Burton (9).

With Spencer gone, Musselman would consider 7-2 Dwayne Schintzius, who has been less trouble in the NBA than he was in the NCAA. It would be concluded he’s still too much trouble for Musselman, who is already up to his eardrums in complaints by Pooh Richardson, Tony Campbell et al. The 6-6 Burton shows flashes off the Miami bench.

7. Sacramento--Dwayne Schintzius (24).

The Florida bad boy has been on his best behavior with San Antonio. He’s a project but a promising one with great size, a fine touch and passing ability. We’re not talking Akeem Olajuwon or Shaquille O’Neal, but his upside is better than Rik Smits’. Schintzius is still a risk but worth taking now.

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8. Clippers--Dee Brown (19).

Forget the slam-dunk glitz. He is a fast-break coach’s dream, a lightning-quick point guard who is heady enough to get minutes in Boston, where rookies rarely are trusted to do more than carry the ball bag. Brown is shooting 86% at the free-throw line and 29% on three-pointers, suggesting he can develop the range that would make him a nightmare to guard.

Pleasant surprises:

--Loy Vaught (13), Clippers.

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--Travis Mays (14), Sacramento.

--Gerald Glass (20), Minnesota. He’s another sharp Musselman tab.

Disappointments:

--Gary Payton (2), Seattle. He has big-time tools but, like the Scarecrow, needs to ask the Wizard for a brain. Payton is trying to restrain himself, per Coach K.C. Jones’ instructions, but it appears his confidence is shot.

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--Chris Jackson (3), Denver. He has medication problems and is chubby but has his moments. Jackson is a poor fit in Coach Paul Westhead’s system.

--Bo Kimble (8) Clippers. It’s too soon to write him off, but with Ron Harper back, where does he fit in?

--Rumeal Robinson (10), Atlanta.

Busts, or write ‘em off early and avoid the rush:

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--Dave Jamerson (15), Houston. Rocket coaches gave up on him before the season started.

--Terry Mills (16), New Jersey. He’s soft, heavy, lazy. Counting Milwaukee, which drafted him, and that Greek team that sent him home, he’s on his fourth team in a five-month pro career.

NBA Notes

Team Benjamin meets the Pacific Northwest: The SuperSonics acquired not only Benoit Benjamin but his retinue. Several aides, all wearing Team Benjamin nylon jackets, sweat shirts, etc., descended upon Seattle, led by Ben’s personal manager, James Casey, formerly of radio station KJLH in Los Angeles, who served as point man for Don King in negotiations with the Clippers. . . . Said Casey: “We came here to get ring sizes and win a championship.” . . . Casey suggested that Benjamin would be happy with a $20-million, five-year deal, though King will handle the heavy lifting. . . . And Casey, on Team Benjamin investment philosophy: “Real estate is the only way to go. You can’t lose with real estate.” . . . Huh? . . . Intriguing possibility: The SuperSonics could play the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs by overtaking Golden State. The Warriors are falling, and Seattle is 3-1 since Benjamin reported.

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As the Bulls Burn: Despite Chicago’s successes, the team is a continuing soap opera starring General Manager Jerry Krause, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Mr. Bill Cartwright. . . . In this week’s episode, Scottie scores 43 and 33 points in consecutive games, including the eye-opening 129-99 rout of Boston that gives the Bulls the best record in the East. . . . Scottie celebrates by becoming the latest to lash out at Jerry, claiming the front office is “lying” about his renegotiations. . . . Scottie calls in sick for practice the next day. Friends say he really has a broken heart or is trying to break Jerry’s, uh, back. . . . For Mr. Bill, it’s a week like any other. He breaks the nose of Sacramento’s Duane Causwell with an elbow. As usual, NBA honcho Rod Thorn exonerates him. If you’re keeping score, Mr. Bill has now incapacitated four centers, a forward and an honorary ballboy. . . . Jerry’s pet project, Yugoslav Toni Kukoc, accepts a two-year deal in Italy, making Jerry sad. . . . Toni’s decision makes Michael glad. Michael says that while Europe may be a nifty place for sneaker sales, it’s overrated for basketball players. . . . Scottie and best buddy Horace Grant don’t like the fact that Michael gets to shoot so much and often complain that the ball doesn’t move the way it should. . . . Tune in next week to see if Jerry exacts revenge by making Michael, Scottie and Horace scrimmage against Mr. Bill.

Setting themselves up: Houston won nine of its last 11 without Akeem Olajuwon, producing apprehension as well as euphoria. . . . Said guard Kenny Smith before Olajuwon’s return: “Anything less than what we’re doing now would be a disappointment.” . . . Sure enough, Olajuwon returned, missed a practice because of a previous commitment to tape the “Arsenio Hall Show,” then scored 24 points--as the Rockets lost to the Clippers. . . . If Houston is dizzy enough to decide Olajuwon is the problem, it can expect to hear from Jerry West. If the Laker general manager could go on point for Benjamin, he would move planets for Akeem. . . . More nonsense: Vernon Maxwell called the Rocket guards the most underrated in the NBA. Two of the three are shooting under 43%, so the prevailing ratings will do.

Boston struggles with Larry Bird’s stiff back and shooting slumps and Kevin McHale’s ankle injury. Said Coach Chris Ford: “If you’re asking me if I’m concerned about finishing No. 1, no. I’m concerned about having a healthy team going into the playoffs.” . . . The Celtics are 29-5 with Bird and McHale, 13-10 when one or both does not play.

Knick General Manager Al Bianchi finally got to take his turn in the barrel, but his trades weren’t why he was fired. Said one of those pressing-is-madness NBA traditionalists: “He crowded out Rick Pitino, then compounded the mistake by trying to play half-court basketball with an open-court team and guards who can’t make an outside shot.”

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Bad Boys, worse news: Detroit Coach Chuck Daly, announcing that he would start Mark Aguirre for offense and bring James Edwards off the bench to keep him out of foul trouble: “Maybe I’m reaching.” In the first game, Edwards fouled out. In the second, Aguirre went 0 for 8 and scored one point. . . . The Pistons lost to expansion teams Miami and Charlotte within eight days and lead fourth-in-the-East Milwaukee by a half game.


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