June 30, 2016

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NBA Draft 2011: Other than Irving, elite guards come with questions

Duke’s Kyrie Irving is widely expected to go to the Cavaliers with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, but he won’t be the only point guard taken in the top 10 picks.

UConn’s Kemba Walker and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight will go soon after, with one possibly going to Utah at No. 3, while Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette could also creep into the top 10.

The 6-foot-1, 184-pound Walker led the Huskies to the 2011 national championship, averaging 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

There are some concerns about his size – he measured under 6 feet without shoes at the league combine – and the fact he often looked to score first at UConn, but no one questions his heart and drive.

“It really doesn’t matter where I go,” Walker said at the combine. “I have no control where I go. I’m going to come in with a great attitude and work hard.

“Going to a new place, new people, a new city, it’s something I’ll have to adjust to.”

Walker, 21, has great quickness and gets where he wants to on the court. Despite his frame, he’s also shown the ability to finish in traffic.

“It shocks me when people say he’s too small,” said Ryan Blake, the NBA’s co-director of scouting. “He’s 6-1, and he plays bigger because he’s so athletic and long. He’s quick as all get out.”

Walker isn’t a great shooter – he made 38 of 112 3-pointers (.339) as a junior – but he is a scorer. Not only that, he’s a scorer who wants the ball in clutch situations.

“He has heart and a chip on his shoulder,” Blake said. “One thing we can never do is look into a guy’s heart and see how much he wants it, but you try to decipher it. This kid has it.”

At 6-3¼, Knight is taller, but the 19-year-old is not as strong at 177 pounds. He averaged 17.3 points and 4.2 assists while shooting .377 from beyond the arc (87-for-231) as a freshman at Kentucky, where he showed more and more maturity as the season progressed.

“Just knowing the game is a very important part of this process and being an NBA point guard,” Knight said at the combine. “They have a way of determining if you are an intelligent person or have a high basketball IQ.”

Though he doesn’t overwhelm in any one area, Knight is a decent shooter who understands the game, can penetrate and knows how to run an offense. He’s also got decent size and length, which should make him a capable defender.

“(Kentucky) had a lot of freshmen, and he really ran that team with maturity,” Blake said. “He made really good decisions and led the team, sometimes vocally, sometimes not. He did a lot of veteran things.

“He’ll have to become a better passer, because they did the weave a lot (at Kentucky). He’s going to have to learn to play pick-and-roll, but we saw flashes where he ran it really well. He just needs to raise everything to another level.”

Perhaps no player in the draft creates a bigger debate than the 22-year-old Fredette, who averaged 28.9 points and 4.3 assists as a senior.

All NBA scouts love his shooting ability – he made 124 of 313 threes (.396) and 252 of 282 free throws (.894) as a senior alone – but some teams question whether he can play point guard at the next level.

“I like Fredette,” Blake said. “This kid is going to scoot up in mock drafts. I know there are teams that really like him.

“The kid had a bull’s-eye on his back. … To do what he did, not just on the offensive side, but to not get in foul trouble, to be able to score and pass and lull opponents to sleep and find cracks and seams, you just don’t see those veteran moves in college.”

At 6-2½, Fredette probably isn’t big enough to play much shooting guard, but he is a solid 196 pounds and has tremendous range. The latter alone should make him at least a successful specialist in the NBA, though some expect much more than that.

If Utah doesn’t take Walker or Knight at No. 3, there’s a good chance it will select Fredette, who grew up watching John Stockton, if he’s still on the board at 12.

“I put my mind to it and went out there and had a really good season,” Fredette said at the combine. “Our team had a very good season, and that’s the big thing.

“It was crazy, a lot different. Life started to change. You go places and people want autographs, they want pictures. You’ve got to be gracious to all of them, but you’ve got to separate everything – school, basketball, time to yourself and your friends – and not let it get to your head.”

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.