It is no secret that Kyrie Irving is going to be the first point guard taken in this draft. Whether that means he will be the first overall pick remains to be seen, but there is no chance that another point guard usurps him. From there, it has been widely speculated that Kentucky’s Brandon Knight would be the next ball handler off the board, but as the draft looms closer, things could be shuffling a bit. A lot of it will depend on what the Jazz, who many mock drafters have had taking Knight, decide to do with their third pick. If they pass on him, then that opens things up quite a bit. Some teams are rumored to consider Walker a better fit for their offense than Knight. Still, many teams are simply mesmerized by Knight’s upside. Time will tell–but let’s sound off on it.
Brandon Knight, Kentucky
What He Brings: The word “upside” is one of the most overused terms when it comes to any draft, but when it comes to picking 18- and 19-year-old kids who have only played a year in college, most of what teams base their decision on is potential, or in other words “upside.” Knight certainly falls into this category–not that he didn’t produce at Kentucky during his one year there where he averaged 17.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 4.2 APG. NBA scouts are in love with his size for the point guard position. He stands at 6’4″ but his length doesn’t detract from his quickness or defensive ability, which is a big plus.
The questions arise as to whether or not he fits as a pure point guard in the NBA. Where Kemba Walker dazzles GMs is with his charismatic personality which instills a confidence that Walker can run a team. Knight, on the other hand, is much more reserved, but so is Derrick Rose. How is that working out for the Bulls? Knight can score in a variety of ways and proved during this past NCAA Tournament that he plays big in big games. His turnover numbers (3.2 per game) are definitely where he needs to work on his game and are part of the reason that some GMs aren’t 100% sold on him as a pure point guard in the NBA, but those are the kind of problems that can be ironed out in his development.
It would not surprise me in the slightest if five years from now Brandon Knight is rated as the best point guard to come out of this class.
Possible Landing Spots: Utah Jazz (3rd pick), Toronto Raptors (5th pick), Sacramento Kings (7th pick), Detroit Pistons (8th pick)
Ideal Fit: There is no way that Knight slips past the Kings at number seven. The question will be whether the Jazz snag him third overall. If so, I think it would be a great fit for both sides. With Devin Harris in the fold, Knight does not have to start and run the offense from day one. He can learn the system and develop behind a veteran player. The Jazz are amassing young talent that will be able to grow and develop with Knight. They have another pick in the lottery (#12) this year and added rookies Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward to the squad last season.
Hypothetically, if the Jazz were to choose a guy like Alec Burks or Chris Singleton with their later pick, they would have quite a group of youngsters to develop. A lineup of Knight, Burks/Singleton, Hayward, Favors, and Al Jefferson in three years could have other Western Conference teams a little nervous about their futures.
Kemba Walker, Connecticut
What He Brings: I addressed Kemba Walker in a previous article, yet here I am again trying to defend him. So what does he bring? You mean except athleticism, great passing, and an incredible ability to defend as well as score the basketball? You mean except a Big East tournament championship in a year where the league received the most bids a conference every received? You mean except a national championship?
I’m just going to focus on the Brandon Knight comparison in order to avoid repeating my previous points. Often, in these draft debates, one is often basing their opinions on hypothetical scenarios because, in most cases, many of the top players in the draft do not play against each other. In this case not only did Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight play against each other, but they did it TWICE!
In the first matchup, in November, Kemba destroyed Brandon Knight scoring 29 points and added six assists and two steals. Conversely Knight contributed 6 points 5 assists and one steal in a blowout Kentucky loss (84-67) at home. But it was only one game right? And it was early in Knight’s freshman year!
Fast forward to the Final Four in March where UCONN won again, albeit a much closer contest. The stats are similar (Kemba 18pts, 7 assts, Knight 17pts, 6 assts), but if I am a GM I am looking at the end result. Brandon Knight despite playing with guys like Terrence Jones (who would’ve been a top ten pick in this year’s draft) could not beat a Kemba Walker led team in two attempts. Meanwhile, Kemba turned guys such as the under recruited Jeremy Lamb and Tyler Olander into household names. Head to head, Walker is 2 up on Brandon Knight (as well as one up on Kawhi Leonard and Derrick Williams). I guess winning games does not matter anymore.
It’s easy to become too concerned with collegiate success. I understand that. Carmelo had a hell of a freshman year at Syracuse, but Lebron James was the better pick based on potential. Similarly Emeka Okafor had a great career at UCONN and won a national championship his junior year (sound familiar) but Dwight Howard was the number one pick. But the reason that these were smarter decisions (although risky) was that James and Howard were” once a decade” type of talents. Not only did that already possess a sophisticated array of basketball skills coming out of high school (particularly Lebron), but they were also world class athletes, something Carmelo and Okafor were not. Athleticism is crucial to becoming an NBA star and it make the gambles on Howard and James worth it.
Kemba is a much better athlete and basketball player than Brandon Knight and, as a result, has a much higher ceiling than Brandon Knight even though Knight is two years younger. The pick is Kemba.
Possible Landing Spots: Toronto Raptors (5th pick), Sacramento Kings (7th pick), Detroit Pistons (8th pick).
Ideal Fit: The Raptors and the Pistons both need a PG. I think Toronto is a better fit because it would allow Kemba to immediately be the face of a franchise (for some reason the Andrea Barnagni jersey has not been a hot seller). The Kings on paper look like a solid fit. It would allow Tyreke Evans to play his more natural small forward position and would provide the Kings with a lot of offensive firepower. However, Kemba likes to have the ball in his hands and likes to look for his own shot from time to time. Apparently, there is a crazy rumor coming out of Sacramento that DeMarcus Cousins has a bit of a temper, especially when he doesn’t get the basketball. Could only be a rumor though.