GAINESVILLE — Six months ago, Florida's Bradley Beal was struggling to adjust to the college game midway through his freshman season. Now he is a few hours away from becoming a lottery pick in the NBA draft.
After impressive performances late in the regular season and an outstanding postseason run, Beal has skyrocketed to a projected top-five pick in tonight's draft.
"He's going to be (No.) 2, I wouldn't hesitate," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said when asked where Beal could expect to be drafted. "I think he's the second-best prospect in the draft behind (Kentucky freshman) Anthony Davis. … Need, whatever, how could you not need a guard that's got that kind of ability? … There are very few teams that he wouldn't work well with a good point guard. He's tremendous."
In fact, the Thunder was looking for ways to move up from No. 28 to have a shot at Beal, ESPN.com reported. The Bobcats have the No. 2 pick and are said to be listening to offers.
Beal's rise is not necessarily surprising. The St. Louis native, who turns 19 today, arrived at Florida as a two-guard with a resume that indicated his stay might be short. He was the Gatorade national player of the year in 2011 and a McDonald's All-American, averaging 32.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists at Chaminade Prep in St. Louis.
At 6 feet 4, he's a strong defender, outstanding rebounder, can put the ball on the floor and pass in transition, and is a solid free-throw shooter. And by the end of the season, he was shooting 43 percent from the field.
"He has all the intangibles to be a great, great pro and to play a long, long time," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "He's a great teammate, he's really unselfish and works incredibly hard."
When Beal announced in April he was leaving UF, he called it "one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life." Analysts say it was the best thing he could do.
"The fact that he's a freshman and he's showing his potential now," CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis said. "If he was the same player as a senior, the perception would be completely different. So he was very, very smart playing into the psychology of the draft."
Analysts also say Beal's early college struggles didn't hurt him with NBA scouts. "People need to look at the situation that Bradley came into," CBS Sports Network analyst Jon Rothstein said. "He had to find a way to integrate himself with players like Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton that had already been deep into the NCAA Tournament. That's not an easy situation to find yourself in during your first year in college. … It wasn't like things were handed to him right away and he was the poster boy."
Magic is tight-lipped
ORLANDO — If the Magic plans to make a major move tonight, new general manager Rob Hennigan isn't saying.
Hennigan, who took over a week ago, and the Magic have the 19th and 49th picks tonight, but because center Dwight Howard has said he isn't committed beyond the upcoming season, other teams are working on their trade pitches.
"I don't want to comment on that," Hennigan said Tuesday when asked about trading Howard tonight. "We're going to continue to evaluate everything we can and analyze all the details and the options and the scenarios."
The Rockets are expected to tempt the Magic. After a trade Wednesday, Houston has the 12th, 16th and 18th picks and still is trying to move up. The Rockets could offer a package that includes at least one established player and multiple picks in exchange for Howard and perhaps another Magic player.
Rockets-Bucks: Milwaukee acquired veteran center Samuel Dalembert, the No. 14 pick tonight, a future second-round pick and cash considerations from Houston in exchange for forwards Jon Brockman and Jon Leuer, guard Shaun Livingston and the No. 12 pick.
Information from the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press was used in this report.