With the NBA Draft now less than a month away, we’re taking a look at a number of projected or likely first-round picks and comparing them to those who came before — at the very same school. The comparison game is a go-to among fans, scouts, GMs and scribes, but for fun, we’re going to narrow the gap to only looking at specific schools. Here is our look at Kentucky, which has sent four players on average per season since John Calipari began coaching there in 2009-10.
What, only three potential first-round picks for UK this year? For most schools, this is a dream scenario. For Kentucky, it’s a down year. John Calipari has already proven this: he’s the best preps-to-pros coach in history. The run he’s on since he got to Kentucky is unprecedented. By the time the draft wraps up, he’ll have sent 28 players to the NBA by way of a draft pick in seven years. Just ridiculous. More than half of the conferences in college basketball, leagues that have been around for decades, haven’t sent that many players in their history — combined.
Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere are the three first-round prospects coming out of Lexington this year. How do they stack up against Wildcats from the past six seasons? And what’s a reasonable level of expectation for how they’ll pan out as pros?
(Offensive rating and Player Efficiency Rating (PER) are from RealGM’s player database. All measurements are via Draft Express’ database. Height with shoes on.)
Kentucky sophomore Tyler Ulis
Height: 5 feet, 10 inches
Wingspan : 6 feet, 2 inches
Standing reach : 7 feet, 4.5 inches
Max vertical reach : 10 feet, 6.5 inches
Career college stat line : 11.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 5.3 apg, 127.0 ORtg, 19.5 PER
Projected range in NBA draft : 14-20
Body-wise, his measurements most closely resemble: Marquis Teague
Clearly there hasn’t been a player like Ulis to come out of UK in the Calipari era. He’s much smaller than any UK draft pick in ages. Teague (6-2, 8-foot standing reach, 180 pounds) is the closest in size, speed and athleticism, though. What makes Ulis so interesting is how tough, smart, level-headed, and reliable he is. Of all the guys he’s coached in Lexington, Calipari probably couldn’t pick two other players he’d rather have leading his team than Ulis. His reputation is stellar. In terms of on-court ability and leadership potential, he’s unmatched at UK.
Stat-wise, most closely resembles: Marquis Teague
When Teague left UK after his freshman season in 2012, he averaged 10 points, 4.8 assists, 2.5 rebounds in 32.5 minutes. Very similar to Ulis’ output over two seasons. Remember where Teague was picked, by chance? Lower than where Ulis will go. Teague was the 29th choice that year. Something of an ironic twist: UK won the title with Teague running the offense. But with Anthony Davis in the fold, he wasn’t seen to be as vital to that team as Ulis was the past two seasons, wherein UK went a combined 65-10.
Can be better than: Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, Andrew Harrison
Kentucky’s had plenty of guys go on to become really good NBA players. The three above have yet to do that, and never really had any impact. Ulis probably won’t start his first couple of years, but his floor, to me, is four seasons and 10 minutes per game. That would amount to more than Lamb, Teague and Harrison (so far).
Probably won’t be as good as: John Wall, Brandon Knight
Wall has moved in and out of the conversation as a top-five NBA point guard over the past half-decade. Ulis will never be that. Knight has a career average of 15.9 points, 4.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 33 minutes per game. Very reliable. To ask Ulis to reach those numbers is putting too much on him right now.
Most probable career arc/impact: Patrick Patterson
Mandatory reminder: This specific section is not about comparing position vs. position or similar game styles. Rather, it’s the closest parallel to a certain success rate, regardless of position. In that case, Patterson is a good example. He’s been a reliable role player since entering the league, has a career 112 ORtg and a PER of 13.56. Ulis can be that, I think.
Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray
Height: 6 feet, 4.5 inches
Weight : 210
Wingspan : 6 feet, 7 inches
Standing reach: 8 feet, 1 inches
Max vertical reach : Not yet measured
Career college stat line : 20.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 120.2 ORtg, 21.5 PER
Projected range in NBA Draft: 3-6
Body-wise, most closely resembles: Andrew Harrison
Like Murray, Harrison was about 6-5. Similar build. Aaron, Andrew’s twin brother, was the shooting guard, but he went undrafted, and so I’m only using comparisons among UK players who were picked. Fortunately, Andrew was. He had a game that was a little more rugged than Andrew’s, too. Murray’s style was actually a blend of the Harrison brothers, albeit with a bigger penchant for 3-pointers and a quicker release off the bounce.
Stat-wise, most closely resembles: Brandon Knight
Here’s a trivia question to hold on to: What Kentucky player had the highest points average of any Calipari product to come out of Lexington? The answer is Murray. Statistically, there is no one extremely similar to him. He averaged more points than anyone. Knight (17.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists) is the closest fit, but in reality, no guard at UK had as good an offensive rating and PER measurement as Murray. Not even John Wall, whose stat line across the board was better than Murray, except in tempo-free numbers.
Can be better than: Andrew Harrison, Darius Miller, Archie Goodwin, James Young
Murray’s ability to score in myriad ways from 15 feet and out should set him up well at the pro level. His game is more made for the NBA than college, too. He’s not just a spot-up shooter, but he can average 10 per game based on that action alone. He’s much more dangerous offensive than the four guys mentioned above. Once he puts on some muscle and strengthens his handle, he can become a top-10 3-point shooter in the pros.
Probably won’t be as good as: John Wall
I could toss the triumvirate of UK big men in here, but I saved them for the Skal section below. Truth is, in terms of wing players, there’s no one in the league right now who’s streets ahead of Murray’s ceiling. In terms of guards, only Wall seems to outpace Murray’s potential impact, and that’s nothing against him at all. Murray can become a top-40 player in the league in about five years time, and that’s great value if you get him at the No. 5 pick or so.
Most probable career arc/impact: Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe is the safe bet here. He was the 18th pick in the 2010 draft and since then has put up a career average of 11.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He has a PER of 16.78. A couple of borderline-All-Star seasons. Pretty solid, all told. I think Murray should be in this orbit. Bledsoe wasn’t seen as much of a risk when he came in. He had the body, the scoring ability. Murray is similar to that. To me, it would be shocking if he’s out of the league before 2024.
Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere
Height: 6 feet, 11.75 inches
Wingspan : 7 feet, 2.5 inches
Standing reach : 8 feet, 9.5 inches
Max vertical reach : Not yet measured
Career college stat line : 6.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 107.8 ORtg, 17.6 PER
Projected range in NBA draft : 8-22
Body-wise, his measurements most closely resemble: Anthony Davis
Davis has since bulked up in a big way, but in the lead-up to the 2012 draft, AD’s measurements were very close to Labissiere’s now: an inch shorter, six pounds heavier, 2.5 inches longer wingspan, two inches longer in standing reach. Of course, Davis was a clear-cut No. 1 pick. Twelve months ago, Labissiere was thought to be a potential No. 1, but his freshman season was a complete misfire. He’s still projected in the first round based off his skill set and smooth offensive game. Despite being a similar build to Davis, his style differs widely from what Davis was coming out of UK.
Stat-wise, most closely resembles: Dakari Johnson
Johnson was a bit player for UK, though he didn’t have the expectations of Labissiere. But he averaged 5.8 pounds and 4.3 rebounds. His ORtg and PER were higher than Labissiere. In general, we haven’t seen a five-star, top-three prospect put on such an underwhelming freshman season … maybe ever. But it could have been the system more than the player. And let’s remember that Skal did have a few bright spots in March.
Can be better than: Daniel Orton, Josh Harrellson
If Labissiere lands in the right spot and can be a pick-and-pop 4, then he’ll be just fine. I doubt he’s ever a No. 1 or 2 guy on a team, and maybe he’s a No. 3 unless he winds up on a bottom-five team in the league. But I think he’s too talented to spiral out the way Orton and Harrellson did (both played three seasons).
Probably won’t be as good as: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns
Yeah, this goes without saying. Those three can be the three best big men in the NBA by this time next season, and no way Labissiere is entering this group. That’s obviously no knock on him. He’s not even the same kind of big man as those three, who are all distinct from each other in their skills and styles, too.
Most probable career arc/impact: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
This is really tough to forecast. I think worst case scenario for Labissiere is four seasons, a lot of D-League play and an inability to bulk up his body and add dimensions to his game. The best case is a 13-year career in which he makes four All-Star Games and is a 10-year starter. You can’t even take the middle ground on that and say it’s most likely. So I’ll lean a little more pessimistic and go MKG. He’s been OK, but not lived up to No. 2 status, which is where he went four years ago. Kidd-Gilchrist plays 26 minutes per game, averaging nine points and six boards. That’s a solid trajectory for Skal.
Kentucky players drafted since 2010
2015: Karl-Anthony Towns (first), Willie Cauley-Stein (sixth), Trey Lyles (12th), Devin Booker (13th), Andrew Harrison (44th), Dakari Johnson (48th)
2014: Julius Randle (seventh), James Young (17th),
2013: Nerlens Noel (sixth), Archie Goodwin (29th)
2012: Anthony Davis (first), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (second), Terrence Jones (18th), Marquis Teague (29th), Doron Lamb (42nd), Darius Miller (46th)
2011: Enes Kanter (third), Brandon Knight (eighth), Josh Harrellson (45th), DeAndre Liggins (53rd)
2010: John Wall (first), DeMarcus Cousins (fifth), Patrick Patterson (14th), Eric Bledsoe (18th), Daniel Orton (29th)
Total players drafted: 25
Lottery picks : 13
First round : 19
Average career college stat line of UK first rounders : 11.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, 27.1 mpg, 114.6 ORtg, 19.8 PER
Average career NBA stat line of UK first rounders: 9.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 21.1 mpg, 98.8 ORtg, 13.4 PER
Total All-Star Games for all UK players: 8
Average number of teams per player : 1.8