2011 NBA Draft: Point Guard Prospectus
NBA fans have heard the phrase “it’s a point guard’s league” ad nauseam over the past two years. Rules changes eliminating hand-checking have greatly benefited smaller players with explosive quickness. Not to mention some of the most talented players to enter the draft over the past six years have precisely fit this mold. The Miami Heat maybe the only team in the league that doesn’t need a true point guard due to the ball-handling and playmaking abilities of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. As for the other 29 teams, having a prolific point guard is a prerequisite to compete for a championship. That being said, there will be tremendous pressure for the Cleveland Cavaliers to select a point guard with either the #1 or #4 overall pick.
This year’s draft class is widely considered to be among the weakest in the past decade, but there are a few intriguing point guard prospects. Let’s take a look at the top five and their potential impact in the NBA:
Kyrie Irving (Freshman, Duke): Many pundits, including this one, believe Kyrie Irving will be the #1 overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft. Out of all the terrific young point guards in the NBA today, Irving is most often compared to New Orleans Hornets all-star, Chris Paul. This is due primarily to his shooting and playmaking ability and because he plays below the rim. The freshman star lacks the length and the explosive athleticism of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and John Wall. However, he is a much better shooter at this stage of his career than any of those players as evidenced by his field goal, three point and free throw percentages of 52.9%, 46.2% and 90.1%, respectively. Irving’s assist numbers don’t quite stack up to the college production from this group of point guards, but he had to share the ball and playmaking duties with Duke’s senior all-American, Nolan Smith. That being said, Irving is a very heady point guard that makes solid decisions with the basketball.
Most scouts and analysts would agree that Irving has the raw physical tools and the skillset to be an elite point guard in the NBA. The biggest concerns revolve around experience and durability. While often compared to Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving will have played 52 fewer collegiate games. His shooting statistics are terrific, but we’re dealing with a limited data set that only encompasses 11 games at Duke. The transition of a college point guard to the NBA is not easy and Irving will be making that leap with much less experience than the players to which he is most often compared.
The underlying issue to Irving’s stunted freshman campaign was a foot injury. The consensus opinion is that it was a fluke turf toe injury, but there is a bit of concern over the point guard’s decision to skip the athletic testing portion of the NBA Draft Combine. Additionally, his body fat measured high for a guard, which could indicate that his ability to workout has been limited since the end of Duke’s season. Teams will be thorough in their medical evaluations of Irving, which could ultimately decide whether or not his is the first name called by David Stern on June 23rd.
Brandon Knight (Freshman, Kentucky): The freshman from Kentucky is gaining momentum as the second highest rated point guard in this year’s class. Some analysts would argue that he is a better overall prospect than Irving due to his athleticism and his clutch body of work in college. Knight possesses terrific size for a point guard standing 6’3” with a 6’7” wingspan. The Kentucky product is a solid athlete with a real knack for scoring. That being said, it’s difficult to find a great comparison for Knight in the context of today’s crop of young NBA point guards. Knight is a bit more explosive than his classmate, Irving, but he’s not at the level of Derrick Rose or John Wall. He is a better perimeter shooter than Rose or Wall were during their freshman campaigns, but Knight does not convert at the rim with the success of his John Calipari-coached predecessors.
Despite his outstanding attributes and his successful freshman season at Kentucky, the question is whether or not Knight can play point guard at the next level. He plays as more of a scoring guard than as a facilitator, which is evidenced by his relatively low 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Depending on which team drafts him, Knight could be best served to play off the ball. For example, he could serve as a nice complement to bigger point guards such as Tyreke Evans in Sacramento or Rodney Stuckey in Detroit. However, the most likely scenario would have him going to a team in search of a potential franchise point guard such as Cleveland or Utah. There is plenty of recent evidence to suggest that an athletic, score-first, point guard can succeed in the NBA. But fans in Cleveland and Utah that want an immediate impact might have to be patient with Brandon Knight as he transitions to the more physical, half-court game in the NBA.
Kemba Walker (Junior, Connecticut): The hero of the 2011 NCAA Tournament and the choice of many as college basketball’s player of the year. Kemba Walker was one of the most explosive scorers in the country using his quickness and blinding first step to create space for mid-range jumpers or attempts at the rim. His aggressive style is somewhat reminiscent of Allen Iverson as is his size. This has been a lingering concern, but the UConn guard was taller than some thought, measuring 6’1” (with shoes) at the Pre-Draft Combine. Similar sized point guards have had recent success in the league including, Chris Paul, Mike Conley, Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson.
Another concern regarding Walker is his ability to play point guard in the NBA. Walker struggled at times with his decision making as he forced plays by dribbling too much and his shot selection was questionable. This was somewhat attributable to his role on an inexperienced team. He and Knight are similar in terms of their penchant for scoring first, but Walker is smaller and is not a particularly good perimeter shooter. This is why many scouts and analysts believe Knight will be more effective as an NBA player.
It remains to be seen how Walker will fit into the NBA. Can he survive as an undersized scoring guard a la Ben Gordon? Or will he develop into a playmaker in the mold of D.J. Augustin, Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry? Most believe that he needs to adapt his game to that of a more traditional point guard and he must improve his outside shooting in order to be effective in the NBA. By all accounts, Walker has the work ethic, tenacity and drive to do just that.
Jimmer Fredette (Senior, BYU): One of the most talked about players in college basketball last season was BYU’s senior point guard, Jimmer Fredette. The Glens Falls, NY native is an explosive scorer with seemingly unlimited range. He led the nation in scoring at 28.5 points per game despite being the sole focus of his opponents’ defensive schemes. Fredette has shown the ability to shoot off the dribble, catch and shoot off of screens and while spotting up. His range would rival anyone currently in the NBA and his mid-range game is equally as effective. His shooting and scoring ability have been compared to Stephen Curry and their college stat lines were nearly identical. Both have blindingly quick releases along with the ability to shoot off the dribble.
Jimmer’s role in college was to score at will, but he exhibited a willingness to distribute the ball when double-teamed. That being said, he had a low 1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio, which makes one question his ability to play the point guard position in the NBA. As is the case with both Knight and Walker, Fredette is a score-first guard. Can he make the transition to a true point guard or would he be best utilized as a Ben Gordon-type, quick scoring burst off of the bench? Fredette’s athleticism is underrated, but it’s not on par with Gordon’s. This, along with his size, brings into question his ability to defend either guard position in the NBA.
There’s no question that Fredette has the ability to be a very solid NBA player, but it will be important for the team that drafts him to figure out how best to utilize his skills. I believe he could be a more effective NBA player than Walker, but questions about his size, athleticism, defensive ability and position will limit his draft potential.
Darius Morris (Sophomore, Michigan): Morris was arguably one of the most improved players in the country in the 2010-11 college basketball season. The Michigan point guard increased his production by 10.6 points and 4.1 assists per game in his sophomore season with the Wolverines. He has outstanding size for a point guard, standing at 6’5” with a 6’7.5” wingspan. Morris is very quick with an excellent first step giving him the ability to drive to the paint and create plays. He plays an aggressive, attacking style utilizing his size and quickness effectively. Morris had the ball in his hands a tremendous amount in John Beilein’s offense and he parlayed that into a Big Ten-leading 6.7 assists per game. Despite his ability to make plays and his outstanding assist production, Morris is still a bit green when it comes to running the point guard position. That became evident when he would over dribble and stall the offense or when he would force the issue leading to turnovers.
The biggest weakness to Morris’ game is perimeter shooting. He shot a dreadful 25.0% from 3-point range last season, which was actually an improvement over the 17.9% he shot during his freshman year. He is clearly the poorest shooter among the point guards discussed in this article, but that’s a skill that can be improved with proper coaching and practice. You can’t teach size, athleticism or aggressiveness and Morris has all three of those traits.
Morris’ size, athleticism and production make him an intriguing prospect with significant upside. However, many scouts will tell you that he is still very raw and could use another year in college. In a normal year, Morris is probably a second round pick, but the relative weakness of this year’s draft could elevate him to the mid first round.
Definately Kemba Walker has the work ethic and results that speak for themselves:
Measured WAYYYYY better than anyone expected in the combine physical tests... Always has been a winner and produced on EVERY level... Dont sleep on him... 2nd best player in the Pac 10
No mention of Shumpert Thomas McCamey or Jackson? Because they're all projected 2nd round I guess.
Before the NBA combine you heard over and over that Jimmer was a poor athlete. Then he tested very well in the combine athletic drills and has looked good in NBA workouts. He didn't play defense in college because BYU played a lot of zone and wanted to keep him out of foul trouble. I guess only time will tell if he can compete at the next level.