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Loaded UK could be competitive in today's watered-down NBA

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider

Coming soon to an NBA arena: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis. (US Presswire)  
Coming soon to an NBA arena: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis. (US Presswire)  

I may have gone a bit far last week, speculating that Kentucky's starting unit could knock off the five that took the floor for the Toronto Raptors against the Boston Celtics.

Maybe it was somewhat of an overreaction after watching the aging ones from Beantown pummel that group from north of the border -- the one that featured James Johnson, Ed Davis and Aaron Gray up front and Jose Calderon and Demar DeRozan in the backcourt.

But I still honestly believe that the Wildcats could give them a run.

I know it sounds utterly ridiculous and insane that the top college team in the land could stand toe-to-toe with a bunch of so-called grown men in the NBA, but let's face it: The NBA isn't what is used to be and this Kentucky group is LOADED.

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That Toronto starting five is abysmal. Sure, the Raptors were without Andrea Bargnani, but that's about as lackluster a group as I've seen take the floor to start an NBA game since ... well, maybe ever. And that's a team that somehow has won eight games already this season and stands within striking distance of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

There aren't many powerhouse teams in college basketball right now, but Kentucky is a buzzer-beater away in Bloomington from talking about perfection. John Calipari boasts a group that will almost certainly lay claim to the No. 1 overall pick in next June's NBA Draft, freshman Anthony Davis, and the Wildcats also have four more players that could be shaking David Stern's hand either this June or sometime down the line.

Davis could walk into the NBA today and instantly become one of the league's top big men. He'd give up plenty of experience and bulk against a guy like Gray, but I'll still take A.D. over the plodding Gray any day of the week. I know Davis turns 19 next month, but just take a quick glance at the centers in the NBA. There's a reason why Dwight Howard is so dominant. The days of Hakeem, Shaq, The Admiral and Ewing have been replaced by Andrew Bynum, Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert.


Kendrick Perkins signed a four-year, $34.8 million contract shortly after being dealt to Oklahoma City a year ago. Enough said.

But it's not just with big men, either. The NBA is watered-down. Period.

Then you throw the lockout into the equation and the talent isn't the only reason why the play is down. You won't find a bigger Chandler Parsons fan than this writer, but how often is it that a second-round pick is starting and consistently logging 30-plus minutes less than 10 games into his NBA career for a playoff team. Fellow second-rounders Jon Leuer (Milwaukee) and Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento) are getting quality minutes.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, like his frontcourt mate, is also 18 years of age. However, MKG is a man. He's got an NBA-ready body and an intensity that will stack up to just about anyone in The Association. He'll be a Top 10 pick this June and will make an immediate impact in the NBA. I'll take him over James Johnson. Not based on potential. Right now.

Then there's Terrence Jones. If you've been listening to me over the past two years, I've made it no secret that T-Jones frustrates me. He's oozing with talent, but he's the ultimate enigma. So, too, is Ed Davis -- the 22-year-old former North Carolina big man who has also been criticized for his lack of motor and consistency. I'd call that one a draw depending on which player wakes up on the right side of the bed.

I'll give Toronto the clear-cut edge in the backcourt.

Calderon is a true veteran, a solid NBA point guard, while Teague is a freshman who remains a work in progress. Teague could eventually become an elite point guard, but he's got plenty of maturing to do. DeRozan is a freak athlete who still can't make shots from the perimeter while Kentucky sophomore Doron Lamb -- two years younger than DeRozan -- is a knock-down shooter who has made nearly half of his shots from beyond the arc in his college career.

Toronto lost by nearly 40 points on Feb. 1 in Boston to a Celtics team that didn't even have starting point guard Rajon Rondo and the Raptors aren't even one of the league's bottom-feeders. That honor belongs to the Charlotte Bobcats, a team that has won only three of its first 24 games and went into a loss against Phoenix this past weekend with a starting five that looked like this: Tyrus Thomas, Boris Diaw, Bismack Biyombo, Reggie Williams and Kemba Walker.

Man, that's intimidating.

How about the group that Washington coach Randy Wittman threw out there in a win over Toronto the other night? John Wall and Nick Young in the backcourt with rookie Chris Singleton, Trevor Booker and JaVale McGee up front. Singleton is a rookie, Wall and Booker have only one year of experience and McGee just turned 24.

The argument sounds crazy, right? That five freshmen and sophomores who reside in Lexington, Ky., wouldn't embarrass themselves against a bunch of NBA guys.

The insanity is this: Because of a watered-down NBA it has become a valid argument.


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