Many people like to say that love is a battlefield. I, however, like to think of the basketball court as a battlefield.
You need to out-duel the opponent, which is best done with teamwork and preparation rather than a loose group of rogue combatants. The field general in nearly every scenario is the point guard making him the most important player on the court.
The field general is not the most powerful soldier. In most cases, you won’t see him shed a drop of blood–but he calls the shots. Likewise, the point guard is rarely the leading scorer on his team–just four teams’ leading scorers played the point last year–but they are the primary ball-handler and distributor.
These generals need three key characteristics: poise under pressure, an ability to make teammates better, and most importantly the winning gene. A sweet shooting stroke is nice. Behind-the-back, no-look passes are nice. But what really matters is the ability to put your team on your back when it matters most and just flat out win the ballgame.
So as the newest draft class enters the now-locked out National Basketball Association, there is, as always, wild chatter about who the biggest flop will be, which team got the best sleeper, and how on Earth you pronounce those Lithuanian forwards’ names (it’s phonetic).
No one can be certain what these players’ futures hold, but what we can do is break down each player’s game to see what will best translate to the next level. The Class of 2011 had four point guards taken in the top ten: Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, UConn’s Kemba Walker, and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. The draft as a whole was weak, but I believe the class of 1-guards has some potential. At least, some of the point guards have potential. Let’s dive in.
Eleven games in college or not, there was little doubt on my behalf that this young man was worthy of the first overall selection in this June’s NBA Draft. He’s got NBA size, NBA vision, and NBA quickness. What’s even more impressive is that he joined a Duke squad fresh off a National Championship with two senior leaders (Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler), yet instantly became the definitive leader and scorer for the team.
Irving withstood a freak toe injury that left him out until March Madness, but when he returned, he seemed to have barely skipped a beat. In just 20 minutes, he scored 14 points on 4-8 shooting (2-2 from three and 4-4 free throws) with 4 rebounds, an assist, 2 steals, and a block in a 42-point romp of Hampton. Irving followed that performance with an 11-2-3-1 line, including shooting 9-10 from the charity stripe. Irving cemented himself as the clear-cut number one pick when he dropped 28 points in 31 minutes–shooting 9-15, 2-4, and 8-9–in Duke’s Sweet Sixteen exit to Arizona.
Yes, the case can be made that entering Irving into Duke’s lineup upset the team’s chemistry with Smith’s suddenly uncertain role off the ball, but that was much more to do with his prolonged absence than any problem with his attitude. At the start of the season, the offense flowed straight through the freshman guard. He was a true leader in every sense of the word: he’s a great distributor, he made every single one of his teammates better, and rarely forced unnecessarily risky passes. Overall, it’s just hard to poke holes in his game.
Kyrie isn’t athletic like former number one selections Derrick Rose and John Wall, but he can more than make up for it with his great quick burst to the basket and elite shooting (he was a 50-40-90 shooter in his limited collegiate career). Irving is most effective when he drives to the left side, but scoring isn’t his biggest threat–he’s most dangerous when he gets his teammates involved.
What makes Irving special is not what makes him unique–there’s not much that separates him from the upper tier of point guards. What makes Irving so great is that he’s such a safe pick–there’s no way he fails in the NBA. We’ve seen his skill set translate to success so many times before (Chris Paul, Andre Miller, and Raymond Felton just to name a few). He’s probably the safest pick in the draft because he will be a very productive pro–likely All-Star caliber, however, with the abundance of great young point guards he may not make too many All-Star appearances–but at the same time he has the potential of a top-5 one-guard.
From what we’ve seen at Duke and just his play in general, we can see that he gets it. He’s a true leader and embraces the team aspect of basketball. As soon as he stepped onto the court, he made each and every one of his teammates more dangerous, and was never afraid of the spotlight at one of college basketball’s biggest programs. Kyrie Irving is the type of player I want in my foxhole. He’s the guy I want on my team.
Derrick Rose. Tyreke Evans. John Wall. Brandon Knight? The next player in a succession of John Calipari-coached one-and-done guards has arrived, so we can pen him in for a Rookie of the Year, right? Not so fast.
Ranked as high as #1 by Rivals.com recruiting, Knight has been closely monitored for the longest time. Immediately as a freshman at Kentucky, he was handed the keys to the Caddy, but the start was a bit rough for him.
In his first seven games, Knight averaged 17 points per game, but totaled just 21 points in losses to UConn and UNC on 29% shooting. Worse yet, he had just 23 assists to 33 turnovers. While the turnover problem slowly started to fade as the season progressed, it reared its ugly head again in the NCAA tournament when he maintained a 17-16 assist-to-turnover ratio against non-Ivy League schools. Therein lies Knight’s problem: he’s not a true point guard.
As a pure scorer alone, Brandon Knight is very impressive. While he can be streaky at times, he’s already fairly reliable from NBA-3-point range and is great in the penetrate-and-kick game thanks to an explosive first step. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have shooting guard size. And he is not a shooting guard. I’m afraid that Brandon Knight is actually a combo guard.
Can you win with a combo guard? Sure. My preferences for point guards aren’t the end-all-be-all, and if in the right scenario, a combo guard can lead a team to a championship. But it’s so much harder.
Positions aside, there’s one thing Knight does do extremely well: he’s cool under pressure. By the end of the season, if the Wildcats were down a bucket in the waning seconds of the game, everybody new who was taking the shot–Brandon Knight. He became so steady at the end of games that even announcers would start to call it “Knight Time.”
There’s a lot to like about Brandon Knight. He’s smart, he’s mature, and he has all the skills in the world. But I’m not sure how much better he makes his teammates. With potentially the most talented roster in the NCAA, he flopped in the biggest game of the season when he jacked up 23 shots and finishing with just 17 points. Not only that, but he had 5 assists to 3 turnovers and took just two free throws. Taking 37% of your team’s shots is fine if you can score in flurries, but that’s not who Brandon Knight is.
I know it’s just one season, and I know he’s just 19, but I don’t see it in Brandon Knight. He didn’t step up when the light shined brightest, and I don’t really think he made his teammates too much better. I’m not even sure if he’s a winner as much as he is a stat sheet guy. One check out of three doesn’t work for me. I’m passing on Brandon Knight.
When asked how to describe himself, Kemba Walker said, “Character, leadership, just heart. All New York City point guards are just tough.” Better words could not have been spoken.
Kemba Walker is one tough dude. I’ll get straight to the point and say that he is a warrior, a leader, and flat out winner. His size (6’1″) doesn’t stop him. His less-than-efficient shooting doesn’t get in his way. Because when the lights shine brightest on the biggest stage, Kemba is always there.
To say the least, UConn’s 2011 Men’s Basketball team was not that high on talent. After Walker, there really wasn’t much to work with. Jeremy Lamb may eventually be a first-round pick, and Alex Oriakhi is a serviceable big man, but there’s a reason why this team did not start the season in the AP Top 25: on paper, they are a really thin team. So off set Kemba Walker to prove to the world just how good his team actually was.
At the Maui Invitational, UConn looked really overmatched. With then-number 2 Michigan State and number 9 Kentucky, UConn was a small fish in a tank of sharks. So how did Kemba respond? 30 points per game, a 54-42-93 shooting line, a 12-6 assist-to-turnover ratio, and more importantly three tough wins.
By the end of the regular season, Connecticut was really being knocked around. A shaky 9-9 record in the brutal Big East didn’t help their 21-9 record, but a strong Big East Tournament run would really have helped their seeding in March Madness. Kemba’s move? Five big wins in five short days in which they played higher ranked opponents in four of the games. Again, Kemba stepped up under pressure for 26 ppg while shooting 47% from the field while gave us the coolest buzzer-beater of the year.
Kemba had already lighted up Madison Square Garden, ran through the Big East Tournament, and put himself square in the middle of the Player of the Year conversation, but this was truly the time for him to shine. Did he come through again? I guess you can just ask the net from the National Championship and President Obama.
When the stars shine brightest, you can bet Kemba Walker will be there. In the biggest six-game series of his life, Kemba put up 23.5 points, 5.7 assists, and 6 rebounds, missing just four free throws the entire tournament.
The man is electric fast. The man is clutcher than Kirk Gibson on a broken leg. The man was able to take a ragtag team to a 14-0 record on neutral court and a National Championship. If nothing else, he’s a winner.
There are some doubts that Kemba will ever make an All-Star Game. He’s small for a point guard. He’s shown flashes of being a scorer more than a distributor. But I can see past his small blemishes to see the bigger picture–he has the one thing you can never doubt in any sports: the Heart of a Champion
There’s not a single player in the last decade of college basketball who has received as much hype as Jimmer Fredette. Did Jimmer Mania grow to such outrageous proportions because he’s the first white player to dominate the sport in years? Is it because he is one of the few players not to leave after his first season for greener pastures in the NBA? Or maybe it’s just because he has a strangely captivating name and a rarely duplicated game.
I know, I know, how could anyone hate the great Jimmer Fredette? He took BYU, of all schools, to a 32-5 record while scoring 28.5 ppg. But I’m here to burst your bubble. Because Jimmer will not be a good pro.
What if I gave you an offer for a player to add to your team. He doesn’t play defense, he won’t rebound, and he’ll take a third of your total shots. Even if he shoots the lights out, that doesn’t sound like a great team player in my books.
What if I told you now that he’s only 6’2″, can’t jump, is rather slow, and doesn’t see the floor well. Now you’re cornered. You’ve got a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. He can’t defend 2-guards, but he doesn’t have the requisite skills to play the point.
One of the telling signs about Jimmer’s future was in the draft telecast itself. Where it said “Versitile Scorer” for Kyrie Irving, “Defensive Potential” for Brandon Knight, and “Tough Competitor” for Kemba Walker, it said “Capable Passer” for Jimmer. No, not “Good Passer.” Just capable. I’m a capable Bio student. That doesn’t put me in the top level in anything. And a “Capable Passer” won’t put you in anyone’s starting lineup.
With those shots being fired, I do think there’s a place for Jimmer in this league. Just take a look at not-quite-6′ J.J. Barea, who played a vital role in the Mavericks’ championship run. Every team needs a burst of offense off the bench, and I think Jimmer can play a Eddie House-type role. Good enough to help you if his jumper is falling, but if he’s cold, you can just yank him from the game.
I really wish that Jimmer had been drafted by Utah. He could have slid right into that Eddie House role behind Devin Harris with the entire state of Utah behind him. But, no. He ended up in the worst scenario possible: Sacramento.
The last thing Jimmer needed was to be put under this kind of pressure. Already with the pressure to be the next Great White Star–whether or not we accept that this is what we want him to be–he was moved to a team that needs a turnaround city to avoid moving to SoCal. Worse yet, he has been placed with the worst set of teammates to match his style.
Sacramento drafted Jimmer because they needed a point guard to take over now that it’s clear Tyreke Evans isn’t a point guard. The problem is, Jimmer isn’t a true point guard. Jimmer needs his shots to be effective, and so does Tyreke. And DeMarcus Cousins. And Marcus Thornton. And when they don’t get their share of shots, the group of 20-some year olds will pout.
Jimmer is not a point guard. He cannot distribute. He doesn’t make his teammates better. And now that he’s not being fed a steady diet of Vermont, UTEP, and Buffalo, I’m certain he doesn’t have the Winning Gene.
I’ve looked at his game up and down, and I just don’t see a place for Jimmer in this league as a starting point guard. The eighth man on a contender? Maybe. But not worth the tenth pick in any draft.