Wall or Turner? Ask LeBron, Kobe

LeBron James(notes) hasn’t been shy about his affection for Kentucky freshman John Wall. He, like many scouts, has projected Wall to be the best NBA prospect in college this season. And once Wall formally announces his intentions to turn pro, James is expected to recruit the guard for his agent, Leon Rose, and his own marketing company.

But is Wall a lock to be the No. 1 pick? Not everyone thinks so, including James’ biggest rival – Kobe Bryant(notes).

Ohio State's Evan Turner figures to be among the top three picks in the June NBA draft.
(Getty Images)

Bryant watched Evan Turner’s performance in Ohio State’s double-overtime victory over Illinois in the Big Ten tournament, and that was all he needed to see.

“He seemed like the best player in the country to me,” Bryant said of Turner. “…He looked like he has all the tools. I think Wall is a great player, but I like Turner.”

Turner, a 6-foot-7 swingman, entered the NCAA tournament averaging 20.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists. Bryant likened him to Portland Trail Blazers’ All-Star guard Brandon Roy(notes).

“He can shoot, can handle, can go left, smooth, doesn’t rush anything,” Bryant said. “He has a good pace to him.”

The Turner-Wall debate isn’t limited to Kobe-LeBron. Several NBA scouts told Yahoo! Sports they were split on which of the two college basketball stars would be selected first. One NBA executive isn’t even sure there’s a consensus 1-2, saying he preferred Wall first, then Georgia Tech freshman forward Derrick Favors second and Turner third.

“You can make a case for either [Wall or Turner],” one NBA general manager said. “Wall is the better athlete. But Turner is the better ball-handler and a more complete player. He’s a guy who can do it all. He’s more experienced, as well.”

Another GM said Turner could eventually compare to Atlanta Hawks guard Joe Johnson(notes), at best. Wall’s upside, he said, is too much to pass on because Wall could quickly become one of the top five point guards in the league.

“If you miss on John Wall, the worst you get is Derrick Rose(notes),” the GM said. “If you miss on Evan Turner, you get Larry Hughes(notes).”

Another factor: Many of the teams contending for the No. 1 pick – New Jersey (Devin Harris(notes)), Minnesota (Jonny Flynn(notes)), Golden State (Stephen Curry(notes)), Washington (Gilbert Arenas(notes)), Sacramento (Tyreke Evans(notes)), Utah (Deron Williams(notes)), the Los Angeles Clippers (Baron Davis(notes)) and New Orleans (Chris Paul(notes), Darren Collison(notes)) – already have established point guards or took a point guard in the lottery last season.

“I presume Wall will automatically go No. 1 not taking into consideration any team’s needs,” one scout said. “For example, if Utah got the top pick, could they take Wall and bench Deron Williams? No. Could they bring the No. 1 pick off the bench? No. What if New Orleans got it? They have Chris Paul and a Rookie of the Year candidate in Darren Collison. How would they fit John Wall into the equation?

“I just think it’s convenient to maybe say Wall is the most deserving of being No. 1, but to totally disregard teams’ needs is not giving an accurate read on what will go into the selection.”

The Hornets’ Paul had his own opinion: “I like both of them,” he said, “but I’ll take Evan Turner for us.”


Sleeper pick?

Only two Division I men’s basketball players averaged more than 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists this season. One was Evan Turner. The other was much-less heralded New Mexico junior swingman Darington Hobson, the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year whom one NBA scout thinks has comparable talent to Turner.

Sources say Hobson will enter the NBA draft. One NBA general manager expressed skepticism about Hobson’s athleticism, but he has been projected to go as high as Nos. 18-22.

“The stuff Evan does, [Hobson] does just as hard,” one scout said. “Evan is a better defender, more disciplined. [Hobson] takes to the passing lane and gambles [for steals]. But he has some stuff to him. He’ll be picked in the 20s because people don’t know him.”

Hobson averaged 16.2 points, 9.2 assists, 4.6 assists and 1.27 steals in 33 games for New Mexico entering the NCAA tournament. Hobson sprained his left wrist and injured his back during a fall in the first half of the Lobos’ tournament-opening win over Montana, but still finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. His status for Saturday’s game against Washington is unclear.

Hobson, 6-foot-7, 205 pounds, is the first Lobos player to have at least 13 double-doubles since Indiana Pacers star Danny Granger(notes). Hobson’s teammates call him “Butter” because he has a smooth game, but he wasn’t well-known before coming to New Mexico because he spent two seasons in junior college at the College of Eastern Utah.

“Darington is a special talent,” said New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who praised Hobson’s versatility. “I’ve had the opportunity to coach a lot of good players and he’s right near the top; he has basketball IQ. His best attribute is the way he passes the ball. He makes everybody around him better. He’s unselfish. He can score the ball when he needs to, like at BYU he can come up with a defensive play when he needs to and be our best rebounder. So he’s a big key to what we do.”

Hobson met Granger for the first time after a game against UNLV this season. Granger had some advice for him.

“The main thing he told me was to stay focused and enjoy this moment, enjoy every moment of it because at the next level it’s nothing like this,” Hobson said. “You’re not going to be with your teammates like this. You’re not going to have the bond that we have. Basically, he told me to enjoy living in the moment and stay focused on what we’re trying to accomplish and don’t listen to any of the outside rumors as far as NBA and agents and stuff like that. He told me to focus on what we’re trying to do here and listen to coach because coach has been very successful on both levels.”


Paul close to returning?

Chris Paul
(NBAE/ Getty Images)

New Orleans Hornets coach Jeff Bower says he expects Chris Paul to return before the end of the month. Paul was cleared to practice a week ago for the first time since having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Feb. 4. Paul said he is running now, but hasn’t set a specific return date.

Rookie Darren Collison has played well in Paul’s absence, but is preparing to return to the bench.

“I didn’t expect to start before he got hurt, so it’s going to be the same thing as it was before,” Collison said. “After going up and down the floor with a lot more minutes, I will be a lot more confident. It’s not going to change. It’s going to be the same thing, but I will know exactly what to do when I’m out there.”

Collison’s play in Paul’s absence could land him on the All-Rookie team, but has also led to speculation he could be traded before next season. Teams looking for a quality starting point guard could be calling the Hornets about Collison. The Hornets are expected to be cautious until they are certain about Paul’s health, but one NBA source said it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team try to package Collison with Peja Stojakovic’s(notes) expiring contract next season in a possible trade.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” Collison said. “I’m hearing this and that, but for the most part, I’m not even worried about it. I can’t. I’m too young in my career to be worried about that right now.”


Tip-ins

A source said USA Basketball still has interest in having injured Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin(notes) participate in training camp in late July, despite the fact he will miss his entire rookie season because of a broken kneecap. The Clippers believe Griffin will be healthy enough to play again this summer. …Two NBA sources said the Players Association could push hard for a new rule in the next collective bargaining agreement that anyone recruiting players for agents become certified. The union has become leery of “runners” making contact to NBA prospects on an agent’s behalf. …So who does Kobe Bryant think will win the NCAA tournament? Duke led by coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Bryant with Team USA. “I always support Coach K. Always. Plus, they wear my shoes,” Bryant said. …New Orleans Hornets general manager Jeff Bower won’t say whether he plans to continue coaching the team next season. … As a North Carolina native, Chris Paul is looking forward to seeing what Michael Jordan does as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. “I know this is something he really wanted,” said Paul, who is in the Jordan Brand stable. “He finally has his own NBA franchise. Now the tough stuff begins. Just like any other [successful] team, you got to put the right people together. M.J. is one that is more than capable of doing that. He showed that he can be a winner his whole career. This is another opportunity for him.” …Free agent Melvin Ely(notes), who is working out in Las Vegas, is among the big men the Denver Nuggets could consider signing.

Marc Spears is an NBA writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter.
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Updated Friday, Mar 19, 2010