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Scouting the NBA’s top five small forwards

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Joe Alexander sat in a courtside chair at the Kings' practice facility after a closed draft-audition workout that included time matched against, he said, small forward Nicolas Batum, power forward Darrell Arthur and point guard Russell Westbrook.

The versatile wing from West Virginia was asked, given that he faced several well-regarded prospects that day, which players impressed him.

"Me," he said.

Alexander wasn't kidding.

He is the over-the-top in an underwhelming draft class of small forwards, a collection so lacking in depth that only four appear to be first-round certainties: Danilo Gallinari from Italy, Donte Greene from Syracuse, Batum from France and Alexander. The position will dominate the international influence — Gallinari and Batum might be the only players from overseas to go in the top 20 — and little else.

Alexander and Gallinari, with the exact order a close call, will at least be lottery picks. The extended ranking will turn out to be something like this, with Mr. Modesty on top (of course):

1. Alexander, 6-8: He is athletic enough to play some shooting guard and physical enough to play some power forward while shooting well and handling the ball. Few players in the draft have as much potential to turn into a complete package.

2. Gallinari, 6-8: Good size, good shooting touch and very good court sense, especially for someone who won't turn 20 until August. Teams love the variety in his offensive game, with the ability to get to the basket or score from the perimeter.

3. Greene, 6-8 1/2 freshman: Everyone raves about his range as a lanky perimeter-oriented weapon in the Rashard Lewis mode, but Greene made just 34.5 percent of his three-pointers at Syracuse and shot 41.5 percent overall.

4. Batum, 6-8: The NBA game without the NBA body. The 19-year-old Frenchman is athletic and built for a transition offense and shows the potential to be an excellent defender, but he's all of 190 pounds. That's about 20 pounds less than Vladimir Radmanovic, 30 pounds less than Stephen Jackson with the Warriors and Corey Maggette with the Clippers, 35 less than Grant Hill with the Suns and about 50 less than Ron Artest with the Kings—and those are just the potential matchups in the Pacific Division.

"He's a lot stronger than he looks," Alexander said.

5. Bill Walker, Kansas State, 6-6 freshman: A career that once tracked into lottery range has been beset by knee problems, most recently during workouts in advance of the draft. That's a major red flag for a player who redshirted his first college season because of a torn ligament before posting encouraging numbers in 2007-08.

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