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Kentucky Basketball: Let's Play The Tyler Ulis "What-If?" Game

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We are likely watching the final games of Tyler Ulis wearing a Kentucky uniform. What would happen if we had him for four years?

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When Tyler Ulis committed to play basketball for the University of Kentucky he was viewed as a consolation prize to missing out on Emmanuel Mudiay.  Mudiay was a 6'5" 190 pound prototypical Calipari point guard.  He was ranked 5th in the ESPN 100 and seemed like exactly what UK needed.

Mudiay ended up committing to SMU, then ultimately going to China before finally getting to the NBA in 2015 as the 7th overall pick to Denver.  At the time it was absolutely the right move for John Calipari and Kentucky to go after Mudiay; however, the consolation prize turned out to be the ‘Piece De Resistance.'

Once it was official that Ulis was coming to Lexington and Mudiay was not, even the most blue-tinted of Big Blue Nation was bummed at missing out on Mudiay and while they were not thrilled with Ulis, they were of the mindset that we at least had a solid point guard for the next 4 years to back up the Andrew Harrison and De'Aaron Fox-type players that would come down the pike.

Of course, you also had guys like Graham Couch, (who writes for the Lansing State Journal as a sports columnist) who attempted to drop more shade than a giant sequoia.  Mr. Couch forewarned Tyler Ulis about coming to Lexington and the mistake he was making by doing so:

"Because Kentucky is a program that doesn't take his kind very often and, history shows, has no problem discarding what it doesn't want as soon as it doesn't need it."

Couch was not finished though, implying that Ulis might ruin his college experience by making the decision to come to Lexington:

"Ulis would be wise to make sure he doesn't jump at the glitz and prestige of his latest suitor at the expense of his college basketball experience."

I will let those quotes stand for themselves, but by now, we all know what we have in Tyler Ulis.  BBN has a leader of men, someone that is wise beyond his years and I would go as far as to say that he would likely be a better coach *right now* than several of the 68 coaches that will be participating in March Madness.

I am also quite confident that Ulis has had/is having about as good of a college basketball experience as any player in his class has had.  Likely much better, in fact.  It could be much much worse; he could have ended up like Ben Simmons, Malik Newman, Stephen Zimmerman, Cheick Diallo, James Blackmon, or Cliff Alexander.

Unfortunately for BBN, every game that passes this season is likely one game closer to the end of Tyler Ulis' career at UK.  If he was 6'2" or taller, he would be a surefire Lottery pick, if not a top-5 pick (like Kris Dunn).  The number of guys under 5'10" that have made it not only to the NBA, but also made it IN the NBA is a very small group so it stands to reason that Ulis would be a 4-year player.

However, do not kid yourself for the inevitable disappointment, folks: he is not going to be a 4-year player unless he decides he wants to shatter UK records.  He is currently projected by Draft Express as the 47th pick and by NBA Draft.net as the 45th pick.

I believe those projections are off-base; while Ulis will not be a lottery pick, I do think you will see him in the first round.  There is going to be a team near the end of that first round that looks at what is left and they are going to see Demetrius Jackson, Wade Baldwin, Melo Trimble, Anthony Barber and some Euro players and they are going to second guess the pick.

One of those teams is going to have half a brain and decide to draft Ulis on the fact that he is a winner, a leader, and a staple of production that is going to produce at every level he plays.  That team is going to make a smart decision instead of a ‘measurables' decision.

The website Numberfire.com specializes in advanced metrics and trying to find ways to highlight the true value of player performance.  They analyzed Ulis and compared him to John Wall and Brandon Knight. They looked at defense, offense, and overall performance to determine win shares.

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So, assuming that my opinion that Ulis will be in the NBA this time next year (and several other people, including Coach Cal) is accurate, I wanted to do a "what-if?" analysis on Ulis.  If he did stay for 4 years, what would the decimation of the UK record books look like...spoiler alert, it is impressive to say the least.

It is a near certainty that 4 years of Ulis would mean he would leave UK as the hands-down greatest point guard to ever wear Blue and White for the Commonwealth.  I took Ulis' current production metrics and extrapolated them out to 4 years and around 140 total games.  I did NOT factor in any kind of progression or improvement either; I simply looked at if Ulis continued doing what he is already doing.

Below you will see a chart laying it all out, but to touch on some highlights I wanted to look at the top 10 in career assists at UK.  Ulis is currently 11th on the list and will be into the top 10 by this time next week.  Of those top 10, how would Ulis directly compare if he played 140 games over 4 years?

  • Total Assists -> Dirk Minnifield with 646 to Ulis' 744
  • Assists per Game -> Minnifield and Sean Woods with 5.3 to Ulis' 5.3
  • Turnover per Game -> Anthony Epps with 1.4 to Ulis' 1.4
  • Assist to Turnover Ratio -> Epps with a 2.8 to 1 ratio to Ulis' 3.7 to 1

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Keep in mind this is with no progression or improvement.  Do you think he would get more assists per game next season with Fox, Monk, SKJ, Adebayo, Gabriel, and possibly Bolden?  That is rhetorical in case you were really wondering.

Think about this.  Ulis has one season as a backup, and this year he has one assassin, a VERY suspect frontcourt and a guy who would likely shoot the same percentage if he was blindfolded on every 18 foot shot he takes. He has put up this kind of production and efficiency with somewhat limited opportunity and resources.  Limited is, of course, relative to the level of success UK has had under Cal.

Just for even more fun, I wanted to take a look at Bobby Hurley.  Hurley is likely the greatest statistical point guard in NCAA history.  Hurley sits atop the NCAA record book with 1,076 assists during his time as a Dookie.  I projected Ulis with 750 assists without improving his numbers.  It is a tall order to think he could get another 300 assists over the next few years, but he would likely get close if he stayed.

Assuming 70 games over the next two years and improving his 5.3 assists per game to 7.5 (not out of the cards), this would add about 150 assists to my projections.  He would likely finish somewhere between 900 and 975 assists under that progression.

That aside, comparing Ulis and Hurley in an apples to apples scenario is more useful.  Bobby Hurley's Assist to Turnover Ratio was 2.01 to 1.  Hurley's Per-40 minute numbers were 9.0 assists and 4.4 turnovers.  At this moment, without progression, Ulis' current Per-40 minute numbers are 8.0 assists and 1.9 turnovers.

Say what you want, but you can make an argument that if Tyler Ulis came in as a starter from day 1 and stayed 4 seasons, he would possibly/likely be the greatest statistical point guard in the history of the NCAA.

In a perfect world we will have another 9 games to enjoy Tyler Ulis; I do not have to say it should be appointment viewing because UK post season already is... but you should particularly enjoy watching Mr. Ulis do work for Kentucky while we can.