Ranking The Tourney’s Top Guards
Look back in years past and you will clearly see the impact that good guard play has on the NCAA Tournament. You can ride a guard all the way to the Final Four. How guards translate from the NCAA to the NBA is, in a sense, the equivalent to drafting a quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft. The faster a guard can understand the NBA game, (see the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose) the better the investment. Of course, you can come off the bench in the NBA, but often times high draft picks come with great expectations.
The biggest scrutiny on lead guards is can they score, how they score and where do they score from. In addition, are they simply scorers or do they make their teammates better? Are they leaders? Many of these qualities are proven over a few weeks in March, but they are not an indictment of what they will eventually be in the NBA. There is a lot of talent at the guard position that won’t be represented like Boston College’s Reggie Jackson, Colorado’s Alec Burks or Georgia Tech’s Iman Shumpert.
As far as shooters, things to pay attention to is can the come off screens; can they quickly catch and shoot; as well as fundamentals. How many dribbles to they need to get to a spot on the floor? How high is their release point?
Let’s look at the best guards in the field (note thate some combo guards are listed as point guards due to size limitations at the next level):
Kemba Walker (UConn) – 6-1, 170 lbs.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching Kemba since he was a freshman at NYC’s famed Rice High School. His athleticism and his scoring ability is unmatched by any guard in the tournament and probably the country. His separation ability has scouts drooling, as well as his sheer strength and ability to bounce back physically. This was displayed during the Big East Tournament when Walker led the Huskies to five wins in five days.
Kyrie Irving (Duke) – 6’2, 185 lbs.
Unfortunately, Irving’s development has been slowed by injury, but the tools are all there. Blazing speed, break down dribble and finish ability, excellent mid-range…he has it all. The grade is incomplete, however, and scouts will be paying close attention if Irving can indeed go come game time this week.
Nolan Smith (Duke) – 6’3, 185 lbs.
Smith’s stock is on the rise after gutting out a foot injury during the ACC Tournament and leading Duke to yet another ACC title. Nolan isn’t truly great at any one thing, but he is very solid at everything on both sides of the ball. He’s an intangible player and quiet leader – all great qualities that NBA execs look for in a guard. His upside isn’t like other prospects, but he’s a player who would be an excellent depth option off the bat. He’s benefitted from Kyrie Irving being out and taken advantage of being the team leader at the guard position, a post he’s held for four years.
Jimmer Fredette (BYU) - 6’2, 195 lbs.
What you love about Jimmer is the fact that he can flat out fill it up. It’s easy to fall in love with the ease in which his jump shots go in. He’s a great pick and roll talent that will translate at the next level. He shows great toughness and the ability to split double teams with the dribble. He often is defended by three players yet can still get his look. He shows unlimited range, the ability to takeover and win a game by himself. Defensively, he’s adequate to be nice, but his offense is without question NBA caliber.
Brandon Knight (Kentucky) – 6’3, 170 lbs.
Knight is your classic scoring guard, and one who is very adept at getting into seems and finishing. His passing and decision making definitely need improvement, but he’s explosive on both ends of the floor. He’s an underrated defender as well, and knows how to defer to teammates. You have to like his confidence as well. I mean, who would want to follow in the footsteps of former John Calipari guards like Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall?
Isaiah Thomas (Washington) – 5’9, 185 lbs.
Many people may be surprised based on several question marks surrounding the Huskies lead guard. First and foremost is Thomas’ height as well as his perimeter shooting. But off the dribble he’s as explosive as anyone in the country. He also has a more than adequate 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio while boasting five double-digit assist efforts. People often sleep on the PAC-10. Don’t be fooled.
Honorable mention: Darius Morris (Michigan), Dwight Hardy (St.John’s), Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas), Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin); Josh Shelby (Kansas), Ben Hansbrough (Notre Dame) and E’Twaun Moore CG (Purdue).
John Jenkins (Vanderbilt) – 6’4, 215 lbs.
To me, no one has been as impressive as Jenkins at the off guard position. He can be a wonderful third guard for a good team in the future at the NBA level. He can handle and find his spots, which are many, and he’s tough. Off the ball he has excellent catch-and-shoot ability. He’s definitely a player to watch.
William Buford (Ohio State) – 6’5, 185 lbs.
Buford is as good coming off screens as any player in the nation and his ability to stretch the defense from the perimeter, which provides for a unique combination of skills. He doesn’t attack the rim as much as he once did, but he can, and physically he has the frame to handle the banging that comes with utilizing screens and creating separation at the NBA level.
Scotty Hopson (Tennessee) 6’7, 200 lbs.
With all that has been going on in Knoxville and the distractions with the program, Hopson is quietly doing the things he needs to do to prove to scouts he can focus on living up to his talent. He’s shown a catch-and-pull transition ability and has improved to a consistent, high release on his jump shot. His combination of size and athletic ability should move him up in the draft as long as his focus continues to stay consistent. This tournament is a big test for him to prove he can.
Austin Freeman (Georgetown) – 6’4, 235 lbs.
The combines are going to be very important for Freeman, but I love his off-the-ball catch and shoot ability. He’s simply always stronger than his defender and he’s found the ability to get to his spots in key situations so he can get his shot off. He’s had to pick up the scoring load with Chris Wright being out, which has caused him to force too many shots. He may end up being a little small for the two at the NBA level, but he does so many good things on the floor that it’s hard to keep your eyes off him
Tim Abromaitis (Notre Dame) – 6’8, 235 lbs.
I put Abromaitis at shooting guard because of his catch and shoot skill and ability to get clean looks over defenders. He’s not a great break-down-off-the-dribble player, but he can shoot off the bounce and his frame equally translates at the NBA level. He does settle for jump shots and could certainly use getting to the line more, but he is a pure three-point shooter who stretches the defense.
Honorable mention: Gilbert Brown (PITT), Doron Lamb (Kentucky), David Lighty (Ohio State), Malcolm Lee (UCLA), and Will Barton (SG) Memphis.
Make sure to also checkout Tommy Dee’s rankings of the tournament’s top centers and forwards. For more coverage of the 2011 NCAA Tournament you can view our 2011 March Madness headquarters. Coverage is brought to you by the United States Marines.