NBA Draft tonight

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, June 28, 2006

As Andrea Bargnani told a curious media contingent about himself Tuesday, Tyrus Thomas sat a few feet away and was asked what he knew about the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. “I don’t know much, but I hear he’s a great player though,” Thomas said. “He has to be a good player to be here.”

Texas forward LaMarcus Aldridge is the other player prominently mentioned as the one who could be called first by NBA commissioner David Stern on Wednesday night. Surely, he must know something about his chief competition.

“I’ve talked to him and I’ve seen he’s a great person,” Aldridge said. “But I don’t know anything about his game.”

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Bargnani is the biggest reason there seem to be more questions than usual so close to the draft. But even if his future rivals don’t know him, he isn’t a mystery to the Toronto Raptors or other teams with high picks.

Speculation has focused on the 20-year-old forward from Italy since the Raptors won the draft lottery in May. Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo seemed to send a strong indication recently that the Raptors were leaning that way when he hired former Benetton Treviso executive Maurizio Gherardini, whose team Bargnani played for, as his new assistant.

Colangelo said Tuesday that though he had received phone calls inquiring about the pick, he expected to hold onto Toronto’s first opportunity to choose first.

“At this point, it seems to be that we are more or less locked in at the No. 1 spot,” Colangelo said. “It’s the day before the draft, and it appears we will utilize the pick.

“The offers that we received were not in the caliber that we felt it required to move the pick.”

Listed at 6-foot-10 and 225 pounds, Bargnani has drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki because of his outside shooting skills. He shot 37 percent from 3-point range in Italy’s Lega A this season.

“People ask me about why a big guy plays outside,” Bargnani said. “I always play outside since I was young because my coach told me to play outside.”

But in the draft preview in the NBA finals program, the NBA players Bargnani was compared to are Rashard Lewis, Vladimir Radmanovic and Hedo Turkoglu.

Not exactly No. 1 pick material — adding to the reason there is so much confusion. “Usually at this point you’d have a definitive 1-2-3 where, in some order, these three guys will be gone,” said Kevin McHale, Minnesota vice president of basketball operations. “The guys they are talking about being No. 1 easily could be there at No. 6. It is very muddled.”

Bargnani and Aldridge are the players most frequently pegged for the top spot, though LSU’s Thomas and Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison also have been mentioned. Washington’s Brandon Roy and Connecticut swingman Rudy Gay also likely will be gone after the top few choices.

The players aren’t the only ones in the dark. Even teams in the lower half of the lottery have no idea who will be available when it’s their turn to pick.

“Usually, by this time, you’ve got a pretty good idea about who will be there,” said Houston GM Carroll Dawson, whose team picks eighth. “It’s not like that this year.”

Chicago follows Toronto with the pick it acquired from New York in the Eddy Curry trade, then Charlotte goes third with its first selection since Michael Jordan came aboard. Portland, Atlanta, Minnesota and Boston are next, Houston and Golden State and Seattle round out the top 10.