Thursday, May 19, 2011

Taking a Look at This Years Point Guards

The NBA has been invaded with great young point guard talent over the past few years, but that doesn't mean it has to slow down anytime soon. This draft will produce at least three more lottery point guards, with a few others having outside shots. While this may be a down draft, solid point guards will be found throughout the entire draft.

Teams like the Wizards, Bulls, Thunder, Celtics, Warriors, Bucks, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Pacers and the 76ers all have their point guards of the future. The Hornets and Nets hope their respective point guards are committed to the future. The rest of the league would all take a franchise point guard if they found one. Irving obviously tops the list, but there are a few more guys that could turn into starters in this league. Lots more can fill roles. Some bring scoring, others defense, and there are always stable backups to be found. Even a team that has a great point guard in place can take a look at some of these guys later in the draft. Coaches can never have enough options off the bench.

I've had the pleasure of evaluating these prospects throughout the year and I dedicated a couple hours a night the past two weeks to digest these players one more time. I was able to rank these players and develop a good feel for each of them.

It comes to no surprise that Kyrie Irving tops the list at number one. Its a no contest when it comes down to it. He is above average in everything he does and there is literally nothing that makes you worry about him. His toe is fine. He can shoot. He is athletic. Has all the intangibles. Can score and pass. Sounds simple enough, but trust me, there is no doubt that Irving will be a great pro. Stay tuned for Irving's real scouting report tomorrow. I won't oversimplify his game there.

The next grouping features Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker. I could go back and forth on this, but I'll put Knight at number two. Really no point in wasting energy trying to figure out which one is better, their games are much different.

For Knight (check out my more complete report of him here), he has a lot of good general skills scouts look for in a prospect. He was Gatorade National Player of the Year twice (only other guys to win in junior year are LeBron James and Greg Oden). He produced and won at Kentucky. He is a gym rat. He has great size. Doesn't crumble in big situations. He can shoot and possesses great athleticism. Smart and high character kid.

All that makes him seem like a slam dunk star. A guy with NBA size and speed who starred as a freshman at a national powerhouse. And will only get better because he has, by all accounts, a great work ethic. He seems like a great pick - great upside and little downside that he will fail, right?

Well, there are a few things that hurt him. He can't drive left. He doesn't do a great job of creating for teammates. He thinks score first.

His first step is only average. It can get better, but it is not exactly something that his great work ethic can completely fix. We saw his first step present problem for him this year. He disappeared in too many games when he could not make plays. What happens when he faces off against guys with greater athleticism? I heard Tom Penn say today that the NBA is where the "true athletes" shine. Is Knight truly a great athlete? There are some legitimate concerns that he might become more of a shooter. Not being able to attack the basket and not being the greatest creator, Knight could be destined as more of a combo guard and scorer off the bench. But then as you start to dwell on the negatives, you go back and look at this is a full circle with this guy. He is hard to rank much lower than top 10, but then again, I also find it hard to see him as a great NBA point guard. Ugh...I could go on. But if you are down on him after that paragraph, take a look at the past Gatorade NPOY winners.

And Kemba Walker? I like him. I was his biggest supporter during his sophomore season. I feel that he can be more of a true point guard than people expect. Last year he had to co-exist with Jerome Dyson and then this year he was forced to virtually play alone. He adapted his game admirably. He changes directions so well, very quick and shifty. He can almost get any mid-range shot he wants when you combine his ball-handling ability with his use of his shot fake. He can flat out score, best all-around scorer in college, but the biggest question I have about him is how efficient he will be getting to the basket. He has all the intangibles and such to run point, but does he have the size to be effective finishing in the lane. That is where the true focus should be on Kemba's game. Watch him last year, he can run a team. He's excellent in transition. He is third in my PG rankings - his upside isn't much more than a solid NBA player, but welcome to the 2011 NBA Draft.

This is where it gets exciting. While teams have to spend a top ten (likely top 5) pick to get Walker or Knight, they could grab some equally intriguing point guards later on in the first round. If I had a team, I would avoid drafting Knight or Walker that high because I don't think they are that much different from the next two players in my rankings.

Coming in at third on the list is Reggie Jackson. Jackson has plenty of upside, showcasing more athletic ability than either Knight or Walker. Plus he has ideal tools to be a lockdown defender. I already did a report on him which you can check out here if you actually want to good synopsis of his game. But in terms of his stock, it is underrated and his value at say #20 is way better than Kemba or Knight's at #3. He has just as high of a ceiling and its not like he is a complete project.

The final guy that I believe can turn into a good starter is Darius Morris. It took me awhile to warm up to him. Maybe it is the weak draft, but now I have no problem with him as a first rounder. I actually would have no problem with him going in the late teens. He offers potential as a good starter and thats more than you can say about most of these prospects.

Morris is an interesting player. He basically exploded onto the scene this year out of nowhere so that alone throws up some red flags. Did he really get that much better in one year? His confidence certainly had to have a big deal in it. It didn't hurt that he was surrounded by shooters that gave him room to do his thing. The shooters spaced the floor for Morris to go inside and do his thing. He could transform from their point guard to their center. Michigan's style was certainly unconventional and Morris has plenty of adjustments to make.

He was not shy about pushing his way to the rim using his great frame. He backed guys down, used spin moves, and bullied his way to the hoop. How does that translate to the NBA? Definitely not perfectly. He isn't going to be able to straight overpower every NBA point guard he encounters. He is going to have to adjust and work on that part of his game. His first step is never going to be great, but he already has some strong dribble moves he can go to. Crafty describes his style. He uses picks very well due to his craftiness. Still, he is unable to keep defenders honest with his shot. Nor can he drive left or deal with ball pressure straight on (uses his body to shield away defenders). You can't survive in the NBA with no left hand, especially when you first step isn't anything special either. Advanced NBA scouts will figure out his game quick during his rookie year. It may take him a few years to get his game completely up to par.

His passing ability is what is what intriguing about him. He has made some incredible passes - no look, one handed, you name it. He definitely has taken some pages out of Rajon Rondo's book. He trailed only Kendall Marshall in assists (per 40 minutes pace adjusted as always!) when it came to big school players and assists. He is a great passing point guard, but he isn't near Irving's level in that category. Morris dominated the ball for Michigan, lots of time making simple kickouts to one of the shooters.

In short, there is a lot to like about his potential. He is one of the few pass first point guards out there and is raved about as a teammate and worker. He has plenty of things to work on, but with his size and solid athleticism, he can turn into a good NBA starter. Think Andre Miller.

Ok, the exciting part is over. Wait, Jimmer Fredette is up next. The exciting part is just beginning!

The Jimmer. He's a BYU legend and he can now set his sights on becoming a decent NBA player. We know he can shoot it. He gets good elevation on his shot and can pull up from anywhere. Whether he is shooting in the playground or in the NBA finals, his shooting will translate. He also has a tight handle and a strong build to help him in the paint. But he isn't quick or a true point guard. He also can't play good defense. He might put more effort into it at the NBA level, but his physical abilities will still hold him back.

Looking at the complete picture, it appears Jimmer will most likely be a solid shooting option off the bench. I could see his career going the same path as JJ Redick's (note: I did not say they have similar styles, Im talking about the ascension of his role. Redick gives Jimmer's defense some hope, though). It is hard to see Jimmer as more than a sixth man at best, while I could easily see him busting. For that reason, I would not take him above any of the point guards listed above him on the list. His skillset is special, though, which is why he leads the best of backup/role playing point guards in these rankings.

Following Jimmer is Malcolm Lee, the sixth best point guard in the draft. He might not even be a point guard, but he managed to sneak into this list just like he has snuck by casual UCLA observers.

One thing is for sure, Malcolm Lee can defend point guards. That will be his NBA calling card. He has excellent size to guard either guard position and puts in great effort in that end. He has great athleticism and length, but also takes pride in his defense. I love the way he fights through screens. He is tougher than his injury history says. Some credit for Ben Howland for Lee's commitment defensively.

Howland may also have to take some blame for the way Lee played offensively. He never stood out on that side of the ball, but turned into a good ball mover. His unselfish play translates well into the NBA. It may even enable him to become a point guard. I think part of the reason Lee lost his point guard job at UCLA was because he was a better fit than Anderson playing off ball. He wasn't horrible and it is a positive sign that he accepted his role as a shooting guard so well. He was a highly touted prospect so things could have gone a lot worse.

Anyways, he does have decent offensive skills. He shot 77% from the free throw line and shows potential from outside the 3-pt arc. All prospects are apparently channeling their inner Ray Allens at workouts, Malcolm Lee included. It is tough to believe these reports, but his stroke does look like it has improved. Thats a good sign because his form definitely needed revision.

In terms of driving, the ability is there. He shows a good drive or two to the hoop each game, but doesn't do it enough. He can drive and dish, but when he decides to be aggressive, he has been able to display great finishing skills. He is fairly explosive with good size and can really hang in the air while protecting the ball. His driving ability is something that could come to fruitition in the NBA after he is released from Howland's clutches.

You can compare him to Collison, Holiday, or Westbrook but its more likely that he turns out closer to another UCLA guard - Aaron Afflalo. A strong defender, good attitude, and a good ball mover is welcomed by any team which is why Lee earns a spot right below Fredette.

Next up: Nolan Smith. Now we are getting into plain, old "solid backup territory". Nothing really special here. I wrote about Smith along with Jimmer in my senior rankings and nothing has changed. He can be a solid role player - hitting shots, backing up both guard positions, and providing a good lockerroom presence. He could be a good 8th man on a contending team. A team like the Bulls, for instance, who I can't see passing on him if they keep their late first rounders.

Nolan Smith had terrific college success, as did Shelvin Mack who is the next player on this list. He can hit shots from outside, run a team, and has the strength to be a factor inside the arc. He can be a backup point guard for a long time - think of a poor man's Chauncey Billups.

Keeping the run of solid, but unspectacular players going is Ben Hansbrough. Hansbrough has gone from one of the best shooters in the country, to a very good point guard as well. Don't forget he won Big East player of the year, not Kemba Walker. Hansbrough is a fierce competitor just like his brother and stepped up in Harangody's place to lead Notre Dame into a great season. He expects greatness from himself and his teammates, just like a Kobe Bryant would. With his kind of toughness and smarts, I find it hard to believe he can't backup some team's starter. Oh yea, one more time, he is a stud shooter too.

This is the point where you start slinging darts. I hit Cory Joseph. Why not? He is only 19 years old and a year removed from the All-American game. I've already sorted through the point guards I like, so might as well take a chance on potential.

Still, I have to use this space to say how Joseph should have stayed in school. He is nowhere near ready for the NBA. He might turn out solid down the road, he even has a better chance to start than the last 3-5 players in the rankings, but that time is not anytime soon. He might be on his fourth team by the time he is contributing. He is going to see a lot of the D-League for his first two years. Since he is so far off and likely a second round pick, some teams may not find it worth it to try to hold onto until he develops. He can turn out good, but like I said, it very well could be with a different team than the one he is drafted by. Have to consider that when looking back at the draft.

These next two players are completely different, so it depends what a team is looking for. Iman Shumpert brings an excellent physical profile to the table. Like Malcolm Lee, he can be a great defender and was held back by a coach. Unlike Lee, his offensive game doesn't translate as well and he doesn't seem as committed to the game of basketball.

He played on a terrible at Georgia Tech, led by a coach who is famous for not developing his talent, so there is more upside with Shumpert than the average junior. But you have to make the player accountable for his decision on the basketball court. Watching tape, he played extremely careless and lazy at times. Playing on a bad team shouldn't be an excuse. He was part of that bad team. His shot selection didn't make it better. Not only did he force things, but he forced a lot of jumpshots. Its mind boggling because Iman is such a terrible shooter, yet you see him pulling up in transition; taking contested jumpers early in the shot clock; taking wacky fadeaway shots; and pulling up from midrange whenever he got a chance. Iman may be an elite athlete, but he rarely got to the basket. He got fouled from forcing things and transition play, not from successfully driving to the hoop. Part of it is from poor handles (he cant create separation) and the other part is from playing reckless. He has so much work to do offensively - not just improving his skillset, but changing his mindset.

On the other hand, we have Drew Goudelock. He is the east coast's version of Jimmer Fredette. The guy can absolutely stroke it from anywhere on the court. He is faster than he looks, if he gets in better shape he can stick on a team. He needs to replace some of that body fat with muscle.

The next few guys I don't see making it. It includes Demetri McCamey, Isaiah Thomas, and Norris Cole.

Cole has the best shot given his work ethic and height. He has improved so much in college, but everything about him still is very average. His frame doesnt hold much weight and his halfcourt offense shows signs of being exposed at the next level. I don't see him doing anything well enough to consistently score. He can shoot, but he isn't on Goudelock's or Jimmer's level. He has a solid midrange game. Solid. He doesnt stand out. Next.

Isaiah Thomas looks the part of a spark plug. You can't run from the fact that he is 5'8'', though. Nate Robinson made it, but he has incredible athleticism. JJ Barea is so crafty offensively and a great shooter. Isaiah Thomas is an average shooter and not a top notch athlete. He struggles in the halfcourt. He actually was one of Washington's worst defenders. He was mainly a gunner until Gaddy went down. I just don't see much potential with him.

Demetri McCamey offers more potential than both of them. He just needs to get in shape. He's needed to get in shape for awhile now and still has failed to get it done. Even the Illinois fans recognize McCamey's deficiencies. He can't defend, lacks explosiveness, bad work ethic, average at best athlete, and he failed to lead his team and make his teammates better. This was a make or break year for McCamey and he went the wrong way. Honestly, with his size and shooting, he could find a spot in the league. But that requires hardwork. He hasn't shown it up to this point. He probably should be above Cole and Thomas, but he only has himself to blame.

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