Cats in the NBA
Former Kentucky Players in the NBA
By Jack Pilgrim on ©June 15th, 2018 @ 9:00pm
After two years playing overseas, former Kentucky small forward Darius Miller has carved out a role in New Orleans, and it looks like he may be part of their future plans. He was an exceptional shooter this season and provided a major spark off the bench for the Pelicans.
Today, however, we got to see a bit of Miller’s life outside of basketball.
Miller penned a Father’s Day letter to his daughters, Nadia and Kalani, about his love for them and his overall joy as a parent. He mentions his career as a Wildcat and his journey in the NBA, and how none of it compares to “living out (his) dream” of being a father.
Check out a segment of the letter, but be prepared for some tears:
To Nadia and Kalani,
Daddy loves you. I hope you know that by now, but I also want to make sure you never forget it. I’ll never forget holding you both in my arms for the first time, feeling your heart beat and knowing the meaning of true love. And I promise that, for the rest of my life, I am going to do everything I can to let you feel that love.
When I got to Kentucky, everyone asked me about living out my dream on the court at Rupp Arena. When I made it to the NBA, everyone asked me about living out my dream as a professional basketball player. The truth is, I am living out my dream every day that I get to spend it as your father. I am so blessed to have you and your mother and I hope you grow up always feeling love from your parents, just like Daddy did.
Nadia and Kalani, you are both loved very much. I hope you always know that.
For the entire letter, head here, where you can also find Erin and Megan Calipari’s Father’s Day letters written to Coach Cal.
It’s been just over two months since Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors finished the most successful regular season in franchise history. 59 wins, the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, the feeling that all the past playoff malpractices would finally subside. The Raptors were riding high and Casey was the man leading them.
Fast forward exactly one month and Casey found himself without a job. After being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs, the Raptors couldn’t afford to keep Casey around any longer. There aren’t many answers to the hundreds of questions that surround the confusing situation the Raptors have been in (finishing with 50-plus wins in three straight seasons but with only one Conference Finals appearance to show for it), but letting Casey go was the one that could at least be the most justified – even if it still wasn’t.
Fast forward another month. Casey signs a five-year deal with the Detroit Pistons to become their next head coach, replacing Stan Van Gundy, who went 152-176 in his four seasons including only one playoff appearance (which ended in a sweep a la LeBron James).
It’s no surprise Casey has already found a new job. He was voted as the NBA Coach of the Year by his fellow coaches this past season and morphed the otherwise forgotten Toronto franchise into a top-5 team in the entire league. The transformation he oversaw in Toronto was impressive by all standards, taking a 23 win team whose best player was Andrea Bargnani and turning it into a defensive powerhouse with a modern NBA offense and incredibly deep bench, just seven years later. There wasn’t any pressure for him to succeed in Toronto – and he exceeded just about every single expectation – but there sure as hell is now.
The situation with Detroit is much different than what he was given across the border. With the Raptors, he had time. He may have had a less-than-mediocre roster with only a few pieces to build around, but the added “win-now” factor was not prevalent like it is now. The Pistons have a roster that can make it to the playoffs. They should have been in the playoffs every season for the last few years, but injuries, significant roster changes, the seeming unwillingness to adapt to a modern NBA system, and stunted player development deterred any sight of consistency.
What Casey has in Detroit is much more manageable than it was when he got to Toronto – from a roster standpoint. The addition of Blake Griffin via trade before last season’s trade deadline brought Detroit their first true superstar player in a long time and their highest-caliber player since Chauncey Billups. The pairing of Griffin with 24-year old Andre Drummond wasn’t terrible during the few weeks they were together (they posted a net rating of +1.1 when they were both on the court across nearly 600 minutes), but there were obvious shortcomings. Drummond can’t shoot, plain and simple. And no matter what he posts on social media (videos of himself hitting uncontested jump shots in an empty gym), that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Griffin can shoot, for the most part, although he’s not a legitimate spot-up threat (in 25 games with Detroit, he shot 34.8 percent from deep on 5.4 attempts per game. If you think that sounds like a lot of threes for Griffin, someone who built his legacy off of explosive dunks and pure athleticism, you would be correct. In 2016-17, Griffin attempted only 1.9 threes per game and only 0.5 the year before that. To be fair, adding the three-point shot to his game makes him so much more dynamic, but it doesn’t mean he should be taking over five attempts per game.)
Pairing a center who can’t shoot with a high-usage power forward who believes he can shoot isn’t a recipe for success in an era that thrives on spacing and ball movement – especially not when they’re the team’s two best players. Casey has been known as a defensive-minded head coach (he’s believed to be one of the engineers behind the defensive scheme that helped the Dallas Mavericks slow down LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2011 en route to winning an NBA Finals when he was an assistant coach. Plus, he coached the Raptors to a top-5 defense last season with no player besides Kyle Lowry even coming close to sniffing an All-Defensive team), but it’s what he did this past season in Toronto that revealed him as a coach willing to change his offense to the trends of the current NBA. He had DeMar DeRozan take (and make) more threes than the 28-year old has ever seen. He utilized Serge Ibaka as a stretch forward, sometimes even as a stretch-five, opening up the floor for the Raptors bevy of shooters. Perhaps, most impressively, he developed the most effective and efficient bench in the NBA.
The Pistons have actually been an above average team in terms of defense, finishing in the top 12 for defensive rating over the past three seasons. Drummond is a huge element to their success on that end. He’s a solid rim protector and one of the league’s best defensive rebounders and Casey will love to keep him in the paint and use Griffin – who can defend guards with reasonable success – to switch every defensive pick-and-roll.
Casey now has a different kind of challenge in front of him with two bigs as his two best players. He doesn’t have the benefit of multiple, high-level shooters like he did in Toronto (although Luke Kennard and Reggie Bullock are solid pieces), an elite backcourt, or the weapons to abuse open space. His starting point guard, Reggie Jackson, is a poor man’s Russell Westbrook (that may sound like a slight to Jackson, but it shouldn’t be interpreted that way because Jackson is good) and injured more often than not. However, when healthy, Jackson has made the Pistons a better team, as the team posted a positive net rating when he was on the court last season.
Up until last season, Drummond never truly showed any potential as an offensive threat. He trended more towards a Hassan Whiteside type of offensive playstyle instead of someone such as Karl-Anthony Towns. Last season, however, Drummond finally displayed some offensive prowess. He developed a few go-to post moves and was overall much more aggressive when trying to score in one-on-one situations. With Griffin now comfortably in the mix, Drummond doesn’t have to rely on his own scoring to be productive and can focus more on protecting the rim, grabbing boards, and – most importantly – becoming a more capable and confident passer out of double teams and pick-and-rolls (Drummond increased his assists per game from 1.1 in 2016-17 to 3.0 last season. With how much Casey likes to move the ball, I’d expect that number to go even higher next season).
What makes this head coaching job more interesting than when Casey got his first run with Toronto is the issue of little roster flexibility. The team the Pistons have right now is the one they’ll likely have for at least another year. They are strangled by limited cap space, committed to about half their current roster for at least two more seasons with no first-round draft pick in the upcoming NBA draft and still no General Manager. *Yes, the Pistons hired a head coach before someone who would RUN THE TEAM with less than two weeks before the NBA draft. But then again, maybe having no draft pick made the front office feel less inclined to prioritize that position and instead focused on the head coach search. It’s not ideal planning, but it’s somewhat understandable and still resulted in them acquiring the coach they wanted.*
Casey has been allowed to bring in his own assistants, which was a big reason why he decided to sign with Detroit. Something Casey and his staff in Toronto did best was develop young players. We saw what he did with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry – turning both of them from run-of-the-mill guards into borderline MVP candidates – and the major improvements from Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakim, Fred VanVleet and rookie OG Anunoby were impressive by all standards. This aspect is what should excite Pistons fans. Kennard, Bullock, and Stanley Johnson have all shown signs of being promising NBA players (Johnson especially has struggled, but when he plays well, there is more than enough talent that shows he can excel in this league and Casey has shown time and time again he can take players with obvious weaknesses to the next level). Kennard and Bullock are knockdown shooters and they’ll be much more important pieces to the offense than they were last season. I’d expect them to take on roles similar to what C.J. Miles did for Casey in Toronto; run around screens until the sun sets and fire up every remotely open look they get. Jackson is an excellent pick-and-roll ball handler (finishing in the 82.8 percentile last season according to NBA.com) and he’ll work well with Drummond/Griffin (who are more than capable roll men), but the key element will be the threat they get from Kennard/Bullock and hopefully Jon Leuer (who played only eight games last season due to an ankle injury) on the perimeter.
The Pistons are going to play a much more open brand of offense next season, spreading the floor and maximizing on space to create as many open opportunities as possible on the perimeter. What’s going to be interesting to watch is how Griffin and Drummond fit into that mix and how deadly they can make the Pistons pick-and-roll. There are going to be some serious growing pains to begin the season, especially if they enter the preseason with practically the same roster they have now, but the playoffs should still be the goal. They have the talent and despite the Eastern Conference becoming more and more talented from top-to-bottom, they are still a top-8 team in the East. It may be another two years before we get to see what Casey can actually do with this team, as the team’s cap space begins to open up a bit more and the flexibility for roster movement is much more manageable, but the Pistons are already a lot more intriguing than they were less than a week ago.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan
By Zack Geoghegan on ©June 12th, 2018 @ 3:20pm
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Washington Wizards guard, Jodie Meeks, has picked up his player option for the 2018-19 NBA season. Meeks will make $3.4 million next season as a result of taking the player option and forgoing unrestricted free agency.
Jodie Meeks has picked up his option for the 2018-19 season with the Wizards, league source tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 12, 2018
The former Kentucky guard was suspended 25 games back on April 13th for violating the NBA’s anti-drug program and he served only six of those 25 games before the Wizards were beaten in the first round of the playoffs by the Toronto Raptors. Meeks wouldn’t have been much of a hot commodity on the open market this offseason, mainly because he was not all that effective last season but also because of the suspension. He likely wouldn’t have been able to maneuver his way into a larger contract and in picking up for this season, he’ll give himself an opportunity to excel next year and prove he’s worth a larger contract next offseason.
Meeks was solid off the bench for the Wizards, averaging 6.3 points per game while shooting 34.3 percent from the field in 14.5 minutes per game. At 30 years old, there isn’t much more Meeks can provide other than off-the-bench shooting from the perimeter, but that’s something this Wizards squad could use for next season. Meeks picking up his option makes sense for both himself and the Wizards. Get that money, Jodie.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©June 12th, 2018 @ 1:00pm
The minds behind the wildly popular Bad Lip Reading YouTube channel just released a wrap-up of the 2017-18 NBA season, and, not surprisingly, it includes some former Kentucky Wildcats.
Watch below as they put words in the mouths of Rajon Rondo, Enes Kanter, and other NBA stars:
Don’t get the humor? Someone does, because the video has over 1 million views in less than 24 hours and is one of the highest-trending videos on YouTube right now.
By Zack Geoghegan on ©June 11th, 2018 @ 11:50am
Former University of Kentucky basketball player and most recently the head coach of the Toronto Raptors, Dwane Casey, has agreed to a five-year deal with the Detroit Pistons to become the team’s new head coach, according to ESPN.
Casey was fired from the Raptors in May after being swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Casey was the Raptors head coach since 2011, leading them to the most successful five-year stretch in franchise history, including a franchise-record 59 wins this past season.
Dwane Casey has reached an agreement on a 5-year deal to become the next coach of the Detroit Pistons, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 11, 2018
After being let go from the Raptors, something that I previously wrote about, the consensus was that he wouldn’t be on the head coaching market for long and exactly one month later, he has found himself as the lead man on the bench once again. Casey has been the favored candidate for a couple weeks now and after the University of Michigan’s head coach, Jon Beilein, used the Pistons head coaching search to leverage his way into a contract extension with the Wolverines, it was clear that Casey was the presumed favorite.
Casey will now take over a Pistons team stuck in basketball purgatory. They have two high-caliber All-Stars with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, but little cap room to work with and a roster not built for success in the modern NBA. Casey will surely have his work cut out for him, just as he did when he arrived in Toronto seven years ago. He has pieces to work with (Reggie Jackson, Griffin, Drummond) and young talent that has shown signs of potential development (Luke Kennard, Stanley Johnson, and Reggie Bullock), although no first-round draft pick in this year’s draft, which was sent to the Los Angeles Clippers in the Blake Griffin deal (a pick that will possibly be in the Kevin Knox range).
Casey won at least 50 games in his last three seasons with the Raptors and the Pistons are hoping he can replicate that same type of success sooner rather than later. Casey and the Pistons will likely build around Griffin for the future, so it’ll be interesting to see what moves they plan on making during this offseason, especially with all of the front office moves they’re making. However, the Pistons now have two All-Stars and an experienced, high-level coach.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan
By Jack Pilgrim on ©June 10th, 2018 @ 5:15pm
DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis had big dreams together in New Orleans for not only this past season, but for well into the future, too.
Midway through the year, the former Kentucky stars combined for a whopping 53 points, 24 rebounds, and 4.2 blocks per game. They were easily one of the most unstoppable duos in the league.
And then Cousins went down with an Achilles injury, ending his season.
Most assumed the Pelicans, like Cousins, were done for the year. Most teams losing their All-Star big man and No. 2 option would be.
But New Orleans played well… Really well… So well that they locked up the No. 6 seed and swept three-seed Portland in the opening round. So well that they defeated NBA-champion Golden State once in the second round, something LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers couldn’t even do in the NBA Finals.
As a result, the Pelicans are very hesitant about paying Cousins the $30-plus million he is looking for, especially considering he is coming off a major injury.
And with New Orleans hesitant on backing up the Brinks truck for Cousins, the Dallas Mavericks are prepared to capitalize.
According to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Mavericks will be targeting both Cousins and former Kentucky forward Julius Randle in free agency.
The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.
The Journal Times, a newspaper out of Fort Worth, reports though Cousins has not ruled out re-signing with New Orleans, the Mavericks have been interested in the former Kentucky big man for quite some time, and they are prepared to do whatever it takes to bring him to Dallas.
Multiple reports have said that Dallas interest in Cousins has not waned despite the injury.
The Pelicans would surely like to bring him back, just not at $30 million per season.
The Mavericks certainly have the cap room to make a highly competitive offer for the big man and Cuban has repeatedly stated that he wants to spend this off-season. Like the Pelicans, the Mavericks are hoping that Cousin’s most recent injury and sometimes volatile personality will drive his cost down.
As for Randle, the Mavericks were reportedly interested in the Laker forward back at the trade deadline last season, and even made several calls to try to get a deal finalized.
The Mavericks are looking to acquire Julius Randle from the Lakers. Los Angeles is reportedly looking for expiring contracts & draft picks in exchange. (via @LakersNation)
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) February 2, 2018
Now that he is a restricted free agent, and the Lakers are interested in superstars LeBron James and Paul George, the Mavericks have the cap room to make an offer Los Angeles simply cannot match. In fact, with a few minor moves, Dallas will have enough money to theoretically sign both Randle and Cousins.
Admittedly, that duo isn’t nearly as fun as Davis and Cousins in New Orleans, and I’m hoping the Pelicans front office comes to their senses and opens the checkbook for Boogie. If not, I suppose a Randle/Cousins duo wouldn’t be too bad.
What do you guys think?
Anthony Davis is returning to the Bluegrass State next weekend.
Davis is hosting the “Anthony Davis Basketball Camp” June 15th and 16th at Lexington Christian Academy.
Anthony Davis Camp will give campers an exclusive opportunity to work on their basketball fundamentals while getting instruction from top basketball coaches. Campers will learn from and interact with Anthony Davis while having fun and enhancing their basketball skills.
The camp will feature two sessions:
Session 1: Ages 7-11 8:30 am – 11: 30 am
Session 2: Ages 12-15 12:30 am – 3:30 pm
— Anthony Davis (@AntDavis23) June 8, 2018
You can register HERE.
Wenyen Gabriel worked out with the Los Angeles Lakers today.
During the workout, Gabriel went the through the “Lakers Mentality Drill.” This drill involves players running up and down the court, shooting three-pointers at either end for 90 seconds.
Gabriel recorded a score of 28 points, tying a Lakers workout record.
Gabriel outscored Duke’s Grayson Allen who scored 21 in May. LiAngelo Ball scored 15.
Wenyen Gabriel with one of the higher Lakers Mentality scores so far pic.twitter.com/Pui1Isypgz
— TV's Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) June 9, 2018
Is there a possibility Gabriel joins Julius Randle in LA? I would love that.
By TJ Walker on ©June 08th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
I have a theory that almost any UK basketball team could have won a national championship under John Calipari if the Cats had just one more weapon. Maybe UK missed out on a recruit or a player went to the NBA Draft that surprised the staff, but nearly every year since the 2010 season the Cats have been missing just one player. A couple years the Cats were a player off from having a perfect season.
I will tell you those players and how things would have been different, but let’s remember we’re keeping realistic expectations. We can’t say Anthony Davis could have returned in 2013 to help UK go back-to-back. No one can convince me that woulnd’t have happened, but Davis was never going to have a sophomore season. You all are smart, you get the rules.
2010: 35-3, UK lost in the Elite Eight to West Virginia.
The Missing Player: A senior Jodie Meeks.
The hypothetical result: Kentucky would have finished the season undefeated with a national championship with Meeks. How would you stop a UK team that had John Wall attacking the rim and Meeks waiting for open shots on the perimeter? Remember (how could we forget), three-point shooting sunk the Cats against WVU. Many believe Meeks was close to returning to UK.
2011: 29-9, UK lost in the Final Four to UConn.
The Missing Player: An eligible Enes Kanter.
The hypothetical result: If things had just gone as planned and Kanter was ruled eligible by the NCAA the Cats would have cut down the nets. The hard part here is that Kanter would have completely changed the regular season. The Cats wouldn’t have been a four seed. They wouldn’t have had a dramatic win over Ohio State and UNC to get to the Final Four. But they definitely would have had enough talent to beat UConn and Butler in Houston.
2012: 38-2, UK won the title.
The Missing Player: A senior DeAndre Liggins.
The hypothetical result: Kentucky beats Indiana and crushes Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship game with Liggins and UK goes 40-0. Liggins was the best defender in college basketball in 2011 and would have only improved in 2012. Imagine a lineup with Teague, Liggins, MKG, Jones and Davis. Good luck scoring. Liggins didn’t seem forced out but UK bringing in MKG probably made his decision slightly easier.
2013: 21-12, UK lost in the first round of the NIT.
The Missing Player: A sophomore Marquis Teague.
The hypothetical result: If UK doesn’t win the title in 2012 Teague and Doron Lamb likely return. Rumors suggest even after winning the title UK expect both players back and were surprised when both left for the NBA Draft. Teague would have improved the disappointing 2013 season more than Lamb. UK isn’t winning the title with a sophomore Teague but if Noel stayed healthy it could have been a Sweet 16 team.
2014: 29-11, UK lost in the title game to UConn.
The Missing Player: Andrew Wiggins.
The hypothetical result: I’ll never forget Wiggins’ decision day. Staffs from UK, FSU and Kansas had no clue where the five-star wing would end up and Bill Self said he was shocked to hear he picked the Jayhawks. Had Wigg
ins picked UK the Cats win it all in 2014. UK needed perimeter defense and Wiggins would have provided that while also helping offensively. Like 2011 the regular season isn’t as ugly with Wiggins, so the road to the Final Four would have been much different.
2015: 38-1, UK lost in the Final Four to Wisconsin.
The Missing Player: Justise Winslow.
The hypothetical result: UK was late to recruiting Winslow, who was somewhat of a late bloomer, but had the Cats prioritized him earlier the recruitment could have gone differently. UK could have used his defense and versatility offensively, but let’s be honest: UK should have won in 2015 and had its ideal roster. Ugh.
2016: 27-9, UK lose in the Round of 32 to Indiana.
The Missing Player: Dakari Johnson.
The hypothetical result: UK also expect Johnson to return and it’s not crazy to think the Cats could have competed for the title with Johnson. Johnson would have allowed Skal Labissiere to play a stretch four and I’m not sure how you guard a team that features Ulis, Murray, Poythress, Skal and Dakari. UK really struggled guarding physical bigs and also struggled on the glass. UK is at least a Final Four team with a junior Johnson.
2017: 32-6, UK lost to UNC in the Elite Eight.
The Missing Player: Miles Bridges.
The hypothetical result: UK was thought to lead for Bridges for the majority of his recruitment, but after visiting MSU he set a commitment date and canceled a visit to UK. That was all she wrote. Had UK landed Bridges the Cats win it all in 2017. Fox, Monk, Bridges, Willis and Bam would have been Calipari’s best offensive lineup and Bridges would have provided some much needed rebounding. Marcus Lee was also considered for 2017 and the Cats suffered when he transferred to California.
2018: 26-11, UK lost to Kansas State in the Sweet 16.
The Missing Player: Mohamed Bamba.
The hypothetical result: UK had outside shooting (at times streaky). The Cats had attacking guard. The only thing UK was missing last season was a dominant center and had Bamba picked UK instead of Texas the Cats could have made a serious run at a championship. I don’t think UK wins it all because Villanova was just on a different level, but Kentucky could have been the second best team in the country with Bamba.
In 2019 UK is just a Reid Travis away. Come on down, big guy.
In the wake of the scandal surrounding Jerry Colangelo and the Philadelphia 76ers, there are actual odds about which NBA stars have burner accounts. DeMarcus Cousins is listed at 70-1, and when Jeff Goodman tweeted the odds out, Boogie called him out, replying that he doesn’t need to hide behind fake Twitter accounts:
As Goodman said, this is not the first time Boogie has defended himself.
I do know this from experience.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) June 8, 2018
LOL. Team Boogie always and forever, but especially now.
Hamidou Diallo is in a familiar situation. A borderline first round NBA draft pick in 2017, after returning to Kentucky for a year of college basketball Diallo remains on the fringe, hopeful he can convince a team to select him in the first round.
Diallo’s only season in a Kentucky uniform was filled with ups and downs. He did not expect to endure so much adversity. He expected to become a lottery pick. Even though that did not happen, he would not change a thing.
“No regrets, none,” Diallo said. “I had one foot in the NBA, one foot in college. I was not 100 percent sure I wanted to go into the NBA. I feel like I made the best decision to go back to school, and if I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same exact way. I feel like I made the right decision.”
In a wonderful profile by Sporting News, Diallo did not hide from his flaws at Kentucky. He knows where he struggled. Instead of shying away from shortcomings, he embraced them as learning lessons.
“The best thing I learned at Kentucky this year was, how to fight myself, how to conquer myself,” Diallo said. “When I say conquer myself, I mean when things aren’t going my way, what type of player am I? What type of teammate am I? Not just basketball — you wake up in the morning, you are late, you are late for class, you miss the bus. It’s raining. You’re not having a good day, you miss breakfast. How are you going to perform in practice that day?
“What if game-day routine is thrown off, how do you handle it? What kind of player are you going to be on that day? That’s when you need to conquer yourself.”
Diallo is no stranger to adversity. The son of Guinean immigrants, he has witnessed what it takes to be successful when the odds are unfavorable. Diallo is taking the hard-working mentality his parents taught him into workouts with NBA teams. This weekend he’ll be in his hometown, working out with the Nets on Friday and the Knicks on Saturday, before wrapping up his pre-draft tour with the Bucks next week.
In one year at Kentucky, Hamidou Diallo did not post the numbers of a future NBA superstar, but he learned difficult, invaluable lessons that will pay dividends in the near future.