Predraft Notebook: Williams says he's tops; Walker's stock falls?
Arizona forward Derrick Williams believes he's best in the class, not Kyrie Irving
UConn PG Kemba Walker's stock could fall because of concerns about his size
Jimmer Fredette said he's eager to prove to NBA teams that he can play defense
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.
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