These six teammates cruised to an NCAA title. Their journeys alone won’t be so easy.
The night was historic. On Thursday night, the 2012 NBA Draft added another bit of legend to the reign of John Calipari in Big Blue Nation. For the first time, ever, two college teammates went with a one-two punch to start the draft. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, as they had in March, came out on top once again. Throughout the night, four more of their teammates would hear their name called from the podium, and a dream that all of these kids always thought possible was suddenly very real. The night was historic. It was special. It was a moment that should never be taken away from these young men, or the fans of Kentucky that grew to love them in a way that was supposed to be impossible in the “One-and-Done Era”. That being said, their journey isn’t over. No longer is their success inevitable.
In fact, recent history suggests that most of them have already reached the highest peak of their career. If you blinked, you might have missed it.
Many college fans that don’t follow the NBA as closely often place unreal and unrealizable expectations on the players they adored at the NCAA level. After months of watching them dominate the college landscape, often looking like men amongst boys, they can’t imagine that such talent wouldn’t translate at the next stage. Sadly, though, it often doesn’t. Unlike the NFL or Major League Baseball, the NBA has an incredibly low number of roster spots. They only take the best of the best. The rest, no matter how immensely talented, often fade into obscurity.
The track record of recent draft picks should help put expectations in perspective. It isn’t fair to these men, who’ve just realized their dream, to expect to see six stars at the next level –or even six starters, for that matter. Since 2008, the draft picks chosen in each of the slots filled by Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones, Teague, Lamb, and Miller on Thursday night have revealed that potential isn’t always realized –college stars and champions aren’t always translatable. Here’s a look at recent history –a look that readjusts the expectations you should have for the heroes of Big Blue Nation.
Number One Draft Picks Since 2008
|Year||#1 Pick (Team)||Career Highlights/Notes|
|2011||Kyrie Irving (Cleveland)||Rookie-of-Year Award, 18.5 ppg/5.4 apg/87.2 FT% in 2011-12, Cavaliers improved from 19-63 (.232) to 21-45 (.318).|
|2010||John Wall (Washington)||1st Team All-Rookie, 16.3 ppg/8.2 apg in two seasons.|
|2009||Blake Griffin (L.A. Clippers)||Rookie-of-Year Award (10-11), 2x All-Star, 2nd Team All-NBA (11-12), Clippers improved from 29-53 to 40-26 in two seasons.|
|2008||Derrick Rose (Chicago)||MVP (10-11), Rookie-of-Year Award, 1st Team All-NBA, Bulls improved from 33-49 to 62-20 in three seasons.|
It seems that the stars are aligned for Anthony Davis. While few things are sure things in the NBA Draft, it would seem that, recently, the number one pick is solid. After debacles such as Greg Oden and Kwame Brown in previous years, teams have fared better in securing franchise-changing players with the top spot. All four of these players have become faces for their franchise with game-altering ability. All prognostications suggest that Anthony Davis will be no different. He possesses a defensive game that will translate immediately to the professional level, he’s already garnered comparisons to NBA mainstays Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, and his uni-brow, for God’s sake, has been trademarked. If that sort of pedigree isn’t a sure bet, then a sure bet doesn’t exist.
Anthony Davis has already captured a title and stardom in the city of New Orleans. If he can do it with the Hornets, he’ll be legendary. I’m asking you to not expect too much from most of these players. But from Davis, who so far has only received criticism for his skinny arms and youth, expect something close to superstardom. The scary part; he might not be done growing yet. Both he and the Hornets might be in for yet another transformation.
Number Two Draft Picks since 2008
|Year||#2 Pick (Team)||Career Highlights/Notes|
|2011||Derrick Williams (Minnesota)||2011-12: 8.8 ppg/4.7 rpg/21.5 min./game, 2nd Team All-Rookie|
|2010||Evan Turner (Philadelphia)||2 seasons: 8.2 ppg/4.8 rpg/24.5 min./game; has only started 34 games of 143 played.|
|2009||Hasheem Thabeet (Memphis)||Career: 3 different teams, 2.2 ppg/ 2.7 rpg/10.3 min./game, only 16 games started in three seasons.|
|2008||Michael Beasley (Miami)||Career: 2 different teams, 15.1 ppg/5.6 rpg/27.9 min./game, 1st Team All-Rookie|
For Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, recent history is not as promising. Players that have fallen into the second position in the draft have simply failed to become the stars on their teams that, picking so high in the draft, obviously craved them. Williams and Turner have been functioning pieces and role players on teams that have vastly improved. Beasley has been a solid player for the Heat and Timberwolves, but by no means has he carried any team (in skills or leadership) that he’s been a part of. Thabeet, to put it mildly, has been a disaster for someone taken so high in the draft, having more teams over his career than he has points (or rebounds) per game.
To make matters worse, Kidd-Gilchrist earned the dubious distinction of being chosen to lead a franchise (Charlotte Bobcats) that just posted the worst single-season winning percentage in the history of the NBA. Kidd-Gilchrist is a hustler –the type of player whose tenacity elevates the games of stars around him. In Charlotte, there will be no such stars around him. There will be no low-post presence, no distributor of the basketball, no veteran with big-game experience. There will only be the Kidd. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a young man that doesn’t possess the basketball skills to carry a team single-handedly.
Recent history suggests that NBA drafts rarely have more than one sure thing sitting at the top. Fair expectations of Kidd-Gilchrist should not include multiple All-Star appearances and being the face of a franchise. But if Charlotte can, eventually, put some great pieces around him, it is fair to expect that his ridiculously incredible intangibles will elevate his team. He just needs a team to elevate.
Number Eighteen Draft Picks since 2008
|Year||#18 Pick (Team)||Career Highlights/Notes|
|2011||Chris Singleton (Washington)||2011-12: Played in all 66 games, 4.6 points/g, 3.5 rebounds/g|
|2010||Eric Bledsoe (LA Clippers)||2nd Team All-Rookie; in two seasons: 5.6 points/g, 2.9 assists/g, and 19 minutes played/g.|
|2009||Ty Lawson (Denver)||2011-12: 16.4 points/g, 6.6 assists/game. Over career: 12/4.8|
|2008||JaVale McGee (Washington)||Career 8.6 points, 6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks per game. 2x runner-up in NBA Blocks/game. Dunk Contest competitor.|
Terrence Jones, like former Wildcat Eric Bledsoe, was picked in the middle of the first round (Interestingly enough, the parallels don’t stop there, with both Marquis Teague and Daniel Orton going 29th in 2012 and 2010 respectively). The middle of the first round is often where some of the high risk/high reward picks are made –where great talent with question marks will fall. For example, both Jared Sullinger (with his eighty-year-old back) and Perry Jones III (his heart is reportedly at ¼ of his athleticism) fell to this range in the 2012 draft. Therefore, as the above table seems to indicate, you often get some solid role players in the latter half of the round.
To be honest, this list of players looks more promising going forward than the list of number two picks. Ty Lawson is a legitimate point guard that helped lead Denver to the playoffs. JaVale McGee is a knuckle-head, but also an elite blocker, and a force under the basket when he wants to be. Bledsoe and Singleton may yet prove to be key cogs to their teams going forward.
Terrence Jones could prove to be a key cog in more ways than one. Before he can even hit the court, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Jones will be trade bait. The Rockets are making a run at players on the market like Dwight Howard and Deron Williams. It looks as if they may have drafted value over need, and if that’s the case, Jones could be part of a package that helps Houston land its next star.
No matter where he ends up, Jones is unlikely to be the star that some predicted he may be coming into college. But recent history does suggest that he has a good shot at being a piece of some team’s puzzle. His ability to shift between the wing and the post and his increasing power below the rim may be a force for the bench of his future team. Just don’t be so sure that his future team is the one that drafted him.
Number Twenty-Nine Draft Picks since 2008
|Year||#29 Pick (Team)||Career Highlights/Notes|
|2011||Cory Joseph (San Antonio)||2011-12: Played in 29 games, averaging 2 pts, 1.2 assts, and 9.2 minutes per game. Played in the D-League.|
|2010||Daniel Orton (Orlando)||16 career games, averaging 2.8 pts and 2.4 rebounds per game. Played in the D-League.|
|2009||Toney Douglas (LA Clippers)||In three seasons, averaging 9 pts, 2.5 assts, and 21 minutes per game. Shoots .353 from three-point range.|
|2008||D.J. White (Detroit)||Career: 2 different teams, averaging 6.3 pts, 3.4 rebounds, and 16.3 minutes per game. Played in D-League.|
Marquis Teague, at the 29th pick, faces an uphill climb. Many believe that if he had waited a year, his stock would have easily risen. With maturity, like his brother, he may grow into a point guard with legitimate skills. But recent history isn’t on his side. Players chosen this late in the first round have been middling at best. Orton (who also may have benefited from another year at Kentucky) has practically disappeared upon entering the league. D.J. White was used as a piece to get Nazr Muhammad of all players, which doesn’t exactly speak for his value. And Cory Joseph was one of the few bench players in San Antonio that didn’t have a huge impact on their season. Douglas is the lone wolf in this group. Considering that being a niche bench performer that can hit threes is the lone wolf of this group, I’d say it’s unfair to expect Teague to take the league by storm.
For now, he sits behind former MVP Derrick Rose and backup guards (i.e. John Lucas III) that, last year, still led the Bulls to the best record in the Eastern Conference. Kentucky fans shouldn’t start looking for Teague to be at the top of the league anytime soon. It will be challenging enough for him to near the top of the depth chart.
Number Forty-Two Picks since 2008
|Year||#42 Pick (Team)||Career Highlights/Notes|
|2011||Davis Bertans (Indiana)||From Latvia. Never played in the NBA.|
|2010||Da’Sean Butler (Miami)||So far, has only played in the D-League.|
|2009||Patrick Beverley (LA Lakers)||From Ukraine. Never played in the NBA.|
|2008||Sean Singletary (Sacramento)||37 career NBA games, with per game averages of 8.2 minutes, 2.4 points, and less than 1 rebound and assist. D-League player|
Doron Lamb can wear the three-goggles as well as anyone. At the college level, he played a huge role in Kentucky’s championship run, often with his ability to make the long-distance shots. But the mid-second round, in the world of the NBA, is often no-man’s land. Occasionally, one of the foreign shots in the dark hit (such as Marc Gasol, a second-round pick), and a team finds their diamond in the rough. Rarely, though, do picks this late turn into stars…or even key pieces. Pick 42, over the years, has been filled with names that fans had never heard before the draft, and haven’t heard since. In the last four years, the four players to fill that slot have 37 career games in the NBA between them…and all of those belong to Sacramento’s Singletary, who isn’t exactly setting the league on fire.
With time to develop his body, game, and skills, Lamb could perhaps disturb this trend. But the odds aren’t on his side. A word of caution for UK fans: don’t enter this season expecting to see Lamb throwing the three-goggles for the Milwaukee Bucks. For picks this late, the first challenge is making the roster. For picks this late, you have to make baby steps.
But at least we know that Doron Lamb won’t be as likely to choose Eastern Europe over struggling to reach the summit of the NBA.
Number Forty-Six Picks since 2008
|Year||#42 Pick (Team)||Career Highlights/Notes|
|2011||Andrew Goudelock (LAL)||40 career games, with per game averages of 10.5 minutes and 4.4 points. 28 three-pointers.|
|2010||Gani Lawal (Phoenix)||1 career game. 1 foul. 0 other statistics.|
|2009||Danny Green (Cleveland)||In 2011-12 with San Antonio: Played in all 66 games, averaging 9.1 points, 23 minutes, and shooting 43.6% from 3P Range.|
|2008||Trent Plaisted (Detroit)||Never played in an NBA game. Mormon.|
This reality check, for Kentucky fans, hurts the most. Darius Miller, when history speaks of this team in many years, will always be the one who stayed. Amidst a group of young phenoms, he was the lone senior, and anyone with basketball knowledge knows that his leadership and desire to win was integral to the Wildcat championship run. Fans knew him better than any of the other players that hoisted the trophy in March, and his commitment to his school and the city of Lexington will always be a part of his legacy.
His legacy in the NBA, for what it’s worth in the grand scheme of things, seems unlikely to reach such highs. It would seem that the 46th pick is more likely to house a ridiculous name than one that will someday shine in lights on the marquee outside the arena. Goldilocks can hit the threes, but other 46ers such as Lawal and Plaisted have nothing but a foul combined. It’s the second round. As I said before, it’s a no-man’s land. This league is tough to crack, especially from depths this deep.
But if there is anyone on this list that I think could completely destroy the expectations framed by this article, it is Darius Miller. I don’t think that Calipari was simply blowing smoke when he said that Miller was the most NBA-ready player of the six. He’s mature. He’s played alongside and managed beautifully an influx of young egos and talent that other players would have crumbled beside. He’s done what’s best for his team every step of the way. I’d like to think there is a place for someone like that in the NBA.
Danny Green’s sudden rise to relevance this past season in San Antonio gives hope to players like Darius Miller that work hard, play hard, and rise to whatever role necessary to win. NBA Scouts spend weeks leading up to the draft using words like wing span, vertical jump, shooting skills, body type, etc. What’s the draft value for leadership? Because Darius Miller just completed two seasons of displaying leadership of the highest order.
I think New Orleans took notice of that. It’s a role he may step into from day one, as he joins the team’s new cornerstones of Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers –both a few years his junior. This is a game Darius Miller has played before. And in a game of egos like basketball, he handled it in a way that exceeded all expectations.
The night was historic. Never forget that. Thursday night, and the NBA Draft, is forever a piece of basketball memory. Six players, six champions, and six friends all heard their names called, and simultaneously, felt what can only be felt in its exact moment –the feeling of a dream come true. That, and their collegiate legacy, can never be stripped from them. It’s a separate life they begin now…one that should never cheapen the life they leave behind.
Fans of Kentucky and college basketball will be quick to wonder why many of these players, forever cemented in Wildcat legend, will fail to rise to the biggest stages and moments in the NBA. Just know that it’s inevitable. Know that recent history warns us that there are few slots left in the NBA Elite –it isn’t given easily. One of them may rise above, perhaps two, but never again will all six of these wildcats be standing as tall as they stood Thursday night. But don’t lament. Cherish this moment. The future may throw some of them back to obscurity, but for now, these six men, and Big Blue Nation, stands in the mightiest of company.
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