Five weeks ago, it was Kentucky's Brandon Knight versus Connecticut's Kemba Walker for the right to be named the second-best point guard in the 2011 NBA Draft. Now, Knight clearly holds the advantage, while Walker's stock is reportedly falling. Instead the 19-year-old Knight is competing against former Wildcats teammate Enes Kanter as the Jazz's window narrows for selecting at No. 3 overall.
Knight made his ascension clear last Thursday after running through a solo workout with Utah. As soon as he finished the session, a highly confident Knight said that the only player he would compete against before selection day was Duke's Kyrie Irving an equally skilled point guard long expected to be chosen No. 1 overall by Cleveland. Factor in that Knight's bold statement followed a workout between Walker and Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette that several witnesses assert the latter clearly won, and there is little doubt that if the Jazz go small at No. 3, Knight is the one.
Knight isn't perfect and is far from polished. He is more of a shooting guard than a true point, he struggles going to his left, and he was, at times, plagued by turnovers and inefficient shooting during his lone year at Kentucky. But a weak 2011 draft is more about potential and projection than anything else, and some believe Knight could eventually become the best guard to emerge from his class.
The ex-Wildcat's position has also been strengthened by a calculated decision to avoid Walker during workouts, and he only trains for teams with early first-round picks. By simply staying away from Walker and shining when seen, Knight is now on Irving's heels.
"If I were Brandon Knight, I would not work out for anybody or against anybody because he's already got people talking about him," said ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla.
He added: "The fact that Brandon Knight's agent says no workouts against anybody else, to me, it's a very calculated, shrewd move by an agent who knows he's in the catbird seat right now with his client."
Walker has been a direct casualty of Knight's rise. Yahoo! Sports reported Tuesday that the former Husky could slide downward in the lottery, and the proof is in the picks. If the Jazz stay at No. 3, the organization is expected to choose between Knight and Kanter. Meanwhile, teams with early first-round selections such as Toronto (5) and Detroit (8) that could use a jolt at point guard will also reportedly pass on Walker.
Still, Walker the primary reason Connecticut captured the 2011 NCAA men's basketball championship has his backers.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas is high on Walker and believes that his intangibles separate him from the pack. Yes, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound guard is undersized in the modern league and lacks a true shooting touch at a time that starting NBA point guards are increasingly being asked to score as often as pass. But Walker's competitive drive and selflessness are his saviors.
"He's tougher than nails," Bilas said. "He's physically tough, and he's mentally tough. I don't think many people know even though he's 6 feet tall, he is strong. And he's the type that can get into your body."
So can Knight, though, whose 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame is comparable to nine-time All-Star Gary Payton. Knight's intelligence and confidence also separate him he earned a 4.3 GPA in high school and was by far the most assured athlete who worked out for the Jazz in Salt Lake City. And some of Knight's primary attributes attention to detail, a constant commitment to improvement fall directly in line with what Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin desires from his rebuilding team.
Kentucky coach John Calipari guided NBA stars Derrick Rose, John Wall and Tyreke Evans into the league. Calipari didn't hesitate when asked if Knight will soon build upon the tradition. And Calipari went so far as to draw a straight line between Knight and Jazz legend John Stockton.
"With Brandon, whatever you think he's going to become, he'll become," Calipari said. "I just think, over three years, you're going to say, 'Wow.' "
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Tale of the tape
Brandon Knight Kemba Walker
Height 6-3 6-1
Weight 180 185
Age 19 21
College Kentucky (1 year) Connecticut (3)
2010-11* 17.3, 4.2, 4 23.5, 4.5, 5.4
*Stats include points, assists, rebounds
FG 3-pt Pts Ast Reb Turn
Nov. 24 • UConn 84, Kentucky 67
Knight 3-15 0-8 6 5 2 5
Walker 10-17 3-4 29 6 2 2
April 2 • UConn 56, Kentucky 55
Knight 6-23 3-11 17 5 8 3
Walker 6-15 1-5 18 6 7 4