NBA Draft 2011: Point Guards

From what I can tell this is considered the top position in this draft. I have to say that I find this group to be well below stellar and pretty much the weakest PG class in years. Once we get past Kyrie Irving this group is a group of prospects who will be remembered as good college players and another group, mainly freshmen, who never lived up to the hype. What I will say about this class is there are a lot of PGs who are worthy of at least a look, hence a rather long list.

Here are the statistical benchmarks I look for in college PGs:

  • 18.0 P40, This is one case where higher isn’t necessarily better or worse. The thing is, unlike other positions, a PG’s main role isn’t to score, it is to distribute. But some ability to score is necessary.
  • A 2-point FG pct. of at least .500 and some ability to hit a 3-pointer.
  • The assists are dependent on the class a player is in. With freshmen, I tend to give a little leeway here, because they don’t always step right in and take over. Though the best ones usually do. I set the benchmark at 6.0 A40 for junior and seniors, 5.0 for sophs and for freshmen I just look for some PG ability.
  • The defensive numbers are at least 1.3 steals per 40 minutes and 6.5 combined rebounds, steals and blocks.

Players are listed in order of who I would draft all other things being equal.

Kyrie Irving, Duke: Looking at the numbers, Irving has all the goods. He can score, pass and defend at an NBA level. He’s the only player whose stats give him a “can’t miss” label, making him the obvious top pick. So he’s a lock to join the parade of great PGs that have entered the league in the last few years, right?

Maybe he will, but maybe not. His numbers look stellar, but he played only 303 minutes. None of those minutes came during the ACC regular season, which is often a brutal stretch for freshmen where players and their statistics are frequently worn down from stellar to normal. The fact that Irving didn’t go through such a grinder, like the rest of the prospects, takes some of the sparkle off his numbers. Because of this, I can’t put him in a class with Rose, Wall and some of the other top PGs to come out in recent years. But I’m not going to say he can’t get there either. I’m saying I’d be much more impressed with these numbers if they had included an ACC regular season. That concern aside, Irving has to be the top pick this year. There is no other player available who has a ceiling even close to what his is. 

Kemba Walker, Connecticut: Other than Irving, Walker seems like the PG most likely to at least forge a long career for himself in the league. His offense is too inefficient to think he’ll be anything but a bench player. But he has a history of strong defensive numbers and, even though his passing numbers were down this year, he has in the past shown he can handle the ball-distribution part of playing PG. Because offensive skills, specifically 3-point shooting, are easier to improve on than defensive skills, Walker is more likely than the rest of this group, most of whom lack the defensive numbers, to step up his game at the next level.

Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech: College career has been disappointing, but Shumpert is the sort of player who might emerge from this draft as a bargain. His 10.6 RSB40 and 3.3 S40 suggest a player with great defensive potential. On the flip side he has never shown any ability to score efficiently and has flashed only mediocre distribution skills. So right now he’s at best a defensive specialist who can’t shoot.

The reason I like Shumpert is he has flashed NBA athleticism on the defensive end. That tells me he has the necessary athleticism to play in the league. This is a skill that players either have or they don’t and Shumpert has it, which puts him up on the rest of these guys. The hard part for him will be developing some offensive and/or point guard skills. A longshot to be sure, but offensive skills are much easier to develop than defensive skills.

Brandon Knight, Kentucky: There seem to be two types of PGs available this year after Irving. The college veterans who have shown enough flashes to think there might be a decent NBA player in there somewhere and the freshmen phenoms who have shown little in the way of ability, but still have the reps as HS stars carrying them. Knight is the best of the latter group. He also merits a closer look as he appears to have elevated himself above the other 2nd-tier freshmen, Selby and Joseph, into a top 5 pick.

I just can’t make the case that Brandon Knight is worthy of such a high pick, regardless of how weak this draft might be. The biggest problem is the defensive numbers. His 0.7 S40 and 5.4 RSB40 are just too low for a player to be considered a serious prospect. Players with such numbers have a very poor success rate. The only two players who posted a S40 below 1.0 as freshmen and went on to long NBA careers were Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr. Jackson’s frosh season was in 1984, which was before the shot clock. Kerr lasted as long as he did because he was the best 3-point shooter ever.

Knight’s offensive and passing numbers are OK for a freshman. They’re not where they should be, but are good enough that I can give him some benefit of the doubt because of his youth and expect some improvement because of his status as a highly-touted phenom. The poor defensive numbers I can’t overlook. These are the numbers of a player who will underperform his draft position quite a bit as a pro, especially if the mocks are right about him going as high as #3.

Reggie Jackson, BC: Jackson had a strong junior year and was smart enough to jump into a weak draft pool. He’s likely to be selected this year, where in some of the stronger PG years recently he may have gone undrafted. There are some very strong numbers here. He has shown he can score from both inside and out, with percentages this year of .556 and .420. His passing numbers have been solid for a couple of seasons now.

There are two things about Jackson that concern me. The first is he has a low frequency of steals. He does rebound and block shots better than most guards and for that reason I think the low steals total may not be a huge concern. But I can’t ignore the fact that PGs with a S40 around his 1.2 historically haven’t fared that well. The other is his scoring numbers of 21.3 P40, .556 and .420 represent such a dramatic increase on his first couple seasons that they almost defy belief. As a draft geek, I’m impressed, but I’d like to see him do it for another season before declaring him a strong offensive player. If the offense he flashed this year is real, Jackson could have a decent career as a rotation guard and even a starter in the right situation.

Nolan Smith, Duke: Smith checked in with an excellent senior season. His first three years at Duke, he was a non-prospect. He never was the team’s main distributor. His defensive numbers and offensive percentages were low. That all changed this year as he improved his game across the board to the point he has to be taken somewhat seriously as a prospect.

I’m always wary of prospects who suddenly emerge as seniors. They just don’t have a great history of success. It is usually a case of the senior year being the aberration. It is good timing on their part, but it doesn’t always lead to a great pro career. I can’t say if Smith will be an exception to this rule either. Playing on a talented team could have suppressed his stats for the first three seasons, but by his junior year he was one of the go-to guys on the team and his numbers were poor for a prospect even then. The important thing he did as a senior is he proved he can probably handle the point. That makes him worth a draft pick in round one in this weak draft.

Darius Morris, Michigan: He’s young and pretty raw, but there is enough upside here that he’s as worth an investment of a late-first round pick as much as any player likely to be available. He has a high number of assists, good size and an impressive 2-point pct. The defensive numbers are too low to think he’ll become a regular, let alone an impact player, but if he can get a little stronger and add an outside shot he could become a useful player.

Charles Jenkins, Hofstra: He improved a lot as a senior, specifically he seemed to become a smarter player. He took fewer shots, but made more of them and scored more points. He improved his assists while eliminating a lot of turnovers, which is no easy feat. The numbers for his senior year look strong, but two things give me pause. The first is he didn’t step his game up enough until his senior season. That just isn’t a good sign. The best prospects generally perform like prospects, at the very least on a per minute basis, well before their senior season. The other is he played at a small college and it has always been better for small college players to be much more dominant than Jenkins has been. Typically small college guards who make it have an RSB40 that’s pushing 10, a high number of assists and/or a high 2-point percentage. Jenkins has the high 2-point pct, but that only came his senior year. He isn’t a dominant defender and the jury remains way out on whether he can handle the point in the NBA. I like that he not only improved his game, but also improved it in what would have to be called an intelligent way. He became both a more efficient scorer and a better PG without losing any offense. That’s more impressive to me than if he had simply piled on more stats. Impressive as his improvement was, it still seems like a case of too little, too late for Charles Jenkins to be considered anything more than a long shot.

Cory Joseph, Texas: The only thing keeping him alive as a prospect is his status as a top 20 player coming in last year. Other than his .413 from behind the arc there just isn’t much here to suggest he’s an NBA talent. He does have youth on his side, but also has a long way to go and there is little in his numbers to suggest he can get there.

Josh Selby, Kansas: Similar situation to Joseph, only his numbers are worse. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, things just didn’t go well for Selby his freshman year.

Jimmer Freddette, BYU: First I’ll give some credit where it is due. Jimmer poured in 32.3 points per 40 minutes and that’s something that just isn’t done very often. The problem is scoring over 30 P40 just isn’t in itself a very promising stat for a prospect. The reason he ranks so low in my rankings is he has yet to show passing skills that suggest he can play the point or the defensive numbers to suggest he has the athleticism to play at the NBA level.

That makes him at best a 3-point specialist. The problem with this career scenario is his efficiency numbers here are also fairly ordinary. While he pumped in a ton of points, his efficiency wasn’t all that special. He has been under 50% on 2-pointers for consecutive years and that’s a very bad sign. He’s a good 3-point shooter, but not so great that I could dismiss his lack of athleticism and simply assume he can become another Steve Kerr. The player he reminds me most of is Shawn Respert. Like Jimmer, Respert was a lights out college scorer with weak PG skills, weak defense and a 2-point pct. under 50%. I feel Jimmer will be a bust on a similar level if drafted too high.

Shevlin Mack, Butler: As one of the top 2 players on a team that made the championship game in consecutive seasons, Mack is due some respect regardless of his numbers. The numbers are weak, especially on defense. His shooting ability and the suspicion that he’s a better defender than his numbers suggest, like Arron Afflalo a few years ago, make him a player I’d be willing to burn a 2nd round draft pick on in 2011. But I don’t consider him anything other than a longshot.

Isaiah Thomas, Washington: Stepped up his game nicely as a junior and wisely jumped into this weak draft to capitalize. He scored and passed the way a PG prospect should for the first time in his college career. He’s very weak on defense and is only 5’9” and those two things make him a longshot.

Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame: Hansbrough is a 5th-year senior who wasn’t on the prospect map until this season. That in itself is a huge negative. Players who take this long to “arrive” and players who have transferred from one program to another have a terrible history of success. His weak defensive numbers don’t help his case either.

What gives Hansbrough a chance is he’s one of the best shooters available. That and decent PG skills suggest he could become a decent role player.

Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston: Similar to Freddette in that he comes up short everywhere except in quantity of points scored. He’s weak on passing and very weak on defense. As a shooter he’s one of the best, having been consistently near or well over 40% from behind the arc his entire career. That will be his ticket, but without the defensive numbers, I doubt he’ll make it.

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