Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams are expected to be the top two picks in Thursday’s NBA draft. Figures. They went to Duke and Arizona.
Since 1990, the Devils and Wildcats have each had 28 players drafted, tops among all D-I schools. Right behind are UCLA (27), North Carolina (26), Kansas (24), Connecticut (23) and Kentucky (21).
But that’s not the whole story when it comes to producing NBA players.
Those are just total players drafted. In the same span, other schools have produced more lottery picks and neither Duke nor Arizona is the leader in active NBA players.
That’s the draft. There are some familiar sights, but nothing’s ever a sure thing.
Getting the call
UCLA tops everyone in players drafted with 106. UNC (101), Kentucky (98), Duke (74) and Kansas (64). But that’s since the draft began in 1948. (Though you’ll find slightly different numbers on NBA reference and StatSheet. Apparently no one can agree on who’s played in the pros.) Those schools should produce the most players drafted this year, too.
Kansas, Duke and Kentucky should combine for at least 11 picks. UCLA will add two more. It all keeps with historical and recent trends.
The Bruins had 15 players drafted since 2000, followed by UNC (14), UConn (14), Duke (13), Kansas (13) and Arizona (13). But only half of those Bruins were first-round picks. Contrast that with Carolina’s 11 first-rounders, most among any school since 2000. (The guys who weren’t first-rounders? David Noel (2006), Reyshawn Terry (2007), Danny Green (2009).
In fact, many draftees from big-time programs usually go in the first round. Since 2000, only Arizona had more second-rounders (8) than first-rounders (5) among schools with at least 10 players drafted.
Maybe scouts simply overlook the West Coast players. Simply being a second-rounder – or undrafted — hasn’t prevented those guys from productive NBA careers.
Boom or bust?
Duke players usually get labeled as NBA busts. Jason Williams. Bobby Hurley. Trajan Langdon.
That’s not an accurate picture. Sure, none of them have won a title, but they’re hardly busts. Considering guys like Shane Battier, Luol Deng and Grant Hill – have been NBA mainstays, there’s a difference between a flat-out bust (Langdon) and a guy who makes a career out of finding a roster spot. (One site even makes the case that Duke produces the most stars.)
As one NBA scout told Dan Wiederer of the Fay Observer: “There’s an overwhelming tendency for people who don’t follow the NBA on an everyday basis to look at any high draft pick, guys taken in the lottery, and to label them as boom or bust. Either a guy turns out to be a superstar or the widespread perception is that he’s useless, he’s a bust. But that label gets thrown around way too often. There are hundreds of guys in the league right now who are making a good living and are neither superstars nor are they busts.”
J.J. Redick fits that bill. Same with Nick Collison. Jeff Green seems to be headed that way.
This year’s draft class seems to be loaded with those types of players. Provided expectations associated with being a lottery pick don’t sink the likes of Jimmer Fredette, Kawhi Leonard or Tristan Thompson, all three have the ability to be solid pros for years. But stars? Maybe not.
Can they play?
North Carolina has long been hailed as the best spot to snag a future pro. The ‘80s gave the league Michael Jordan, James Worthy. The ‘90s had Jerry Stackhouse and Vince Carter. And that’s just for starters.
Seven former Heels have played in the NBA All-Star game in the past 20 years. No other school has had more than four. But the Heels haven’t churned out stars at the same rate as of late. They’re still producing lottery picks and first-rounders, but Carter and Antawn Jamison are the last Heels to make All-Star weekend. None of the 14 guys drafted since ’01 have done it.
Maybe that’s because things have simply balanced out for Carolina.
According to stats run on 82games.com, 22 UNC players taken between 1989 and 2008 performed as expected related to their pick selection. Among schools with double-digit picks in that span, Kentucky, Alabama, Michigan, UConn and Arizona players fared the best in the pros.
The worst? Duke (seems everyone’s Duke data differs), Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and Louisville. (Cards were last among every school ranked.)
Surprisingly, UCLA isn’t listed among the schools whose players perform above expectations.
The Bruins had more former players in the NBA last season – 14 – than any other school. Kentucky and Duke each had 13. UNC and Kansas had 12. UConn had 11. Texas, Florida and Arizona each had 10. Remember, most of those Bruins weren’t drafted in the first round, meaning their expectations weren’t as high.
“And that’s not a knock on Ben Howland. It’s not a criticism that these guys aren’t getting coached well at UCLA. It’s just that the system he runs does not highlight some of the things that NBA teams really value in these guys and when they get in the NBA system they’re well coached, they’ve been well trained, they’ve been patient and suddenly they blossom in the NBA.
“Lest anyone use that as recruiting ammunition against Ben Howland – the important thing is that these guys are fundamentally sound, and that’s what Ben teaches and it allows you to adjust to this type of game (i.e. the NBA game), even though that system (UCLA’s) isn’t the pro style system, because they’re mastering the fundamentals they can make that adjustment and teams find it easy to build upon that and the guys that you mention in the league are prime examples of that.”
Kentucky’s also worth noting because some of the ex-‘Cats like Chuck Hayes and Keelena Azubuike weren’t even drafted. And now that John Calipari’s churning out draftees from Lexington – four last year, possibly three this season – I’d guess Kentucky’s overall numbers are only gonna go up.
So what’s it mean for this draft?
Don’t underestimate Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, two UCLA players who’ll either go late first round or in the second, but could end up being solid role players for years. Same goes for Kentucky’s DeAndre Liggins. Those could be the late gems.
It’s trickier for guys such as Wildcats guard Brandon Knight, UConn’s Kemba Walker and Irving, though. Not only are expectations higher, but they’ll probably have to perform well immediately, lest they’re labeled busts. In a draft like this – where there are supposedly few game-changers – that’s not an enviable spot to be in.
The biggest beneficiaries? Their schools. They keep pumping out the draft picks, which lures in more top-flight high school players. That’s the only sure thing in this whole equation.
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