Cats in the NBA
Former Kentucky Players in the NBA
By Drew Franklin on ©October 09th, 2018 @ 3:00pm
Drake is currently on tour and repping his favorite Kentucky Wildcats while performing stage.
Last night during his concert in Phoenix, the rapper wore Devin Booker’s Moss Point jersey from Booker’s high school days in Mississippi.
Last month he wore John Wall’s Word of God high school jersey during his concert in DC:
Before that, he wore DeMarcus Cousins’ LeFlore Rattlers high school throwback jersey in the music video for “In My Feelings.”
Whatever you think of Drake and his loyal to the UK basketball, I think we can all agree this is pretty cool.
Anthony Davis may not be the odds-on favorite to take home this year’s Most Valuable Player in the NBA award (that would be LeBron James), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t his to lose.
Entering his seventh NBA season – all with the New Orleans Pelicans – Davis is poised to expand upon his already profound basketball skill set and reach a level that will cement his stature as an undeniable top-5 NBA megastar.
The stars have aligned for Davis to take home his first – of hopefully several – MVP honors, and the beginning of that alignment dates back to one unfortunate day in late January.
DeMarcus Cousins was the first star to line up. After he tore his Achilles against the Houston Rockets that fateful night, it was thought to be the end of the Pelicans positive start to the season. Sitting with a record of 26-21, the Pelicans were well in the hunt for a playoff race and the team had never looked more fluid and cohesive than it did in the weeks leading up to the injury. The Brow-Boogie connection was finally starting to heat up right before it was dipped into a half-frozen lake.
But we know how that story ended. Davis would go on a historically great run to end the regular season. In the 33 regular season games following Cousins departure, Davis averaged 30.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.0 steals, and 3.2 blocks per game, including 51.4 percent shooting from the field. The list of players who have averaged a stat line of at least 30/11/2/2/3 for an entire season is a blank sheet. In nine playoff games, Davis was equally as remarkable.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) September 26, 2018
It was a tough pill to swallow, but the Pelicans dream of a twin-tower system featuring Cousins and Davis just isn’t what the modern NBA called for. It’s why when the Pellies traded for Nikola Miortic – a floor-spacing big who can snipe any look from the perimeter – the team took their play to another level, most noticeably Davis. Star number two had aligned itself.
Anthony Davis surrounded by four shooters is an unstoppable offensive scheme. He’s built to play in a 5-out offense. Unfortunately, being paired with Cousins – someone who needs the ball just as much as Davis does – detracted from that. The injury to Boogie was tragic, but it unearthed a fast-paced and downright lethal offensive attack as a result.
Read those averages Davis recorded during the second half of the season one more time. That’s an MVP stat line, no arguing that. A repeat of that this year would alone have him in the top two or three for voting, no matter how the Pelicans do as a team.
Anthony Davis, asked about the goal he mentioned on Media Day of becoming the most dominant player in #NBA: “I think I’m very close. I think I am the most dominant player, but it’s my job to try to convince you guys (in the media).”
— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) September 26, 2018
But there lies another aspect of the award. Players on “bad” teams don’t take home the MVP, even if they are the most deserved of it. Russell Westbrook is the only player in the last 30 seasons to win an MVP award without his respective team finishing as a top-three seed in their conference (the Thunder finished sixth in the West and Westbrook had to average a triple-double for an entire season just to have a shot. And even then the award still should have gone to James Harden).
The Pelicans ended up winning 48 games last year, but that was only good enough for the six-seed in an ultra-competitive Western Conference. Despite that, Davis still finished third in the voting.
Would another three or four victories – breaking that 50-win threshold – be enough for the voters to give Davis the edge? It quite possibly could – especially if it leads to a top three or four seed – but there are also some other variables involved that could work in his favor.
For starters, LeBron James – the odds-on favorite – and Kevin Durant (who has the sixth highest odds) probably aren’t going to win the award, despite being the two best players on the planet and being favored by NBA General Managers. A bonus for Davis and more stars falling into place.
James will take a page out of his 2017-18 playbook and look to save himself for when the games matter most (i.e. the playoffs). His predetermined lack of effort on defense will hurt his chances significantly, although it’s not something that he appears too concerned about at this stage in his career. Durant is simply surrounded by too much star power to take home the award. A significant injury to Steph Curry is the only way he’d have a legitimate chance.
Voters aren’t going to be partial to James Harden, either, after reluctantly giving him the award he should have won the season prior. We still don’t know what version of Kawhi Leonard is going to show up in Toronto (at the minimum, I’d expect an All-NBA second-team type of season).
The MVP award, realistically, isn’t given to the truly most valuable player each season, anyway. If that were the case, there’s an argument that LeBron should have won it the last seven seasons. No one has meant more to their team over the course of the last decade than James (this is particularly true about his most recent season in Cleveland), yet he’s only won the award four times. More often than not, the award is somewhat of a popularity contest. It’s why Derrick Rose won the award in 2011 and Westbrook in 2017 (and Steve Nash in 2005…). You don’t have to be the most valuable player by pure definition, but you do have to be flamboyant in how you lead your team as their best player. Davis is going to need multiple 50-point games. Maybe a couple triple-doubles here and there. If he records a quadruple-double with blocks you might as well go ahead and ship the award straight to his house (He would be the fourth player in NBA history to pull off such a feat. Davis did record 10 blocks in a game against the Utah Jazz last season).
All of this information leaves us with two viable options for this year’s MVP as we look at things right now: Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Antetokounmpo will have more than a fighting chance against Davis. The Bucks finally have a competent head coach in Mike Budenholzer who will do everything in his power to run the team’s offense through the Greek Freak with plenty of shooters surrounding him. The Bucks can win 50 games in the Eastern Conference at a much easier pace than the Pelicans can out West.
Antetokounmpo is the likeliest challenger to Davis’ MVP run.
However, the award is still Davis’ to lose.
Davis is still fresh on the minds of voters and without Cousins, if Davis doesn’t win the award, it won’t be because of a lack of opportunities. In all likelihood, it would be because of injuries (although Davis has played 75 regular season games each of the last two seasons).
Davis is going to be the “do-it-all” man for the Pels, on both sides of the ball. But there are some areas he’s going to need to improve/clean up this season in order to truly separate himself from the pack.
The first aspect is more of an observation. How will Davis handle being the overwhelming focus of opposing defenses for an entire season? Teams have had an entire offseason now to prepare for Davis. There isn’t another near seven-foot All-Star by his side. He’s been the main focus in previous seasons, this shouldn’t be something new to him, but he’s never been this good. Teams are going to throw every little trick and tactic they can to do anything they can to trip him up. Luckily, the addition of Julius Randle will give Davis another secondary scoring option alongside him. One that can allow Davis to play inside and outside. The same thing goes for Mirotic, who will open up driving lanes for Davis. And who can forget All-NBA first team defensive player Jrue Holiday, who played like an All-Star in the playoffs (and quite honestly, for most of the regular season, too). Those are three great sidekicks that can alleviate some pressure from Davis. His team may not be as good on paper as it was last season, but this year’s version of the Pellies might be better suited around Davis. The stars are all in place.
No more Boogie means Davis can’t rely on his superstar counterpart as much as he could have and having to do so for an entire season could prove to be exhausting. But no more Boogie also means that Davis is in complete control. He can dictate the offense at all times, everything will flow through him. He has teammates that can cover up any tiny deficiency you might be able to find in his game.
Davis shot 34 percent from three last season on only 2.2 attempts per game, which ranked him in the 36th percentile among just big men, according to Cleaning the Glass. For comparison, Cousins shot 35.4 percent on 6.1 attempts per game. Now Davis shouldn’t take anywhere near six threes a game. The only reason Cousins did so was simply because he often preferred to settle for jumpers instead of attacking off the dribble. Davis isn’t one to settle for a three – although he did tend to settle for mid-range jumpers, something that he needs to ween out of his playbook a bit, but not completely eliminate. Being confident in taking maybe one or two more threes per game is only going to open up the floor even more for him. Keeping defenders honest when guarding him on the perimeter just makes him that more of a threat to attack off the dribble.
He’s so close to becoming a complete player, one that has no glaring weaknesses in his game. This season is the year he cleans everything up and surfaces as a future NBA great. The stars have finally aligned for the long-awaited superstar.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©October 08th, 2018 @ 12:29pm
Our favorite Aussie is headed back to the States. The Atlanta Hawks just signed Isaac Humphries. According to Hawks beat writer Chris Vivlamore, he’ll likely end up on the team’s G-League affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks.
Last year, the former Cat played for the Sydney Kings in Australia, averaging 6.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.0 block in 16.5 minutes and earning NBL Rookie of the Year honors. He also played for FMP Beograd in Serbia, averaging 4.5 points and 2.2 rebounds.
— Isaac Humphries (@IsaacHumphries7) August 12, 2018
It looks like Isaac’s doing pretty well for himself with basketball, but it’s nice to know he’s got a backup career as a professional singer.
I managed to get my hands on this version of @IsaacHumphries7 serenading @derek_willis33 and @keelypotts_ during their first dance as a married couple. I’ve watched this maybe 30 times, and I still get chills ? pic.twitter.com/EFimbOSAJC
— Olgun Uluc (@OlgunUluc) August 5, 2018
The Miami Heat announced on Sunday that they have released former Kentucky/California forward Marcus Lee along with former Mississippi State/Kansas guard Malik Newman.
In response to that, the Heat signed former Kentucky guard DeAndre Liggins and former Dayton guard Charles Cooke.
The terms of the deals have not yet been disclosed.
Following his transfer from Kentucky, Lee averaged 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game during his senior season at California. Undrafted, he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers Summer League roster where he averaged 6.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in seven games. He then signed a training camp deal with the Heat on August 15, playing in one preseason game where he tallied 10 points and six rebounds in 12 minutes of play.
I think a deal to play in the G League is on the horizon for Lee. There was an incredibly small sample size and against lesser quality talent, but Lee was no scrub when he was on the floor.
I got the chance to watch him during his one preseason game with the Heat and while there may not be a rotational NBA player inside of Lee, he’ll always have a home playing basketball somewhere. What I noticed most in the short time he was on the court was how he plays bigger than his slender frame might assume. If he can build into this body, there may be some more room for development.
As for Liggins, he’s actually making a return to Miami. He played one game for the Heat back in 2014 when he scored two points in a little over one minute of playing time. Liggins is no stranger to signing these low-level deals. It seems every season some team picks him up right around this time. He might be one of the worst offensive players the NBA has seen in some time – to be perfectly honest – but his defensive intensity is so undeniable that he’s worth picking up for the regular season. It’s hard to find guys who love to do the brute work and Liggins is the pure definition of that. Throw him into Miami’s culture centered around being in peak physical condition and we could see an even more intense Liggins than ever before.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©October 05th, 2018 @ 10:00pm
When the Phoenix Suns decided to part ways with former Kentucky standout Tyler Ulis, it was heartbreaking news for the Big Blue Nation. We saw the kind of relationship he had developed with former Wildcat teammate Devin Booker in Lexington, and it was great to see that continue in the NBA, with both players in the starting lineup at various times.
But life goes on, and Ulis has a professional basketball career to focus on. And he’s hoping to make the most of that opportunity in Golden State.
On September 21, the Warriors signed Ulis to an Exhibit 10 deal, meaning he’ll have the opportunity to join the team throughout the preseason and potentially sign a two-way contract going into the regular season.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Ulis admits it wasn’t quite the way he expected his NBA career to go, but he’s going to make the most of his time with the defending champions.
“I was a little surprised, but I understand you have to take things as they come,” Ulis said. “It’s a business. This hasn’t been the worst step in my journey. Things could be a lot worse.”
The former Kentucky star, just 22 years old, is just getting started as an NBA player. There will be adversities along the way, but his time will come.
“I understand this team has won two championships in a row, but my time will come,” Ulis said. “I just have to wait it out, grind and work on my game.”
Ulis highlighted his offseason training regimen with Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype:
Last year, Tyler Ulis started 43 games for the Suns. Now, he's a member of the Warriors on an Exhibit 10 contract (which means they can turn his non-guaranteed contract into a two-way deal). Ulis gave us a behind-the-scenes look at his offseason training: pic.twitter.com/CHzrNgyOXG
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) October 5, 2018
When training camp came along, footage leaked to the public of Ulis locking down former MVP point guard Steph Curry in practice:
Is Steph still a Top 5 NBA player if Tyler Ulis signed anywhere else?
— #Mickstape (Scary Hours) (@MickstapeShow) October 1, 2018
In just one preseason game for the Warriors, Ulis finished with two points (1-2 shooting), four rebounds, and one assist in nine minutes of action.
Ulis and the Warriors will take on Sacramento tonight at 10:30 ET, where he should be able to see more time on the floor with Curry sitting out due to personal reasons. From there, the former Wildcat will have three more preseason opportunities to make an impact and earn a spot on the roster.
Go get ’em, Ulis.
In the final portion of this mini-series, we’re focusing on the best of the best, or what I have dubbed as “All-Stars” and “High-level starters”.
All-Stars is rather straightforward. These are the select players who are several marks above their peers. The All-Stars have obviously been on an All-Star team before and are expected to make it again this season. They are the best and most impressive players on their respective team’s roster.
The high-level starter is a bit different. They aren’t quite superstars just yet – although they certainly have the potential to get there one day – but are necessary assets to the team. If they weren’t there, their team would be considerably worse. These players aren’t going to immediately give their team a shot at a title, but they’ll be the reason for several wins throughout the course of the 82-game season. They are players that can be built around in preparation the future.
Joining me (Zack Geoghegan) for the third and final piece of this series will be someone you know very well, notorious LeBron James
stan hater, Jack Pilgrim. Let’s jump into it.
Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans
The Brow is in a very unique situation in New Orleans, as this upcoming season has major implications on his future in the NBA.
With DeMarcus Cousins joining the dark side in Golden State, Davis has taken over as the team’s only shot at making the playoffs. The Pelicans made a solid move by bringing in Julius Randle to replace Cousins (we’ll talk about him later), but the former Wildcat star will be asked to carry quite the workload both offensively and defensively.
He averaged 28 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 2.6 blocks per game last season, but following Boogie’s Achilles injury, he took over as the most productive player in the league in the final 33 games of the season. Davis pushed his totals to a league-leading 30.2 points on 51.4 percent from the field, 11.9 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per game. He also averaged 30.1 points, 13.4 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks per game in the postseason, when they shocked the world by sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round while stealing a game from Golden State in the next.
From a purely statistical standpoint, there’s little doubt Davis will be the most productive member of the BBNBA fraternity. But if the Pelicans are unable to convert that success into victories, we may see The Brow leave the Big Easy sooner rather than later.
– Jack Pilgrim
Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves
While the Jimmy Butler debacle has yet to conclude, there is one constant that isn’t going to change regardless of the outcome. Karl-Anthony Towns is a future Hall-of-Famer. Coming off his first All-Star and playoff appearance last season, KAT brings a uniquely unstoppable offensive attack. One that can beat any defender at any given time from literally any area on the court. Forget just big men, there aren’t many basketball players in the entire world that have the type of individual offensive impact that he does.
Whenever Butler does leave or is traded, KAT will once again become the sole focal point of the Timberwolves franchise. While consecutive playoff appearances might not be in the cards, the All-Star game certainly will be. So will the All-NBA first team. He’s only 22 and not even halfway close to realizing his full potential. It’s scary to think how good he’ll be at 28.
Not all is perfect with KAT, however. The two most notable knocks on him have been his leadership and poor defensive tendencies. Without Butler, the reigns of leading the team will be forcibly passed onto Towns, whether he likes it or not. He’s going to have to take responsibility going forward. This is his team and it’s going to be his team as long as Minnesota keeps him around. Improvement on the defensive side can still come around – he is only 22, after all – but time is fleeting in that regard. The Wolves were at their best when Butler was healthy and at their most mediocre when he was out. Without him, it’s going to be up to Towns to build this team back up.
– Zack Geoghegan
As Zack stated, the Jimmy Butler situation is very, very interesting for Towns’ career going forward. With the All-Star shooting guard on his way out, Towns is going to be the team’s No. 1 option on offense and should see his numbers spike. He has worked on his catch-and-shoot abilities from beyond the arc, and continues to build muscle for his already-distinguished skills in the post.
Defense is an issue, but there’s no denying Towns is one of the most dominant young players in the NBA and an All-Star for years to come.
John Wall – Washington Wizards
Wall is the leader of a Washington team many are wondering just what the future holds with their core and whether they’re actually a contender in the Eastern Conference. They have zero financial flexibility, and it doesn’t look any better going forward. They’re not good enough to win the East, let alone a title, but they’re not bad enough to blow things up.
So what does that mean for Wall?
Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal are dynamic together, one of the top backcourt duos in the league. Wall has the speed and playmaking ability, while Beal can create shots and score at an elite level. Beyond those two, there are major question marks, and serious changes could be made in the near future. Otto Porter took a step up last season, but his contract is still a mess. They brought in Dwight Howard to replace Marcin Gortat, who could just end up hurting locker room chemistry even further. He’s a shell of his former self, and judging by his career trajectory, there are questions centered around his attitude and passion for the game. He has jumped from (follow me here) Orlando to Los Angeles, and then Houston, followed by Atlanta. The Hawks then traded him to Charlotte, who then traded him to Brooklyn, who then cut him, where he then signed with Washington…
Wall has received criticism for not being the leader Washington needs him to be, something he has acknowledged on several occasions. With Howard manning frontcourt duties, it could be a big opportunity for the former Wildcat to right the ship and get the eight-time All-Star back to what he once was. The talent is undeniable, and he’ll earn All-Star honors yet again, but things could get very interesting if the Wizards stay in that 5 to 8-seed range. Do they break up the core? Is Wall moved? Do they find a star to trade for to push them back into contention?
Devin Booker – Phoenix Suns
Like Davis, Booker lost his best friend and former Wildcat this offseason, as the Phoenix Suns decided to part ways with Tyler Ulis. (Oddly enough, Ulis has joined Cousins in Golden State, where they’ll likely both end up with championship rings this year. Funny how that works.)
With Ulis gone, along with fellow point guard Elfrid Payton joining Davis in New Orleans, Phoenix is extremely limited at the one. As a result, the Suns are expecting Booker to take over the main guard duties and have the offense run through him at all times. It’s a bit of a gamble, but with how talented the former Wildcat is offensively, it’s a risk they’re willing to take.
With the ball in his hands more often than not, you better believe Booker’s numbers are going to rise. He averaged 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game in his third season, and there’s a chance he can push those totals to around the 30-point mark when he finally returns from his surgically-repaired hand injury. Add in a frontcourt stud in DeAndre Ayton to throw lobs to, along with another year of development for Josh Jackson, the Suns definitely have some young talent to work with going forward.
Make no mistake about it, they’ll suck this year in the win-loss column and will likely find themselves in the top-five when the lottery comes around. But the foundation is there, and the future is bright with Booker as the star of the show.
Julius Randle – New Orleans Pelicans
The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t want him. The New Orleans Pelicans were more than happy to swoop in and sign him for themselves.
As the unofficial replacement to DeMarcus Cousins, Randle will fill out the deadly frontcourt trio of this season’s version of the Pellies. The fit couldn’t be more ideal for Randle. Last season in LA, Randle was the team’s best player for the majority of the season – especially the second half – but with all the focus on him emerged his deficiencies on the defensive end along with a subpar jump shot that became more and more exposed.
In NOLA, alongside Davis and the sharpshooting Nikola Mirotic, Randle’s weaknesses will be covered in nearly every area. Randle plays mainly the 4, which will slot him next to either Davis or Mirotic more often than not. The Pellies will be able to surround Randle will shooters that will open up driving lanes for himself, using his brute strength and God-given talent to terrorize his way through the paint. New Orleans will emphasize playing a fast-pace – as they did last season and into the playoffs – which will make Randle a multi-faceted offensive weapon. He’s an underrated passer, but something tells me he’ll be well-known as a playmaker by the season’s end, dishing out lobs to Davis and corner threes to Mirotic on a regular basis.
One thing I found very interesting was just how quick New Orleans was to announce Randle would start at the five with Davis manning the four-spot, despite Davis being a solid two inches taller. The Davis-Cousins frontcourt worked so well last year, and the Pelicans obviously feel Randle can fill that void to keep that finesse/bully system intact.
Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets
Go ahead and buy your ticket to hop on the “Jamal Murray for Most Improved Player” train. I’ll be your guide all season long.
While the Denver Nuggets as a team could have as many as three or four players in contention for the MIP award, Murray is going to be one of the league favorites going into the season. No longer a combo guard, Denver’s solidified point guard is in position to have an explosive year. After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, the Nuggets are determined to not only break that barrier, but make a deep run. Murray taking a leap will be crucial to achieving that more-than-reasonable goal. His numbers skyrocketed from his rookie season to year two and his ceiling is too high to even try and grab for.
Only 21-years old, there aren’t many players in the entire league who can score with the efficiency and creativity that Murray possesses. His defense isn’t as bad as some might think, but there is still plenty of work to do on that end. Continuing at the rate he is on offense and an uptick in defensive awareness are going to set Murray up for a monster season. Buy League Pass. Move to Denver. Do SOMETHING to ensure you can at least catch one tiny glimpse of Murray this season. There won’t be many players more exciting than him.
Enes Kanter – New York Knicks
This entire mini-series has grouped players specifically by their play on the court. Enes Kanter is the outlier, for many reasons. But first, let’s start with the basketball specifics. While Kanter may not exactly be a “high-level” starter compared to some of the other names in this group, he’s in a situation where he has to play like one. With Kristaps Porzingis out until at least December and surrounded by youth and the corpse of Joakim Noah, Kanter is going to have his hands full.
The Knicks are going to be bad. Like, awful. One of the two or three worst teams in the league. Which is fine, because they’re currently in the business of developing talent and acquiring assets. But Kanter – the 26-year old veteran – is going to be the go-to man on offense. At this point, his defense is all but a lost cause, but he’s an elite rebounder with an expansive offensive skill set (and may even add the three-pointer to his arsenal this season). I’d bet he has the best statistical season of his career this year.
But as I previously said, basketball isn’t the only reason Kanter is in this group. Another major point: the quip about his erect nipples during media day. Not just that specifically, but the fact that Kanter is a social media savant and loves to
Kanter banter with reporters makes him a necessary follow. You’d be hard-pressed to find an individual who enjoys life more than Kanter. He’s not going to let a negative season deter him from having fun.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©October 05th, 2018 @ 7:00pm
Could one former Duke standout be recruiting former Kentucky star Anthony Davis to join him in Beantown?
At least one credible reporter believes so.
Kyrie Irving made headlines yesterday evening when he abruptly told season ticket holders at the Celtics’ annual Fan Fest that he planned on re-signing with Boston this offseason to stay with the franchise long-term.
“If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here next year,” Irving told the crowd, drawing a standing ovation from the Boston faithful in attendance.
Almost immediately afterward, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Irving has already informed Celtics ownership that he is committed to staying in Boston long-term.
Sources: Kyrie Irving has met with Celtics ownership and has been direct with his message to Boston's brass over past few months: He's committed long-term to the franchise.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) October 4, 2018
Now committed to sticking around for the long haul, he’s hitting the recruiting trail to build a championship contender for years to come.
Jay King, a highly credible Boston beat writer for The Athletic, reports that Irving is actively recruiting Davis to the Celtics and the players have spoken about playing together in Boston.
“Several league sources have said they believe Davis could end up either with the Celtics or Lakers if the Pelicans were to move him,” said King. “If he landed with the Celtics, he’d be reunited with former Team USA teammate Irving. The two have already spoken about what it would be like to play together in Boston, according to a league source.”
We likely won’t hear anything about Davis’ future in New Orleans this season, but next offseason will be very telling about the former Kentucky star’s intentions with the organization going forward. He will be eligible to sign a five-year, $230-million supermax mega-extension next summer, the largest contract in NBA history. If New Orleans continues to float around the fringe-playoff/late-lottery range, Davis may feel his talent is better suited competing for a championship elsewhere and turn down the extension.
At that point, New Orleans would have no option but to trade him away, and the Celtics have the assets to make a deal for the MVP-caliber superstar. Danny Ainge has been salivating at the idea of bringing The Brow to Boston by any means necessary, and the opportunity to make that happen might be just around the corner.
At that point, there would be Dukies (Irving, Jayson Tatum), Cards (Terry Rozier), Jayhawks (Marcus Morris), Gators (Al Horford), and Wildcats (Davis) lining the roster to drop all rivalries and unite as one.
Call me crazy, but I’m all for it.
This is Part II of a three-part series. Part I can be found here.
For the second portion of this mini-series, we’re going to focus on a group I’m dubbing as the “low-level” starters.
What I mean by that is these are the players who will consistently play a high number of minutes (in the 20-25 per game range) who are also essential pieces to their team’s rotation. These players are more important than the “off-the-bench contributors” and are required to bring more to the table each and every game. While they aren’t all necessary team players who will start every game, they will at least play a majority of it, especially when close games come down to the wire.
*Reminder: despite these players being listed from top-to-bottom, it does not imply that one is better than the other. While one player might be definitively better than another one from this group, they all have similar value to their team heading into the new season.*
Bam Adebayo – Miami Heat
- Adebayo’s rookie season statistics hardly tell the entire story about who he was as a player last season. There are few big men in the entire league with as much potential upside as Adebayo. His ability to switch 2-5 defensively (and hopefully soon, 1-5) and rim-rolling prowess is the ideal skill set for a modern-era big man, even if the jump shot isn’t there just yet. Despite starting only 19 games last season and averaging 19.9 minutes per game, Adebayo should expect to play a significant role on this year’s edition of the Miami Heat. All eyes will be on the $98 million man Hassan Whiteside as he enters the third year of his overvalued contract and no one will be watching him closer than Adebayo. You don’t have to talk to many Heat fans before you understand just how excited they are for the second-year man big out of Kentucky. Even if Whiteside plays well, Adebayo should soak up nearly 25 minutes per game. Don’t be too surprised if he starts to chuck up a three-pointer or two, either.
Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee Bucks
- Behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, Bledsoe is the Bucks best player. This says more about a playoff hopeful Bucks team than it does Bledsoe, though. While still a starting caliber point guard, last season saw what could be the start of his decline. Often lackadaisical on both sides of the ball, you never knew which version of Eric Bledsoe was going to play on any given night. Perhaps a more fluent offensive system brought on by new head coach Mike Budenholzer will re-energize him (and it very well could. The Bucks were a dumpster fire on offense last season when the ball wasn’t in Antetokounmpo’s hands). Playing third-fiddle to Antetokounmpo and Middleton – the latter expected to make a run for the All-Star game – Bledsoe won’t be expected to average 15 points and 10 assists per night, but he is going to be expected to bring some sort of consistency to a backcourt that could have used it last season.
Willie Cauley-Stein – Sacramento Kings
- Cauley-Stein is in a boat similar to his teammate, Skal Labissiere. While WCS has clearly been the better overall player since Labisierre was drafted over two years ago now, they share consistency issues. The difference is Cauley-Stein is entering the second to last year of his contract and could be a restricted free agent in 2019. And he’s looking to get paid. However, his current track record doesn’t set him up for a generous contract offer. He went through a brief stint last year (about a month or so early in the season) where he looked like the Kings best player. Other times it looked like he was playing a completely different sport (did you know he was a wide receiver in high school???). He averaged 28 minutes per game last season but could see that number dip if he doesn’t take the type of leap the Kings will crave. Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley III will be more than willing to step in and steal those minutes.
DeMarcus Cousins – Golden State Warriors
- Had he not suffered the gruesome Achilles injury, Boogie would easily be listed as one of the “All-Stars” for this series. Instead, he could be out past Christmas. But honestly, it doesn’t matter. Whenever Cousins does return fully healthy (which he can take his time doing), he’ll immediately be a starter and bring the number of Golden State All-Stars to five. FIVE… There’s no telling what type of player Cousins will be when he ultimately does come back, but if he’s even 80 percent of what he was last season, he’ll have his picking of offer sheets once the summer rolls around. But that’s the unknown. This type of injury is notorious for taking star big men down a peg and although technology has allowed for some improvement in the treatment, this is still a giant question mark of a situation. Either way, Cousins is going to play and he’s going to play big minutes, it’s just going to be a matter of what he can do with them and how long it’ll take him to adapt to the Warriors championship style of offense (which shouldn’t take long).
De’Aaron Fox – Sacramento Kings
- Fox had a rough rookie season. He struggled to shoot, finish, and play defense at consistent levels. The advanced stats do him absolutely zero favors. But there is still so much that fascinates me about Fox’s potential that it would be irresponsible to write him off. And since the Kings are going heavy on the frontcourt, they’ve created a path for him to be the lead guard for years to come, one that will allow him to take his time and make mistakes. However, year two should be a night-and-day improvement for Fox compared to an unforgiving rookie season. What we should expect from Fox this season is him slowly filling the holes in his game. His outside shot is going to demand improvement. More positional awareness on defense. A dedication to the weight room (although it could take several offseasons for any noticeable improvement in that area). While Fox’s current game mirrors someone who should be slotted into the “off-the-bench contributors” section, his situation in Sacramento has forced him to adapt as a starter.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Charlotte Hornets
- Kidd-Gilchrist can often be the forgotten former Wildcat superstar in a league now cluttered with Big Blue connections. Playing in the Charlotte market for a team that has won 36 games each of the last two seasons and refuses to tank despite every signal pointing to them doing so hasn’t helped him one bit. Because the reality is that Kidd-Gilchrist is still one of the league’s top perimeter defenders. I say still because it feels like he’s been around for decades, just kind of plodding around down in North Carolina. In reality, he just turned 25 in late September (Anthony Davis – the man selected just one pick before MKG, turned 25 in March). This season, the Hornets are running it back again with a few minor tweaks. Malik Monk will be more involved. Rookie Miles Bridges is expected to receive early season minutes. Dwight Howard and his corny “candor” are thankfully gone, too (sorry, John Wall). MKG’s overall numbers were down last season from the previous year (including his minutes) and the inclusion of Bridges, Monk, and a revamped Jeremy Lamb will make for a crowded wing. The odds of him adding a three-point shot aren’t completely dead, but they’re definitely on life-support. Continuing to be a defensive bulldog is how he’ll stay on the court. Showcasing some semblance of an offensive game outside of cutting backdoor should be his year-long goal, but even if he doesn’t, he’ll always have a spot in the league because of what he brings to the other end.
Patrick Patterson – Oklahoma City Thunder
- Hallelujah!! Carmelo Anthony is gone! It’s time to free Patrick Patterson! After a successful three-year run in Toronto as one of their most efficient role players, Patterson was brought in to replicate that production in Oklahoma City. But a stubborn/washed Anthony devalued Patterson to the point where he didn’t look anything like the player that Raptors fans were infatuated with. Now he’ll slide into that role left wide open by Anthony’s departure and hopefully split time with Jerami Grant. Patterson, even at 29, has clear value. He can stretch the floor and is a capable switching defender. The Thunder have legitimate potential to threaten the Warriors and Rockets for a top-two spot in the West and Patterson returning to form would be crucial in accomplishing that. I expect him to do so. If he can continue to shoot at the above-average clip from deep that he did last season (38.6 percent, although taking 1.8 fewer threes and playing nearly half as many minutes in OKC than he did in his last season in Toronto), he’ll be guaranteed 20-plus minutes every game.
Rajon Rondo – Los Angeles Lakers
- From Anthony Davis to LeBron James. That’s not a bad transition as Rondo enters his 13th NBA season. Rondo has been tabbed the starter for the Lakers preseason, but a healthy Lonzo Ball should supplant him by the time the regular season begins. This doesn’t mean Rondo isn’t going to be a major factor, though. His role on this team will go well beyond what we see on the court. Rondo is going to be a vital component to a playoff run for the Lakers. He and LeBron are the two most brilliant basketball minds playing on the court right now, there are things they can teach to the young core that the 20-something-year-olds wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. As far as impacting the game action, he’ll still be dishing out 6-7 assists per game while leading his team by example. He’s poised to help another team make a lengthy playoff run.
By Drew Franklin on ©October 02nd, 2018 @ 7:45pm
Malik Monk was all set to check into the Hornets’ game against the Heat tonight, but when he pulled off his shooting shirt to go into the game, he came to a startling realization: He forgot his jersey.
So instead of subbing in, Monk went back to the locker room to get dressed.
Malik Monk forgot his jersey so he had to go back to the locker room ? pic.twitter.com/O0FottoAU2
— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) October 2, 2018
Malik Monk goes to scorer’s table to check into game.
Takes warm ups off.
Realizes he forgot to put on his jersey.
Has to go back to locker room to go get it.
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) October 2, 2018
Come on, Malik. This is a big year for you. Let’s get focused.
By Zack Geoghegan on ©September 30th, 2018 @ 10:00pm
Washington Wizards point guard John Wall recently sat down with longtime Washington sportscaster, Chick Hernandez, for a question and answer session.
In the Q&A, Wall had honest discussions with Hernandez about his goals going forward in the NBA, his new teammates Dwight Howard, and an inside look into his life growing up, among many other topics.
The entire conversation can be found here via The Athletic (which is a pay-to-view site). Some of the highlights during the 20 question sitdown include:
- Wall saying that being able to play in just one NBA game fulfilled his dream as a rookie.
- He tabbed this summer the “Summer of Separation” thanks to 32nd overall ranking he received from ESPN earlier in the month. He wants to separate himself from the pack of individuals he believes he’s already better than.
- His ultimate goal now is to win an MVP and a championship, but he understands it’s going to take overall team success to achieve those lofty accomplishments.
- A successful 2018-19 season includes 50-plus wins and a top two spot in the Eastern Conference.
- He reiterated that he’s going back to Kentucky to finish his degree in order to honor his later father, something he initially shared during last season’s All-Star weekend.
- His negative demeanor as a budding basketball prospect during his middle and high school days and how he learned to overcome that.
There are plenty more interesting tidbits into Wall’s life – especially regarding his dad – that are shared throughout the piece. It’s worth a read and helps us as fans understand just how hard he’s worked and continues to work as he heads into his ninth NBA season.
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is trying his hand at shooting with his left instead of his right because he is much more skilled at basketball than you or I will ever be.
Following surgery on his right hand that has forced Booker to sit out and could potentially dip into the regular season, he’s been testing getting off shots with his left hand.
Better watch out ? pic.twitter.com/WZKYRRabOz
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) September 27, 2018
(Why does Booker shoots the ball better with his left hand than I do with my right?)
While I’m not sure I would want Booker taking a 30-foot jumper with his left hand, I can see where this might be a valuable addition to his already expansive offensive arsenal.
Being more comfortable with his left hand will allow him to have better control of the ball when hoisting up contested shots with his off-hand, especially ones close to the rim.
“I always messed around a little bit growing up, just shooting with my left hand, but now I’m actually getting real work in with my left hand,” Booker told Suns.com. “I think it’s going to be a big help.”
I already can’t wait for that first left-handed jumper to splash right through the net as Booker jogs back down the court with the infamous Michael Jordan shrug.
Player rankings are almost always subjective. There is zero chance of creating a ranking sheet where every single person is in full agreement. We as humans just aren’t wired to wholeheartedly agree with anything, no matter how much we may or may not know about the topic at hand. So instead of my original plan, which was to create a straight, numbered list of all the former Kentucky players in the NBA and rank them in order of talent, I’m going to try something a bit different.
Let’s throw out the rankings and try a tier-based system.
By tiers, I mean dividing every player into specific groups such as “All-Stars” or “low-level starters”. This way, it reduces the chances of someone being placed over another when in reality they are neck-and-neck in terms of their talent and bring similar intangibles to the table.
These tiers are going to be based strictly on how I believe they will perform for the upcoming season. Rookies will not be factored in while injuries and suspensions will be taken into account (so don’t be surprised if DeMarcus Cousins is lower than expected).
Without the rookies but also including fringe NBA players who have legitimate shots to make an NBA roster sometime during the season (Archie Goodwin and DeAndre Liggins), there are a total of 27 players to choose from. These 27 players will be broken down into six different tiers: All-Stars, high-level starters, low-level starters, off-the-bench contributors, bench players, and fringe players.
For the first portion of this multi-piece article will focus on the bottom half of the league. The off-the-bench contributors, the bench players, and the fringe players.
Let’s start with the guys fighting for roster spots.
These are the players who are fighting for playing time. Some have NBA contracts, some don’t. Every minute they play, whether it be preseason or in training camp, is crucial to their immediate success.
Tyler Ulis – Golen State Warriors
- Ulis averaged just over 21 minutes per game as the backup for the Phoenix Suns over the course of the last two seasons. After being let go by the Suns, the Warriors picked him up on an Exhibit 10 contract. Now he has to prove himself in either the preseason or during training camp that he deserves another shot in the NBA. The Warriors have a pretty good point guard already along with backup Quinn Cook, so Ulis will need to take advantage of every single opportunity presented before him.
Alex Poythress – Atlanta Hawks
- Poythress is on a two-way contract in Atlanta, so he’ll see time with both the Hawks and their G League affiliate the Erie BayHawks. While he appeared in 25 games for the Indiana Pacers last season, he only averaged a little over four minutes per game. On a Hawks team that is embracing a youth movement, this may be the best situation for Poythress to carve out some playing time.
DeAndre Liggins and Archie Goodwin – free agents
- Both Liggins and Goodwin are currently free agents but could find themselves on an NBA sometime during the regular season. Liggins especially has a solid track record of being a valuable mid-season pickup that can boost a team’s defense during the strenuous season. Goodwin has not played for in an NBA game since April of 2017 but had another solid Summer League performance. It wouldn’t be surprising if either of these two earns a contract before the calendar switches to 2019.
These are the players who will see more time on the bench than in the game. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove their value, but it’s going to be up to them to work themselves into more prominent roles.
Skal Labissiere – Sacramento Kings
- This is a make or break year for Labissiere. His first two seasons in Sacramento have been relatively disappointing and the frontcourt competition for the Kings is only getting more fierce and talented. Unless he can take a major leap in both production and consistency, he may see less playing time that he already had been. Being able to reliably stretch the floor would immediately boost his value and it’s what I’ll be watching for the most when the season begins.
Brandon Knight – Houston Rockets
- We don’t really know what we will see out of Knight as he finally returns to the basketball court. Plagued with injuries for what feels like six decades now, he’s found a situation that will allow him a bit of a loose leash. With James Harden and Chris Paul ahead of him, Knight won’t be asked to produce like he was in Phoneix and Milwaukee. While Knight could end up playing 20ish minutes on a nightly basis, it’s almost impossible to determine at this moment what type of brand of basketball he’ll be able to produce when he finally steps back onto the court. One thing I do know is this: Knight is going to have a green light to shoot.
Nerlens Noel – Oklahoma City Thunder
- The man that bet on himself not too long ago (and lost significantly) is going to have to resurrect his career in Oklahoma City. Luckily for him, he’s found a good home. He’ll backup Steven Adams – who could possibly make a run at his first All-Star appearance this season – and will also play behind Patrick Patterson and Jerami Grant. Noel shouldn’t expect to see extended minutes early in the season, but when he does get on the court, he’s going to have to prove he’s worth what he believes he is. No more Carmelo Anthony will definitely give him a better chance at playing time, too.
Jodie Meeks – Washington Wizards
- Meeks has only served six games of his 25 game suspension that will spill over into the 2018-19 season. By all accounts, last season was one of his worst, despite being healthy. Missing the first 19 games of the season will already put him at a disadvantage on a team that got a bit deeper at the guard position. At 31 years old, Meeks is going to have to bump that 34 three-point percentage from last season up into the high 30s, at the minimum.
These are the players who aren’t starters but still have a clear identity they bring to their team. They aren’t going to drop 15-20 points on a consistent basis, but they help their teams in ways that go beyond the box score. There is potential and plenty of room to grow with these players.
Malik Monk – Charlotte Hornets
- Monk’s first season in Charlotte was a rollercoaster. He saw plenty of minutes as the season began but quickly saw those vanish to the point where he hardly played. Thanks to an injury late in the season to Michael Carter-Williams, Monk was able to not only soak up those minutes, but excel in them. He averaged 12.1 points per game over the last 18 of the regular season. Heading into this season, Monk will likely come off the bench but his new head coach James Borrego has a clear role for him and he plans on using Monk early and often as a floor-spacing weapon.
Andrew Harrison – Memphis Grizzlies
- Harrison broke out a bit last season after starting point guard Mike Conley went down with an injury. His play last season didn’t prove he could be a starting caliber point guard anytime soon, but that backup role is clearly his to lose. With the Grizzlies trying to salvage the remainder of the decaying roster, Harrison will absolutely see minutes in the backup role again as an eager and fresh body. Harrison improved every aspect of his game last season, now it’s time to take it up another notch.
Darius Miller – New Orleans Pelicans
- Miller has a defined role on this New Orleans Pelicans team. His job is to run off screens, spread the defense, and knock down open shots. He executed all three of those to perfection last season (shooting 41.1 percent from deep while playing in all 82 games) and will be expected to repeat that this season. With the focus of the team understandably gravitating towards Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Nikola Mirotic, and Jrue Holiday, Miller is often the forgotten man and that’s precisely when he’ll knock down a wide-open three.
Trey Lyles – Denver Nuggets
- Lyles had a bit of an early career revival with the Nuggets last season. He struggled during his two seasons in Utah and it wasn’t until Paul Millsap missed three months with a wrist injury that Lyles had a real shot to showcase his talents. While he was forced to take a back seat when Millsap did return, Lyles established himself as a rotation NBA player that deserves time. The Nuggets are going to be loaded offensively next season and playing time will be scarce for Lyles, but he can make immediate impacts in games as a stretch forward as he showed multiple times last season.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan
The long wait is just about over. Basketball season is (un)officially upon us.
The NBA kicked off their two-week long preseason schedule on Friday with two games, featuring the Boston Celtics, who visited the Charlotte Hornets at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, along with the Philadelphia 76ers, who hosted Melbourne United – an Austrailian league team.
The preseason will extend through Oct. 12, only four days before opening night of the regular season, and will sometimes pit NBA teams against other professional teams from overseas and some venues for the games will be shown at college arenas (like how Rupp Arena has hosted preseason NBA games over the previous seasons).
All 30 teams will play in the preseason, and while it mirrors Summer League in some fashions (small sample sizes which lead to overrating/underrating players), it’s different in a way that this is our first look at all players in live game scenarios since the end of last season. Preseason is where teams will try to figure out their rosters as they head into the regular season and it gives players such as Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress an opportunity to prove they deserve a spot in the regular season rotation.
The stars will play, although on limited numbers and hardly going top speed, but it’s a chance to see how they’ve evolved (or devolved) over the offseason and what type of work they’ve put into their bodies.
Here’s a rundown of the preseason schedule that will feature former Kentucky players for the upcoming week (Sept. 30 – Oct. 7).
5:00 – Miami (Adebayo, Marcus Lee) @ San Antonio
6:00 – Charlotte (Kidd-Gilchrist, Monk) @ Boston
7:00 – New Orleans (Davis, Miller, Randle) @ Chicago
8:00 (ESPN) – Denver (Lyles, Murray, Vanderbilt) @ Los Angeles Lakers (Rondo): Valley View Casino Center in San Diego, CA
9:30 – Sydney Kings @ Los Angeles Clippers (Gilgeous-Alexander)
7:00 – New York (Kanter, Knox) @ Washington (Meeks, Wall)
7:30 – New Orleans (Davis, Miller, Randle) @ Atlanta (Poythress): McCamish Pavilion (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, GA.
10:00 – Sacramento (Cauley-Stein, Fox, Gabriel, Labissiere) @ Phoenix (Booker)
7:00 – Miami (Adebayo, Lee) @ Charlotte (Kidd-Gilchrist, Monk)
8:00 – Memphis (An. Harrison) @ Houston (Knight): Legacy Center in Birmingham, AL.
10:30 (TNT) – Denver (Lyles, Murray, Vanderbilt) @ Los Angeles Lakers (Rondo)
7:30 – New York (Kanter, Knox) @ Brooklyn
8:00 (NBATV) – Chicago @ Milwaukee (Bledsoe)
8:00 – Detroit @ Oklahoma City (Diallo, Noel, Patterson)
10:00 – New Zealand Breakers @ Phoenix (Booker)
10:30 (NBATV) – Minnesota (Towns) @ Los Angeles Clippers (Gilgeous-Alexander)
8:00 (NBATV) – Indiana @ Houston (Knight)
10:30 (NBATV) – Sacramento (Cauley-Stein, Fox, Gabriel, Labissiere) @ Los Angeles Lakers (Rondo)
7:00 – Miami (Adebayo, Lee) @ Washington (Meeks, Wall)
7:30 – New Orleans (Davis, Miller, Randle) @ New York (Kanter, Knox)
8:00 – Oklahoma City (Diallo, Noel, Patterson) @ Minnesota (Towns)
8:00 (NBATV) – Atlanta @ Memphis (An. Harrison)
9:00 – Perth Wildcats @ Denver (Lyles, Murray, Vanderbilt)
10:00 – Portland @ Phoenix (Booker)
10:30 (ESPN) – Sacramento (Cauley-Stein, Fox, Gabriel, Labissiere) @ Golden State (Cousins, Ulis – that felt weird to type out): Key Arena in Seattle, WA
8:00 – Indiana @ Memphis (An. Harrison)
10:00 (NBATV) – Los Angeles Clippers (Gilgeous-Alexander) @ Los Angeles Lakers (Rondo)
3:00 (NBATV) – Atlanta (Poythress) @ Oklahoma City (Diallo, Noel, Patterson): BOK Center in Tulsa, OK.
4:00 – Houston (Knight) @ San Antonio
8:00 – Milwaukee (Bledsoe) @ Minnesota (Towns): Hilton Coliseum (Iowa State) in Ames, IA.
The Oct. 5 matchup between the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors should have every Kentucky fan glued to their TV at 10:30 on a Saturday night. The game will get the ESPN treatment and could feature as many as six former Kentucky players. We’re a little over two weeks away from the opening night tip, but the weeks leading up should tide over even the hungriest of basketball fans.
By Kindsey Bernhard on ©September 30th, 2018 @ 2:00pm
The NBA season is almost back even though I feel like it just ended.
Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves took on Tyler Ulis (DeMarcus Cousins did not play) and the Golden State Warriors in a preseason game on Saturday.
Towns finished with 12 points and 6 rebounds in the Timberwolves’ 114-110 win. Ulis finished with 2 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 9 minutes of play.
Here is Ulis’ first points as a Warrior:
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) September 30, 2018