This year’s NBA Playoffs is something extraordinary. Due to the COVID19 pandemic, the NBA has to host the Playoffs in the Orlando Disney World.
Apart from the many side reports on the peculiar and once-in-a-lifetime experience playing in the NBA bubble environment, another huge story that has the basketball community marveling at is the exceptional talents on display from the University of Kentucky alumni.
These NBA figures who are former Kentucky Wildcats players are balling out in this NBA bubble and showing off the fantastic basketball pedigree that is characterized by this elite basketball program based in Lexington.
With such a strong showing in the NBA, these former Kentucky Wildcats are dominating the world of basketball. It is even arguable that one can form the most powerful team in the NBA by deploying just these Kentucky Wildcats.
Below we highlight who are these Kentucky NBA players who can form such a formidable roster that can dominate the NBA.
Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
The Laker’s superstar was brought in painstakingly through the mammoth trade last season that catapulted the Lakers from the abyss to the heavens. As a big man who can play in the post, play at the perimeter, clean the glass, command double teams, and dish assists, Anthony Davis is one of the few highly skilled players who are both physically gifted and mentally tough. His ability to handle the ball gives him an advantage over centers and power forwards. His ability His size and footwork give him an advantage over guards.
Anthony has also matured to a new level this season, with the close mentorship from LeBron James and surrounded by a tough, cohesive, and defensive-minded roster of role players. A nightly match-up nightmare for opponents, Anthony Davis is on the cusp of his first NBA championship if he continues to dominate the post and perform at his versatile, elite level.
Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets)
No single NBA player has had a bigger coming out party than Jamal Murray during this Playoffs. This Canadian player burst into NBA superstardom this season when the whole world witnessed his tenacious competitiveness and relentless attack mode in the Playoffs. Starting from his nail-biting duel against Donovon Mitchell from the Utah Jazz in the first round, Jamal Murray began on a scoring barrage chalking up 40 to 50 plus points regularly.
In the second round, Jamal’s offensive whizz again helped the Denver Nuggets topple a giant in the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite falling to the Lakers in the third round, Jamal has put the NBA on notice that his presence is going to be a major problem for any team who plays the Nuggets in the future.
Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)
Probably the most lethal offensive weapon among the new generation of NBA stars, Devin Booker made his name with ferocious ability to score the basket and his 70-point feat was a thing of legends.
Despite not making the playoffs for several seasons, Devin showed what a true star he is by leading the Suns to an impressive 8-0 bubble record, being undefeated in the seeding games. With a quality new coach like Monty Williams, a reloaded Suns roster, the future looks bright for this up and coming superstar.
Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)
The versatile center is the coaches’ dream big man for his ability to play in the post, score the basketball at will, block shots, shoot in the perimeter, and also play make for teammates. With quality statistics of 26.5 points per game, 10.8 rebounds per game, 4.4 assists per game, 0.9 steals per game, and 1.2 blocks per game, Karl is a solid addition to any team to anchor both the offense and defense.
Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)
An underdog his whole life, Bam Adebayo has come a long way from living without a proper house in a trailer within a single-parent household to transferring between high schools to now being an All-Star playing in the NBA Finals. His ability to out-hustle, out-compete and out-last the opponent gives the Miami Heat a chance to win every single night.
John Wall (Washington Wizards)
John Wall has been rehabilitating his Achilles’ heel injury for the past two seasons. When healthy, John is one of the most electrifying point guards in the league. His chase-down blocks, transition slams, and crafty assists make him a nightly highlight reel.
The time John Wall made it to the Playoffs, he always put up a good fight and a good show. His winning mentality and tenacity are something that makes him an extraordinary X-factor on a team. The beauty in a healthy John Wall’s game is his duality, being elite both on defense and offense.
Rajon Rondo (Los Angeles Lakers)
An NBA champion, incredibly crafty playmaker, and a basketball savant, Rajon Rondo is showing his full abilities when it matters the most. Always an extension of the coach on the court, Rajon can decipher opponent schemes, make quick reads and make plays for his teammates. Known for his calm and poised stature at the highest stages, Rajon has consistently demonstrated his ability to step up and make winning plays during these Playoffs.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Shai made his name with the Clippers during the seasons when they were a scrappy, hard-nosed, blue-collar team without any All-Stars one season ago. Since then, Shai was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the humongous package for acquiring Kawhi Leonard. Shai made further leaps in his potential and start production after Chris Paul took Shai under his wing.
CP3 essentially poured his years of incredible basketball IQ and cerebral playmaking ways into the learning sponge that Shai is. This season saw how Shai could step up and lead a team of underdogs and underrated players. The Thunder surpassed all expectations and made it to the Playoffs against all odds of a depleted roster. Shai turned many eyes and, slowly but surely, Shai is establishing his holds on the NBA as an up and coming perennial star.
De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings)
This quick-feet point guard is said to be the heir to John Wall’s title of ‘fastest point guard in the NBA’. He plays with a blistering tempo, pushing offense and attacking weaknesses in the defense. De’Aaron is quick with his dribbles and passes, fast with his drives to the basket, and nifty in his assists, making him a good back up point guard to this all-Kentucky team.
Tyler Herro (Miami Heat)
A hot-handed shooter and nifty cutter to the basket, Tyler Herro is the youngest player ever to make it into the NBA Finals as a starter. Fearless, sharp, and cool, Tyler is exhibiting the calm poise like a seasoned veteran. His teammates, particularly the superstar Jimmy Butler, who is known to be extremely demanding on teammates, has stood up for Tyler and raved about his potential. With so much trust and respect from peers, Tyler Hero’s future looks very bright.
Julius Randle (New York Knicks)
From his four seasons in Los Angeles Lakers to his lone season in New Orleans Pelicans, to his current season in New York Knicks, Julius has always been a stable production player. A true professional and mature veteran, Julius Randle raked in good regular season per-game statistics of 19.5 points, 9.72 rebounds, 3.09 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.34 blocks, and 46% field goal percentage this season. He is a quality rotation player whom coaches can put to maintain a lead or chase a gap.
Eric Bledsoe (Milwaukee Bucks)
The six-foot one-inch point guard who was drafted 18th in 2010 has made huge leaps the last two seasons in his professional career. Eric Bledsoe spent his developmental rookie years with the Los Angeles Clippers but did not taste winning at all when he was playing for the Phoenix Suns.
Since moving to the Milwaukee Bucks, Eric showed his true Kentucky tenacity and pedigree by making the All-Defensive first team and second team. Now a valuable veteran and starter for the Bucks, Eric looks poised to continue impacting the growth of the team.
Legendary ‘Godfather’ Pat Riley (Miami Heat)
Apart from the tremendous showing by Kentucky alumni as NBA players this Playoffs, we also have a special mention for Pat Riley, the President of the Miami Heat. Pat played for Kentucky from 1964 to 1967 before being drafted number seventh in the 1967 NBA draft pick. Since then, Pat Riley has shown his winning mentality and habits by winning at every possible echelon.
As an NBA player, he won a championship as a Los Angeles Lakers player in 1972. As an assistant coach, he won a championship in 1980, again with the Los Angeles Lakers.
As a head coach, Pat Riley won four titles leading the Lakers in 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988. He also led the Miami Heat to a title in 2006. His excellence in coaching won him three Coach of the Year awards in 1990, 1993, and 1997.
Pat Riley continued his Kentucky pedigree by furthering his winning record as an executive. He orchestrated the star-studded team comprising of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James and led the Miami Heat to two championships in 2012 and 2013. Pat also bagged the Executive of the Year award in 2011. With the Miami Heat in the Finals this season, Pat Riley has successfully put together a roster that allowed the organization to compete for yet another chance at the Championship, showing how great a basketball mind Pat Riley has.
Frank Vogel (Los Angeles Lakers)
Few people know this but Frank was an alumnus of the University of Kentucky. Frank Vogel began his coaching career with the Kentucky Wildcats, first as a student manager and then as a video coordinator. Frank played a key role by serving as a manager during the 1995 / 1996 National Championship season. Subsequently, he was the video coordinator during the 1996 / 1997 National Championship runner-up period. As a student, Frank is from the class of 1998, University of Kentucky.
Although the full list of Kentucky Wildcats players is way longer than the normal roster can house, a few other players from the long list deserve honorable mentions despite missing the roster selection. These are players who have chipped in and helped their respective teams earn a berth in the Playoffs.
Hamidou Diallo (Oklahoma City Thunder)
The high-flying 2019 Slam Dunk champion is a young athletic shooting guard who gives the Thunder additional options for rotations. Hamidou is making progress in his second season with career highs in rebounds per game at 3.6, assists per game at 3.8, steals per game at 1.8, blocks per game at 1.2 and points per game at 9.9.
Nerlens Noel (Oklahoma City Thunder)
The former lottery pick plays for the Thunder as a rim protector and rebounder. Nerlens made stops at the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks before making Oklahoma City Thunder his home. The six feet ten inches center contributes 18.5 minutes off the bench and is clocking his career-best in field goal percentage of 68.4% and free throw percentage of 75.5%.
Willie Cauley-Stein (Dallas Mavericks)
His length, physical presence, and athleticism saw Willie being picked up by Sacramento Kings early in his career in 2015. He contributes steadily to the rebounding and defensive department. He spent four seasons with the Sacramento Kings, one season with the Gold State Warriors, and is currently with the Dallas Mavericks. His role is markedly less in the deep Mavericks roster but is still a reliable veteran who can provide good minutes giving a team some rim protection.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Dallas Mavericks)
Initially being labeled a bust due to his second pick status and only leading Charlotte Hornets (formerly Bobcats) into the Playoffs once in eight seasons with the help of Kemba Walker throughout his 2012 to 2019 stint, Michael is given a second chance to redeem himself on the Dallas Mavericks. With the league-leading top offense, the Mavericks seem to be rising fast and next season may be a chance for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to showcase more as a rotation player.
Patrick Patterson (Los Angeles Clippers)
The Clippers began the NBA season being the talk of the town and a hot favorite to win it all. Despite not making a deep run in these Playoffs, they established their status as a heavyweight contender. Patrick Patterson is one of the few first-round drafts picks who played four years of college ball.
Patrick had numerous years of experience playing for Playoffs teams like the Raptors and the Thunder. It helped solidify the Clippers’ deep bench roster, giving the coaching staff a wide selection of rotations. When on the floor, the coaches know they can get quality defense and good opportune rebounds from Patrick to secure their chances of winning.
Enes Kanter (Boston Celtics)
The Turkish delight has always been a steady contributor off the bench. His size, strength, patience, and experience playing for Playoffs perennials like Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers have prepared him well to chip in for the Boston Celtics this season. Enes plays his role well as a stabilizing force down the low post area and boxes out effectively.
Wenyen Gabriel (Portland Trail Blazers)
One of the quieter stories among the Kentucky alumni, Wenyen Gabriel came into the league being undrafted. Sacramento Kings took a chance and signed him in 2018. Wenyen then moved on to Portland Trail Blazers this season where he contributed meaningful minutes during his Playoffs debut.
Despite limited minutes, Wenyen has managed to raise his statistical contribution. His points per game increased from 1.7 with the Kings to 2.7 with the Blazers and further improved to 5.3 in this Playoffs. More notably, his field goal shooting percentage has improved, from 35.3% to 48.4% to 60%.
As you can see, the list of elite NBA players who are former Kentucky Wildcats is staggering and highly versatile. Putting on a General Manager hat, it is not difficult at all to assemble multiple lineups that are strong defensively, dangerous offensively, and bear a winning mentality.
In summary, the rich Kentucky pedigree runs deep in the NBA. The elite college basketball program has spotted diamonds in the rough, developed them to their potential, inculcated the competitive spirit and tenacious mindset for these Kentucky Wildcats to thrive in adversity and shine at the biggest stage.
As the coaching staff, NBA players, and fans around the world witness the excellence on display by these Kentucky alumni, we can all be glad that the future of the NBA is in the good hands of these Kentucky Wildcats, who can easily form the most powerful team in the NBA.