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.
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