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By LARRY VAUGHT
Nerlens Noel was never touted as being the offensive player that Anthony Davis was for Kentucky last year when he swept the national player of the year awards and even won an Olympic gold medal after helping UK win a national championship.
However, Noel is having an extremely productive freshman season for the Wildcats. Noel is averaging 10.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, 2.6 steals and 1.7 assists per game and shooting 57.1 percent from the field. Those numbers have had some like ESPN NBA draft analyst Chad Ford projecting Noel as the top pick in the June draft just as Davis was last year.
“Noel has been very good, especially on the defensive end,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “He is coming along nicely, and has shown terrific athletic ability and instincts. His productivity has been very good, and he keeps making progress. I think he has been among the best freshmen in the country.
“His activity level and high work rate impress me. Noel plays really hard, and is very active on the defensive end and on the glass. He is averaging close to 10 rebounds per game, he blocks shots and gets steals and deflections. He has the ability to protect the rim, not quite in the same way as Anthony Davis did, but still in a very valuable manner.”
Chris Dortch of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook thinks Noels has “played as well as can be expected” trying to follow what Davis did last year.
“I think he does a lot of things well and could eventually be a solid offensive player. He would help his cause if he could make more free throws,” Dortch said.
Noel had 15 points, 11 rebounds, a career-high six assists, career-high seven blocks and four steals Saturday in UK’s Southeastern Conference loss to Texas A&M. He’s now had at least six rebounds in every game and has had two or more blocks in eight straight games. He’s also 32-for-44 (72.7 percent) from the field in the last eight games.
How much could Noel improve offensively by March? Last year Davis expanded his offensive game dramatically in February and March.
“Noel is not polished as an offensive player, and doesn’t yet have reliable post moves to where he can get and hold position on the low block, be thrown the ball and make the right move to score, get fouled or both,” Bilas said. “Right now, he is playing off of penetration, offensive stickbacks and only occasionally gets the ball in a position to do something with it.
“I like how he has a positive assist-turnover ratio, too. There aren’t many big men that have more assists than turnovers. I do think he will continue to get better, and his game will continue to improve. However, I would not expect him to be (Akeem) Olajuwon by March. That wouldn’t be fair to him. Noel is a very good young player that is getting better and better, but he still needs to be allowed to develop at his own pace.”
Can he carry a team in March in postseason play?
“Not in the way that question usually means it, no. I don’t see Noel as a Carmelo Anthony-type or Danny Manning-type player. He is a valuable piece of a greater whole,” Bilas said. “For Kentucky to have great success in March and advance to the second weekend (of the NCAA Tournament), the point guard position has to be solidified.
“No team wins without good interior play, but no team wins without steady guard play, either. The best teams, championship teams, have both.”
Dortch says Noel simply has to keep making “daily improvement” like he has been doing until March.
“It’s nothing more complex than that. Daily improvement seems to be the norm at Kentucky under John Calipari. His players seem to peak as the season progresses and I would expect the same from him,” Dortch said.
Calipari could see Noel emerging as UK’s team leader based on the way he’s played in games providing he makes one change.
“Got to practice that way. Can’t just do it in games. Have to practice every day and have everybody know that you’re preparing yourself to be great. And as he does that, yeah, he could be one of those guys (to lead the team),” Calipari said.
Both Bilas and Dortch can see Noel potentially be the No. 1 pick in the draft.
“First, he has a lot to offer as a prospect, especially on the defensive end. He does not yet have the body for the NBA, but he has tools, and he plays really hard, which not all young big men do,” Bilas said. “Second, the draft is unusually weak this year. One has to ask, if not Noel, then whom? Clearly, this is not 2003 when LeBron, Carmelo, Bosh and Wade were among the first five selections.”
“He’s in the mix. Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA has started to play at a high level and will be under consideration, too,” Dortch said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas thinks UK point guard Marquis Teague “is still maturing” after winning a national title as a freshman.
“When he came out of high school, I really was not sure if he was a true point guard,” Bilas said. “He did a really good job at the end of the year. He was better coming off screen and rolls and did a better job making decisions with the ball. He’s very fast, very good in transition. He’s not a great penetrator in the half court, but he’s good. He has a chance to be a very good player. I like him very much. He is a good athlete and has a chance to be a really good NBA point guard.”
Teague’s defensive ability could help him, too.
“You have to be able to defend to play in the NBA. You can’t put your hands on people like you can in college. In that respect, the NBA is less physical than college. There is not as much bumping and grinding,” Bilas said. “You still have to be able to stay in front of people and he has the ability to do that. He’s a good defender. He plays hard and is a really good kid. He’s not as fast as his brother Jeff (a NBA veteran), but he has good speed.
“More than anything he has to go to work on knocking down shots. He’s a good finisher, but he’s got to get a mid-range game and where he can score over size. He will not always be able to get to the rim and finish in the NBA.”
Bilas has him slated as a late first-round pick.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Even though some NBA mock drafts have Kentucky forward Terrence Jones falling out of the lottery in tonight’s draft, ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas thinks Jones will still go in the middle of the first round.
“I don’t think he hurt himself at all by coming back to Kentucky for his sophomore season,” said Bilas. “I think he is a better player now for having come back. I don’t think last year he would have been picked as high (in the draft) as some people say and think. No one can really say where he would have gone.
“But I think he came back and improved a lot. He rebounded better. His problem is that he’s between positions. He’s not a true three (small forward). He’s more of a four man who can drive and shoot, but not an overly powerful four (power forward). I thought he had a good year for Kentucky and I have him going in the middle of the first round in the 13 to 15 range.”
Bilas, who will be on the ESPN draft coverage tonight, says there is no question that Jones has talent.
“He’s not a freakishly great athlete, but he is a very good athlete. He is strong, just not a prototypical power forward and really not a three. That is his problem. Where do you put him?” Bilas said. “I still think he is a very good player and has a chance to be a rotation player in the league (NBA). Whether it is as a starter or not remains to be seen.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
If college basketball analyst Jay Bilas is right, Kentucky is not going to match the record five first-round picks it had in the 2010 NBA draft.
Kentucky coach John Calipari is hoping to have six players selected in the first round Thursday night with Anthony Davis being the top overall pick just as UK point guard John Wall was in 2010.
However, Bilas has only Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague joining Davis in the first round with Doron Lamb and Darius Miller dropping to the second round.
“I’ve got Doron Lamb ranked 32nd, so he would be just in the second (round). That’s pretty good,” said Bilas Tuesday on an ESPN NBA draft teleconference. “Kentucky has a lot of good players. I’ve got Miller in the second round. I think he’s in the middle, probably in the 30′s or 40′s. Miller’s at 43 or 44 if I remember right.”
He has Teague going with the 23rd or 24th pick while he has Kidd-Gilchrist in the top five to seven picks and Jones in the 15 to 20 range.
“I think it’s a draft that’s got really good depth of good players, players that can come in and make a team some starters, some rotation players, stuff like that deep into the second round. But it’s not a draft of a lot of superstars,” Bilas said. “I’m not sure how much difference there is in the 10th pick or the 20th pick. There is some difference, but I’m not sure it’s that extreme in this draft. There are always kind of tiers of players.
“There will be guys that come out of this draft and maybe surprise us. It’s happened in just about every draft, but it doesn’t have a depth of sure fire stars. Anthony Davis is the sure fire one, I think. But after that there are players with question marks, but a lot of talent in the draft.”
Bilas has no questions about Davis, who swept the nation’s player of the year awards and was named the most outstanding player in the Final Four. He led UK in blocked shots and rebounding.
“I think Davis is separated from the group. I don’t think there is an NBA decision maker out there that would take anybody but Anthony Davis number one. That doesn’t mean he’s LeBron, but he is consensus number 1 in this draft,” Bilas said.
“There are some terrific values in this draft, and guys that are going to be really good players. I rate (Florida’s) Brad Beal the second best prospect in the draft overall. I think he’s going to be really good. Whether it’s (Kansas’ Thomas) Robinson or (North Carolina’s) Harrison Barnes or all these different guys, there are guys that could wind up being terrific players down the line.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
If a NBA team is debating whether to draft Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or North Carolina sophomore Harrison Barnes, who should it take? That’s a question ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas was asked Tuesday during a ESPN NBA draft teleconference previewing Thursday night’s draft when teams with high draft picks like Washington (3) and Cleveland (4) could be facing exactly that dilemma.
“They’d both be good. They’re very different players,” said Bilas.” Barnes has probably suffered from the fact that he was so highly rated in high school. When I saw him in high school, I thought he’s a guy that always makes the right play. I thought he was a tremendous athlete and in his first two years of college, I started to question was he as good an athlete as I thought?
“He went to the combine, the NBA combine and tested athletically literally, off the charts. He had a 38‑inch standing vertical leap, which you don’t see that. That’s phenomenal. His agility drills and speed were fabulous, especially for a guy his size. So he’s got the complete package.
“What that told me is that he is a little bit of a thinker on the court right now. He’s very process oriented. I believe this. I’ve watched him play a lot. I really think that he’s going to be a better pro than a college player. He was an outstanding college player. Averaged 17 a game for two straight years. He’s a really good jump shooter, athletic. He’s got defensive versatility, he’s long. He’s got a terrific skill set, so he’d be a terrific pick.”
Bilas said the one big reason to take Barnes over Kidd-Gilchrist would be Barnes’ shooting and scoring ability. However, Bilas certainly is not anti-Kidd-Gilchrist.
“Gilchrist, they don’t make him like him very often. He’s got a relentless attitude and work ethic that you just don’t see that often. He’s great in transition. Gets to the rim, gets to the free‑throw line, he’s an elite defender because he can guard multiple spots. You can put him on a point guard or put him on a four‑man. He just isn’t a scorer,” Bilas said.
The ESPN analyst wasn’t through praising Kidd-Gilchrist. Actually, he was just getting started.
“He’s going to get his points off of energy, and he can make a shot, but he’s not a terrific shooter. But he’s only 19 years old, so he’s got some growing to do,” Bilas said. “He’s got to fix that shot. His shot mechanics are not very good. If it’s not fixed, he has to be able to shoot it the same way over and over again, and with the way he’s never square to the basket. His arm flies, his right arm flies out on his elbow, he needs to fix that. He has plenty of time to work on it. He’s capable of doing it.”
What else makes Kidd-Gilchrist worthy of a top five pick then if his outside scoring is suspect?
“He can guard anybody. (He’s) 6-7 with really long arms and tremendous athleticism. You can put him on a point guard out front, or you can put him on a big three or a small four‑man, a base up four. He can really impact the game defensively,” Bilas said. “He’s really energetic. I guess that’s what you’d call him is an energy player that he thrives off of the energy that he brings into a game.”
Kentucky fans know that. His energy is contagious, too, as UK opponents found out during Kentucky’s national championship season.
“He’s excellent in transition, a good rebounder, gets shots, gets loose balls. He’s going to make you better,” Bilas said. “The one thing he doesn’t do is he’s not a prolific scorer. He averaged 14 a game last year. He can make an open shot. I wouldn’t classify him as a good shooter, but it’s not like you have to repaint the rims after a game he plays in. He makes free throws and all of that.”
Bilas said scoring is “not his thing” but that doesn’t mean NBA coaches do not value his play.
“I don’t know any coach in the NBA that would say I don’t want him on my team. Anybody would covet Michael Gilchrist because he’s all about winning,” Bilas said. “He’s a great kid, and he’s relentless. I mean, he is absolutely relentless. That is not something that you can teach. You don’t just say to your guys, you don’t say in the huddle, let’s all go out and be relentless. It doesn’t work that way.”
Over June 7 and 8 ESPNU will present eight hours from the 2012 NBA Draft Combine at the Flames Athletic Center in Chicago. Coverage will begin each day at 10 a.m. ET and will be highlighted by interviews with top draft picks, NBA and college coaches and general managers. The Draft Combine will also be available on ESPN3.
In addition to live reporting and analysis, viewers will get an inside look at how the expected top draft picks fair in the following skills challenges:
· Standing Vertical Leap
· Maximum Vertical Leap
· Lane Agility Drill
· Modified Lane Agility Drill
· 3/4 Court Sprint
Ryen Russillo will host the two-day event with analysis from the network’s college and NBA experts. Analysts Fran Frascilla and Jay Williams will contribute their in-depth knowledge of each draftees college skill set, while Andy Katz reports from the court.
In addition, NBA analysts Chad Ford and Tom Penn will provide expert knowledge and understanding of the needs of each NBA team.
Of the 60 players confirmed to participate in the combine, No. 1 – 40 on Ford’s Top 100 prospects for 2012 are all represented. The list is highlighted by No. 1 Anthony Davis and No. 2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. During the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery on ESPN Wednesday, May 30 college basketball analyst Jay Bilas made the following evaluations of the top picks:
On Anthony Davis (Kentucky):
He will do whatever it takes to win. He’s going to get stronger and he’s got a great aptitude for the game. He’s just scratching the surface of how great he’s going to be.
On Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky):
I don’t think there’s a player in this draft that plays harder or more consistently throughout the course of a game than him. And, he’s very versatile on the defensive end. He plays his tail off
Ford’s annual “Mock Draft, Version 5.0” notes Davis is a “huge win for the Hornets” who lost a superstar this season, but emphasizes the NBA Draft Combine will “dramatically alter the face of the draft.”
ESPNU will continue its draft coverage following the combine with daily hour-long preview specials at 4:30 p.m. June 25-28 and a Post-Draft Special June 29 at midnight. ESPN will present the 2012 NBA Draft on Thursday, June 28, at 7 p.m.
By LARRY VAUGHT
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas compiles his own weekly college basketball ratings and once again he has Kentucky No. 1 as the major polls also should have later today.
Here is the analysis Bilas provided to justify why he has coach John Calipari’s team No. 1 this week:
“A team that struggled on the road a year ago, and lost its biggest road test this season by virtue of an improbable shot by Christian Watford, Kentucky is solidly in the top spot for yet another week. The Wildcats and Michigan State are currently the only teams in the country with both a top-10 ranked offense and defense. On the road, Kentucky plays at a slower pace, and hasn’t fared as well in transition as it does at Rupp. Kentucky is shooting around 30 percent in transition on the road, and scoring half the amount of points in the open court. But last season’s road woes paid off with a Final Four berth. This team is growing”