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Ready already, NBA awaits Murray State point guard Canaan

POSTED: Jan 28, 2013 2:54 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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Murray State's Isaiah Canaan (right) could be the Damian Lillard of the Draft this June.

Yes, there are important endorsements from NBA front offices, with most agreeing that Murray State senior Isaiah Canaan will be a sound investment in the June Draft, in the second half of the opening round based on current projections. Many say that he will have a solid pro career despite a lack of size and athleticism. At least one team has him as the No. 2 point guard on the board, behind only Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams.

But for real campaign material, for the compliment anyone at the position would pay to have, we have Chris Paul relaxing in front of his locker after a recent game. Isaiah Canaan? Sure he knows him. Talked on the phone just the other day. They have kept in touch since Canaan attended the camp Paul ran for elite college and high school point guards last summer in Winston-Salem, N.C., CP3's hometown.

"His strength, his confidence and his awareness," Paul said of what impressed him. "Me and my brother talk about it all the time. You don't want to say 'wasted,' but I feel like he's wasting a year of the NBA in college this year. I think he could play in the NBA right now."

That is where it goes beyond canned praise players typically discard on the slowest, weakest, smallest, worst-shooting wannabes. This is more than talk about how Canaan has a chance to make the NBA from a small school, or opinion from scouts and executives that Canaan could ably handle running an offense in the pros right now. This is the best point guard in the world saying a guy is already far enough ahead of the curve that he is wasting a season by playing in college.

There have been benefits in staying in school. Canaan now gets a warmer NBA welcome by coming out in a weaker Draft than the 2012 version. And he gets the experience.

But the NBA that has gone on without him in 2012-13 has strangely become one of the best things to happen to his stock. An endorsement like that from Paul will get noticed. So will the play of Damian Lillard and how it connects to Canaan: Both scoring point guards needing to prove that they can do more than shoot, both four-year players, both from schools out of the spotlight (Lillard at Weber State in Utah, Canaan at Murray State in Kentucky).

It's not a perfect match -- Lillard is 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds and Canaan is 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. And Canaan would need a meteoric finish to his college career to get as high in the Draft as Lillard was, No. 6 to the Trail Blazers (and he could have gone higher if more teams at the very top of the Draft had a need at point guard). But Lillard is a credibility boost for Canaan.

"He's a guy you'd put in a game right now," one scout noted. "He's got the body, he can shoot the ball, he's got an understanding of how to play the game."

Said an executive: "You could play him next year in a backup role. He could certainly come in and be your third point guard, without question. If you had a veteran guy on the downside of his career or a younger guy you're not sure about, he could come in and battle to be your backup for sure.

"I haven't found too many people that'll say anything negative about the kid. I'm a fan. He's strong, he plays with a tempo, really smooth shot, he's got a mid-range game, he's got an NBA three ball."

The drawbacks are that Canaan, the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year as a junior, is small and lacks standout athleticism. That's a bad mix. But he is tough, has range, plays smart and could, by the time the field is finalized, end up being the most NBA-ready talent in the draft.

Teams that don't want to wait two or three years for a point guard to develop will be interested. Personnel bosses who want a sound choice over high-risk, high-reward at any position will be watching.

Chris Paul will be waiting, one season longer than he should have been or not.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him and follow him on Twitter.

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