You know the University of Kentucky basketball program is kinda like a big deal when two of hip-hop’s elite, Drake and Jay-Z, and the NBA’s reigning MVP, LeBron James, regularly attend games at Rupp Arena to watch the ‘Cats doin’ work and refer to Coach John Calipari as a virtual basketball savant.
Even Lil' Wayne, while sitting courtside last week, got so frustrated at the prospect of the defending champs taking an L, that he allegedly yelled expletives at Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimon during the Blue Devils’ 75-68 win over the Wildcats.
Kentucky has more Stan’s than Eminem. And for good reason. Coach Cal’s magnanimous starting five steamrolled over all comers on their way to the chip last season. Even their first man off the bench was worthy of a starting spot, which is why the Wildcats tied an all-time high with six players getting selected in last year’s NBA Draft.
A lot of great things come in sixes: touchdowns, packs of beer, abs on bikini-clad vixens, but six players from the same team making it to the league in the same year? That’s about as rare as the New York Times’ Nate Silver making the wrong political prediction.
Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went No. 1 and 2 to the New Orleans Hornets and the Charlotte Bobcats, respectively, making them the first duo from the same team at the same damn time to be drafted with the first two picks. Terrence Jones (Houston Rockets) and Marquis Teague (Chicago Bulls) went in the first round and Doron Lamb (Milwaukee Bucks) and Darius Miller (Hornets) went in the second.
But having David Stern call your names in June don’t mean sh*t. It’s all fun and games until October rolls around and you have to actually lace ‘em up against the world’s best and justify your selection and existence in the NBA. So, what can we expect out of these former Wildcats? Well, we look to precedent for some even-keeled projections…
The hardest thing for a rookie is getting on the floor. Unless you’re a top pick, head coaches in the NBA will make you ride the pine until you have copious amounts of splinters in your ass. Just look at Marquis Teague.
On a team with its star point guard Derrick Rose out for the year recovering from knee surgery, Teague can still only manage an average of six minutes of playing time and 1.4 points per game. Teague’s struggles come as no surprise to the scouts who wondered if he’d have been better off waiting another year and developing his game in Lexington. It took brother, Jeff, three seasons before he developed into a regular contributor of mention. Last year, the Wake Forest product jumped from 5.2 ppg and 2 apg to 12.6 ppg and 4.9 apg. This year, his fourth, he’s up to 13.8 ppg and 6.3 apg. Little brother has the ability to bass big bro, if given the opportunity. He won’t get much of one backing up a former MVP. But even if he sees a decent amount of court time, it’ll be at least three years before he breaks through.
Doron Lamb is only marginally better than Teague with an average of 7.3 minutes of court time per contest. He’s having a hard time with his shot, though, only putting up 0.5 ppg. That’s a problem, considering the Bucks brought him in to space the floor with his three-point J. He’s been compared to Marcus Thornton, who had an immediate impact for the Hornets with 14.5 ppg in his rookie year. Lamb won’t get anywhere near that this season. He’ll get his opportunities to take long distance bombs, but he’ll have to get more accurate. Lamb’s projection will be a steady increase in production up until his fourth year, where he’ll likely get an opportunity to expand his playing time with another team. His ceiling is likely a more athletic Steve Novak, knocking down deep balls.
So far, Miller is proving to be the steal of the bunch. With an NBA-ready body and the confidence that comes with playing four years in college, the rook is averaging 15 minutes a game for the Hornets, providing NOLA with a nice lift off the bench. He’s the mirror image of Wilson Chandler, who stepped into a productive role off the bench with the NY Knicks during the ’07-’08 season averaging 19 minutes and 7.3 ppg. Chandler doubled his offensive output the next year with 14.4 ppg and had an even better year in his third season with 15.3. Miller can be just as good as Chandler, but is better suited off the bench. He’s a prototypical 3-man with great strength that needs to develop the knack for taking over the game in stretches when he’s on the court. Monty will bring him along nicely. He’ll be a double-digit guy by his third year.
Terrance Jones didn’t have a chance in hell of getting off the Rockets’ bench until Coach Kevin McHale left the team for personal reasons. Interim coach Kelvin Sampson gave Jones a shot and he’s taken advantage, averaging 4.3 ppg and 1.3 rpg. He even managed an illy posterizing dunk all over Kentucky alum and current Lakers’ guard Jodie Meeks. His potential to score the ball is desperately needed to take some of the offensive pressure off of Beardsanity. Jones is raw, though, and will need extensive direction to develop a real offensive repertoire. With his shot blocking and 7-3 wingspan, he’ll earn his minutes on D and crashing the boards. He has the potential to surpass Marvin Williams in another year if he’s able to continue to get extensive minutes. Easily can be a double-double forward under McHale’s tutelage in three years.
Of the “Kentucky Six,” it’s AD and MGK who are making the biggest splash for their teams. For Kidd-Gilchrist, his coming out game came against the Dallas Mavs. He scored 25 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and didn’t turn the ball over in 41 minutes. MKG is known for his “can’t stop, won’t stop” motor and ability to slash his way into the lane, which was evident when he grabbed a board and pushed the ball to the other end and, while splitting two defenders, lost his shoe but still kept it together enough to finish at the rim for two, cutting the lead down to six and helping the Bobcats win 101-97 in overtime. The former St. Patrick HS standout is averaging 11.3 ppg while converting 49 percent of his shots. By season’s end, he should be in the high teens, possibly averaging between 16-18 ppg. He’s still got a long way to go, but he’s getting there quick fast and in a hurry. His warrior mentality and tenacity on defense shows flashes of Scottie Pippen. He could be an All-Star as early as his third year in the league if he develops a more reliable jumper.
As for Anthony Davis, he’s playing like a real No. 1 should. AD is on the court for 28.3 minutes per game and is averaging 16 points (49% FG) and a team-high 8.3 rebounds and 2.17 blocks per contest. The former NCAA Player of the Year got props from King James for his 24 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and a block in the Hornets’ 96-89 win over Miami and dropped a season-high 28 on the Bucks to go along with 11 rebounds. The dangerous thing about AD is he still has PG sensibilities with the rock, which was on display when he pulled a 2-11 on an errant LeBron pass and took it down the court for a nifty finger roll. With his stymieing defensive presence in the middle and his ever-expanding offensive abilities, AD is still the top candidate for Rookie of the Year.
The only other rook that could challenge Davis' throne is Portland’s Damian Lillard (who is ballin’ like he’s the second coming of Isiah Thomas). Davis has been compared to Kevin Garnett and, on some levels, Kevin Durant, for his ability to put the ball on the floor. KG didn’t come into his own until his second year in the L but AD’s trajectory could be a lot faster, putting him in All-Star territory in his second year. Big men are always a long shot. They have to anchor a team’s defense, set up on the low block and become the team’s first option. Teams prepare for them night in and night out. Davis has a steely competitive nature, though, so he’ll hit a wall but hang in there enough to learn what it takes. He’ll build. He’ll improve. He and his unibrow will be stars for a long time.
Looking back at previous trends of stellar rooks like Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin or Kevin Durant, it’s safe to assume that MKG and Ant Davis will reach the crescendo of their rookie campaigns around the All-Star break, so look for these two to really separate themselves from the pack around February. The other four rooks will develop into decent players, but they won’t be stars. Two All-Stars out of six? Not bad for UK and Coach Cal. Not bad at all.