Can All Six Expected Kentucky Draftees Find NBA Success? History Shows It’s Unlikely…Posted by EJacoby on June 27th, 2012
At this Thursday’s NBA Draft, expect to hear six former Kentucky players’ names called. But what are the chances that all six end up having strong pro careers? Four of the UK players are locks to go in the first round while two others are fringe picks, so there are high expectations for this group of newcomers. Has any past college team ever produced four or even five solid pros in the same draft? It turns out that 12 different college teams have seen at least four of their players get selected in a draft since 1989, when the draft shrunk from seven rounds to two. Unfortunately, none of these teams produced more than three successful pros, though the most recent examples include small sample sizes and show some promise. The bottom line is that history is working against the six former Wildcats, and it would be unprecedented for even five of them to pan out. Kentucky basketball has had a way of setting records recently, though, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if most or all of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller eventually become strong NBA players.
Since the draft shrunk to only two rounds back in 1989, no college team has ever had six players drafted in the same year. It goes to show just how talented the 2011-12 Wildcats were, starting at the top with the expected #1 pick Anthony Davis. The 2006 Connecticut, 2007 Florida, 2008 Kansas, and 2010 Kentucky teams are the only others to produce as many as five NBA draft picks, so the trend has been pointing toward this day.
Today we’ll break down the teams that have come closest to producing four quality pros, including the most recent teams which still have a chance to do so. In order to qualify as a successful pro, our criteria requires players to have enjoyed extended, productive NBA careers. Career scoring averages of around 10 points per game is a general floor. Statistics don’t always tell the tale, so minutes played and games started are also considered to generally mean that a player was useful to his team. A one-stop statistic is Win Shares, which calculates the value a player adds over accumulated time and can be easily accessed through Basketball Reference’s database. Players who aren’t ranked in the top 20 Win Shares of their draft class generally don’t qualify as contributors. We’ll note if exceptions apply for certain players.
The 1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels went down as one of the greatest teams of all-time, and four Rebs got selected in the ’91 draft. Larry Johnson (#1 pick), Stacey Augmon, and Greg Anthony were all lottery picks, and each had fairly successful pro careers. However, the fourth (George Ackles, second round) never played a game in the NBA. Given their incredible college performances, Augmon and Anthony may have underachieved in their pro careers, as neither player averaged more than 8.0 points per game. On the other hand, Augmon played over 1,000 games in the league and Anthony averaged 4.0 assists over 11 years, so they should still qualify as successful (if not spectacular) pros.
The 1995-96 Kentucky ‘Untouchables’ team produced nine eventual pros, but only four were picked in the 1996 draft. Antoine Walker was an NBA All-Star in his prime, and Tony Delk averaged 9.1 points per game over 10 NBA seasons, so they both make the cut. We’ll even say that Walter McCarty deserves mention for playing 10 seasons in the league and starting 108 total games, but he only averaged 5.2 points and 2.6 rebounds predominantly as a reserve. Mark Pope, the fourth Wildcat drafted that year, averaged 1.9 points per game in his career and played in double-figure games in a season just three times.
In the 1999 draft, four Duke players were drafted, and they all went #14 or higher, including top pick Elton Brand. However, only Brand and reserve Corey Maggette panned out. Trajan Langdon started five career games in three seasons and William Avery was the single worst NBA performer from that draft, according to Basketball Reference’s win shares. In 2001, four Arizona players were drafted with Gilbert Arenas and Richard Jefferson turning out as standout pros. But Michael Wright never cracked an NBA roster and Loren Woods started 47 total games with a 2.6 career scoring average.
The 2004-05 North Carolina Tar Heels were the National Champions, and four guys got picked in the ’05 draft. Marvin Williams and Raymond Felton are still solid contributors today, but Rashad McCants and Sean May are long gone. Neither started more than 39 games in their NBA careers nor has played since 2010. In 2007, Florida was coming off its second straight National Championship and five players were drafted just months later. This group has fared pretty well, as Al Horford and Joakim Noah are two of the Eastern Conference’s premier post players and Corey Brewer has bounced around as a solid role player, averaging 8.9 points per game in his career. But that’s it, as Chris Richard and Taurean Green never made it as pros, combining to play 87 total games, none in over two years. The 2008 National Champions, Kansas, also produced five pros but Mario Chalmers is the only player who cracks the top 20 in win shares from that draft. Brandon Rush may still qualify, as he has shown some upside at this point in his career as a solid wing shooter, slasher, and defender, most recently with the Warriors. And Darrell Arthur was coming on strong for the Grizzlies before he tore his ACL prior to the 2011-12 NBA season. Nonetheless, Darnell Jackson has started four career games and didn’t play last year while Sasha Kaun never cracked the league.
The last three teams on our list all still have a chance to produce four quality pros. The 2009 National Champion North Carolina squad has a chance to qualify if Wayne Ellington improves. Though he’s started just 13 career games, Ellington has averaged 6.5 points per game as a steady 15-20 minute player. As long as he doesn’t fall off the map in the near future, he’ll join Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Danny Green as quality players from that draft. Green was nearly out of the league last year but recovered with a great season for the Spurs. The Kentucky teams from 2010 and 2011 are next up, as the 2010 draft has produced several locks with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe. If Patrick Patterson continues to develop or Daniel Orton eventually breaks out, we’ve got one heck of a professional class. As for last year’s draft, it’s far less likely. Brandon Knight and Enes Kanter look like locks, but DeAndre Liggins scored 33 total points last season and Josh Harrelson showed flashes for the Knicks but he averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 rebounds and it’s unclear how he fits in going forward.
So that brings us back to the present Wildcat draft class. Can four, five, or even all six of Kentucky’s 2012 draftees become good pros? It will be a challenging task. Barring injury, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are absolute locks to contribute in the league — if not as stars then at least as rotation players — and that’s enough to make the cut. But from there it gets tricky. Teague has major upside at the point guard position, but he was a questionable entry this year because he’s quite raw and showed plenty of apparent flaws last season. Jones was once a top prospect but is one of the draft’s free-fallers as he lacked a strong motor last season and it’s unclear what role he’ll play in the league. Like Teague, he should land in the mid-first round and could become a versatile star or a total non-factor and neither would come as a complete surprise. Lamb has a more defined role as a likely reserve wing and knockdown shooter, but will he develop enough to earn significant minutes? And finally, Miller was a crucial glue guy for Kentucky but he lacks the athleticism and offensive skills of the other Wildcats. It’s anyone’s guess whether they all pan out, but the upside is most definitely there for five or six UK players from this year’s class to eventually thrive in the NBA. If they end up doing so, just add that to the list of many impressive accomplishments from the 2011-12 Wildcats.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him on Twitter @evanjacoby.