By Sekou Smith
The Sports Xchange/Special to CBSSports.com
Blake Griffin ... then who?
That's the question folks will be asking in a few weeks when the Oklahoma power forward's name is called as the first pick in the NBA draft.
Because Griffin is the only sure thing in a draft full of mystery after his selection by the Los Angeles Clippers with the top pick.
Everything after that remains up for grabs since there is no clear-cut No. 2 pick -- Ricky Rubio, Hasheem Thabeet, Jordan Hill and James Harden could all land there before it's over.
It's not even clear who will stay in the draft and who will drop out. The player with the highest profile who retains that option is the mercurial Rubio, who can stay in the draft and still opt to remain in Spain next year rather than play in an NBA city or team that isn't to his liking.
That makes Rubio the biggest gamble in the draft, especially when you consider that 18-year-old point guards not named Derrick Rose generally struggle early in their NBA careers.
It's one thing to turn the keys of your franchise over to an American teenager. But to hand them over to a teenager who has to navigate not only the rigors of the NBA but life abroad? That's a monstrous responsibility for any team to shoulder.
And there are glitches with Rubio, who everyone agrees has mesmerizing passing and defensive talent. His outside shooting is suspect. And despite a lanky 6-foot-4 frame, he's barely 185 pounds. So not even he is the can't-miss prospect many thought he would be at this stage of his career.
No amount of uncertainty will keep teams from pouncing on Rubio if he drops past the Grizzlies at No. 2. Oklahoma City, which owns the third pick, could pair him with Russell Westbrook in the backcourt and, with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green already on the frontline, form one of the best young quartets in basketball. And Sacramento, at No. 4, is in dire need of a floor general after one year of Beno Udrih's poor imitation of an elite point guard.
One way or another, the next four weeks will give everyone time to sort through the mess. And on draft night, you can show up a few minutes late. Because after Griffin, the real fireworks will begin:
Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA
Holiday is riding the wave created by his predecessor in Westwood, Russell Westbrook, who shot up draft boards late last year and was nabbed by Oklahoma City with the fourth pick. Holiday is in a similar position, having mostly played off the ball at UCLA because Darren Collision had the point guard position locked down. Teams interested in adding a player with good size and the ability to defend at a high level can't ignore the fact that Holiday is the player with the most upside at the position not named Rubio. After being projected as a mid- to late first-rounder, Holiday name is being discussed as high as No. 4, where Sacramento is in search of an eventual replacement for Beno Udrih.
Jonny Flynn, G, Syracuse
NBA executives have officially begun their love affair with the swashbuckling Flynn, who showed off his competitiveness and toughness during his team's magical ride through the Big East Tournament. Flynn was already on their radar, but he cemented his place among the top point guards in this draft by performing at the highest level on the biggest stage. All he's done since then is dazzle with his explosiveness and gritty nature in workout settings. After being projected early on as a mid-first-round pick, Flynn has moved up into the top 10 or 12 on many draft boards. Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings probably don't have anything to worry about -- they're still expected to be the first two point guards off the board -- but Flynn is creating a little space for himself as No. 3.
Chase Budinger, F, Arizona
Budinger's rise was inevitable. With his tantalizing mix of athleticism, a rumored 40-inch vertical (bolstered, no doubt, by his volleyball background), and long-range shooting touch, he has a ceiling higher than most at his position in this draft. All the coaching turmoil and uncertainty during his time in Tucson certainly played a part in his disrupted development. And plenty of teams credit Budinger for sticking it out an extra year when he could have bolted for the draft last year. That said, the questions about his toughness and desire remain. No one can dispute his immense raw materials, though. And on draft night, that often trumps whatever perceived deficiencies a player might have.
Sam Young, F, Pittsburgh
DeJuan Blair isn't the only one of Jamie Dixon's former players turning heads these days. Whatever team drafts Young will get the rare four-year college senior who is going to be older than some of his young teammates. And that maturity has helped his cause recently. Teams as high as the late lottery are taking a look at the rugged small forward who has shown a tenacity and relentlessness during workouts that has intrigued many. In a guard-heavy draft, Young has a chance to stand out at his position.
James Johnson, F, Wake Forest
Overshadowed in the ACC by the likes of Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina and Kyle Singler of Duke, and even his freshman teammate Al-Farouq Aminu, Johnson could emerge as the best pro of the bunch. At least that's what some NBA types believe. He has the size (6-9, 245), athleticism and toughness every team is looking for. The son of a sixth-degree black belt, Johnson is a seven-time karate world champion. He'd fit well anywhere, but teams like Indiana at 13, Phoenix at 14, Detroit at 15 and Chicago at 16 will all be keeping close tabs on Johnson over the next month.
Ty Lawson, G, North Carolina
Good luck trying to figure out what it is that has all the lottery teams scared off about Lawson. No point guard in this draft full of them has better credentials. And if it's diminutive presence that has you perplexed, get your measuring stick out for Jonny Flynn and Patrick Mills, too. Whispers about the foot injury that kept Lawson off the floor during the NCAA Tournament have forced some teams to reclassify Lawson on their draft boards. His fall means some team in the late teens or early 20s is probably going to snag the next Jameer Nelson (an All-Star this season with Orlando), who faced similar questions about his game leading up to the draft.
Nick Calathes, G, Florida
Before he could put on a skill show during the workout season, Calathes decided to sign with Panathinaikos of Greece, causing NBA executives from coast to coast to scratch their heads. Calathes does have an out-clause in the Josh Childress-styled, three-year contract allowing him to leave for the NBA after the first year. And some teams picking late in the first round might be interested in owning his NBA rights for the future. Still, no one is sure what prompted Calathes to pull the trigger on the European deal before seeing where he might fit in the first round of the draft -- and by all accounts, he was not projected to last beyond the first round.
Paul Harris, G, Syracuse
Before the start of the season Harris was in everyone's projected first round and even considered a late lottery to mid-first-round prospect. His stock has been free falling ever since. He didn't even get an invite to the Chicago pre-draft camp, a stunning omission for a player with his high profile in college. NBA teams worried about his suspect outside shot see him more as an undersized small forward than the slashing shooting guard his frame suggests he'll need to be to make an impact in the league. He'll have to change some minds during the workout season.
Austin Daye, F, Gonzaga
There isn't a more skilled player at any position in this draft than the 6-foot-10 Daye. The only problem is his body and mettle are light years behind his basketball IQ. In a different era, that wouldn't have been a problem for teams on draft night. Times have changed. Few teams are willing to gamble on Daye's lottery talent catching up to his late first-round physique. And when a player this talented disappears during the course of games the way did at Gonzaga last season, there is legitimate cause for concern. Daye hasn't fully committed to staying in the draft yet, an indication to some teams that he too might have some reservations about his readiness for the next level.
DeMar DeRozan, F, USC
DeRozan is arguably the draft's most impressive athlete (sorry, Blake Griffin) and remains a probably lottery pick. And, truth be told, his fall won't be a long one. But instead of going in the single digits, he might have to settle for one of the last spots in the lottery. His game is still raw, making him a risky gamble for repeat lottery offenders picking in the 4-through-10 range. Teams like Minnesota (Corey Brewer) and Golden State (Brandan Wright) already have projects to work with while teams like and New York and Toronto need immediate help at other positions. A strong showing during the workout season will help DeRozan clear up any lingering issues about his outside game. But it might not be enough to vault him back into the top six or seven.