The NBA Draft is hardly an exact science.

In 1984, the Houston Rockets made a University of Houston center the first pick of the draft. It worked out pretty well, as Hakeem Olajuwon has since guided them to two NBA titles and is a certain Hall of Famer.

The No. 2 selection that same year did not work out quite as well. The Portland Trail Blazers took Sam Bowie, who never made a big name for himself in the NBA. The Chicago Bulls were the beneficiaries of the Blazers' pick. They were able to tab a young guard out of North Carolina who forever would change the history of basketball: Michael Jordan.

With Jordan leading them to six NBA titles, the Bulls didn't need to worry much about the draft. After all, they usually were picking late in the first round where everything seems to be a crapshoot. That all changed June 30.

The Bulls had the No. 1 pick for the first time in history and used it to select Duke's Elton Brand.

Whether Brand develops into another James Worthy, the first pick in '82, or Pervis Ellison, the first pick in '89, will not be known for a few years. But his fate will not affect just the Bulls' franchise. It also will weigh on card collectors who anticipate Brand living up to his billing.

It is a guessing game trying to determine who the next big NBA star will be and whose cards will maintain their value over the long run.

It was not last year's top pick, University of Pacific center Michael Olowokandi, who made the most headlines this past season. That honor goes to Vince Carter, who was selected fifth and went on to earn rookie of the year honors.

Nobody would have predicted Carter to be the NBA's dominant rookie when he was selected by the Golden State Warriors and traded to Toronto shortly thereafter.

But in the June edition of Beckett Basketball Card Monthly, it is Carter who is the top name on the "On the Rise" list of players to watch. It is the Carter '98-99 SkyBox Premium Autographics that is listed as the hottest autograph card.

Carter's '98-99 Upper Deck Black Diamond rookie is the highest-priced card in the set at $50. His rookie '98-99 SkyBox Premium is also tops at $50, as is his '98-99 Ultra card at $40.

So who will be the hot rookie from the Class of '99?

Obviously, the Bulls think Brand is the man. Maryland's Steve Francis went No. 2 to Vancouver, and did not seem too happy about it. "Hopefully, when I wake up tomorrow, I'll be happy," Francis said the night of the draft. "I feel relieved now more than happy."

Now, many collectors will try to figure out if Francis can overcome his disappointment to become an NBA star or if it will keep him from reaching his full potential.

The most intriguing player to watch is Lamar Odom.

Few would dispute Odom's talent. However, some bizarre off-the-court behavior caused him to slip to fourth overall, where the Clippers may have gotten themselves the steal of the draft.

And if Clippers coach Chris Ford is correct, collectors who concentrate on Odom will not be disappointed. "This kid can do it all," Ford told the Los Angeles Daily News. "He has star potential."

Collectors sure hope so.

Eric Breier is a staff writer for the North County Times in Escondido, Calif. He covers a variety of topics, including a monthly sports collectibles feature.