For Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten, the culmination of an adolescence spent honing their respective hoops games in gyms and playgrounds will reach a cathartic moment tonight.
Both University of Washington players are expected to be selected in tonight’s NBA draft, which starts at 4:30 p.m. (ESPN) at the Prudential Center in Newark N.J.
“I can’t wait,” Wroten said over the phone. “It’s going to be a dream come true.”
Exactly when Ross or Wroten will be selected has been a subject of much debate.
Speculation in these final weeks suggest the players are headed in opposite directions on draft boards.
When both players declared for the NBA draft in April, forgoing their remaining eligibility at Washington, it was thought that they were both likely mid-to-late first-round picks.
But after the NBA scouting combine in early June and a myriad of individual workouts with different teams that followed, it appears that Ross may have ascended in the draft’s first round, while Wroten is teetering on the edge of that first-round, second-round border.
Following a strong finish to his sophomore season, which included four straight 20-plus point performances, Ross verified what scouts and general managers already thought during individual workouts – he has NBA-level length, athleticism and shooting ability.
“He’s done all the right things,” said senior director of NBA scouting operations Ryan Blake. “He’s got more versatility up and down than a lot of players. Obviously, he can really shoot it. But he can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. You like the consistency, the athleticism and the attitude.”
From all reports, Ross shot the ball exceptionally well at the NBA draft combine and in private workouts for several NBA teams. And at 6-foot-7, he is one of the taller shooting guards in the draft.
“The whole package is there,” said Sports Illustrated’s NBA senior writer and draft analyst Sam Amick. “The athleticism, combined with the size, combined with the shooting – it’s just a great mix.”
It’s why there is growing buzz that Ross could be selected in the top 15 picks. Ross earned an invitation to sit in the “green room” for the draft, a spot reserved for players likely to be selected in the top half of the draft.
“That is always telling,” Amick said.
Perhaps the biggest knock against Ross is his strength, which is something he’s admitted on many occasions.
“The strength is all I’ve heard,” Amick said of concerns about Ross. “But, to be honest, I’m not hearing much concern at all.”
Blake said that lack of strength is often a concern for players coming into the NBA, but they adjust.
“We can look at Reggie Miller,” Blake said. “He’s been thin all of his life and he could still play. I’m not saying Ross will be Reggie. But Ross will get stronger and it will help him.”
While the much-scrutinized pre-draft workouts seemed to emphasize only Ross’ strengths, they also accentuated Wroten’s most glaring weakness – his shooting.
Wroten, who shot 16.1 percent from 3-point range and 58.1 percent from the free-throw line as a freshman at Washington, did nothing change perceptions about his inability to consistently knock down shots from outside six feet.
“It pretty much confirmed what we already knew,” Blake said. “He’s 6-5, he’s strong, he’s athletic, he can attack the rim – and he can’t shoot the ball.”
It seems as though the poor-shooting displays might push Wroten out of the first round. While he has often projected as late first-round pick, from 22 to 30, several mock drafts now have Wroten projected to go in the second round.
Blake admits teams might be wary.
“I don’t think it’s something debilitating, but it ain’t good right now,” he said.
And while NBA executives often draft based on potential, the “right now” factor can still affect their decisions.
“Executives have a hard time getting past the fact that he not only can’t shoot it consistently, but it seems like he’s so far away from figuring it out,” Amick said.
There is some thought that Wroten’s shooting will improve with hours upon hours of practice and instruction at the NBA level. It has worked for some players, but not for others.
“In general, it’s said way too often that you can fix shooting,” Amick said.
What if Wroten’s shooting goes the way of Mateen Cleaves? The former three-time All-American from Michigan State was taken with 14th pick in the 2000 draft, despite having serious fundamental shooting issues. The thought was that Cleaves would learn to shoot in the NBA, while his strength, athleticism and leadership would suffice until then. Didn’t happen. Cleaves played six seasons with four teams, averaged 3.6 points per game and shot .389 from the field and .267 from 3-point range.
Do some teams worry that Wroten could be the next Cleaves?
“It seems like he could be Mateen Cleaves,” Amick said. “I’m hearing a fixation in his inability to do it, more than optimism that he can fix it.”
Perhaps Wroten will never become an elite shooter, but there are plenty of point guards who are effective despite lacking superior touch. Blake pointed to the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo, an All-Star.
“He can’t shoot, but he understands how to make plays,” Blake said. “Wroten knows how to drive and get inside and draw contact, and, of course, passing. Those are ingrained in him. Those are assets.”
Wroten’s athleticism and ability to make plays rivals many in the draft.
“Not a lot of guys in this draft that can get to the rim like him, that are as strong as him, that are as athletic as him – that’s appealing,” Amick said. “If you get on a good team where you’re deep already and you can be more of a specialized talent and play a certain role, he can be really good.”
Wroten, who has heard it all, thinks he’s shown he can be an NBA player.
“I think they got to know my game and the type of player I can be,” he said.
Will he be a first-round selection?
Amick isn’t certain.
“In my conversations, I don’t have anybody saying if he’s there, he’s our guy,” Amick said.
But if Wroten falls to the second round, it doesn’t necessarily cast a shadow over his playing career.
“He’ll be one of the first guys taken in the second round,” Blake said. “He can use it as motivation to go out and prove all the naysayers wrong.”email@example.com