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Tuesday June 21, 2011 11:03 AM

2011 NBA Draft Preview: Part V

Taking a look at the top point guards available in the upcoming draft

Jason Friedman

HOUSTON -The NBA Draft is right around the corner so the time has come to take an in-depth look at the players hoping to hear their names called out by Commissioner David Stern on the night of June 23. To help with the process, Rockets.com is once again enlisting the help of NBA draft expert Jim Clibanoff.

The formula is simple: our man Clibs will break down the draft position by position, offering his thoughts on the top prospects, while sprinkling in a few feelings on some lesser known players who might be worth a closer look in the draft’s later stages.

Today’s feature focuses on the point guard position. Click here for Part I in which we break down the best prospects at center, here for Part II for a discussion on the top two-guards, here for Part III featuring analysis of the small forward position and here for Part IV for a break down of the top power forwards. One final note: players' height and weight are taken, when possible, from the NBA’s combine measurements, with each prospect’s listed height rounded up to the nearest inch while wearing shoes.

Kyrie Irving, Duke: 19 years old, 6-4, 191

Pretty rare that a guy who played 11 games is mentioned as the No. 1 overall player. He had ultra-high stock going into the season, he absolutely nailed it in his 8-game subset, had superior shooting numbers – percentages of 50-40-90, which is remarkable – and then he goes and sits for three and a half months with a toe injury, comes back and has one decent game, one subpar game and then one good game in which the team loses. And with all that, in a draft that is light at the top in terms of elite talent, he was able to sufficiently preserve his stock and remain a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick.

He’s not a cornerstone player, per se. In fact, we are among the definite minority which actually lists Kemba Walker ahead of him. Don’t get me wrong, Irving is rock solid and smart. But he’s also a stark contrast to the ultra-elite explosiveness of Derrick Rose, the ultra-elite speed of John Wall and the very versatile scoring ability of a combo guard like Tyreke Evans.

Kyrie is a good player, I’m just not sure he’s a potentially great player. He’s not a guy who all of a sudden tacks 14 wins on to the team’s win total from the year before. Kemba Walker probably isn’t that either, but we’re just a little bit more impressed by the great speed and quickness, and zest and passion that Walker brings to the table. Right now Irving doesn’t do one thing exceptionally well, though there is a chance that maybe his shooting ends up becoming his calling card – I don’t know. Irving and Walker are really neck and neck in our eyes, but at the moment we do give a little bit of the nod to Kemba Walker.

Kemba Walker, Connecticut: 21 years old, 6-1, 184

Kemba Walker, as a freshman in college, we totally were into him. This wasn’t even as a prolific scorer; this was a guy who set the table, keyed not just the offense but keyed the defense as well. He’s this passionate guy who plays with so much intensity. You can’t watch this kid bust his butt and not feel compelled to compete hard yourself. So he really could amp up the level defensively and offensively he just has so much speed and quickness and he knows how to use second, third and fourth gears, which a lot of young players don’t – they know how to accelerate from first to fifth, but then they forget how to integrate second, third and fourth. But this guy has the whole gear box under control.

As a sophomore, we actually were down on Kemba Walker because UConn struggled and he wasn’t really able to find a way to make them a very successful team. But then it was like, holy smokes, he totally did all those things this year, basically by virtue of his scoring. So he had three different, distinct seasons, all very different from each other, and if you combine all of them you realize that now he knows how to do what it takes to win – staying that third year helped him mature so much.

So there’s this leap you have to take. There’s guesswork involved; you can’t say with certainty that Kemba Walker will know how to divide scoring with distribution, but I feel pretty confident that a kid who’s wired the way he is will figure it out pretty quickly.

His biggest critics say he’s just a scorer like Ben Gordon and I say hogwash. I think he’s going to know how to perfectly integrate distribution with scoring, and it really depends on the team he goes to and what they need his identity to be. Whereas with certain guys you know what you’re going to get, I think Kemba Walker has versatility in that he could one day lead your team with 13 assists while only scoring 7 points, while the next he could go for 27 points and 4 assists. He’s got multiple personas he can flash at people.

Brandon Knight, Kentucky: 19 years old, 6-4, 177

He’s not really a pure point guard at all right now. He can come up with assists and he’s got good flow to his game, but he’s not a player that I would feel comfortable right now telling him to go out there and run my NBA team.

He’s a very bright kid off of the court, an honors student who apparently had enough credits to actually be a junior next year if he wanted to, but his game just yells combo guard. I think the success that Jason Terry had in the Finals makes you realize how you don’t have to pencil a guy in as a 1 or as a 2. But Jason Terry was essentially playing a lot of shooting guard with a 6-4 Jason Kidd alongside him. So I think Brandon Knight needs the proper complementary guard whereby he can then flourish as a pro player. If you give him the reins and say, ‘You’re the point guard, go run the team’ he’s not ready for that and I don’t know if he ever will be.

Jimmer Fredette, BYU: 22 years old, 6-3, 196

Early in the year, before he blew up, I felt that Jimmer Fredette was going to be a great pick in the 20s to play alongside a bunch of stars on a good team that could just bring him in, integrate him, and when defenses collapsed on the stars he’d be open for jump shots.

Now all of a sudden you see Jimmer Fredette mentioned as someone who could go somewhere between the seventh and twelfth picks which I think is way too high. Unless someone thinks he’s going to be a 20 points per game scorer at the NBA level, he’s got to be reprogrammed going from someone who was a high volume shooter into a lower one. He’s going from being the No. 1 and No. 2 offensive option at the college level to, in my mind, a place where he’s better suited being either the fourth or fifth option on an NBA team. And there are huge question marks about what he’ll be able to bring on the defensive end.

So I’m almost forced now to say reasons I don’t like Jimmer Fredette, whereas in November and December I loved him. The difference is that I love him as a piece to a puzzle, just not as a franchise cornerstone which is typically what you’re looking for when you’re taking a guy in the top-10 of the draft.

Norris Cole, Cleveland State: 22 years old, 6-2, 175

Norris Cole had a game this year where he had 41 points, 20 rebounds and 9 assists – an absolutely remarkable game. It’s unheard of for a guy that size to get 20 rebounds in a regulation game. And in addition to getting his points and assists, he also was his conference’s defensive player of the year. He might be the best on-ball defender of all these point guard prospects.

So I think he can come into the league as a third-string/back-up point guard and quickly rise to become a starter in a few years, sort of the way George Hill or Aaron Brooks did. I think he can be that guy who falls into the late 20s or maybe even the second round of the draft, and then four years down the road you look back say, ‘Wow, how many teams passed on that guy?’

He’s a very good kid also and brings a very good work ethic, and if a guy can do what he does at both ends of the floor – similar to what I was saying about Kemba Walker – that’s a pretty valuable guy to get. I think people might be sleeping on him. People will often take a combo guard with a bit more size before a Norris Cole, but if you need a pure point guard, this is your guy.

His coaches really speak highly of him. He made his team very good and he did not have much talent alongside him whatsoever. There’s also going to be a question of what a guy is going to do when he’s taken out of the mid-major level and thrown onto a court with a bunch of grown men but, again, his coaching staff really spoke highly of his character so I do think he can make that transition.

Reggie Jackson, Boston College: 21 years old, 6-3, 208

Definitely one of the guys who has seen a big bump up in his stock post-season. I saw him play once in person and once via video this year during the season and I didn’t think I was watching a future NBA player. Then when he declared for the draft our whole staff started to research him a lot more, watched more video and we started to buy into the fact that this guy is legit.

There’s nothing overly sexy about his game, but he can play the position without rushing. He plays with very good poise and he’s got good strength. He’ll be able to score the ball, he’ll be able to distribute and, again, he’s another guy who probably needs the proper complementary guy beside him, but he’ll be able to get minutes at both guard spots.

Josh Selby, Kansas: 20 years old, 6-3, 195

I saw Josh Selby play the summer before his senior year of high school. He has this playground flair to his game that reminds me quite a bit of Steve Francis, who was a scoring point guard. I think he's a very difficult animal in that some people think ‘Oh, he’s a two-guard’ instead of just accepting the fact that a guy is a scoring-minded point guard. Now whether or not that fits a need, that’s very much team specific.

He had a very awkward freshman season. He was ineligible at the start of the year, then he played a stretch of games in which he averaged about 12 points per game in a very crowded backcourt with other point guards and combo guards. His first game he scored 21 points and that ended up being his season-high. But he fared fairly well until he had an injury to his foot and after that injury he hardly played. So if you look at his season stats, he averaged less than 8 points per game. But if you give him a mulligan for the second portion when he came back from the injury and only focus on the first part, then you realize that the first part was pretty impressive.

He’s an explosive player who just looked sluggish following the injury, but now that he’s in the pre-draft stage I think he’s been able to get back in peak condition and show that he’s a baller. Point guard, two-guard, scorer, combo guard, whatever you want to call him – he’s just a baller.

I know some people were concerned that if he couldn’t seamlessly fit into the (Kansas head coach) Bill Self system how would he be able to transition into the NBA, but I think it’s almost unfair because you had an incumbent point guard in Tyshawn Taylor already there in addition to guys like Elijah Johnson, Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar. It’s not easy to take a top-5 program like Kansas and throw a piece in and say, ‘Go get me 17 and 7.’ There are parameters you have to take into consideration. So this is a guy where you have to look a little bit outside of the box. It’s not traditional analysis that you’re going to perform on Josh Selby.

Malcolm Lee, UCLA: 21 years old, 6-6, 198

Some people will look at the history of the UCLA program and realize that guys who weren’t so productive there like Jrue Holiday or Russell Westbrook or Darren Collison went on to become much better pros than they were college players. If you like Malcolm Lee you have to use that line of reasoning: that even though he had a lackluster career, he’s a guy who will be able to contribute in a pro setting better than what he did at UCLA.

I think one of the biggest problems for him was that he came in with such a lofty ranking as a freshman and he was never able to live up to that. He came in a class with Jrue Holiday, averaged nominal minutes as a freshman and then he wasn’t really a pure point guard at all as a sophomore or junior. So he’s a guy you really have to project ahead and ask if he can regain what he had at the high school level.

He’s a very streaky shooter so I don’t think he’s confident enough to be a designated shooting guard either. The one thing he can hang his hat on is that he’s a very solid defender who can check point guards and two-guards. I personally wouldn’t pick a guy like that in the first round but I do think he’s ideal for the second round which you use as an experiment; you don’t have to guarantee him multiple seasons, you bring him in and see if he can do a sufficient enough job on the offensive end because defensively he’s probably going to be solid enough to be in the rotation.

Darius Morris, Michigan: 20 years old, 6-5, 190

He did absolutely nothing of note as a freshman. However, we did have him on our radar because he has the size and the skills of a pure point guard; he’s not someone masquerading as a two-guard trying to be a point. But that year Michigan had Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims on the team and those guys got the majority of the touches while Morris was more or less an afterthought.

Then those two guys moved on and the team essentially became Darius Morris’. There was very little Big-10 caliber talent on the team aside from Tim Hardaway Jr. and a freshman post that they had, so Morris was forced to quickly elevate his game and he responded very well.

He’s not a speed-burner but he’s very good in the open court. He’s a very poor deep-range shooter but he seems to know his limitations there but he certainly has to work on that aspect of his game. But since he’s a two-and-done, since he showed this much progress from year one to year two, if you’re interested in him you have to hope that he’s going to show that same type of development over the next couple of years. I would expect him to spend a lot of time in the D-League as a rookie.

There’s a theory where if a player stayed in school and he would have ended up a lottery pick in a year or two, that if you grab him now then perhaps you’re getting more value that you wouldn’t be able to get had he stayed in school. I believe Morris really had primed himself to nail it as a junior but we’ll never know, so the question now is can he get the seasoning at the pro level that he would have gotten as “the man” as a college junior.

Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech: 20 years old, 6-6, 222

Iman Shumpert is getting some recognition kind of like Malcolm Lee is. This is a kid who led his team in scoring, assists, rebounding and steals this year, so it’s not as if he’s a role player who has to redefine himself, but he’s not a pure, slashing, break-guys-down point guard and he really struggles as a shooter from deep. So he’s another guy you just have to accept him as a player and as a guard.

Again, like Malcolm Lee, Iman Shumpert can really defend. He might even be able to guard some of the smaller small forwards out there as well. So this is a guy if you take his cumulative value as a basketball player instead of just looking at him through the prism of how good a point guard he is, then his appeal will grow somewhat.

Isaiah Thomas, Washington: 22 years old, 5-10, 186

Very difficult for the little guy to instantly appeal to people. JJ Barea had to go the circuitous route, Earl Boykins had to go the circuitous route, Pooh Jeter, Darrell Armstrong, even (Oklahoma City head coach) Scotty Brooks back when he played in the league, all these guys were bypassed on draft night, and I don’t think Isaiah Thomas has enough to convince that he’s worthy of a draft pick right now.

He may have to go that minor league route to prove that his offense is potent enough or that he’s a successful enough distributor. He did play very well as a passer this year, which he hadn’t done his first two seasons, but I just don’t think he’s NBA ready right now, and that he’ll need to prove it more at the minor league level for at least a season.

(Sleeper) Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston: 22 years old, 6-2, 198

A very similar package to Jimmer Fredette. One of the nation’s leading scorers as well. Not a pure point guard at all but has that same range Fredette does from the standpoint of being able to knock shots down as soon as he steps in the gym.

He’s a confident kid. Whereas Fredette played on a team that was ranked nationally throughout the season, Goudelock played under the radar at College of Charleston under (head coach) Bobby Cremins. I think he’s a total sleeper, if he can fit a role like we described with Fredette, where if Andrew is on the floor with a bunch of stars he’ll get open shots and knock them down, almost the way that Damon Jones and Troy Hudson did early in their careers, or the way Boobie Gibson did with the Cavs when LeBron James was there, and perhaps he can maybe even have some type of a Derrick Fisher existence in which he hits a lot of big shots when he’s open.

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