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Ben Smith

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Thomas set for next step

– No, this is not the NFL draft. Let’s get that straight right off.

The NBA draft is not Kiper and McShay and all that Warp Factor Nine analysis, and it does not have the half-life of plutonium. A child conceived in the first round will not be old enough by the sixth round to go to the Nuggets, the way it sometimes seems in the NFL draft. Mainly this is because the NBA draft has no sixth round.

No, sir. It’s two rounds, one night, 60 picks. Short and sweet. Speed dating as opposed to the Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

What this means for Deshaun Thomas tonight is he won’t have to wait until he’s on Social Security to find out where he’s going, even if he might have to wait longer than he’d like.

Most of the draft nerds have the former Mr. Basketball from Bishop Luers going anywhere from 37th to 50th, which means early- to late-second round. And that’s probably about where he should go, all things considered fairly.

Turn an objective eye on him, and what you see is a 6-foot-7, 230-pound tweener who’s probably not big enough for a power forward and likely not athletic enough to be a full-time small forward. Which means whoever drafts him is going to have to figure out a way to hide him at times, especially on defense.

He is not Victor Oladipo, a projected top-five pick with major upside who’s the object of a lot of overheated affection right now, judging by all the trade talk swirling around him. He’s not Cody Zeller, a projected top-10 pick who’ll likely find his niche in the NBA as a power forward. He’s not Otto Porter or Nerlens Noel or Ben McLemore or Trey Burke – or even Alex Len, the Maryland 7-footer whom no one outside College Park had heard of until four or five days ago, when he suddenly became the sexy pick to go No. 1.

Thomas isn’t any of those. His genius, and the reason you pick him, is that he can score on anyone. Sag off him on the perimeter, and he’ll arc-weld you with threes. Play him tight, and he can get to the rim on you.

He is, as one draft analyst points out, a “useful second-unit weapon” – a guy like, say, former Providence star Ryan Gomes, a six-year pro who played in Germany last season but who’s started 371 NBA games and to whom Thomas has been compared.

And, yeah, OK, so “useful second-unit weapon” doesn’t quite have the ring to it of “the next LeBron James.” But every NBA club needs one. And people have made a living in the League – a remarkably healthy living – on much less.

Maybe Thomas is not Oladipo or Porter or Noel, but he’ll likely be breathing some pretty rarefied air a few hours from now. All the years they’ve played high school basketball in this town, after all, and it takes you about 30 seconds to name the guys from Fort Wayne who’ve been taken in the NBA draft.

You’ve got Willie Long (1971) and Walter Jordan (1978) and Clyde Dickey (1974), first off. You’ve got Tracy Foster (1987). You’ve got Jim Master (1984), Eugene Parker (1978), Tom Baack (1968), Tom Bolyard (1963), Mike McCoy (1963), John Flowers (1986) …

And now, likely, Deshaun Thomas.

Who averaged right at 20 points and six rebounds for Ohio State last year.

Who led the Big Ten in scoring in 2012-13.

Who, despite the book on him – a less-than-athletic, less-than-stellar defensive presence – was better at both ends at times than the book suggested.

Time for the next chapter.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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