Los Angeles — Hall of Famer Jerry West, a special consultant whose duties with the Los Angeles Lakers often extend into the same areas as those of a general manager, says that this year's National Basketball Association college player draft was one of the best he's ever seen.
''Practically every NBA team out there got somebody who can help, and in several instances that help is probably going to come right away,'' West explained. ''On a strictly need basis, I don't think any team did better than Chicago, which got guard Quintin Dailey of San Franciso in the first round and forward Ricky Frazier of Missouri in the second. But basically this draft is going to make quite a few general managers look good.''
Los Angeles, which owned first pick as the result of a trade made months ago with Cleveland, used it to select 6 ft. 9 in. forward James Worthy of North Carolina. One of eight undergraduates taken in the first 12 turns, Worthy was named the most valuable player in this year's NCAA tournament after leading the Tar Heels to the championship. He averaged 14.5 points and 7.4 rebounds a game during his three years in Chapel Hill.
Asked if the Lakers had agonized much over whether to select Worthy or forward Terry Cummings of DePaul or forward Dominique Wilkins of Georgia, the first three picks in this year's draft, West admitted that they had.
''We liked all three, but eventually decided on Worthy because he seemed more advanced than the others and because Pat (Laker Coach Pat Riley) wanted someone he could use right away,'' Jerry said. ''But San Diego probaby got itself a starter in Cummings, and Wilkins (who was taken by Utah) has enormous potential. In fact, I think that someday he'll be one of the most exciting players in the league.''
Getting back to Worthy, West said, ''We feel that James can play either power forward or small forward for us, which fits in well with our concept of putting together a team with interchangable parts.
''I think one of our greatest strengths is the fact that both Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper can either play up front or in the back court and that Bob McAdoo, when he isn't being used at forward, can back up Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at center.''
Interviewed by telephone from North Carolina, Worthy said, ''My objective isn't to crack the Lakers' staring lineup, but to show enough in training camp so that I'll get some regular time coming off the bench. I plan to start at the bottom and work my way up.''
Dean Smith, Worthy's coach at North Carolina, says that James is a system-oriented player who knows about pressure and man-to-man defense and who will continue to improve.
''Zone defenses often hurt a kid's offense in college and Worthy got double and triple teamed a lot with us,'' Smith explained. ''But he won't have to deal with this in the pros, and as a result, I think you'll see his scoring average go up. He's also quick enough and handles a ball well enough so that if the Lakers want to use him occasionaly at guard, they can do it.''
The remainder of this year's NBA first-round draft went as follows: 6-9 forward Bill Garnett of Wyoming (to Dallas); 6-10 LaSalle Thompson of Texas (to Kansas City); 6-5 Trent Tucker of Minnesota (to New York); 6-3 Quintin Dailey of San Francisco (to Chicago); 6-7 Clark Kellogg of Ohio State (to Indiana); 6-8 Cliff Levingston of Wichita State (to Detroit); 6-5 Keith Edmondson of Purdue (to Atlanta); 6-3 Lafayette Lever of Arizona State (to Portland); six-foot John Bagley of Boston College (to Cleveland); 6-3 Eric (Sleepy) Floyd of Georgetown (to New Jersey); 6-4 Lester Connor of Oregon State (to Golden State); 6-6 David Thirdkill of Bradley (to Phoenix); 6-5 Terry Teagle of Baylor (to Houston); 6-5 Brook Steppe of Georgia Tech (to Kansas City); 6-5 Ricky Pierce of Rice (to Detroit); 6-2 Rob Williams of Houston (to Denver); 6-5 Paul Pressey of Tulsa (to Milwaukee); 6-7 Eddie Phillips of Alabama (to New Jersey); 6-10 Mark McNamara of California (to Philadelphia); and 6-11 Darren Tillis of Cleveland State (to Boston).
Some NBA teams had more than one pick in the opening round because of trades, some of which went back several months.
The day before the draft, the Chicago Bulls hired former Los Angeles coach Paul Westhead, who was fired 11 games into last season by the Lakers.
Westhead's departure from L.A. was hastened when most of his players complained that Paul's offense was too restrictive for a team with so much free-lance talent. Magic Johnson, however, got most of the blame for his dismissal.
Westhead defended his Laker program, explaining that the Lakers' running game was a significant factor when he coached the team to the 1979-80 title.