USA TODAY Sports
The number of Kentucky Wildcats making a difference in the NBA is increasing dramatically.
The college landscape is changing -- it's no secret. 48 players have left for the NBA after their first year of college since 2006. The "one-and-done" rule is one that's been argued about for years now and John Calipari is often the figurehead for those who oppose the rule. I mean, why wouldn't he be?
Since 2008, three out of the last five number one picks were all coached by Calipari and each (Derrick Rose - '08, John Wall - '10, Anthony Davis - '12) left after just one year in college. It's obvious that Calipari has found a way to take advantage of the rule and regardless of your stance on the situation, you have to admit that it's worked for him on the court.
Calipari is 115-20 at UK with an Elite Eight appearance, a Final Four appearance and a national championship under his belt. Even this year's UK (13-6, 4-2 SEC) team is talented enough to find it's way to CATlanta and the Final Four, despite being pegged as Calipari's worst group.
But perhaps Calipari's biggest shake up to the game of basketball is the way his players are becoming the wave of young talent in the NBA. According to Basketball-Reference, 81 players have made their way from Kentucky basketball to the NBA. Calipari and his coaching staff recruited 10 of those guys.
Six days ago ESPN came out with its list of top 25 players under the age of 25. Three UK players made that list -- Anthony Davis (13), Demarcus Cousins (19) and Eric Bledsoe (25). John Wall was ranked 10th in 2012 and would certainly have made this year's list if he hadn't been injured for most of the current season.
So with all of that being said, let's take a look at the UK guys in the NBA:
The Old(er) Guys
Mohammed is an NBA journeyman who brings size and professionalism with him wherever he goes, which is why he's still in the league. At one point in his career he was a double-double threat, averaging 12-and-9 with the Atlanta Hawks in 2000-01. He's with the Chicago Bulls this year -- his eighth team in the NBA. Mohammed provides big man depth for the Bulls but rarely sees the floor.
Hayes was a fan favorite during his time at UK (remember the "All He Does Is Win" slogan?). This year he's averaging just 2.6 points and 3.8 rebounds for a struggling Sacramento Kings team. He's an undersized big man who makes his money playing defense. Hayes is in his seventh year in the NBA -- a feat most draftees never accomplish
I have to say this first: Prince is my favorite Wildcat of all time. Remember his five consecutive 3-pointers against UNC? I still watch that video when I'm having a bad day. Prince will always be remembered in the NBA for "The Block" he had against Reggie Miller in game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Prince made four consecutive All-Defensive Second Teams from 2004-2008. In 2008 he won a gold medal with Team USA at the Summer Olympics. Today he averages 11.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists for the Detroit Pistons.
Bogans, like Mohammed, has been a journeyman in the NBA. He's played for seven different teams in nine seasons. Bogans is mostly known for his defensive presence and ability to knock down spot up 3-pointers. Today he plays for the Brooklyn Nets and has been recently losing minutes to second-year scorer MarShon Brooks.
Meeks will always be known to UK fans for his incredible 54-point performance at Tennessee. His ability to shoot the ball from deep is a commodity coveted by NBA GMs, which is why Meeks will find himself in the NBA for a long time. He currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers and is averaging 7.6 points. He's been a good piece for head coach Mike D'Antoni who loves floor-spreading, 3-point-shooting guards.
The Lone All-Star
Rondo is a four-time All-Star and is widely considered as a top-5 point guard in the game. He was blessed to be drafted to a team with three Hall of Famers. In his second season in the NBA he took over the full time starting job and hasn't looked back since. Rondo was having arguably his best year of his career this season, averaging 13.7 points, 11.1 assists and 5.6 rebounds, before tearing his ACL just two days ago on this play. He's expected to return around New Year's of next year.
The Young Talent
*Denotes the player is a Calipari player
Davis is already a legend in the Big Blue Nation. As a freshman, he led the UK Wildcats to its first national championship since 1998. He earned Player of the Year honors and eventually was drafted number one overall by the New Orleans
Pelicans Hornets. Davis was widely considered to be a can't-miss NBA prospect before the draft, and he hasn't disappointed in his first season. He's battled injuries and has played in just 31 games for the Hornets but is averaging 12.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Davis is the best Calipari recruit to come through UK yet.
Has there been a more hyped basketball prospect since LeBron James than John Wall? Wall's amazing combination of speed and athleticism at the point guard spot has created insurmountable expectations on the young basketball player. His NBA career is probably considered disappointing for most, but it's way too early for me to call Wall disappointing. He's battled knee injuries since he came to the NBA and is yet to play a full 82-game schedule. He just returned from a knee injury this year a couple weeks ago and has played in only nine games this season. Wall has the rawest potential in the NBA.
Cousins has been an enigma in his three seasons in the NBA. On one hand, he's one of the most offensively talented big men in the league. On the other hand, he's been labeled a "hot-head" and a "headcase" that brings trouble to the locker room, which is why his name is constantly brought up in trade rumors. But look at the team he's played for -- the Sacramento Kings. The Kings are an odd mash up of young players that don't mesh well together and lack any form of veteran leadership. They're in the process of moving to Seattle next year and let's all hope that the move is one that can bring some sort of fundamental leadership to keep Cousins on the right path. If Cousins can get it together mentally, he could become a top-3 center in the league.
Before the season started, I wrote that Bledsoe would win most improved player in the league, and he's done a good job of making me look like a genius. Bledsoe has become a fantastic player for the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clips have the third best record in the league and Bledsoe's ability to lead the league's best bench is one of the reasons why. His minutes are limited because he plays behind the best point guard in the world, Chris Paul, but that doesn't stop him from showing out when he's on the court. Per 36 minutes, Bledsoe is averaging 16 points, 5 assists and 5.6 rebounds. His outside shot has developed nicely which is why Bledsoe is shooting 40 percent from three. If you can't tell, I love watching Eric Bledsoe play basketball.
Gillie is putting up the numbers you'd probably expect him to put up in his rookie year. He averages 10 points and six boards in 26 minutes of playing time. He's shooting a little over 48 percent from the floor and is already one of the better on-ball defenders in the Eastern Conference. It's tough to evaluate Gilchrist because he plays on the always-miserable Charlotte Bobcats.
I like Brandon Knight, but his numbers don't stand out so far. He's averaging just 4.3 assists per game but he's shown signs of being able to run a team. His 3-point shooting has been great for the first two years of his career (38.1%) and he looks more comfortable playing off the ball. Next year will be his biggest challenge as the Detroit Pistons continue to develop young players and they will expect to win much more in the coming seasons.
Patterson has been a nice addition to the young core of the Houston Rockets. He's efficient, professional, hard-working and has added 3-point shooting this season. Remember when Patterson stretched his game to the 3-point line during his junior year? He's done that in the NBA, during his third year, stretching all the way to the NBA 3-point line where he's shooting 35.8 percent. His rebounding could use a boost but overall he's been a nice surprise in the NBA.
Kanter didn't get a chance to play at UK because the NCAA is irrational (I have beef with the NCAA as a whole but that's a separate issue). His rookie started off extremely slow but Kanter has since proven himself to be a valuable asset to the Utah Jazz. The Jazz plays the biggest lineup in the league with a rotation of four big-men. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap currently start, but rumors say that the Jazz will move one of the two to create more playing time for Kanter and Derrick Favors. Per 36 minutes, Kanter is averaging 15.7 points and 10.9 rebounds.
The Young Guys Looking for their Niche
Jones had a fantastic Summer League showing for the Rockets but hasn't found a lot of court time during the regular season. He's played in just 11 games and is continuously bouncing back and forth with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the D-League.
It's a little disappointing to see how sparingly coach Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls have used Marquis Teague. With Derrick Rose being out for the entirety of the season to this point, I thought Teague would have gotten more court time. The Bulls are winning so I don't expect Teague to get much playing time, if at all, especially with Rose returning soon.
Miller actually started one game this year for the New Orleans
Pelicans Hornets but he hasn't sustained any long term playing time with the team. He was recalled from the Iowa Energy of the D-League on Jan. 27 so we will see in the coming weeks if he gets any playing time.
Lamb, like mostly everyone else in this category, hasn't played enough sustained minutes to see what his future holds. He was recalled from the D-League on Jan. 23 but hasn't registered a minute since.
Again, like everyone else, Liggins has spent most of this season bouncing back from the D-League to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Unlike everyone else, sans Miller, Liggins made his first start for the Thunder on Jan. 13 against the Portland Trail Blazers and registered 11 points and nine boards in a Thunder victory. Liggins has become a fan favorite everywhere he goes because of his hustle and perimeter defensive tenacity.
Jorts! Everyone loves Jorts, except for NBA general managers. Harrellson is in a continuous battle of winning and signing 10-day contracts with the Heat. Last year with the Knicks he made a name for himself as a stretching big man who battled on the boards. This year he's been on and off with the Heat. I really think he could be a decent 10-12 minute a game rotation man for the Heat with his ability to spread the floor.
Orton's days in the NBA seem to be numbered. He's lingered on as the last man for the Oklahoma City Thunder and has seen what few minutes he does get eaten away by the absolutely awful Hasheem Thabeet. Orton has been sent to the Tulsa 66ers several times throughout the year and it really looks like this could be his last year in the NBA.