Two point guards. Both top prospects, both with major potential and major questions as to how successful they'll be in the NBA. The HQ compares Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker, ultimately making a decision on which one they'd prefer to see in a Raptors' uniform.
Let's rewind to the infamous NBA Draft of 2004.
Oh yes, the "Hoffa Draft."
At the time, the Raptors desperately needed a point guard, and the hope was that Toronto could somehow nab one of the top options in that class.
How desperate were they for help at the 1?
Well...the following point guards were on the roster of the Raptors the prior year:
-Roger Mason Jr.
So off go the Raps, looking to hook a big fish via the draft.
Only problem that year was that by the time the draft rolled around, it didn't seem like any of the top options would still be available when Toronto picked at 8. As a refresher, those top options were UCONN stud Ben Gordon, fresh off an NCAA title, high school star Shawn Livingston, and Wisconsin floor general Devin Harris.
Gordon and Livingston were predicted to go in the first few picks, but the hope was that Harris would fall into Toronto's lap, or a trade would take place enabling the Dinos to nab Gordon or Livingston.
Neither of these scenarios occured.
Was it panic?
Who knows, but the bottom line was that Omar Cook and Rafer Alston got auditions at the 1 the next year, because of the Raps' inability to secure one of the aforementioned three prospects. (Ironically, any of the point guards who went later in the draft, Jameer Nelson, Beno Udrih, even Chris Duhon, would have been better options than Hof.)
The interesting thing is that the Ben Gordon/Devin Harris debate of that year was quite similar to the one currently in progress regarding the NBA future of Kemba Walker versus Brandon Knight. Gordon was the known commodity, but viewed as more of a combo-guard and scorer than pure point, and Harris, not a pure point either, was viewed by many as perhaps being the better long-term option for a team thanks to his superior upside.
In this year's draft, Kemba, like his alma mater compatriot Gordon, is the more proven player while Knight, like Harris, has the greater upside.
So which one should the Raptors take if both are indeed available with the fifth pick?
That's the million dollar question right now, as Raptors' fans seem to be pretty divided on which direction to head.
This morning then I thought we'd take an in-depth look at both players from every conceivable angle, starting with their physical attributes.
Kemba measured out at 6 foot 1 in shoes, with a 6-3 and a half wingspan, and nearly a 7-8 standing reach to go with 8 inch hands.
Brandon topped those marks, standing a shade over 6-3 with nearly a 6-7 wingspan and 8-2 standing reach to go with 9 and a half inch hands.
Brandon was slightly lighter than Kemba despite being taller, (178 versus 184 pounds), and while both had ridiculously good body fat measures, Brandon's was a bit lower (4% versus 5.9%.)
Finally, while Walker tested out as the higher leaper of the two (nearly a 40 inch max vertical versus just under 38 for Brandon), Knight was stronger (10 reps on the bench versus 7 for Kemba), quicker in the lane agility drills, and faster in the full court sprint.
Now there really wasn't a ton of difference in the last three marks, but overall Knight gets the nod here in the "measurements" category. Sure, we see top athletes fail to become even decent basketball players in every draft, but if I'm a GM I feel better about drafting someone who at least physically appears to have an advantage on the court, especially given the concerns about Knight's "point guard abilities." These marks indicate that if he puts in the effort, he should at least be able to hold his own on the defensive end, moreso arguably than Walker.
Advantage - Knight.
Note - Of the guards in Knight's "size-range" listed in Draftexpress' database, the most similar in terms of the metrics described above include Randy Foye, Armon Johnson, Igor Rakocevic, Russell Westbrook and Jerryd Bayless.
This one goes to Kemba pretty easily.
As Jonathan Givony of Draftexpress noted yesterday, we're talking about a player who came to UCONN in a fairly unheralded manner, who couldn't shoot at all, nor run a team. I can vividly recall his sophomore season where he looked like a major liability at the 1, turning the ball over on average nearly 3 times a game, and aside from having great speed and explosiveness, simply not appearing to be an NBA caliber guard.
That changed last year when he carried his club to not only an NCAA tourney berth, but all the way to the title.
Knight too had a very positive impact on his club, taking them deep in the tournament and as a freshman, but he was surrounded with superior talent, and his Wildcats didn't go through the maniacal winning stretch that Kemba's Huskies did, winning the Big East Tourney.
On the season Kemba averaged 23.5 points per game, 4.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals to go with 2.3 turnovers in just under 38 minutes a game.
Knight averaged 17 points per game, 4.2 assists, 4 rebounds and 0.7 steals to go with 3.2 turnovers in a shade under 36 minutes a game.
Knight shot the ball better from long range, 38% versus 33% for Walker, but for someone touted as a much more lethal shooter than Kemba, the Kentucky product actually had a slightly worse percentage from the field last year, 42.3% versus Walker's 42.8%.
Walker did take almost five more shots a game than Knight on average, but again, with players like Terrence Jones beside him, Brandon simply didn't need to score the ball nearly as much as Kemba.
And I don't want to hear this "Kemba can't shoot" line of thought any more.
Is he Ray Allen?
But this is a player who worked tirelessly on improving his shot and there's no reason to think he won't do the same thing at the next level.
Factor in Kemba's regular season and tourney awards, and three years of proven success at UCONN in one of the country's toughest divisions, and Walker gets the nod.
Advantage - Walker
This is where things get very interesting.
While the knock on Kemba has always been that he's too much of a scoring guard, and not enough of an actual point guard, the advanced metrics that have recently come to light, don't bear that out.
If I had to peg two other perimeter players that I would guarantee to at least become solid rotation players, it would be Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard. While this year's draft doesn't project to have a lot of star talent at the perimeter positions, Walker and Leonard are the two who rate above 12 -- which, historically, has been a guarantee of at least being decent.
The "12" that Hollinger is referring to is derived from his "Draft Rater," "a regression analysis comparing 16 variables to a player's NBA player efficiency rating, using the average of their top three seasons in their first seven years as a pro."
Walker's mark of 12.75 on Hollinger's scale puts him in a similar class as past point guards like Chris Paul, Jordan Farmar, T.J. Ford, Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley, Jameer Nelson, Ty Lawson, Ray Felton and Darren Collison.
Knight on the other hand only scored a 10.02, barely over the "10" mark that has traditionally been on the lower side of Hollinger's grading for point guards. Hollinger notes that only Rajon Rondo and Kyle Lowry have scored similar marks in the past, and have gone on to good to great careers.
The other names with a similar mark?
I will say there are two big caveats for me regarding Hollinger's mark though for Knight.
First, one-and-done players typically don't fare as well in Hollinger's system (Russell Westbrook is a great example of this), and if you look at Knight's marks after the first 10 games or so of the season, when Kentucky coach John Calipari changed the team's offense to better fit Brandon's style, I think you'd see Knight's advanced stats jump out a lot more.
Remember, Rajon Rondo looked dreadful in terms of his advanced stats after his final year at Kentucky, but coach Tubby Smith had him playing as an off-guard by the time the season ended. Sometimes a college system just isn't as conducive as an NBA one to certain player's levels of success.
However even with these caveats, looking at further advanced metrics, Kemba still comes out on top.
In Dean Oliver's recent work on the subject for ESPN.com, Walker had a much better "pure-point-rating," an attempt to measure "how a particular player will fare as a distributor in the NBA," than Knight did.
From the article:
Walker had a 1.5 PPR in college. It also took him only 18 minutes per game to get a steal or block and he was able to score inside. His upside is the same or slightly better than Knight's, but he is definitely a safer pick -- his chance of failing is less than one out of 10. There are no red flags on Walker, making him a one-out-of-three shot of becoming a good player at the next level.
Knight, meanwhile, has a one-in-four chance of being good, but the numbers suggest that his chances of success ride heavily on his shooting ability, not his passing. Knight had a minus-1.4 PPR in college, which is extremely low for a point guard -- lower, in fact, than any NBA starting point guard's college PPR except for Stephen Curry, who did not play point guard until his third and final year at Davidson.
Oliver goes on to say that:
In short, studies show that point guards with his characteristics don't live up to first-round expectations.
And looking at other marks like True Shooting Percentage, Usage, and PER, Walker is at worst on par, if not much further ahead than Knight in these marks.
Draftexpress' recent breakdown on the point guard class goes a step further and shows that Knight also struggles in two key areas that tend to be good indicators of NBA success; running the pick-and-roll, and getting to the free-throw line.
He participated in the third lowest percentage of pick-and-rolls (14.3% of the time) amongst this class' guards, didn't attack the basket at a high rate, taking shots around the basket on just 20% of his halfcourt possessions, third lowest of the group, and had one of the lower free-throw drawing percentages (10.0%).
I'd argue these points are of particular concern for Raptors' fans considering how important the pick-and-roll is in the NBA, and how much the team needs someone who can create off the bounce.
Knight's isolation stats are excellent however, which may negate some of these issues, but if you're looking at someone who can come in and play the 1 right away, advanced stats definitely point to Kemba Walker.
The average position adjusted win score (PAWS) for a player is 7.1 and while Kemba easily tops that with a mark of 10.6, Knight falls below the average, with a PAWS of only 6.3. Remember, PAWS takes into account the defensive end of the court too so this is not simply a measure of offensive effectiveness.
In summary, there isn't an advanced statistical view of these two players that prefers Brandon Knight to Kemba Walker and therefore...
I left one more section here before putting a bow on this analysis, a section I'd like to call intangibles.
Because while Kemba up to this point looks to be the better choice for the Raptors at five, I believe there are a few other considerations.
For one, Knight is the younger of the two, 19 versus 21, and at face value therefore has perhaps another level or two to his game that Walker does not. (Hell, Knight may still be growing!)
Second, while Kemba is definitely a mature player, driven, and a leader on the court, Knight simply has this demeanor that I'd describe as Kobe Bryant-esque. He doesn't possess Kemba's media flair, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing considering the Dinos' needs.
He's also an extremely intelligent kid, we're talking about a player who sported a 4.28 GPA in a private school known for academics.
When I factor these points in, as well as the potential size issues that Kemba may face on the defensive end when he's posted up one-on-one, Knight gets the very slim nod in this category.
Everything with Walker comes down to the things he can't do, whereas everything about Knight is about the things that he'll learn to do.
It's a bit of a "which would you rather" situation; the player who could be a star, or the player everyone knows will be good, maybe really good, but without the same upside?
Aaah the lure of potential.
So with the score in the above categories knotted at two, which way am I leaning?
Admittedly, still towards Knight.
However not by much, and we'll be updating our draft board this afternoon to reflect this.
The simple fact is that I'm not over the moon about either player and while I'd slightly prefer Knight to Walker, if Knight's gone and Walker's the pick at 5, so be it.
For me the reality is that regardless of who Toronto picks at five, I'm not convinced enough that they'll be a major factor in the team's improvement next season, assuming there is a season, so I'm more intrigued by the impact of the new coach, who will be announced this afternoon in a 1 PM presser, and any additional draft and free agent moves.
Mark me down for one dose of Brandon Knight...
...but if that's not on the menu, I'll gladly take a heaping of Kemba Walker.