By KRIS HENRY

By KRIS HENRY

Mail Tribune

It seems all you read or hear about Medford's Kyle Singler leading up to tonight's NBA draft involves what he reportedly is not as a basketball player.

Professional drafts have a way of doing that to their hopefuls, breaking them down bit by bit with an entire focus on where they don't measure up.

At issue for Singler is how he apparently isn't athletic enough for the NBA. If you can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, then your value isn't all that high for NBA executives.

As he nervously heads into what could be the most important night of his life, the 23-year-old forward has to hope that someone is willing to look at what he is, and that's a winner.

As it stands now when you check the multitude of mock drafts, blogs and other opinion-based rhetoric regarding Singler, there is a host of interest in the former South Medford High standout. That interest, however, resides mainly at the back end of the first round and dips into the early second-round waters. The same was true in 2010 despite all the retroactive hype suggesting he would've been a lottery pick.

It is what it is for Singler, who has reiterated that he simply wants a chance to play at the top level of basketball. It's a dream he has held firmly to since he moved his dribbling from a bib to the basketball court, and it's not something he's willing to let go of without first pouring every fiber of his being into it.

Such maturity and competitive drive are enviable traits, and have made him a coveted piece to the puzzle for some of the top teams in the NBA. Truly, it's in Singler's best interest to land among the bottom half of the first round since that's where the best teams reside. Not so coincidentally, those teams also tend to look for substance over style when filling out their rosters.

The Kevin Durant-led Oklahoma City Thunder have expressed high public interest in taking Singler with the 24th pick in tonight's first round. In Singler, the team sees a deep threat from the perimeter who can come off the bench and hold things down with his non-stop motor and uncanny feel for the game. Should he develop into a star, so be it, but the Thunder most value Singler's glue-factor appeal and ability to step right in and play a supporting role. That could be made more important should the NBA undergo a lockout and miss any extended preseason time.

If not picked by Oklahoma City — which is by no means a lock — the potential to draft Singler has been bandied about by the remaining five teams in the first round for all of the above reasons.

Boston (No. 25), Dallas (No. 26), New Jersey (No. 27), Chicago (Nos. 28 and 30) and San Antonio (No. 29) all have a need for a versatile, NBA-ready player like Singler and have worked him out in recent weeks with solid reviews. The Nets and Bulls seem the most interested in adding a low-risk player like Singler, and it doesn't hurt that New Jersey GM Billy King is a Duke alum.

Each of the aforementioned teams would provide a perfect fit for Singler, who is used to winning at every level and willing to do whatever it takes to not give that up.

Even if he slips into the early part of the second round, Singler has an attractive option — and suitor — in the Miami Heat, who own the first pick of the second round at No. 31 and have been talking up what his addition could mean to a potential championship run. The downfall of that prospect is that only first round picks receive guaranteed contracts.

The highest suggestion for Singler's name being called has been at No. 21 by the Portland Trail Blazers, but that would be a mistake for all involved.

Bringing him back home, especially when there really isn't a team need for his talents, would create more of a sideshow than opportunity for Singler. While a host of Oregonians would love the chance to follow one of their favorite sons up close and personal — and I'm not immune to that bunch — the situation could quickly become uncomfortable for all as Blazer fans clamor for increased playing time regardless of what rotation is best for the team.

How uncomfortable would you be in the locker room if you were Singler in that circumstance? How about if you were the Blazer brass and had to push back against your fan base? The questions wouldn't stop coming, as evidenced by the tremendous media outpouring when Singler worked out for the Blazers last week, and the scrutiny would be unfair and likely too intense for all.

Singler deserves the chance to go to a team that will play him because he has earned it, and believe me, he will earn his playing time regardless of where he lands. The list is long on supposed "unathletic" players who have made their mark in the NBA, from Singler's idol Larry Bird to Detlef Schrempf and Kiki Vandeweghe, as well as a host of current lanky forwards with a similar perimeter skillset like Kyle Korver, Mike Miller, Peja Stojakovic and Mike Dunleavy Jr.

Heck, if Brian Cardinal can play key minutes and help the Dallas Mavericks to an NBA title, why can't Singler? Leaping over tall buildings with muscle magazine bodies is nice, but those traits certainly aren't foretellers for lengthy, successful careers in the NBA.

You don't finish as the second-winningest player in Duke history (125-23) and as the fourth-leading scorer in Blue Devil history (2,392 points) without being able to play basketball at a supreme level.

It was Singler who played a pivotal role in Duke earning the national championship in 2010, as well as a handful of ACC regular season and tournament championships. In his final game, a Sweet 16 loss to Arizona, Singler essentially carried his team for the first half before foul trouble slowed his progress and opened the door for Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith to try, and fail, to do it all by themselves. Singler scored 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go with a team-high eight rebounds and two steals.

Singler supposedly can't play NBA defense, and we all know how defense is the league's trademark. Critics are probably right about that, since he likely would work hard on that side of the court and that simply isn't the standard. Ask Gordon Hayward about Singler's defense, or any number of ACC superstars who failed to reach their scoring averages when he squared off against them.

So valued for his abilities by head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the 6-foot-8, 230-pounder wrapped up his All-American career ranked first in minutes played at Duke (4,887). He started all but one of his 148 games once he stepped on campus, and that was when Krzyzewski was unhappy with the team's effort and benched the entire starting five to send a message.

The list of achievements by Singler is a mile long, including a history of service in the USA Basketball program, and yet little of that seems to matter after logging thousands of air miles in recent weeks to prove his worth.

Through it all, as has been the case for decades when it comes to the NBA draft, potential trumps all factors when it comes to the first half of the first round. It's a factor Singler recognized following his sophomore year at Duke, and one of the reasons why returning for a senior season after being named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2010 Final Four wasn't so much of a risk.

Teams know who he is and know what he can do, either they value his skillset or they don't. That answer will come tonight, although not likely soon enough for Singler.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or email khenry@mailtribune.com. Follow him @Kris_Henry