All this chatter regarding the number of scouts in Rupp Arena tonight got me thinking: How many legitimate NBA prospects does Kentucky have on its current roster? It’s been awhile since we’ve had more than one at a time, let alone several, like we have this year. Some are gimmes, others are works in progress, and there are even a few potential diamonds in the rough buried at the end of the bench. Let’s break down the roster, layer-by-layer, in terms of perceived NBA talent. First up:
The Jamal Mashburn/Ron Mercer Group (i.e., The Guys That Have To Go)
Mashburn and Mercer were the last two players to come out of Kentucky to both declare early and be guaranteed lottery picks. Kentucky’s had several other players turn pro early since then (Antoine Walker, Rajon Rondo, Randolph Morris, etc.), but none of them were the kind of Can’t Miss prospects Mashburn and Mercer were coming out. In a move that was almost unheard of back then, Mashburn played his entire junior season under the open pretense that it was going to be his last. Not to be outdone, Mercer actually declared his intentions to go pro three-quarters of the way through his sophomore season (has that ever happened since?), a move that was actually applauded by many, I remember, for the way it eliminated the Will He or Won’t He? distraction that followed the teams of players who were projected lottery picks back then. I guess in a strange way, these are simpler times. If you’ve got a player that’s expected to be one of the first 15 picks of the draft, you pretty much assume he’s gone. Four-year players like Grant Hill and Tim Duncan (or even two-year players like Mercer) are a thing of the past. If you’re expected to go early, you go; if you’re expected to go at all (see: Meeks, Jodie), you find any reason in the world to declare. These are the guys expected to go early:
Strengths: Freakish Athleticism, Size, Scorer/Distributor Combination, Great Finisher
Weaknesses: Outside Shot, Turnover Prone, Inconsistency
Before Wall ever played a game in a Kentucky uniform, pretty much everyone was operating under the assumption that he was a one-and-done, as well as the likely first pick of the 2010 draft. Suffice it to say he’s done little to diminish his stock. Wall’s numbers have slipped a little over the last couple of weeks, but they’re still exceptional. Besides, it was never Wall’s assist-to-turnover ratio that had him listed as a top prospect, it was his out-of-this-world athleticism, which has, if anything, actually exceeded scouts’ expectations. I haven’t been lucky enough to see Wall play in person, but I’ve talked to a few that have, and they all tell me the same thing: Words cannot do this guy’s speed justice. He’s not just fast–he’s explosive. He’s like a senior in high school playing against 7th graders. And keep in mind, these guys he’s blowing by like their feet are stuck in cement, they’re Division I athletes (which, despite the best efforts of Michael Porter last season, generally still means they’re something special). On top of all that, Wall’s also a better-than-average distributor. His turnovers are a little higher than some people would like, but the consensus seems to be that he’ll outgrown that. I’ve even heard several draft gurus say that, regardless of which team ends up with the number one pick (a list of teams which may include Utah, who already has an all-star point guard in Deron Williams), Wall’s the guy they’re taking.
Strengths: Size, Back-to-the-Basket Scoring, Footwork, Rebounding, Intensity
Weaknesses: Not a Great Athlete, Maturity Issues, Defensive Fundamentals
Cousins is the one guy in this Mashburn/Mercer group that might actually benefit from another year in college, albeit marginally. If he comes out this year, depending on who has the second pick, they may end up taking Cousins. If he waits until next year, and finds a way to improve on the monster freshman season he’s in the midst of having, he’d almost surely be the first player selected. I doubt that going number one means enough to any player to skip out on a guaranteed few million dollars, but that’s the only sane reason DeMarcus Cousins should even consider sticking around Kentucky longer than he has to. NBA Draft Express currently has Cousins going at number eight to the Indiana Pacers, behind not one, but two other centers—Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors and Kansas’ Cole Aldrich. First off, I don’t know anyone who’s seen Derrick Favors play who’s also completely sold on him. Plus, he has a little too much Greg Oden in him for my taste. Not in terms of size and athleticism (Oden’s a little bigger, but Favors is a far better athlete), or even injuries, but just how they both have no real post moves and leave something to be desired in the energy and effort departments. And as for Cole Aldrich…how many giant, unathletic white centers need to be drafted before NBA teams figure out they don’t work? Mark my words, Cole Aldrich will follow in the footsteps of such great white busts as Eric Montross, Chris Mihm, and (gasp!) Shawn Bradley. I also put the over/under on the Number of Times He’s Posterized (or are the kids calling it You Tubed now?) Next Season at 11.5.
As for Cousins, he’s come a long ways this year. Though he was already seen as a hellacious prospect, he’s improved his stock by showing his versatility as a scorer, a knack for rebounding, and an ability (for the most part) to keep his notorious temper tantrums in check. Given the way he’s played over the last few games, his stock’s got to be rising faster than anyone’s. If he can keep it up, there’s an excellent chance he moves into the top-five.
Strengths: All-Around Post Play, Leadership, Offensive Efficiency, Toughness
Weaknesses: Size, Average Athlete, Ball-Handling
If things continue in the direction they’re headed now, I think there may be a great debate over whether or not Patrick Patterson helped himself by coming back for his junior season. He’s shown an ability to hit the outside jump shot—something the NBA scouts told him he needed to improve on. But he’s also shown a tendency to become passive when surrounded by other strong players. For the first two years of Patterson’s career at UK, he was a big fish in a small pond. He was surrounded by Michael Porters and Jared Carters, which forced him to carry the load, which he did quite nicely. This year, however, things have changed. Kentucky has more weapons, Patterson’s numbers are down, and while his shooting percentage and offensive efficiency stats remain high, one has to wonder how NBA scouts will look at the way he’s deferred to Wall and Cousins this year on offense. One the one hand, it could be seen as a sign of maturity, or a good teammate. On the other, some people may see Patterson’s freshman and sophomore-season numbers as inflated, due to his lack of a supporting cast. Or, even worse, they may see this season as an indication of what might happen to his game in the NBA–a devolution from go-to guy to offensive afterthought. Or, maybe I’m just thinking about this too hard. Either way, Patterson is currently listed as the 9th-best prospect on NBA Draft Express, which, if it stands, would be a solid improvement over where he was projected to go had he come out last year.
Coming tomorrow: The Keith Bogans/Tayshaun Prince Group