The Cats just lost their first game, and some of their flaws were exploited by an impressive and resurgent Indiana basketball squad. Kentucky has played well through its first nine games of the season, especially when you consider how young and inexperienced a great deal of their players were coming into the season. They knocked off Kansas in just the second game of the year on a neutral site, and also took down one of the top teams in the country in North Carolina at home. With still a great deal of the season left to go, it’s time to examine just how these players have played through the first chunk of the season.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (A+) – Kidd-Gilchrist was probably considered the second best recruit, right behind Anthony Davis, coming into the season. He was known for his work ethic and ability to defend at a very high level. What Kidd-Gilchrist has shown is that he has one of the highest motors in the country, he’s a versatile player that can play inside and out, and he finishes at the basket as well as anyone on the team. He is a relentless force on the glass and he’s one of the most special talents in the country. He’s yet to have a poor game, and he’s been very consistent while being one of the biggest play-makers on the team.
Doron Lamb (A) – Lamb continues to be one of the most consistent players in the lineup and is the leading scorer on the team at 14.9 points per game. He is one of the most clutch players on the team, besides his missed free throw against Indiana last Saturday, and has an unbelievable stroke. He’s developed his game to allow him to not only be a scorer, but a ball handler and distributor. His versatility gives Calipari more options, and he’s filled in rather nicely through Marquis Teague’s struggles at the point guard position when asked. He’s also improved on his ability to finish around the rim and has seemed to find new strength after a full off-season of weights and conditioning. Lamb will need to continue to become a leader out there along with fellow sophomore Terrence Jones.
Anthony Davis (B+) – The X-factor in the Kentucky lineup so far has been Anthony Davis. He’s only scratched the surface of his potential, and by the end of the season, I believe he will be in the A to A+ range. Right now, he’s limited offensively, but he’s so much more affective in other facets of the game. Davis’s unusual blend of size, length and athleticism give him an advantage that many other players don’t have. He is able to rebound both offensively and defensively, and alter just about any offensive game plan because of his ability to protect the rim. He has been instrumental in Kentucky’s ability to put pressure on the ball and force turnovers, and ability to finish around the rim is silly. He continues to struggle to find his stroke, both on the perimeter and at the free throw line. Davis still has plenty of room to improve, which is scary because of how well he has played so far this season.
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Terrence Jones (B+) – Before the Indiana game, Terrence Jones was easily an A to A+. He had been such a force on the floor and gave Kentucky an attitude of toughness that seemed to permeate through the team. That all changed on Saturday evening when he was a no-show and reverted back into last season form, the freshman. Jones has had a history of wearing his emotions on his sleeves, and the highs are extremely high and more frequent than the lows. But when there are lows, Jones shows no ability to pull himself out of the rut. He goes into his hole and seems to pout rather than making a difference on his own. Even with just four points on Saturday against the Hoosiers, Jones is still the second leading scorer on the team at 13.8 per game. He wanted to come back and be a leader. He wanted to improve his draft stock and help lead Kentucky to a National Championship. In order to do that, he has to be the Terrence Jones we saw in the first eight games, and can never again be the one we saw at Indiana.
Eloy Vargas (B) – Eloy hasn’t played much this year, but when he has, he’s been serviceable and done his job. Calipari does not ask Vargas to do a lot, except for play hard and don’t hurt the team when he’s in there. To this point, he has served his role admirably and has played some big minutes in games when players have been in foul trouble. He played pivotal minutes against UNC and Indiana, and if anything, held his ground and defended and rebounded well. He averages 3.6 rebounds per game, and that’s only in 8.4 minutes of playing time per contest. He gives Kentucky an occasional stick back and has the fourth best rebounding average on the team. Eloy is getting it done.
Marquis Teague (B-) – The young point guard is so far from reaching his potential that it’s sickening to think about how good he is going to be once he gets there. Teague has been somewhat of a disappointment up until this point, but he’s showed signs of breaking out and becoming one of the better players in the rotation. Other times, he looks lost and confused while trying to make way too many big plays on his own. If last Saturday is an indication of things to come for Teague, who scored 15 points in the second half of his homecoming to Indiana, Kentucky fans should be excited about what this kid can provide to this team. What people don’t understand is how difficult it is to play point guard for John Calipari in the dribble drive offense. There is a ton of responsibility placed on point guards at Kentucky, and it looks like Teague is starting to come around.
Darius Miller (C) – Miller is getting an average grade because he’s been just average. Miller has not played terrible so far this year. In fact, he’s played pretty well in big situations this year. But all too often, Miller is sitting and waiting for the game to come to him, rather than asserting himself in the offense and being aggressive. This grade is based solely on the fact that Miller has underachieved his entire career, and his talent and ability are off the charts. He can be a special player and has all the talent in the world, but for whatever reason, he refuses to display it for the world to see. As of late, Miller has began to turn things on, but he has yet to put together a complete game.
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Kyle Wiltjer (C) – This grade does not have as much to do with how he’s played, but more about how little we have seen of him to evaluate. In the short time he has played this season, he has shown some flashes of skill, but has not been very aggressive. He has not had much time to settle into the flow of the game and get comfortable, so he has been tentative in big-game situations. Wiltjer possess some serious skills, but could definitely use some strength and bulk to help him become a more physical presence in the paint. Wiltjer is not a one-and-done type player, but is definitely a guy who will continue to improve and be a big-time talent by the time at Kentucky is through. That could definitely come sooner rather than later.
This article originally appeared over at Strait Pinkie.