Predraft Notebook: Williams says he's tops; Walker's stock falls?
CHICAGO -- Derrick Williams must have missed the memo, the letter explaining how this predraft camp is so often used as a mutual admiration society between the players slated to become the NBA's next best and brightest.
The forward out of Arizona, who is expected to be taken No. 2 overall at next month's draft, had a message of his own at the combine's first day of media go-rounds: Duke point guard and projected top pick Kyrie Irving might be good, but Williams is -- in his eyes -- second to none.
"Yes, sir," he said with a smile when asked if he was the best player in the draft. "I definitely am."
In Williams' defense, he wasn't aware of the praise that had been heaped upon him by Irving less than an hour before. Irving hadn't forgotten the way Williams and his Wildcats ended the Blue Devils' season on March 24, when the forward scored a career-high 32 points in a stunning 93-77 win in the Sweet 16.
"He torched us in the NCAA tournament," Irving said. "Watching him live, it was a great experience to be on the floor with him. He's a great player, 6-8, athletic. His transition to the NBA game will be easy."
At least they can agree on that much.
Williams also deemed himself "the most NBA-ready guy" in this draft pool, and the part about whether he is right was very different from the part about the ease with which he made these proclamations. This is your chip-on-your-shoulder talent of 2011, the player who stops short of being disrespectful but blows way past brash when it comes to his self-perception.
Williams, whose body of work from two years in college is certainly unparalleled in light of Irving's injury-plagued freshman season at Duke, has big plans to match his big-time game. He said the choice of his agent, Rob Pelinka, was made in large part because of the star power that comes with joining an agency (Landmark Sports) that also happens to represent Kobe Bryant (along with Carlos Boozer, Gerald Wallace, Eric Gordon and Andre Iguodala). He is already honed in on the Rookie of the Year award, this before even knowing which team he'll be playing for as yet.
Irving, meanwhile, was the yin to his yang.
He called reporters "sir" at least two dozen times during his 30-minute session, and admitted his own surprise that the foot injury that kept him out for three months last season hadn't hurt his draft stock.
"After Dec. 8, probably around Dec. 15, I still remember I called my father and I asked him if I was still going to come out this year, and he was like, 'Yeah, you're fine,' " Irving said. "And I didn't believe it until I came back for the NCAA tournament and I was still rated the best prospect. ... That was something I was worried about the whole entire season while I was hurt. My father kept me grounded, kept telling me good things I needed to hear to get me through this process."
Irving, who said he still wears a "protective shank" in his shoe at all times because of the injury, did not take part in the first day of drills but will go through the medical tests. He is expected to be taken by Cleveland with the top pick, but refuted any notion that he's prepared to replace the departed LeBron James as the city's next basketball hero.
"Right now, I'm not really focused on being a savior for any organization," Irving said. "Right now, I'm just trying to get better."
Williams skipped workouts on Day 1 of the camp but will take part in the agility drills on Friday. It remains to be seen which team has the No. 2 pick by the time draft night arrives, too, as sources confirmed that the Timberwolves are amenable to moving the pick. They already have the young likes of Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love at the forward spots, and are on the lookout for veteran help to accelerate the rebuilding process.
When 6-foot-1 point guard Kemba Walker led Connecticut to the NCAA championship last month, his stock seemed to have risen at or near top-five status.
But there is a very real possibility of him falling to the mid-first round or even further, in large part because of height. The NBA talent evaluators are justifiably enamored with the bigger point guard these days, with the likes of Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose (both 6-3) heading a new generation that Walker won't be a part of without stilts.
Walker, whose offensive prowess, leadership and history as a winner are all helping his stock, dismisses such talk that he's too small to measure up.
"I don't think [the size] is going to be a problem at all," he said. "I think I'll be just fine. There are plenty of small guys in the NBA now that do a great job, so I don't see why I can't."
Walker shot down claims that he is a scorer who can't be a pure point guard, too. While his scoring average increased nearly nine points per game last season (14.6 to 23.5), he said it was out of necessity.
"My freshman and my sophomore year, I passed the ball ... because I had other players that were really good," he said. "Everybody thinks that since I'm scoring 30 points [per game frequently] this year that I'm a scorer all of a sudden, but that's not even the case. I've been a point guard all my life, and that hasn't changed."
Based on his conversations with NBA teams, Walker said he expects to be taken "anywhere from three to eight." Walker said his first interviews were with the Pistons (No. 8 pick), Phoenix (No. 13) and Houston (No. 14), although there were surely many more to come.
Speaking of mock draft mysteries, BYU sensation Jimmer Fredette rules this roost when it comes to being enigmatic.
He captivated the country with his incredible scoring ways (28.9 points per game last season), but is well aware that concerns about his ability to defend NBA players and whether his offense will translate to the pros are hurting him. He plans on chipping away at those perceptions in the next month.
"I'll play one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three [in the individual team workouts drills that start soon]," Fredette said. "Even today we did some one-on-one stuff and I was able to show I can play some pretty good defense. I thought I did a very good job just staying in front of my guy and forcing him to the baseline and making him shoot jump shots and then contest them. I think that's what [NBA executives and scouts] want to see.
"You've got to seize the moment and show them that 'Hey, maybe he can play some defense.' There's definitely a perception, and when you get a stereotype it's hard to get rid of that stereotype until they go out and they see it for themselves. I think that's what these workouts present in these combines and when I go out to the teams. ... I'm looking forward to showing them that I'm a complete player."
Fredette's first interviews came with Milwaukee (No. 10), Portland (No. 21) and Miami (No. 31, first pick of the second round), and he said his first workout scheduled is on June 2 with New York (No. 17).
With so many premier players bypassing drills at predraft camp in recent years, the interviews have become an even more important part of this process for teams looking for an edge.
And according to Fredette, the technological aspect of those sessions has been ramped up as well. When he met with the Trail Blazers, he was handed an iPad and asked to take a character test of sorts.
"[It asked] what personality traits do you have, and you click the ones that people think, and the ones that you think [of yourself]," Fredette said. "It's just to see what you're like off the floor. They ask about family, childhood, what you would do in certain situations, do you consider yourself a point guard or a 2-guard?
"They just ask you questions to see what your confidence level is, and how you interview, they want to see what type of person you are, if you're confident and if they think you can be a leader."
UCLA small forward Tyler Honeycutt said he tried to "show some personality" and keep the mood light, but the player projected anywhere from the mid/late-first or second round was stumped by a question that came during his interview with Cleveland.
"They asked who you would choose if I had to pick between your girlfriend and your dog," said Honeycutt, who met with seven teams on Thursday, including the Cavs (Nos. 1 and 4, plus two second-round picks), Philadelphia (No. 16, one second-round pick) and the Lakers (four second-round picks). "I just didn't even answer. I said I couldn't answer that. It's too hard to pick."
Tobias Harris has helped his stock by taking his training seriously, as the 6-8 small forward out of Tennessee said his body fat has dropped from 13 percent to eight percent since the end of the season.
His body was already considered NBA-ready, but the leaner look will certainly help when it comes to perceptions about his work ethic.
"A lot of teams have said my body is really changing, and they were impressed with it because one thing coming in is they didn't think I was going to be well conditioned," Harris said. "They thought I was going to be a little heavy, with a lot of pudgy weight. I kind of put that to rest.
"I feel it shows that I'm able to work. I'm not a lazy guy, and I'm going to put a full effort into everything I do in life. I think a lot of people and scouts appreciate that."
Harris, whose first interviews with were Charlotte (No. 9 and No. 19), Washington (Nos. 6 and 18) and Boston (No. 25), made drastic changes to his diet to go from 228 pounds at season's end to his current weight of 223. He was as heavy as 238 pounds during the season while recovering from an ankle injury.
"[I'm] eating a lot of greens and protein, kind of cut the breads out, cut all the sweets I was eating out," Harris said. "I used to eat a lot of candy, [like] Swedish Fish. In my room I would have them all, but I had to put them in a bag and throw them out."
Harris said he expects to be taken anywhere from the "lottery to the early teens or late teens."
• Sources say Houston, which has the No. 14 pick, is interested in moving up in the draft. One potential partner might be Sacramento, which is believed to be open to such a move in exchange for impactful veteran help.
• While the physical measurements are a key factor at the predraft camp, the results of San Diego State's Kawhi Leonard's unofficial test were as impressive as they come. The 6-7 small forward said he measured his enormous hands recently, and they came in at 11½ inches from the tip of his pinky to the tip of his thumb (while outstretched). He doesn't have the biggest mitts here, though, as he compared his paws to those of 6-10 Fresno State center Greg Smith and lost by the tip of a fingernail
• Irving has a pact with his father, Drederick, that he will finish his degree at Duke within five years of the beginning of his pro career. He completed his courses for his entire freshman year, and plans to return to Duke during the summers for more studies. "I'm going to have to make it work," he said. "I have to up hold [the pact]. I have to. I'm definitely going to be back there during the summer."