The Kentucky Wildcats made history in June by having five of their players, including four freshmen, drafted in the first round. So how has that uber-talented bunch from Lexington been doing over the first half of their rookie seasons? In a few words: not good. Pretty much every individual issue that prevented them from becoming a great college team has manifested itself at the next level. For a look at my thoughts on the five before the draft, here is my 2010 NBA Draft primer. (Please note that Pattrick Patterson is the only one that I gave a good rating to.) For how they’ve each done this year, read on.
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards (#1 pick)
Everyone knew throughout the 2009-10 season that Wall was going to be the top pick because of his raw, physical skills. Touted as a larger Derrick Rose, the 6-feet-4, overdrive-fast Wall had plenty of “I’m faster than you” highlights in his one year at Kentucky. What everyone tried to forget about, though, was that he had WAY too many turnovers, no shot whatsoever, played matador defense, and he couldn’t get the only team in NCAA history with 5 first-round draft picks to the Final Four in a really down year for college basketball talent (losing to a West Virginia team that was playing without its starting PG).
He looked like an early Rookie of the Year candidate before Blake Griffin became the top attraction in the NBA, and by “looked like” I’m talking only about his high scoring and assist numbers. In actuality, his 40% shooting from the field is really bad, as is his 30% from downtown; he gets to the free throw line less than other ultra-quick guards (4.9 FT attempts per game), and he’s tied for the lead-league in turnovers (3.9 per). His 9.3 apg look good, but that A/TO rate of 2.4 is at the low end of acceptable for a PG. It should come as no shock then that Washington’s offense under Wall’s direction is horrendous (26th in the league, even worse than last year’s pitiful 25th), Wall’s Adjusted Plus/Minus of -13.62 is a distant last place on a really bad team (your impact has to be really terrible for that to happen), and his Pythagorean Win% of 21% (99 Offensive Rating, 109 Defensive Rating) is well below the Wizards’ winning mark of 30% (13-31). All in all, it’s tough to turn your team around with a PG who lacks basic skills on offense and willingness on defense, plus whose teams in the past have underperformed.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento Kings (#5 pick)
Cousins’ one year on the Wildcats let everyone see two, very clear, points. One, Cousins is a force of nature under the hoop, able to score at a very efficient 56% clip with overwhelming strength and a wide array of low-post moves, plus a ferocious rebounder and decent shot blocker. Two, Cousins is the mother of all head cases, constantly looking upset and disappointed in the most extreme way, yelling at teammates and opponents, and often refusing to look at his coach, or listen to him, on the sidelines. The Kings vowed to turn him around and make Cousins a centerpiece of their rebuilding effort next to Tyreke Evans.
Instead they got a player who can rebound. End of positive list. His 8 rpg in 26 minutes a night are very good, but his butt ugly attitude has reared its despicable head at several times this season (trade rumors have already swirled), and that poor work ethic that was hinted about before the draft may be to blame for his far underwhelming 43% FG%, really high 2.7 turnovers per game, last-in-the-NBA 4.1 fouls per game, and all around poor season on a team that was supposed to improve from last year but has taken a noticeable step back (Evans’ downturn is partially to blame, obviously, but Cousins was the big addition to the squad). His impact stats are all terrible, but of special note is his last-on-the-team -0.5 Wins Produced. He’s one of only four Kings to play 1000 minutes so far, and his talent is undeniable, but he is responsible for negative 0.5 wins according to this matrix. Wow.
Patrick Patterson, PF, Houston Rockets (#14 pick)
Known as a hard working, team-first contributor at Kentucky, Patterson gave up minutes and spotlight to UK’s freshmen class, but he still shot a phenomenal 58% from the field, scored 14 ppg, and grabbed 7 rpg. He was a solid defender and stood out on the team for his mature attitude. The Rockets made an obvious choice for him on draft day – I say obvious because his demeanor fits their squad that is full of team-first players.
Battling some injuries, Patterson didn’t make an appearance until mid-December, and he hasn’t been a regular on the court until less than a month ago. Even then, he still hasn’t started a contest and he’s topped 20 minutes only three times. All that being said, Houston writers and fans love him. He hustles. He makes 61% of his shots. He takes care of the ball and doesn’t turn it over. He plays defense without getting a bunch of fouls (except for Jan. 7 against Dwight Howard and the Magic). He’s a decent shot blocker for being 6-feet-9. His 84% Pythagorean Win% (124 ORating, 110 DRating) is way above these other four, and it just about leads the Rockets, along with his 0.174 Wins Produced per 48 minutes (average is 0.100). Patterson hasn’t played enough minutes for an Adjusted Plus/Minus score, but Houston’s offense and defense are both statistically better with him on the floor than off it. All of these things explain why fans don’t want him included in any possible trades this year, a glowing endorsement for someone who’s barely topped 200 minutes in his rookie campaign.
Eric Bledsoe, G, Los Angeles Clippers (#18 pick)
Bledsoe was basically a smaller version of Wall in his one season at Kentucky. He’s super fast, couldn’t shoot much, and his turnovers were far too high for a guy who is supposedly a PG. The Clippers couldn’t wait to acquire this 6-feet-1 point guard with passing and shooting problems, so they traded a future first-round draft pick for him on draft night (from OKC who got him from Miami, the team that drafted Bledsoe, as part of the Daequan Cook trade).
He was forced to start some games early in the year due to team injuries, and he even had a few good ones in a row in early-November. Then reality set in. After completing 21 of 35 shots from Nov. 3 through 9, his poor form and shot selection took over, and he’s now down to a 42% FG%, including only 29% from deep. Also like Wall, he doesn’t get to the free throw nearly as often as you’d expect for someone of his speed (only 1.4 attempts per game), and his turnovers are far too high (2.4) for playing only 24 minutes per night and handing out 4.1 assists. In an unstunning development, all of Bledsoe’s impact stats are terrible and rank last or nearly so on the team. Yawn - another poor draft day decision by the Clippers.
Daniel Orton, C/PF, Orlando Magic (#29 pick)
Orton made it 5 Wildcats in the first round when the Magic picked him up with the second-to-last selection in Round One. He was chosen purely on potential since he didn’t start a game in his one year of college and only averaged 13 minutes per off the bench. He was clearly athletic for the center position and displayed an OK shooting touch for someone of his size, but nothing about his highlights or stats screamed “first rounder.” In fact, his biggest game at Kentucky was a 14-point, 6-rebound (0 blocks) affair against Rider, in which he fouled out.
Unfortunately for Orton, he was pestered by knee injuries throughout the summer league and never looked good. In five games, he made only 4 shots (out of 27, 15% FG), grabbed only 9 rebounds, but had 12 turnovers and 17 fouls. He’s continued to face knee injuries this whole season, during most of which he’s been with the D-League’s New Mexico Thunderbirds. Orton has only played two games for the minor league squad, a back-to-back against Erie in early-December. More to come, I guess.