By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 30, 2009
CHICAGO, May 29 -- On the night of the NBA draft lottery, Blake Griffin's older brother Taylor told him that he thought Blake was going to wind up in Washington.
"He felt like it would be a good place for me," Blake Griffin, the consensus choice to go No. 1 overall in the June NBA draft, said this week at the draft combine in Chicago.
Unfortunately for fans of the Wizards, Taylor Griffin was not in charge of deciding where his brother would start his NBA career. Ping-Pong balls established the numerical combination that resulted in the Los Angeles Clippers winning the top pick, and the Wizards were forced to make do with No. 5.
Wizards Coach Flip Saunders joked that he would be okay with the fifth pick, so long as it resulted in another Kevin Garnett, who went fifth overall in 1995 when Saunders was with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Griffin is probably the closest thing to Garnett in a draft bereft of many talented big men but loaded with guards, meaning that if the Wizards desire to add size, it will most likely come from Arizona forward Jordan Hill -- or Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet, in the unlikely scenario that he slips out of the top four. When asked if the Wizards were interested in moving up to get him, Thabeet smiled and said, "We'll see how that goes."
The Wizards conducted interviews with Hill and Thabeet -- as well as guards James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry and Jonny Flynn, among others -- this week.
"The strength of this draft is definitely the back court, especially the point guard position," Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. "Probably seven, eight of the top 15, 16 players will be point guards. There will be a few big men available. It depends on who the player is. We'll go with the best player available, regardless of position."
One of the players slated by most draft experts to go in the top five is Hill, a rugged, dreadlocked, 6-foot-10 forward who didn't begin playing organized basketball until his freshman year of high school and actually missed his junior year because of academic reasons. He eventually was able to impress former Arizona coach Lute Olson, who offered the Georgia native a scholarship. Hill rarely played as a freshman on a loaded team that included lottery pick Jerryd Bayless of the Portland Trail Blazers, former San Antonio Spurs draft pick Marcus Williams and Chase Budinger, a projected first rounder in the upcoming draft.
"When I first saw him, he was kind of a goofy, athletic big man," Budinger said. "You could tell he was very raw."
Hill's footwork was terrible and committed turnovers most of the time he got the ball, Budinger said with a laugh. But between his sophomore and junior seasons, Hill made dramatic improvements in all facets of his game.
"When I first came to Arizona, I was an unknown, nobody knew who I was but I stayed on the court, getting better," Hill said. "I knew I was real athletic, real raw. I just needed someone to coach me through the game. I had to wait my time to go out and shine. Once I got my chance, I just started working hard and going for what I want.
"I wouldn't say surprised [to be considered a top-five pick], just overwhelmed," he said. "I knew I could do it. I just had to set my mind to it. I had the heart."
Even though he turns 22 in July, Hill is still considered a player with tremendous upside. He also said that he is motivated by all of the talk that this is one-man draft, with Griffin seen as the only player capable of making an immediate impact in his first season. "I'm still kind of under the radar right now. I don't listen to what people say," said Hill, who wasn't shy about whom he would compare his skill set with. "I think I have a little Kevin Garnett or Amare [Stoudemire], with the athleticism, mid-range" jumper.
Hill is preparing for the draft with renowned trainer Tim Grover, who is helping him work on his upper body strength. On Friday, players were measured, weighed and had to lift 185 pounds. Griffin had 22 reps on the bench press. Hill did it 11 times.
"I could've done more, but my foot was sliding," Hill said, explaining himself before eventually confiding, "My arms was done."
But Hill considers that an improvement, since he probably wouldn't have been able to lift 185 pounds more than five times a month ago.
"Getting stronger and bigger in the weight room is the main thing in this process," Hill said. "I still have a ways to go, a lot of progression to [make]."
When asked if he could see himself fitting in with the Wizards, Hill said: "I don't care. I just want to get out there and get on a team. Whoever thinks I'm a good fit for them, I'm there. Washington is a very good team and they got Gilbert Arenas, who is an Arizona alumni right there."