NBA: Brown willing to wait on project
By Mike Cranston
LAS VEGAS ó In two days of summer minicamp workouts, Alexis Ajinca has displayed the raw ability that coaxed Charlotte Bobcats managing partner Michael Jordan into taking him with the 20th pick in the draft.
The 20-year-old Frenchman runs the floor with remarkable ease for a 7-footer. His freakish 7-foot, 8-inch wingspan and above-average athleticism stand out. He’s got a feathery shooting touch and can score with both hands off post moves.
Then you glance down and see Ajinca’s toothpick legs, moments after he can’t get a shot off in traffic because of his lack of strength. Then he gets lost on defense and you wonder if Ajinca is another Frederic Weis, the 7-2 Frenchman who never played in the NBA after being New York’s first-round pick in 1999.
Yet Ajinca’s biggest defender is the guy you’d think might be the most impatient with him: new coach Larry Brown. Yes, the same 67-year-old Hall of Famer, who has trademarked brief coaching stays, pushed for Ajinca on draft night.
“He’s got great skill. He listens. He can really shoot the ball,” Brown said Wednesday. “Right now, physically, he’s just got to grow. He’s got shoulders that can fill out, but it’s going to take time. But I don’t know how many times you’re going to get a chance to draft a young kid like him, 7-2, that’s athletic.”
While Ajinca is listed at 7-feet, he’s taller than 7-0 center Ryan Hollins. The team lists him at 220 pounds and he appears lighter than that. Yet Ajinca insisted he’s gained 20 pounds in the past year and now weighs 240.
“I need some weight, maybe 15 pounds more,” Ajinca said in his thick French accent. “Not too much more, because then I won’t be able to run and jump like today.”
Ajinca’s leaping ability has produced some impressive dunks as the Bobcats work out at Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus. Yet until eight years ago, Ajinca only cared about jumping while on a bicycle.
Ajinca routinely won BMX racing competitions for his age group in France. He didn’t start playing basketball until he was 12 ó and only because he thought it would help him with his bike jumps.
When he blossomed in basketball, he gave up BMX. Still, his hoops resume is light.
Ajinca played 26 games over the past two seasons in professional leagues in France. In 24 games with Hyeres-Toulon last season, he averaged only 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds. Ajinca blamed his meager production on limited playing time.
“When I played 28 minutes I played great,” Ajinca said. “Next game I play just eight minutes or I play two minutes.”
Bobcats European scout Rich Sheubrooks had been following Ajinca since he was 15. He scheduled a workout in Charlotte, which came on Ajinca’s first trip to the United States last month. Brown said he was “blown away” by Ajinca’s performance.
Ajinca said it was during his grueling stretch of team workouts that he started thinking he’d be a first-round pick.
“I’m 7-2 and I can run,” Ajinca said. “I’m not surprised because I went up against DeAndre Jordan, Roy Hibbert. I played great against them.”
The Bobcats, who acquired the 20th pick from Denver for a future first-round choice, wanted to select a big man after taking point guard D.J. Augustin at No. 9. Brown said there was a discussion about several players, but eventually they decided to take who they felt had the best potential. Brown believes Ajinca would be a top-four pick in next year’s draft.
“There was (Darrell) Arthur there that we really loved. DeAndre Jordan was a kid we thought had an upside,” Brown said. “But we just thought, ‘Hey, this kid is long and athletic.’ We felt it was an area where this is like a future pick.”
Ajinca’s lengthy learning curve may force the Bobcats to pursue a veteran big man to add depth for what they hope is their first season making a playoff push. It’s what makes Ajinca’s pick so puzzling ó until you see Brown applaud Ajinca after a nifty left-handed layup.
“We’re pretty fortunate, I think,” Brown said. “But it’s going to take time.”
NOTES: Hollins said he was still experiencing dizziness Thursday, a day after sustaining a concussion in a nasty collision with Mustafa Shakur in the morning practice. He’s out indefinitely. … The Bobcats play the first of five summer-league games Saturday against the Clippers. … While his official title is strength and conditioning coach, former NBA player LaSalle Thompson has taken the role of another assistant coach, tutoring the big men.