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NBA Scout: Calipari’s System Hides Flaws In UK Players

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, 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?


Tyler B
Tyler B

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...


Don't mess with John's coach or his team.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



Uh, yes... my coach, my team.


I find it amazing that under each story I'm viewed as fan of a DIFFERENT Southeastern Conference school. 


Tell you what, though, please let all the Kentucky fans know that I'm a Big Blue fan who hates the Vols.  And I'll have them contact you to tell you that I'm a Big Orange fan who hates the Wildcats.  'Cause I get sick of hearing from those in both fanbases who are so biased that they can't come to grips with the fact that someone objective really doesn't give a crap about their school, their coach or their program.





Tyler B
Tyler B

@John at MrSEC @AustinVol The silly "you hate my team!" comments are beyond silly, and I would imagine they are coming from someone who has spent little time on this site. I love this site because there is very little bitterness in the comment section, and people actually take time in writing thoughtful posts. I hope it stays that way because it's about the only one left. Keep up the good work, John. (And it's sooo obvious you hate Kentucky!)


Isn't part of the "Kentucky Effect" that Cal touts just this...  He can get a recruit farther at UK because its UK--more exposure on TV and to scouts, better teammates.  I don't see the issue here.  I think he sells the fact that coming to UK might get a player drafted higher than they would elsewhere, even if they might have better numbers elsewhere as a big fish in a small pond.  

Those with the lowest numbers on that list--Orton was drafted on pure potential--no way he deserved that rank, and, as you mentioned, Kanter was shafted by the NCAA and forced to sit.


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