NBA Draft 2011: Kemba Walker and the 12 Top Clutch Scorers in the Draft
When a player coming into the NBA is evaluated, scouts don't test the athlete's ability to hit a shot with time winding down and a defender in his face.
Vertical jump, upper body strength, speed and reach are some of the most common things measured by NBA scouts, trying to discover the raw abilities of a player. However, each scout watches tons of games, and even more game film.
The way a player reacts to pressure situations can depend on his personality type. A great scorer in the first three quarters might not be the go-to guy in the final stanza. The term clutch isn't anointed on everyone. A player has to do something special on multiple occasions down the stretch to gain the honor.
Here's a list of the top 12 clutch scorers in the 2011 NBA draft.
12. Josh Selby
Josh Selby didn't have quite the freshman year that many expected out of him at Kansas in the 2010-11 season.
A long injury and a suspension can be partially to blame, but Selby's disappointment extended further than that. However, his talent is undeniable, and one great moment stuck out more than all the suffering.
In his season debut against USC, Selby had a season-best 21 points on five three-pointers. He hit the final shot from distance with 26 seconds left to put the Jayhawks ahead for good and send the crowd into a frenzy.
The Associated Press did a story after the December game, and Kansas coach Bill Self had this to say:
"There was no way he was passing that last one. That ball was going up."
Selby is undoubtedly clutch, but can he regain his confidence?
11. Shelvin Mack
Forget about the 2011 National Championship game. Everybody has a bad game. On that night, it just happened to be the entire Butler team.
Shelvin Mack is a clutch player. At the end of the first half in the title game, Mack hit a deep bomb that gave Butler a three-point lead. In the Southeast Regional final, Mack was the best player on the floor from start to finish. A sprained left ankle couldn't stop Mack from dominating the game offensively.
Mack hit the go-ahead three-pointer with just over a minute left in overtime.
His offensive prowess and clutch ability are not in question; it's just the other aspects of his game.
10. Kyrie Irving
The No. 1 prospect in the draft just barely made the top 10 in terms of clutch ability.
Playing in only 11 games kept him from truly making his mark in the college ranks. However, Irving made his teammates believe in him against Michigan State on Dec. 1. In an Associated Press article about the game, Nolan Smith is quoted as saying:
"He'll be like, 'Get out of the way, I've got it.' You don't really hear that too often, when a freshman will tell two seniors on the wings to get out of the way. We have no problem letting him do it."
Irving had 31 points in the game, and went 13-for-16 from the free throw line.
Some may argue that teammate Nolan Smith is the more clutch player, but Irving has done so much in so little time.
He's capable of putting the team on his back, as he tried to do against Arizona in the NCAA tournament, but Duke fell well short.
Still, Irving has all the tools to be a clutch performer, especially the mindset.
9. Alec Burks
Alec Burks is at the top of the shooting guard class in this year's NBA draft.
Burks was good for 20 points a game for the Colorado Buffaloes, an outstanding benchmark for college basketball. Burks got the job done from the foul line late in games versus Oklahoma State and Texas.
Against Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament, Burks had 25 of his 29 points in the second half to lead the Buffaloes to a two-point triumph. In perhaps his most impressive outing of the season, Burks dropped 36 points on the Missouri Tigers, then ranked No. 8 in the nation.
Burks pushed the lead to 10 late in the second half when he hit a turnaround off an inbound pass as the shot clock expired. That shot virtually sealed the deal for Colorado.
Burks gets the edge over Irving because he's done it in multiple ways, and has a more reliable jump shot in crunch time.
8. Cory Joseph
One season at Texas was enough college basketball for Cory Joseph.
Two big shots highlighted the freshman point guard's season. The first came against the Rice Owls in November. Joseph got the rim and made a layup with 37 seconds left to put the Longhorns up for good. His shot was just one of three inside the arc for the Longhorns in the second half of the victory.
The other moment was much bigger.
Tied with North Carolina with the shot clock off, Joseph let the clock run down before hitting a fadeaway with just over a second left to win the game for Texas. Joseph had two higher ranked prospects on his team all season, but was the one with the most big moments.
As just a freshman, Joseph proved his worth in the waning moments of games, despite averaging just over 10 points each night.
Joseph's move to the NBA after just one year is puzzling to many, but he should be selected in the second round of the draft.
7. Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson has possibly the smoothest looking jump shot in the entire draft. A quick release means he doesn't need much time to set up, and that helped him chalk up a handful of great late-game performances.
Thompson had his first impressive outing against Santa Clara on Dec. 19. Thompson hit a three with 15 seconds left to tie the game after struggling for the whole game. He went on to score seven points in overtime in the victory.
Thompson struck again versus Baylor, hitting two key threes late in against over the Bears. Thompson's most impressive offensive output came in a loss to in-state rival Washington. The Cougars fell by the score, 89-87, despite 43 points from Thompson. He hit eight three-pointers, but was unable to close the deal at the very end.
Thompson stayed this low on the list because of his one-dimensional style at the end of contests. He rarely takes the ball to the basket with the game on the line, depending too much on deep jumpers.
6. Derrick Williams
If you only saw Derrick Williams play in the NCAA tournament, you may think he should be ranked higher.
You might be right.
Williams hit humongous three-pointers in games against Washington and Memphis this season, the latter being soon followed by a block that sealed the deal for Williams and the Arizona Wildcats.
In the second round of the Big Dance against Texas, Williams converted on a three-point play near the rim with less than 10 seconds left to win yet another game for Arizona. Once again, Williams finished with a block to cement the win.
Williams is easily the biggest guy on the list, and that's a tribute to his ability to score from anywhere. However, he didn't crack the top five because I don't see him as a go-to guy.
I wouldn't be offended if Williams proved me wrong at the next level.
5. Jacob Pullen
Watching Jacob Pullen try and shoot his team back into the game against Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament earned him a top five spot on this list.
On many occasions this season, Pullen was money from the free-throw line to close the deal for Kansas State. Also, Pullen usually saved his best for the second half, exploding with confidence with the game on the line. Against Texas and having suffered a right wrist injury early on, Pullen had 16 second-half points to help knock off the No. 8 Longhorns.
Pullen is acknowledged as one of the top shooters in the draft, and he showed that in the second round of the year-end tournament. Pullen hit six of eight shots from three-point land, and broke the school's career scoring record. He had 38 of his team's 65 points in a five-point loss. With time running low, Pullen started hoisting and hitting shots from all over the court, almost bringing Kansas State all the way back into the game.
Pullen is a great shooter and a great player; it's his small stature that has scouts wondering about his transition to the NBA.
4. Marshon Brooks
Marshon Brooks did everything in his power to keep Providence in the game against Notre Dame on Feb. 23.
Brooks scored 52 points—with 35 in the second half—to almost single-handedly beat the Fighting Irish. He also went four for five from beyond the arc in the second half to lead the Friars to their first Big East win of the season on Jan. 22.
Brooks scored 43 on another night during the season. He eventually eclipsed the single-season scoring record in the Big East in the final game of the year. In that game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Brooks had 28 points and a game-winning finger roll with 30 seconds left.
Brooks is a long, incredibly athletic shooting guard with a multitude of scoring skills. Brooks will look to take his touch to a new state, as no teams are stationed in Rhode Island.
3. Brandon Knight
Brandon Knight's string of fantastic performances in the NCAA tournament garnered him a top-three selection on this list.
It didn't start off pretty, as Knight missed his first seven shots of the tournament, and was benched for a good portion of the second half against Princeton in the first round. However, Knight's two points came on a driving layup with two seconds left to defeat the Tigers.
In the next round, Knight carried the confidence of one shot to make nine field goals and free throws. He had 30 points, and made six foul shots in the final minute of an eight-point victory over West Virginia.
Ohio State—the No. 1 overall seed—loomed in the next round. Knight was the hero again, hitting a jumper to break the tie with five seconds left, pushing the Wildcats to the Elite Eight.
Knight led the team once again, scoring a team-high 22 points to knock off North Carolina and move Kentucky into the Final Four. Late free throws were once again in order for Knight, who shot up some draft boards because of the tournament.
Knight even buried a meaningless three at the end of a loss to Connecticut. Knight made a run for the top two spots on this list, but just as he did in the Final Four, he fell just shy.
2. Jimmer Fredette
Marshon Brooks wasn't the only player in college basketball to score 52 points in a game this season. In fact, Jimmer Fredette did it with only one free throw.
There's no denying the fact that Jimmer Fredette was the best scorer in the NCAA this year, with Kevin Durant even calling him the best scorer in the world. Fredette littered SportsCenter with high-scoring performances and late-game heroics.
He hit a go-ahead three with 10 seconds left against St. Mary's. He scored 28 of his 34 points in the second half against Buffalo—an eight-point win. He dropped 42 on Colorado State in a narrow nine-point win. He scored 43 points in the very next game, a defeat of San Diego State. He also set the BYU career scoring record in his 52-point outburst.
The reason Fredette isn't No. 1 on this list is because not many games depended on a last-second shot. Fredette got the job done early in the second half, and iced the game with free throws.
Fredette was a one-man wrecking crew at BYU, but will he be able to make those shots at the next level?
1. Kemba Walker
If you watched the end of the Connecticut/Pittsburgh game live, there's no way you want this list ending any differently.
Kemba Walker is simply the best finished in college basketball, taking his team to three tournament titles this season. His finest moment came against Gary McGhee and the Pittsburgh Panthers, but it was one of many shining images in Walker's junior year.
In the opening game of the Maui Invitational, Kemba scored 29 of his 31 points in the second half, and hit a back-breaking jumper in the final minute to beat Wichita State. Another key jump shot in the final minute came the next day to knock off then No. 2 Michigan State. He pushed the Huskies to the tournament title the next day with 29 points, but no heroics were needed.
Walker would not let his team—which was loaded with freshman—lose in his final season as a Husky.
I'll end with a quote from Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun in an article from the Associated Press:
"He is as special as any player I've ever coached. No one's going to surpass him. They may equal him but no one is going to surpass him. ... Five games in five days, he's amazing."