Guards Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker offer Jazz options at No. 3

By Lynn Debruin

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, June 21 2011 4:35 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this June 3, 2011 file photo, University of Connecticut's Kemba Walker shoots during pre-draft workout for the Charlotte Bobcats basketball team in Charlotte, N.C. For a guy considered undersized, Walker still managed to put the team on his back and carry UConn to the NCAA championship. Walker figures to be sitting at No. 3 when the Utah Jazz pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.

The Charlotte Observer, Todd Sumlin, File , Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — For a guy considered undersized, junior Kemba Walker still managed to put the team on his back and carry UConn to the NCAA championship.

All Brandon Knight did as a freshman was produce a pair of knockout shots that propelled a young Kentucky squad into the Final Four.

Both guards figure to be sitting at No. 3 when the Utah Jazz pick in Thursday's NBA draft.

Which one is better?

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," said Ryan Blake, who scouts players for all NBA teams. "Kemba is small, but what's wrong with that? Chris Paul is smaller."

That is true. Walker checked in at the NBA draft combine at 6-1, 184 pounds — with shoes. Paul, a four-time NBA All-Star with the New Orleans Hornets, is 6-0, 175.

Whether it's size that ultimately matters, most mock drafts have the Jazz taking the 6-3 Knight at No. 3 unless they go big with a player such as 6-11 Enes Kanter of Turkey, the draft's top-rated center.

Knight certainly relishes an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jazz greats such as John Stockton and Deron Williams, even if team execs say it's hard to evaluate a player as a point guard after only one year of college ball.

"What you determine ... is he willing to try and make everyone on the team better, rather than make himself better?" Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said of Knight, who worked out alone for the team last week. "And if you've got enough quickness and you've got enough athleticism and you can handle the ball well enough, then you can be a point guard."

Knight already is used to following in some big footsteps as the latest in a long line of star guards that John Calipari has produced.

John Wall went No. 1 in the draft last year after one season at Kentucky under Calipari and became an immediate contributor with the Washington Wizards.

Tyreke Evans went fourth overall in 2009 after one season in Memphis under Calipari and won 2010 NBA rookie of the year honors with Sacramento.

Derrick Rose was selected No. 1 overall by Chicago in 2008, again coached by Calipari, and last season added the NBA Most Valuable Player award to his resume.

Considering Knight is just 19, draft experts see plenty of upside for a player who averaged 17.3 points and 4.2 assists for the Wildcats.

Knight said he had a "pretty good vibe" after working out for the Jazz.

There's little question the team likes Knight's work ethic and smarts. He earned a 4.3 grade-point average at a private high school known for its academics. At Kentucky he carried a 4.0 GPA in the fall semester.

On the court, he seemed to make the right moves under pressure, especially in the NCAA tournament. He was 0-for-7 against Princeton before scoring the game-winner with two seconds remaining. He was 2 for 9 with six turnovers against Ohio State before drilling a 16-foot game-winner with a hand in his face and five seconds on the clock.

"He's a guy as a freshman who led a team of very young players to the Final Four, so he's shown leadership ability," said Walt Perrin, Utah's vice president for player personnel.

"Kemba is a national champion and we always look for winners," Perrin added. "He's a guy who's not afraid to take big shots and hit big shots."

Walker hit the game-winning or go-ahead shot in the final three minutes of six games last season, and won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation's top point guard.

Blake loves Walker's heart, the way he plays with a chip on his shoulder and the fact he can be a combo guard.

"He wants to prove the naysayers wrong," Blake said.

The Jazz aren't about to tip their hand on which route they intend to go, and acknowledged there's been plenty of lively discussion as they set out to rank the players by ability 1-30.

"You take the best player," Perrin said.

Period.

He said that philosophy was reinforced in 1984 when the Portland Trailblazers used the second overall pick on 7-1 power forward Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan simply because they already were stocked at guard with All-Star Jim Paxson and a budding superstar in Clyde Drexler.

There aren't any Michael Jordans in this draft, considered one of the weakest. But there are always a few gems.

"We have the third pick this year, so there might be a little more pressure, but the pressure is always there because we want to get it right," Perrin said.

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