Toronto has seen its share of point guard battles in recent years, most notably Jose Calderon against T.J. Ford and, later, Calderon against Jarrett Jack. But it was the battle being waged between top draft prospects Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight in the Raptors’ practice court on Tuesday that could hold the greatest significance on the future of the team.
Okay, so maybe “battle” is too strong of a word when the involved parties weren’t even in the gym together for more than a quick bro hug as Walker was leaving and Knight was arriving. Such is the nature of the lead-up to the NBA Draft, where competition falls at the mercy of calculating, risk-averse agents who fear exposing the weaknesses of their meal ticket.
So it was up to the Raptors’ brass to distinguish differences between the skill sets of two players working out independently of one another. But Senior Director of Scouting Jim Kelly still had a few thoughts on two men who could be on the team’s radar screen when they use their No. 5 pick on June 23.
“[Knight] is bigger and probably a little bit quicker than Kemba straight ahead,” says Kelly. “I think Kemba has a little more on-the-ball move-ability and, obviously, a bit more experience.”
Those distinctions could be significant for a team placing a great deal of stock in the 2011 Draft. Picking in their highest slot since they chose Andrea Bargnani first over-all in 2006, the Raptors’ pick could seal the fate of GM Bryan Colangelo, whose new contract only lasts through the 2012-13 season and will clearly be looked upon to demonstrate tangible progress before his deal expires.
Knight is currently the higher regarded among the two point guards, with many observers feeling that he is likely to be off the board by the time Toronto steps up to the podium.
However, Knight acknowledged the “you never know what’ll happen” aspect of the draft and said that he’d be happy coming to Toronto.
“With those projections, you never know what’s going to happen,” says Knight. “[…] Toronto’s a great place and I wouldn’t mind being here. A lovely city, lovely fans…”
Walker, meanwhile, has seen his draft stock soar ever since leading his UConn Huskies to the national championship in March, a run that saw them knock out Knight’s Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four. Previously thought to be on the fringe of the lottery, he is now not expected to fall much lower than the Raptors at No. 5.
The 21-year old certainly has a big game pedigree, but admits that going from floor leader to a rookie who will need to learn on the go could be a significant adjustment.
“It’s tough coming in as a rookie around guys who have been there already,” admits Walker, “but I’m going to do everything I can to get those guys’ respect.”
Of course, it may not be so simple as to suggest that the Raptors’ draft comes down to Knight vs. Walker. There is no guarantee that either player – let alone both players – will remain on the board through four picks and the team is doing their due diligence on scouting out other prospects.
One day prior to working out Walker and Knight, Kelly and other front office brass were in Chicago to catch mysterious Turkish big man Enes Kanter and they will continue to host workouts (next on the schedule are a pair slated for June 15 and 16) leading up to June 23.