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What NBA types are saying about Yao Ming

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Center of attention

Is he the next Shawn Bradley or the hot ticket to the next Ming Dynasty? The next dominant big man or the next big bust? NBA general managers and scouts and assorted media types gathered May 1 in a dimly lit gym at Loyola University in Chicago to get an up-close look at Yao Ming, a 7-foot-5 Chinese import who some consider a flat-footed slam dunk to be the first player chosen in the upcoming NBA Draft. With former Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers coach P.J. Carlesimo on the court to coordinate drills and 7-foot-1 University of Oregon center Chris Christoffersen serving as the simulated opposition, Yao performed for an estimated 65 NBA scouts and team officials. Some came away impressed. A few still have questions and concerns. Here's a sampling of what NBA decision-makers (some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity) are saying about the pride of the Shanghai Sharks:

A lock for No. 1?

An Eastern Conference personnel director: "I can't see him not being the No. 1 pick ... the only way he might not be the first player picked is if Chicago is picking and they decided they have to have a point guard (and select Duke's) Jason Williams. "He is a legit 7-5 and has tremendous skills and upside... he has decent strength right now but you know he will get so much stronger (with weight work, maturity) and you know he will get a lot better, fundamentally, working with NBA coaches. "Will he be a star? Yes. Will he be a superstar? I'm not sure. He is so nice that it makes you wonder; does he have the 'killer instinct" it takes to be great? Tony Ronzone, Director of International Scouting for the Detroit Pistons, who has served as an assistant coach for the Chinese national team: "If you have the No. 1 pick, you have to pick this guy. He would start and make an immediate difference for any team in the league right away. "He is a gym rat. He loves the game, being around the game and talking about the game. He's the first one in the gym (for practice) and the last one to leave. Some big guys are lazy or are playing basketball because they have been pushed into it because they are big. He plays basketball because he loves the game. David Fredman, assistant GM, Denver Nuggets: "Oh, yeah, I think he's a top-three pick. No question, in my opinion. Will he be the very first? Well, it won't surprise me, but that depends on who gets the pick and what their needs are and the other ramifications are going to be the political things. "You have to take a workout like this for what it is. Christofferson may get drafted and he may not, so what does that mean, as far as competition? But the skill level, watching the guy shoot it and handle it, is what impresses you." Another personnel director from the Eastern Conference: "Potentially, he can be very good. He does have a ways to go in all areas of the game and it will take him at least a year to get comfortable against NBA-type athletes and the quickness level of the NBA game. "He must get a lot stronger, physically, as his upper body strength has not improved at all (since the 2000 Olympics). You wonder about when he can get some of that improvement (in weight training, etc) because he won't join his NBA team until training camp." Kiki Vandeweghe, Nuggets general manager: "You'd better be concerned about (Yao's lack of physical strength). If you're going to roll the dice in the lottery, you'd better be. It's too early to tell what kind of player he's going to be."

The skills they saw

Jerry West, the Memphis Grizzlies new president of basketball operations: "For a guy this size, he can shoot the ball. He has a wonderful feel for the game. This is not a kid without talent. He has talent." Eastern Conference personnel guy: "The best comparison I can come up with, based on size, is (former Indiana Pacer) Rik Smits. But he is much stronger than Smits in the lower body. But he doesn't have a lot of explosion right now. "And he is a more skilled passer (than Smits) ... the thing that surprised me today is his lateral quickness. There is no way other seven-footers will be able to take him off the dribble consistently." A Western conference front-office exec: "What really sticks out is how fluid and coordinated he is. He can hit NBA range 3-point shots but will someone be running plays for him to get those shots? No. But he can really consistently hit shots in the 18-to-20-foot range. "What you can't tell in a workout like his is what kind of back-to-the-basket game he has, because you can't simulate the kind of quickness he will have to play against in those situations. "He has lot of unique skills, but there are some components of his game that you won't be able to tell about until you see him in actual NBA competition." Fredman: "Obviously, the most impressive thing is his size, and he's very skilled. He's got good hands and pretty good feet. You put all those things into consideration and he's a pretty good prospect. No. 1, the size attracts you. Then you say the guy's got good hands and pretty good feet. Well, that's pretty appealing. "He's got to work on his upper body and you can't see a lot, low post-wise, in workouts like this." Ronzone: "He can change games strictly by his presence. He runs well, likes to set screens, has good low post moves, including hooks. But he also has 3-point range. If he were playing against Shaq, Shaq would have to go out and guard him. "He has a great mid-ranged jump shot. He will be great on pick and rolls because he is so big a defender can't get around him and he can pop outside and hit jump shots." FOXSports.com's Frank Burlison and Mike Monroe and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tagged: Mavericks, Nuggets, Warriors, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Jason Williams

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