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Originally published June 26, 2013 at 8:15 PM | Page modified June 27, 2013 at 6:58 PM

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Kelly Olynyk, Peyton Siva could be good picks in an uncertain NBA draft

Gonzaga big man Kelly Olynyk is projected to go in the middle of the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft. Peyton Siva, a guard from Franklin High School and Louisville, is a possible second-round pick.

Times staff columnist

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No offense, Jerry, but your claim that Kelly Olynyk is "... the most skilled big... MORE
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In this inconspicuous NBA draft, it seems the strongest opinion is to have no opinion. Weak draft, many pundits are declaring it breathlessly, not bothering to remind you that even weak drafts produce a few memorable players. This year, it’s much easier to punt than predict who will stand out among a crop lacking a surefire superstar.

So there’s this notion the draft won’t have any intrigue without a Patrick Ewing or Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James at the top. But if you’re a draft nerd like me — a prisoner of potential — you’re captivated by figuring out which team will make the right decisions in a class that could be fraught with busts.

“This could be a draft in which some of the late first-rounders, second-rounders and maybe undrafted players wind up having better careers than players drafted ahead of them,” said longtime draftnik Chris Monter, the editor and publisher of College Basketball News and Monter Draft News.

If that’s the case, you can understand this draft well simply by looking at the two most prominent players of local interest, Kelly Olynyk and Peyton Siva. They might define the 2013 draft better than higher-profile stars such as Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel and Victor Oladipo.

Olynyk, the versatile Gonzaga 7-footer who showcased stunning improvement while helping the Zags earn their first No. 1 national ranking this past season, is the most skilled big man in a class that could have 10 bigs selected in the first round. He is a projected late-lottery or mid-first round pick. He has clear strengths and weaknesses, consistent with the rest of the likely high picks. No one is willing to guarantee immediate stardom. He is considered a rotational player at worst, but the hope is he can develop into more, especially if he continues his rate of improvement from the past two years.

On the other end of the hype train is Peyton Siva, the former Franklin High School star who helped Louisville win the national title in April. Siva is an undersized guard (6 feet) in a draft with a good number of interesting point guards, all of whom have different skill sets. Siva is a projected second-round pick, which means he could go undrafted because project big men and international players tend to dominate the second round. He is a player who spent four years at Louisville and possesses great athleticism, quickness, leadership skills and character. But many NBA teams have scrutinized his height, his jump shot and his upside.

In Olynyk and Siva, you see the essence of this draft. There are good players of all sizes, but all of them carry risk. Can a team get normal value for a lottery pick this year? And as the draft advances, when teams are looking at a list of players with distinct flaws, can they still make a useful pick?

This draft will truly separate the good talent evaluators from the bad. And more than any year in recent memory, the difference between good and bad drafting will come down to which teams can define and predict these players’ strengths properly and have a plan to minimize their weaknesses.

Which brings us back to Olynyk and Siva. In the right systems, both are worthy draft picks who can help a team avoid embarrassment.

Olynyk isn’t a can’t-miss prospect, and Gonzaga players haven’t been stellar in the NBA, but his skills at 7 feet tall are impossible to ignore. He has a nice shooting touch that can get better. He can pass. He can dribble to get past defenders with slow feet. If a team is looking for a third big man, a power forward who can play center at times, to come off the bench and play 15-18 minutes as a rookie, he’s a good selection. In the future, he might develop into more, but that’s who he is right now. He’s not a shot-blocking rim protector, but he could be similar to Spencer Hawes. He’s a safer mid-first round option than, say, Michael Carter-Williams or Mason Plumlee.

And Siva is worthy of a second-round pick, or at least a serious look if he goes undrafted. He’s a mature young player who could add to an NBA locker room immediately. He’s probably a third point guard at this point, but if his jumper develops, he could turn into a quality backup. He’s a tempo-changer and energizer with his quickness. Word is, he fared well against some first-round type point guards during private workouts, so teams shouldn’t dismiss a proven winner so easily.

“Unfortunately, teams like to gamble with size in the second round,” Monter said. “He could get squeezed by some big men. But a case can be made for Siva by looking at Isaiah Thomas from Washington. He doesn’t go until the last pick (of the 2011 draft), but he was picked by the right team, and he’s had a good career in Sacramento so far. Finding the right team is so important.”

In this weird NBA draft, the right team can make good use of Olynyk and Siva.

Gonzaga players in NBA draft
If Kelly Olynyk is selected, as expected, in Thursday’s NBA draft, he will be the eighth Zags player chosen after Hall of Famer John Stockton was picked No. 16 overall by the Utah Jazz in 1984. Of the seven players chosen since Stockton, five have played in the NBA, none with great success. Ronny Turiaf, Austin Daye and Robert Sacre played during the 2012-13 season.
YearPlayerNBA team (selection) NBA career
1997C Paul Rogers Lakers (No. 53) Australian big man never played in the NBA.
2002G Dan Dickau Sacramento (No. 28) Averaged 5.8 points in six seasons with six teams.
2004G Blake Stepp Minnesota (No. 59) Played two years overseas; bad knees forced retirement.
2005 F Ronny Turiaf Lakers (No. 37) Limited minutes last season with Clippers, his sixth team.
2006 F Adam Morrison Charlotte (No. 3) Played three years, out of the league after 2010 season.
2009 F Austin Daye Detroit (No. 15) Has averaged 5.6 points in four years, with Memphis now.
2012 C Robert Sacre Lakers (No. 60) Played 32 games in deep reserve role for Lakers.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer

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