Nation-Leading 13 Wildcats Set for NBA Playoffs
ORLANDO, Fla. – Kentucky men’s basketball had more players on NBA opening-day rosters than any other school to start this season. The Wildcats led the way heading into the NBA seeding games as well. So, it should come as no surprise that UK is also the most represented college in the 2020 NBA Playoffs, which begin Monday from Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
A total of 13 Wildcats are on NBA playoff rosters. Of the 16 teams playing “in the bubble” in Orlando, nine feature former UK players. Three teams have multiple Wildcats, led by the Oklahoma City Thunder with three (Hamidou Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nerlens Noel).
Boston Celtics (1) – Enes Kanter
Dallas Mavericks (1) – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Denver Nuggets (1) – Jamal Murray
LA Clippers (1) – Patrick Patterson
LA Lakers (2) – Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo (injured)
Miami Heat (2) – Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro
Milwaukee Bucks (1) – Eric Bledsoe
OKC Thunder (3) – Hamidou Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel
Portland Trail Blazers (1) – Wenyen Gabriel
Of the 13 Wildcats on NBA restart rosters, UK head coach John Calipari has coached 12 of them. It’s worth mentioning that Willie Cauley-Stein helped the Mavericks to the playoffs but opted out of the NBA restart because of the birth of a child.
The playoffs begin Monday with four games. Murray and the Nuggets will take on the Utah Jazz at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN. All games will be televised by ABC, ESPN, TNT or NBATV.
Two of the series – the Los Angeles Lakers (Davis and Rondo) vs. the Portland Trail Blazers (Gabriel) and the Los Angeles Clippers (Patterson) vs. the Dallas Mavericks (Kidd-Gilchrist) – feature Wildcats going head to head.
Although Devin Booker’s Phoenix Suns just narrowly missed out on the playoffs after a remarkable 8-0 run in the seeding games, Booker was recognized over the weekend for his incredible play. The 2015 Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year was a unanimous pick for the NBA All-Seeding Games First Team and finished second in the NBA Player of the Seeding Games voting behind Portland’s Damian Lillard. Booker was joined on the first team by Lillard, T.J. Warren (Indiana), Luka Doncic (Dallas) and James Harden (Houston).
Booker, who was already enjoying his best season in his fifth year in the league after making his first NBA All-Star Game, took it to another level in Orlando. The former UK star (2014-15) averaged 30.5 points, 6.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 50.3% from the floor in the NBA restart games. More importantly, he led his team to a perfect 8-0 record in Orlando, nearly pushing the Suns into the NBA play-in game despite near impossible odds when the NBA restart began. He also became the Suns’ franchise leader for most 30-point games (90 of them) – at age 23.
Of course, Booker was far from the only Wildcat to shine in the NBA bubble.
Davis continued to make a case as one of the league’s best players as the Lakers locked up the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.
Johnson was one of the best young players in Orlando and set new career highs on what seemed like a nightly basis. After starting the season primarily in the G-League, he now looks to be one of the central pieces of the Spurs’ future
Adebayo and Herro continued their sensational seasons while leading a young Heat team to the fifth seed in the East. Adebayo became the second-youngest player in NBA history to average 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a season, trailing only NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. Herro recorded his career-high point total last week with 30 points.
Other career highs were notched by Fox (39 points vs. the Spurs on July 31) and Diallo (27 points and 11 rebounds vs. the Clippers on Saturday).
Murray returned from injury midway through the seeding games and wasted no time making big shots.
Gilgeous-Alexander scored in double figures in all seven of his games.
Patterson and Bledsoe have their eyes on an NBA championship as a part of two of the top seeds in the playoffs.
And with the NBA regular season now fully complete, six Wildcats (Booker, Davis, Fox, Gilgeous-Alexander, Julius Randle and Karl-Anthony Towns) led their respective teams in scoring in 2019-20, far and away more than any other school.
The playoffs will continue to be played in the bubble in Orlando, but the playoff format will remain the same as in the past with a full best-of-seven series all the way through to the NBA Finals.
The NBA resumed its season July 30 to determine which teams made the NBA Playoffs. The 22 teams in Orlando consisted of the 16 teams (eight per conference) that were in playoff positions and the six teams that were six games or fewer behind the eighth seed in their respective conferences (nine total in the Eastern Conference and 13 in the Western Conference).
When the 2019-20 season began, a staggering 29 players on NBA opening-day rosters (including two-way and inactive lists) played and finished their college basketball careers at Kentucky. Underscoring the fact that no other school in the country can match UK’s ability to develop players and put them in the NBA, UK’s 29 players were six more than the next-closest school (Duke with 23).
Kentucky has enjoyed unprecedented success at putting players in the NBA under Calipari. In the 10 drafts of the Calipari era, 38 players have been selected in the NBA Draft, more than any other school. Included in the recent run are 29 first-round picks, three No. 1 overall selections (Davis, Towns and John Wall) and 21 lottery selections.
Calipari’s players are not only reaching the next level, they are succeeding when they do. His players have garnered 23 All-Star selections, with Davis winning the game’s MVP honor in 2017. Derrick Rose was named league MVP in 2011. Five of his players have been tabbed All-NBA (Rose, Wall, Davis, Towns and DeMarcus Cousins), three have been named NBA Rookie of the Year (Rose, Towns and Tyreke Evans), and 12 players from Calipari’s first nine teams at Kentucky made the NBA All-Rookie teams.
Using figures compiled by basketball-reference.com and spotrac.com, Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose but not Rondo) have amassed more than $2.26 billion in career NBA contracts. In the 11 seasons Calipari has been the head coach at Kentucky, his players have totaled nearly $1.9 billion in NBA contracts.
In just the 2019-20 season alone, UK players were slated to make more than $255 million. Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose but not Rajon Rondo) were set to make more than $260 million.
Calipari has had at least one player selected in the top 10 of the draft in each of the last 12 seasons, dating back to his time at Memphis. No other school or coach in the country has had a first-round pick in each of the last 11 seasons. Calipari is the only coach in the history of the sport to have four players drafted No. 1 overall (Rose – 2008, Wall – 2010, Davis – 2012, Towns – 2015).
For the latest on the Kentucky men’s basketball team, follow @KentuckyMBB on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and on the web at UKathletics.com.