It’s been a treat watching Kentucky’s four McDonald’s All-Americans develop since I first watched them play a year ago. When you watch guys once, you get a good feel for their strengths and their weaknesses. Over time, questions are answered. It was a joy to see how much they’ve improved over a year and what is possible in the future.
I first saw Vanderbilt play in a Grind Session event at Pulaski County High School before Sacha Killeya-Jones took the floor. It only takes a quarter of basketball to draw Michael-Kidd Gilchrist comparisons. Vanderbilt has similar measurables, he’s an inch taller with a wider wingspan, but his style of play is what draws you to the former National Champion and No. 2 pick in the draft.
Vanderbilt isn’t a guy that plays hero ball; he gets his teammates involved. Whether he’s running the break, playing off a pick-and-roll or defending the other team’s best player, he is the the gear that makes the clock tick. Passing isn’t something you see in highlight reels, but it’s what he does best, using his length to get around multiple defenders to find the open man. Defensively, he can guard anybody at any spot on the floor, using his long arms to force deep, contested shots.
The biggest question mark for Vanderbilt was his shot. Lefties never look bad when they shoot it, but like Tayshaun Prince, a lefty with long-arms always has a weird-looking form. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it doesn’t like right, especially when you see how little elevation Vanderbilt has when he shoots.
At the two open practices, Vanderbilt was lights out.
From 15-18 feet, he was consistent. Off the dribble in pick-and-roll action or with a little catch-and-shoot, Vanderbilt was money. It was not forced, he simply took what the defense gave him. Guarded by Kevin Knox, nothing came easy, but he was so smooth he made it look easy. Vanderbilt has spent many extra hours working on his shot and it’s paid off.
“Before school, after school, even late nights. I’ve been sacrificing a lot to get that right. It seems like it’s been paying off so far,” Vanderbilt said yesterday. “It’s just great seeing all that hard work pay off. All the work I put into my shot, it’s finally coming along.”
Vanderbilt needed to play hero ball for his prep school, but when surrounded by talent, he excels, taking what the defense gives him and making them pay. Nobody has been more impressive in Chicago.
It’s hard to pin down Richards. During games, he’s either feast or famine, struggling with foul trouble or earning a scrappy double-double.
During individual drills, Richards’ midrange game surprised, consistently knocking down jumpers from from 10-15 feet. Once they got into a team setting, you never knew what you were gonna get. On Monday, he looked overwhelmed at times by Mohamed Bamba and Mitchell Robinson. Lacking a consistent post move, the physicality disrupted his game. On Tuesday, it was a different story. He was a patient, using the extra time to find the defensive weakness and exploit it for an easy two.
Leftover from yesterday, the No. 2 Center (Richards) doing work vs. the No. 1 Center (Mitchell Robinson) pic.twitter.com/yiscusDmsa
– Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) March 29, 2017
Why can’t Richards find an easy medium and play consistent? “I’m not really trying to make excuses, but I’ve only played three years of basketball,” Richards said yesterday.
Born in Jamaica, the 7-footer’s gained experience by playing on the EYBL and at The Patrick School, the alma mater of MKG and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s turned him into the second-best center in the 2017 class, but he has a lot of room to grow. He’s happy to have Kenny Payne and John Calipari next year to help make a transformation similar to Bam Adebayo and Karl Anthony-Towns.
Richards’ left-handed grab from Green on the fast break was the best highlight from the two practices.
Quade âž¡ï¸Richards ðŸ’¥ pic.twitter.com/fhQZzCdRcw
– Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) March 28, 2017
Washington is unlike any other player Calipari has ever recruited to Kentucky. His best asset is rebounding, comparable to Julius Randle, but his offensive game is unlike Randle’s. He’s at his best facing the basket, stretching the floor and knocking down threes or attacking the rim off the dribble. His ball-handling and passing ability is also exceptional for his size (6’8″ 200 pounds). He often ran the point guard for Findley Prep, one of the top ten programs in the nation.
Trying to compare him to another UK player is perplexing, but his game complements Vanderbilt’s well. Much more physical, it will be shocking if he doesn’t get at least eight rebounds a game next year. He does not pull-up quite like Vanderbilt, but he can spot up from deep, and he’s much more likely to bang with the bigs inside. If you want a comparison, Draymond Green is as close as you’ll get.
This post is meant to describe each players’ physical skill set, but his intangibles are much more important. Quade’s step-back is phenomenal. In the final minutes of preliminary Peach Jam games, he used the move to carry his team to victory multiple times, eventually reaching the championship. His ability to create space makes his size (6’1″) insignificant. He also has an exceptional three-point shot, starting his shot from almost behind his head to keep it away from defenders.
Vanderbilt to Richards to Green pic.twitter.com/M7D2Hevpuz
– Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) March 28, 2017
His ball skills are exceptional, but it’s not what makes him great.
Green is a fearless leader with the ball in his hands. He does not hesitate when the game is close. He makes the difficult pass, and he makes it look easy. Players gravitate to him because they know he will get them the ball. Matt is not overselling his significance in this recruiting class; players want to play with Quade because he commands the floor and draws attention to get the ball to others.
Being an above-average shooter and a great passer will get you far, but his attitude is what will make him another elite point guard in Calipari’s lineage of NBA talent. This statement says it all:
“I’m trying to be better than Tyler (Ulis). I’m going in with a different mindset: be the best player I can be and be better than all the point guards that ever came through there.”