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David Aldridge

Kyrie Irving's play -- which scouts liken to Chris Paul -- makes him the No. 1 point guard prospect.
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Potential for greatness seems limited in point guard crop

Posted Mar 21 2011 6:48AM - Updated Jun 23 2011 8:51AM

We're changing things up a bit at this year when it comes to the Draft.

Regular readers know that, in the past, the folks here have asked not to include underclassmen until they officially declare. The reasoning was, well, reasonable: We didn't want to be viewed as encouraging kids to come out before they'd made up their minds by listing them on Draft boards. But we thought about it, and came to a couple of conclusions.

One, the "one-and-done" kids who were planning to be in college only one year before turning pro -- to be in compliance with the NBA's Draft rules -- are fairly well known. Two, there are so many mock Drafts (and this is not one; more on that below) out there with underclassmen; it's not like listing them here is going to be a tipping point in their decision making. (The listing "Some Scouts Like" will refer to players who are not certain to declare, but who are viewed as potentially draftable if they do. Emphasis on "potentially.") Three, we wanted to be as accurate and as early as possible with what we think is the correct ranking of all the likely entrants in the Draft.

So we're now going to start including -- with the caveat that no one is in the Draft until they officially declare -- pre-announced underclassmen on the Big Board. And as such, we've decided to start our Draft coverage a lot earlier than usual.

The plan is this: We'll start the Big Board this week with point guards, and proceed every other week with the other positions, alternating with the weekly Morning Tip column. (So, no Tip this week.) By the time we get to the centers, the NCAA Tournament will be done, as well as the Portsmouth pre-Draft camp. That gets us to mid-May and the Lottery, after which we'll know who's picking where, and can refine the Big Board as the Chicago pre-Draft camp and individual workouts take place.

But all of the position boards will be works in progress leading up to the Draft in June; for example, we'll be adding player wingspans and official heights and weights once we get numbers from the Chicago camp in early June. (For now, player heights and weights are their listed ones from their schools or teams.)

Again: This is not a mock Draft. They are a complete waste of time, especially this far removed. It may well be, for example, that Kentucky's Brandon Knight goes before Connecticut's Kemba Walker. It depends on who's drafting and what their needs are; a rebuilding team higher in the Lottery may look at Walker's longterm upside and think he's worth waiting for. Same goes for a Kansas' Josh Selby. What this is is a rough consensus of who NBA personnel people that I trust -- and who obviously can't be quoted by name -- believe is the pro potential of this year's crop of players.


A note on the rankings:
This is not a predictor of when these players will be taken. These rankings, based on discussions with dozens of NBA and college coaches, and NBA college scouts and team executives, address the question of how ready players are to play the position which they are assigned: in other words, if there was a game tonight, who would play better at that position tonight, not in three years. Players are ranked based on the position that the coaches and scouts believe is their best NBA position, and even then, there is always disagreement between teams.

"Sleepers" are players almost certain to go in the second round but who may have first-round talent or otherwise have an impact on the teams that select them if they overcome perceived shortcomings.

Players listed as "Some Scouts Like" category are those who are not certain to declare, but are viewed as potentially draftable if they do -- with an emphasis on "potentially."

For now, all measurements are the ones listed from a player's school or team. Official player measurements will be available after the Chicago pre-Draft camp in early June.

Editor's Note: Rankings now reflect June 14 update.

Rank Name School/Team Class/Age Height Weight Wingspan
1 Kyrie Irving Duke Freshman 6-4 191 6-4
2 Kemba Walker Connecticut Junior 6-1 184 6-4
3 Brandon Knight Kentucky Freshmen 6-3 177 6-7
4 Jimmer Fredette BYU Senior 6-3 196 6-5
5 Nolan Smith Duke Senior 6-4 187 6-6
6 Darius Morris Michigan Sophomore 6-5 190 6-8
7 Iman Shumpert Georgia Tech Junior 6-6 221 6-10
8 Demetri McCamey Illinois Senior 6-3 204 6-6
9 Norris Cole Cleveland St. Senior 6-2 174 6-2
10 Isaiah Thomas Washington Junior 5-10 186 6-2

HONORABLE MENTION: Andrew Goudelock, SR, 6-3, 198, College of Charleston; Reggie Jackson, JR, 6-3, 208, Boston College

To view David Aldridge's complete Big Board, click here.

UPDATE, APRIL 18: To almost no one's surprise, Duke freshman Kyrie Irving. Connecticut's Kemba Walker and Kansas freshman guard Josh Selby have officially declared for the Draft--Irving on April 7, Walker and Selby last week. Selby is listed as the sixth-best point guard prospect on the Big Board and will likely drop no further now that he's in. But it will be hard for him to crack the current top five of Duke's Irving, Connecticut's Walker, Kentucky's Brandon Knight, Duke's Nolan Smith and BYU's Jimmer Fredette.

UPDATE, APRIL 4: No major changes in the point guard rankings, though Connecticut's Kemba Walker has obviously solidified himself as a high first-rounder, still likely to be the second point guard taken after Duke's Kyrie Irving, assuming both players come out and enter the Draft. With his outstanding NCAA tournament run, Butler's Shelvin Mack is climbing, and could be a late first-rounder, as well as Cleveland State's Norris Cole.

Two Drafts ago, the NBA restocked itself with a superb class of point guards, headed by Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings. Right behind them were the likes of Darren Collison, Jrue Holliday, Roddy Beaubois, Ty Lawson, Toney Douglas, Patty Mills, Eric Maynor and Jeff Teague. Last year's Draft didn't have the quantity at the position compared with 2009, but it had a clear-cut, NBA-ready stud in Kentucky's John Wall, who went No. 1 overall to Washington.

This year's Draft is more traditional, at least where point guards are concerned. The group has potential, and someone will certainly reach his and become a star. But as a whole, there isn't as much there as in past years.

The consensus top point -- and the likely first pick overall -- among NBA types is Duke's Irving, who turns 19 this week and is just reacclimating himself with his teammates after missing almost all of the regular season with a severe toe injury. No matter that Irving played in just nine games before getting hurt, and has looked understandably rusty in the first couple of games of the NCAAs.

Of the freshman that are likely to be one-and-dones, Irving, the Jersey kid with the explosive game, is the clear choice over Kentucky's Brandon Knight. "Personally I don't think it's close," said a Central Division personnel man, "and I think Brandon Knight is a good player."

Irving's quickness, floor game, toughness and creativity make him a potential star in the Chris Paul mode.

"His talent level is several notches above the other guys," said a Western Conference general manager. "The guy comes into a program the caliber of Duke, and they give him the keys to everything from day one. Coaches would prefer to have some seniority lead the team, every single one, but (Mike) Krzyzewski realizes, 'I can't do that.' (Irving) goes into Michigan (State) and scores 31. If he doesn't get hurt, Duke could be the prohibititve favorite in this tournament."

And he has impressed a lot of pro scouts by deciding to play in the NCAA Tournament, knowing full well that he's likely a top pick and can do nothing to really help his Draft stock. "I think that's impressive that he wants to come back," the Central Division man said. "I like that."

Connecticut's Walker already had fans before leading the Huskies to five wins in five days earlier this month to capture an improbable Big East title, but that incredible performance only solidified his standing as one of the country's best scorers. Of all the point guards coming out, Walker gets the most votes as the one who could step in immediately and contribute. With the NBA rules against contact out front, he will be incredibly difficult to cover with his quickness and bounce, though his size (6-foot-1) will give him trouble at the defensive end.

Kemba Walker should be OK as an NBA point guard, but might fare better as a shooting guard.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"Walker's had the better year (than Knight), he's got the buzz, he had the great Big East tournament, but he's probably 5-foot-10," a veteran personnel man says. "If you look around the NBA, it doesn't mean you can't play. Earl Boykins proved you can play. But how many guys come into the NBA and dominate under six feet? That doesn't mean the guy can't play. I don't see him playing with the toughness of a Kyle Lowry, but I could see him coming in and being as effective as him."

Said a Central Division personnel director: "I'd be concerned with his size as a point, not as a two. In terms of the Draft, he's going to be the second point guard taken. There's only scoring point guards now that start. From everything I've heard, he's a great kid."

Walker may not be a starter immediately, but at the worst, he could be a third guard right away, even for the better teams.

Said a Pacific Division personnel man: "You look at Ty Lawson and what he's done and he's a little more dynamic than Ty. He has more of a defensive mindset than last year and he's kind of evolved into the kind of guy that can get his shot. Splitting pick and rolls, stopping on a dime and shooting the floater. You see NBA players make those plays."

Kentucky's Knight displayed the good and bad of his game in the first two games of the tournament. He went 39 scoreless minutes against Princeton in the second round, looking more and more frustrated with each passing minute, missing all seven of his shots. But with the game on the line, he created something out of nothing and banked in the game-winning shot. Two days later, he erupted for 30 against West Virginia to lead the Wildcats to the Sweet 16.

Another scoring point, Knight is the preference of those who think long term. He will be a work in progress for a couple of years, but he eventually could be a very good floor general. "He's very smart, accomplished academically, really studies the game," one scout said. In the NBA, he could well become a combination guard that might work just as well in "two-guard" fronts where both guards in the backcourt handle the ball.

But he isn't viewed as highly as Wall.

"He doesn't have the physical tools John Wall's got," the Pacific Division man said. "He's a much better perimeter shooter. To me, that's the only area he has over Wall. Wall has quicker hands, he's stronger, he has better vision. Just a more dynamic player offensively. He played at the rim and above the rim, whereas (Knight's) game is at 15 feet, 20 feet. That's where he does his damage. Wall attacks you from all over; [Knight's] kind of a straight line guy."

A Northwest Division scout says Knight isn't a great athlete compared with other point guards already in the league, but will be good as a catch-and-shoot guard in the pros. "Off the wiggle isn't his thing," the scout says. "A one-year guy, and him not being an elite athlete, that's going to be a struggle for him. He struggles to create space against college guys."

Moving quickly up the charts among the points is Irving's teammate, Smith, who ran the point for Duke after Irving's injury and more than acquitted himself well. His ability to run the Blue Devils in Irving's absence only increased his stock among scouts who already liked his play as a two guard last season on Duke's national championship team. He isn't a dynamic player -- one scout said he'll have to cut down on turnovers in the NBA -- but he's a good one, with the size to play both positions.

Kentucky's Brandon Knight has a sweet stroke, but may lack some physical tools needed in the NBA.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

"He's got tremendous, tremendous intangibles," a Northwest Division GM said. "If you read his interviews, there's just a depth of the understanding of the game -- practice, the locker room -- that you just don't see with players. And the guy shoots it. And he's proven he's a winner. And he's played another position. There's just not a glaring hole there, like the guy can't shoot, or he's going to get crushed defensively. He's a mature, fully formed player."

Smith may not be taken until the 20s in the first round, but that might work out better for him.

"He's going to come in and give coaches confidence to play him," the GM said. "A coach is going to put him on the floor, and you get better by playing. Like Josh Howard. He got to play early on on a really good team (in Dallas), and he got better."

The son of the late veteran small forward and NBA assistant Derek Smith, Nolan Smith also impressed scouts last summer with his play in practice against the U.S. World Championship team.

"He probably was one of the best college players," said an NBA scout that witnessed the camp. "He played well against (Derrick) Rose, (Russell) Westbrook, (Chauncey) Billups, (Stephen) Curry. I don't know if there's a single college game that helped him more than that week in Vegas. A lot of college players didn't have that opportunity, and he did. He was one of the three or four best college players there. He held his own. When Rose and Westbrook got right into him, he didn't get rattled like some of the other guards did."

He did the same for Duke in leading the Blue Devils to the ACC tournament title.

"Kyle Singler was kind of up and down shooting the ball and (Smith) was a rock for them," one scout said. "He almost wound up leading the league in scoring and assists, which I don't think has ever been done before."

Then there's Fredette, the BYU senior who led the nation in scoring and who put up 52 in the Mountain West semifinal. There is no question about Fredette's ability to put the ball in the basket. His range is unlimited and his ability to create his own shot will make him dangerous, no matter who's guarding him. He's much better than the likes of Travis Diener and Bryce Drew, other scoring guards who've been compared to him.

"Not only can he shoot it, he can get it off under duress," one general manager said of Fredette. "He splits traps. Nice assist totals. He's got vision. He's a very productive player. You can make the argument that he's a high volume shooter, but I would be surprised if he just washes away. I'm not saying he's a star, a max player, but I think he'll find a niche in the league and be successful, like Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick. He'll be on the ball. You could slide him over. Especially if he gets on a good team and he's with guys who draw double teams in the frontcourt. He's going to create some dilemmas for teams."

Said a Central Division man: "I don't know if he's good enough to go (in the Lottery) or not. But having said that, he could play for us right now, because he could score. He's probably going to be a guard that comes off the bench and makes things happen."

More Kyle Korver than Eddie House? Scouts are split on whom Jimmer Fredette will play like as a pro.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Fredette's issue is defense. He doesn't play any. It's not just that he's garden variety bad; he's historically bad, according to a lot of scouts.

"I think he's almost invisible defensively," one personnel director said. "I watched Jackson Emery (Fredette's backcourt mate at BYU) out there and he's guarding like one and a half guys. I don't think I've ever seen (Fredette) bend his knees at the defensive end."

Some say that Fredette's defensive liabilities are a product of his importance to BYU, that the Cougars can't afford to have him get in foul trouble, so they encourage him to be passive on defense and not take chances. Others disagree.

"To me, that's kind of a copout," the personnel director said. "How many point guards really get in foul trouble in the course of a game? I just don't think he has any desire to defend. He can be a backup. He has to play a team that gives him some rope to take the kind of shots he takes. If you look at the starting point guards in our league, he has just no chance at defending any of them."

Said a veteran scout: "I don't see Fredette being a key part at our level. I see him like Eddie House, basically. You're a point guard; you have to be able to guard somebody."

Kansas' Selby came in with a lot of hype, even though he wasn't cleared to play by the NCAA until late December following the body's determination that he had accepted impermissible benefits prior to signing with the Jayhawks. Whether missing those nine games put him far behind as Kansas rolled through the Big 12, or Selby just had typical freshman issues, he's never played up to the level many expected.

"Here's the problem," the Northwest GM said of Selby. "The guy hasn't played well this year, and his own team isn't starting him, and it's not like they're suffering for it. And you haven't seen him a lot at the point. Maybe in the pros he blossoms. It could be a Jrue Holiday deal. But your antennae goes up. They know they're not going to have him a long period of time. If they were fully on board, they would have played him until he dropped. He's a guy I don't know what to do with ... when they tell you a guy's a two-one or a one-two, with that slash, it usually doesn't work that way."

Nonetheless, he has a skill set that will serve him well if he comes to the NBA.

Said a Central Division personnel man: "I think he's a tremendous scorer who probably got caught on a team that's so good that they can win a national championship without him playing major minutes."

Selby is viewed more as a scorer than a playmaker, so he might wind up being more of a shooting guard in the pros, just as the Warriors use the 6-foot tall Monta Ellis alongside the 6-foot-3 Curry. Who's the point guard and who's the two guard? They are fairly interchangeable.

None of the other points are viewed as potential first-round material, though scouts think that McCamey and Shumpert will likely be drafted perhaps late in the first round. Cole, Pullen and Wisconsin's Taylor are viewed as potential second-rounders.

Pullen carried Kansas State all season and into the third round of the NCAAs. Jenkins was a big-time scorer at Hofstra who can get his shot off and score on anybody, and he'll likely get a look somewhere -- even if he's undrafted, he's sure to be a camp invitee. Butler's Mack has his fans, if only because he shoots it as well as anybody in college when he's on.

Albicy, a 21-year-old guard who replaced Beaubois on the French national team after Beaubois broke his foot last summer, has come on strong in the last year and could have an outside chance of going in the second round if he declared.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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