Katelyn E. Clooney
Well, we took a week off, but, thankfully (pun intended), the NBA did not. Except for the 76ers, that is.
By the time you read this, the Sixers will probably be 0-18, and tied for the worst start in NBA history. The Kentucky Wildcats and their ridiculously talented, two-platoon system, meanwhile, continue to dominate college basketball.
I bet you know where this is going. No, I am not going to perpetuate the 76ers versus Wildcats debate. I don’t even know why the college/pro debates continue to arise. It is no secret, however, that John Calipari’s ‘Cats are quickly becoming the number one stop for future NBA stars.
Anthony Davis dominated in his lone year of college basketball, leading the Wildcats to an NCAA Championship. He looked like a man among boys.
However, it wasn’t always that way; as a freshman at a little known high school, he stood at just six feet.
As a freshman in college, he stood at 6’10”. Then, in just two years, he became Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four to NBA All-Star.
In October, ESPN declared the New Orleans Pelicans’ forward to be the third best player in the NBA, in their annual preseason rankings.
Amid the doubt, Davis opened up his 2014-15 campaign by putting up 2K-like numbers – 26 points, 17 rebounds, nine blocks and three steals, in a win over the Orlando Magic.
He has continued to impress since. Davis is seventh in the league in rebounding, while third in the league in scoring. He leads the league in blocks per game, with 3.1.
He is just 21 years old.
Now, people are no longer scoffing, no longer doubting, but, instead, hailing him as the early season MVP. Many are also wondering just how good he can be. After all, he is barely old enough to buy a drink.
In college, Davis was known as a rebounder and a shot blocker, however, many wondered if his offense was NBA-ready. He was productive in his first two seasons but lacked range. This season, his mid-range attempts, and efficiency have increased. He also, at times, looked lost on the defensive end. This year, he is leading the league in defensive impact, per NBA.com. He still sticks out like a sore thumb on defense, but makes up for it in transition. Davis’ long, lanky legs make for unparalleled speed in a big man, and his 7-3 wingspan, not only allows him to block well, but also allows him to effectively steal, and then finish on the offensive end.
The main problem is that he is just so good and such a unique player, that the Pelicans are still learning how to use him. Look for head coach, Monty Williams, to continue to make adjustments on the defensive end. As for offense, most of Davis’ shots are inside the restricted area and his size has, thus far, limited his back-to-the-basket game. As he gains strength and experience, his post moves will likely improve. During the offseason, Davis and the Pelicans worked, at length, on his shot. Unknown to many, a younger Davis was known for shooting 3’s. Though he has not attempted many shots from NBA three-point-range, don’t be surprised if his range continues to improve. He is shooting .435 from beyond the 16-foot-range, up from .368 last year.
Another former Wildcat center who is taking the NBA by storm is Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, who has publicly stated that he believes this year’s ‘Cats could beat the Philadelphia 76ers.
Though his talent was always evident, it has been Cousins’ decision to speak his mind and, sometimes, use his hands, that has continued to have him criticized. While he managed to get suspended multiple games for an altercation with somebody that was not on the court and has also, seemingly, been passed the hypothetical technical foul torch from Rasheed Wallace, Boogie has shown maturation in his fifth NBA season.
While his stats went down in 2012-13, amid his tension with both the Kings and the League, he put up All-Star numbers last season, and this season is averaging career highs in points, blocks and rebounds, a category which he currently leads the league in, with 12.6 per game.
After a self-advertised, intensive social media campaign, Cousins was selected to play, alongside Davis, on team USA this summer. Being on the gold medal-winning team, no doubt, helped to improve both of their games. Like Davis, Cousins needs to continue to get adjusted on the defensive end, though his numbers would suggest otherwise. Though he lacks Davis’ speed, if Cousins argues with the referees less, especially in transition, he would be able to get adjusted on defense much quicker. Don’t be so quick to label Cousins as lazy, however. Mike Malone is the Kings’ third head coach since drafting Boogie in 2010, and a system cannot be mastered in a month. Though he is, at times, his own worst enemy, it is Cousins’ passion that makes him such a great player. At age 24, he, too, hasn’t even reached his peak, yet.
Unfortunately for Davis and Cousins, neither the Pelicans nor Kings get much attention from the national media. However, their play speaks for itself. Expect Boogie to join Davis on the All-Star team this year and continue to improve as the season goes on.
Whether this year’s Kentucky team could beat the Sixers, we will never know. Let’s instead pay attention to two of the most overlooked Wildcats, who are already winning in the NBA.
Katelyn Clooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org