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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Examining The PGs Outside of Burke, MCW, and Schroeder

One of the most intriguing positions this year is the lead guard position. The position is far from top heavy with just Trey Burke a lock for the lottery. It even lacks any other locks for the first round besides Michael Carter-Williams and CJ McCollom if you count him. What it does have is a lot of second round depth and a lot of competition. You can be certain that there will be another PG besides the ones mentioned above going in the first round, but the question is who? There are plenty of names to choose from and all of them have an argument to go within the first 30 picks. The second round could see quite a few point guards taken, which has not been a trend of the past couple of years. This draft lacks the surefire starters, but it could produce as many quality NBA rotational players since at least 2009.

Trey Burke is by far and away the best point guard in this class and is also arguably the safest pick in the entire draft. Depending on who wins the lottery, he could even go #1 overall. At the end of the day, I don't see a likely scenario where he slips out of the top 5.

Burke doesn't have the measurables or athleticism of your typical top 5 point guard. He might not even measure 6-0 and isn't ultra quick or explosive. But what he does have is an advanced knowledge of the game. Burke understands when to attack, when to pass, and how to get his teammates the ball where they need it. He runs the pick and roll like a surgeon and is always in complete control of the offense. He can get his points when needed, but he is also a great passer who makes his teammates better.

His predecessor, Darius Morris, took an entire year before he understood John Beilein's complex system enough to gain his trust. Thats why he was one of the most improved players statistically his sophomore season. Its just very hard to adjust to Beilein's offense as a freshman.

Yet Trey Burke was good enough to start his freshman year and allowed plenty of freedom from John Beilein. Based off that alone, you could tell that this kid was going to be special.

When I'm evaluating point guard prospects, I take a especially close look at their ability to control the tempo of the game, I also like to see how they handle adversity, run the pick and roll, change speeds, and balance scoring and passing. A point guard cannot disappear during the game. A point guard has to be the rock of the team. That is what I am looking for, guys with those traits. Trey Burke has all of that. 

There are other guys in this draft that lack these things, but have gotten by on potential. Myck Kabongo comes to mind immediately. You can even include Lorenzo Brown to an extent as his develop as a point guard isn't what you'd like to see from a junior. Michael Carter-Williams fits as well, although he's viewed on a higher tier as the rest of these guys. If you want to read more on him, check out my latest Stock Attack.

I want to focus more on the rest of the collegiate point guards in this piece and give a good overview on what to expect from each of them. All of these guys have a chance to stick in the NBA.

Nate Wolters

Strengths: Wolters is known for his scoring, but his biggest asset may be the way he attacks a defense. He knows how to read a defense and react. He understands angles and forces defenses to commit to him. He's a good passer who does an excellent job getting his teammates in good spots. He is also a very tough competitor and a gym rat. His jumper got better every year and he is constantly looking for ways to perfect it. There is a stigma around him that he's a just a shooter, but he's a very balanced scoring who looks to attack off the bounce more often than not. He should be very good in the pick and roll as he really has a good feel with the ball in his hands. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Jeremy Lin. 

Weaknesses: Wolters is just a average athlete and will need to get stronger to play at the next level. He lacks the explosiveness to be a great finisher around the rim. He also struggles to stay in front of players, although he did a great job funneling Trey Burke into help defense in the NCAA tournament. Wolters has good height to help him overcome some of his shortcomings athletically, but below average length for his size. 

Shane Larkin

Strengths: Larkin is very quick and is nearly impossible to contain in the pick and roll. He's a pure shooter with a quick release. He also has good touch inside with a very reliable floater and is able to change speeds. He did a good job mixing up his scoring and his passing this year. He has excellent burst and can beat you in many different ways. He's very comfortable shooting off the dribble in either direction and its very tough to stop him. He does a good job getting his jumpers off, but he doesn't look to settle for just jumpers. Larkin is also a very confident and competitive player who doesn't get rattled.

Weaknesses: Larkin will measure out at under 6-0 at the combine most likely. And while he is very quick and fast, he isn't the most explosive player. He lacks a great build, although he is stronger and tougher than he looks. He also will have to continue to prove his passing abilities and show that he is a true point guard. His in between game also needs work. Defenses in the NBA won't be as afraid of his quickness, so he will have to deal more with tighter defense and NBA length. He didn't see much of that in college because his speed forced teams to go under screens and give him room. He also struggles to get all the way to the rim even though his floater game render that a moot point in college.

Erick Green

Strengths: Erick Green was arguably the best scorer in the country this season and a large part was due to his silky smooth jumper. He's very quick and had no problem creating space to get shots off and elevating over opponents. He has a great mid-range game and is effective in the pick and roll. Green also is lethal in transition where he forces a defender to stop him dead in his tracks if they want to prevent a bucket. Green has a high basketball IQ and is very unselfish, despite his scoring numbers. At Virginia Tech, they needed him to be a scorer so that is what he did, but it doesn't mean he can't run point guard. He just didn't have a good team around him. Finally, Green is a good defender who managed to play hard on that end of the court well. He is obviously very well conditioned.

Weaknesses: Green has spent his time at Virginia Tech being a scorer and hasn't had time gaining experience as a true point guard. He will have to learn the position as he goes in the NBA. Green also has a narrow frame and lacks strength. He could have trouble defending stronger guards. Green also may struggle against physical defense. His lack of success in college in terms of winning will also be something teams will look for answers to.

Phil Pressey 

Strengths: Pressey is a pure point guard who gets into the lane at will and finds teammates. He plays with a ton of confidence and with the sense that he is always the best player on the court. He is one of the few pass first point guards in college nowadays and possessing outstanding vision. He's a creative passer and is able to create plays from nothing. He does an excellent job pushing the ball in transition and can stop and pull up on the move. There is plenty of fight with Pressey and he wants to win badly. He always wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

Weaknesses: Pressey will have to overcome his size and his inability to finish at the rim at the next level. He also made some questionable decisions down the stretch of games this season. He tries to do too much a lot of times and turned it over more than any other PG prospect. Although he has great vision, his game management needs a lot of work. Pressey had a bit of a down year after most of his teammates left for the NBA last season. He's a solid shooter, but not great and will have trouble getting his shot off in the pros. Defense will also be hard for him and he didn't always play with good effort on that side of the ball.  He lacks the explosiveness or scoring instincts of other small guards who have been successful in the NBA as of late.

Pierre Jackson


Strengths: Jackson is a dynamic player, both in terms of scoring and passing. He was the first player since Jason Terry to lead a BCS conference in scoring and assists. Jackson is very quick and packs a lot of explosiveness in his small frame. He can get to his spots at will on the court, pull up and hit mid-range jumpers, and also knock down deep threes. Jackson also has no problem breaking down defenses and creating for others. He's a competitive, hard working player who doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. He projects as a Nate Robinson type instant offense off the bench, but with better court sense.

Weaknesses: Jackson is another guard who is undersized and may be closer to 5-9 than 6-0. He will struggle defensively and will also need to show a better effort there. Jackson will need to add some bulk to continue to play his style. He also needs to continue to work on his point guard skills by changing speeds and making the simple plays. He turns the ball over a little too much at this point.

Isaiah Canaan

Strengths: Canaan was one of the best scorers in college basketball thanks to his jump shot with unlimited range. He mastered the art of pulling up from deep in transition. He also is able to create his shot with his crossover and step back move from both 3-pt range and inside the arc. Canaan has a strong frame and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He is also very good shooting with his feet set. In terms of putting the ball in the basket, there aren't many guys that do it better than him.

Weaknesses: Canaan is undersized and not a pure point guard. He doesn't get off the ground very quickly. His shot release is also a little slow for a guy who projects as a shooter at the next level. Canaan looks to score more than pass and its not clear whether he has the ability to make plays for others. This year he was able to show improvement in terms of changing speeds. It is also a question of whether he can defend. Canaan struggled to answer many of these questions last summer during skill camps.

Myck Kabongo

Strengths: Kabongo has very good length and quickness for a point guard, enabling him to be a pesky defender and come up with plenty of steals. Kabongo has no problem breaking down defenses and getting into the paint, where he is a solid drive and dish point guard. He has good handles and has budding leadership skills. Kabongo also is a high character guy who has been through a lot in his life. The general skills that Kabongo possess are what many seek in a point guard - high character, defense, pass first, quickness, and the ability to get by defenders.

Weaknesses: Kabongo never put together a good season in college and was suspended for his relationship with a NBA agent. While he seems like a good kid, many believe he is being misled by those around him. Kabongo also has poor mechanics on his shot and lacks a great feel for the point guard position. He only plays at one speed and dominates the ball. He's also turnover prone and needs to get stronger. His ability to run a team will need major work and he'll likely have to spend a year in the D-League at least.

Ray McCallum

Strengths: McCallum turned it over less than any other point guard with the potential to get drafted, despite being a huge part of his teams offense. He is the coach's son and plays like one. He plays under control and at a steady pace. He is able to get all the way to the rim, but also has a developing mid-range game. McCallum is a very good passer as well, although this season he took on the scoring role. Part of the reason his turnovers were so low was because he took a lot of quick jumpers and didn't attempt to force any drives or passes. McCallum is deceptively quick and does a good job running the pick and roll. He is also a solid athlete. 

Weaknesses: McCallum improved his jumper this year, but still shot a fairly low percentage from the 3-pt line. His jumper looked good, however, and he had to take a lot of tough contested shots. There is also a question of whether McCallum is dynamic enough as a player. He doesn't do anything at an elite or even very good level. McCallum also has short arms and can have trouble finishing at the next level. He didn't play against the best competition, but should look better when he is surrounded by better teammates and able to play as a more tradition PG.

Lorenzo Brown

Strengths: Brown possesses very good height and vision for a point guard. He is able to break down defenses and is crafty with his passing and ball handling. He has made the transition from a high school combo guard to a success college point guard while racking up plenty of assists. Brown also does a very good job when he is able to push the ball in transition and has good foot work en route to the rim. He is able to finish in a variety of ways. He's a fluid athlete who uses his long strides to his advantage. He can create his own shots pretty easily thanks to his size, ball handling, and creativity.

Weaknesses: Brown is still learning the nuances of being a point guard and was the leader of a very inconsistent and underperforming North Carolina State team. He is also a poor shooter who saw his shooting numbers drop to record lows this season. Brown also can be too crafty for his own good - often making shots at the rim tougher than they should be and trying to get into seams where he can't fit through. He doesn't do a good job drawing fouls despite his slashing ability, which is a result of him trying to avoid contact. He lacks the strength to finish with contact. He is also old for his class and will be 23 by the time the 2013-14 NBA season kicks off.

Honorable Mention: 

Matthew Dellavedova

Dellavedova is an outstanding shooter and combines that with great size and strength. He has proven he can run a team both in college and at the Olympic level. His experience shows on the court and he passes over the defense very well. Dellevadova knows how to use the pick and roll to his advantage, although he rarely gets to the rim. He's an underrated prospect who gets dismissed because he isn't a very good athlete.

Conclusion:

I believe that Pierre Jackson is the most NBA ready point guard of this group to fill a role. He fits perfectly into the Nate Robinson/Isaiah Thomas role. However, I don't see him ever being a consistent starter which is why I'd consider taking a few other guys over him.

Right now Nate Wolters, Erick Green, Ray McCallum, and Shane Larkin each have a better chance than Jackson of developing into a starter. Each of them also have question marks that could have them glued to the bench or out of the league in a few years. But this is a very solid group and I believe at least one will turn into a NBA starting point guard. Green is the best shooter of the bunch and also looks to be the best defender. He is also able to score at all three levels, has high character, and NBA level quickness/explosiveness which is why I currently have him ranked higher than anyone else on this list.

But McCallum and Wolters are both intriguing guys who could end up being better once they are surrounded by better teammates. They both have very good point guard skills, but were asked to be more of scorers for their teams. While they aren't typical "upside" guys, they could surprise people who aren't familiar with them.

Larkin doesn't have the size of the other three nor does he have the experience. His transition to the NBA looks to be a little rougher which is why I think he shouldn't get selected until Round 2. His upside is also kind of a mystery. The other guys have more defined roles as true point guards and are more ready to contribute which is why I believe they should get some consideration as possible late first round picks.

Finally, we have Isaiah Canaan, Phil Pressey, Myck Kabongo, and Lorenzo Brown. For Kabongo, I see too big of a question mark to invest a first round pick on. He won't be ready to contribute for a few years and will need to grind in the D-League to ever be successful. An unguaranteed contract has his name written all over it.

Canaan doesn't have the point guard skills to ever start in the NBA and if you want a scorer off the bench, Pierre Jackson is a better bet. Canaan to me seems like a guy who will likely be out of the league in a few years. 

Pressey and Brown quite frankly, haven't impressed me. Pressey is a pass first point guard who makes questionable decisions. He can't shoot, defend, or finish inside. Brown failed to lead his college team and is old by NBA draft standards. He has a lot of holes in his game for a 22 year old and the likelihood of him fixing those holes aren't great, especially considering he took a step back this season. 

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