I think the most important thing to recognize, John, which you did, is that most of these guys are coming straight out of college. It's one thing for a big to get his numbers on a bad team - Cousins - but it's another thing for a guard or point guard to get drafted high and produce on a terrible team. Wall put up solid stats with maybe the least talented roster in the NBA besides Charlotte. It's not the fault of a player if they're being drafted on potential which might not show up until late in his second year or going in to this third year...
Longtime Kentucky sportswriter Larry Vaught recently chatted up an NBA scout and learned something interesting — Wildcat players tend to be overrated as they enter the NBA. According to VaughtsViews.com, the scout said:
“The interesting thing, and its not a knock, but there is this Kentucky mystique that (John) Calipari has done a great job creating and perpetuating. The best part about Kentucky’s system is that can hide so many flaws at first glance…
MKG (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) is a good defensive player, but he isn’t as good as people believe. Having (Anthony) Davis camped around the rim allowed players to play defense in a way which minimized their weaknesses…
The threat of the lob made (Marquis) Teague out to be a better point guard than he really is…
In reality, the Kentucky system is smoke and mirrors. I remember being out in Vegas for a Summer League and I was sitting and watching games with a long-time director of scouting in the league. He said he was stunned at how unprepared Kentucky players were for the NBA, and he had drafted one of them.”
First, so what? A good college basketball system is one that hides players’ flaws and accentuates their strengths. According to the NBA scout in question, it sounds like Calipari’s system does just that. (And that fresh new banner hanging in the rafters at Rupp Arena seems to back him up.)
Second, it’s hard to imagine many Kentucky players being well-prepared for the pro game since most of them are one-and-doners. Such players are drafted as much on potential as anything else. The league raised its entrance age requirement — and created the one-and-done system — in an effort to curtail the number of high school players who came into the league, learned the game for three years on the team that drafted them, and then headed straight to free agency. With one-and-doners, their development is only one year better than those kids who were jumping straight to the NBA from high school. And the Kobe Bryants and LeBron Jameses who had an immediate impact at the pro level are rare.
Lastly, let’s see what the numbers actually show for those first-rounders drafted out of Kentucky and Calipari’s system the past two years:
John Wall (true freshman) — #1 overall pick in 2010 to Washington Wizards
First year: 16.4 points per game, 8.3 assists per game, 4.6 rebounds per game, 37.8 minutes per game (NBA All-Rookie 1st Team)
Second year: 16.3 points per game, 8.0 assists per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 36.2 minutes per game
DeMarcus Cousins (true freshman) — #5 overall pick in 2010 to Sacramento Kings
First year: 14.1 points per game, 2.5 assists per game, 8.6 rebounds per game, 28.5 minutes per game
Second year: 18.1 points per game, 1.6 assists per game, 11.0 rebounds per game, 30.5 minutes per game
Patrick Patterson (junior) — #14 overall pick in 2010 to Houston Rockets
First year: 6.3 points per game, 0.8 assists per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, 16.7 minutes per game
Second year: 7.7 points per game, 0.8 assists per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 23.2 minutes per game
Eric Bledsoe (true freshman) — #18 overall pick in 2010 to Oklahoma City Thunder (traded to Los Angeles Clippers)
First year: 6.7 points per game, 3.6 assists per game, 2.8 rebounds per game, 22.7 minutes per game
Second year: 3.3 points per game, 1.6 assists per game, 1.6 rebounds per game, 11.6 minutes per game
Daniel Orton (true freshman) — #29 overall pick in 2010 to Orlando Magic
First year: Spent in NBA Developmental League
Second year: 2.8 points per game, 0.3 assists per game, 2.4 rebounds per game, 11.7 minutes per game
Enes Kanter (true freshman, didn’t play) — #3 overall pick in 2011 to Utah Jazz
First year: 4.6 points per game, 0.1 assists per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, 13.2 minutes per game
Brandon Knight (true freshman) — #8 overall pick in 2011 to Detroit Pistons
First year: 12.8 points per game, 3.8 assists per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 32.3 minutes per game
So what does that tell us? Only that like most NBA players, the higher a Calipari Cat is drafted the more likely he’ll contribute right away. Wall, Cousins and Knight — all top 10 picks — had productive rookie seasons. Kanter was the exception to the rule, but he spent his time in Lexington watching, not playing due to an NCAA ruling.
Once you get outside the first 10 draft picks, any NBA fan can tell you that early performance is a crapshoot.
This isn’t to refute the scout’s take on things… after all, he’s the one getting an NBA paycheck every two weeks. But just from looking at the results and following the NBA, it doesn’t appear to this writer that Calipari’s players are any more or less risky than any other coaches’ draft picks.
Might UK players be a bit overvalued thanks to the “mystique” their coach has helped foster? Sure. But that’s really on the scouts and GMs who are assigning those values, isn’t it?