- Kentucky: 15-0
- RPI: 14
- Kenpom: 13
- Best Wins: UConn, UNC, Louisville
By now you know about the Wildcats. John Wall is the most talented player in the country (emphasis mine – ed.), and has proven he is willing, and more than capable, and making the important play for the Wildcats. Patrick Patterson is a stud, capable of scoring on the block and fast becoming the key to UK’s ability to beat a zone with his ability to pass and shoot from the high post. DeMarcus Cousins is the most productive big man in the country, as he was the nation’s leader in points and rebounds per 40 minutes heading into Saturday’s tilt with Louisville. The Wildcats have far and away the highest ceiling of any team in the country. The question is whether or not they are mature enough to reach that ceiling. One thing that did impress in the Louisville game was Kentucky’s effort on the defensive end. Louisville started the game just 1-19 from the field, and never got comfortable offensively. Kentucky has the athletes and the size to be great on this end of the floor when they want to be.
I’ve taken to calling John Calipari the Kidney. Why? Because all he does is make #1’s.
But honestly, has any coach given as much to the NBA in terms of talent? While critics despise his recruiting tactics (while simultaneously defending a system which exploits… you know what, never mind) and old fogies talk wistfully of the bygone days where phenomenal talents were forced to stay in systems which didn’t maximize their talents amid inferior players while not getting paid, Calipari has brought two phenomenal and likely Rookie of the Year point guards to the NBA in consecutive seasons, and from all indications, will be adding a third next year.Â I’ll save my love for Cal for another time, though, and simply begin by saying that not only has he brought elite guards ready to play the NBA game and not only allowed but supported their jump to the big league, but he’s managed to get better every year. Which leads me to this.
John Wall is a better prospect than Tyreke Evans was, who was better than Derrick Rose was.
Now to begin, please understand that I thought Derrick Rose was phenomenal. I felt he was the best overall pick by lightyears. His slashing ability, speed, tenacious approach and confidence were surefire signs that he was ready to make the leap. I begged the Bulls not to take him, because I was concerned about their depth at guard and foolishly did not believe he could so seamlessly transition to point guard role.Â He was a phenomenal talent, and the idea that Beasley was close was a little absurd, given Rose’s range of abilities.
Evans was something else entirely. I watched him develop, get stronger, and flash in a weak conference, but watching him destroy my Tigers time and time again, even in a loss, in the NCAA tournament was enough for me to declare that he needed to go number one. Yes, even over Blake Griffin. You just couldn’t sell me harder on a kid with that kind of size and handle, who could finish at the rim like that.Â He’s honestly actually disappointed me a bit with not drawing more fouls, even as his jumper, confidence, and speed have surpassed my expectations at this level. It was like taking a leopard on steroids and giving him handle.
But Wall? Wall surpasses all of that. He’s better. We’ll get into how he’s better, but first, let me throw another declaration at you. Now, I get that declarations are rather meaningless (but isn’t everything, really?) and I try and avoid them to the best of my ability. I like to ride the hype wave, not start them. But Wall leaves me no choice.
It is my honest opinion that John Wall will be the best draft pick since Dwyane Wade. And no, I am not forgetting Kevin Durant or Chris Paul.Â I say this having seen both of them play in college, Durant on multiple occasions (sucks to be a fan of a Big 12 school in a down year playing Texas). And I do not doubt their talent or ability. Wall’s potential is that high.
I’m in the tall grass here, boys and girls, and I get that.
But let’s go ahead and throw that question out the window because honestly, Paul’s a completely different type of point guard, Durant’s a guard forward, and when you factor in the massive influence of where you get drafted can have on your career (Indiana…shudder), the main point I’m trying to get across is how much the kid has impressed me. Let’s talk about the headline. Let’s talk the three Knights of Calipari.
Let’s do some numbers, eh? We’ll do caveats at the end. Leaders are listed in bold.
Okay, ready for a magical ride through Caveatland? Let’s gooo!
Caveat 1. That last column isn’t just a big differential, it MEANS a lot. Not only has Wall played less than half of the other two’s schedule, but he’s been playing against abject losers with some heavyweights thrown in. That lofty 7.3 assists per game is unlikely to hold up when going through SEC play, even though the SEC is no gauntlet. Still, I think we can agree that it’s tougher than Conference . But nonetheless, we’ll assume the numbers will dip as the season goes on. To what degree, of course, is the question.
Caveat 2. Wall’s playing more minutes, which if you read this site regularly, I’m big on measuring per-minute numbers. Luckily, it’s college ball, so the effect isn’t quite the same.Â But still, it should be noted that Wall’s playing more minutes.
Caveat 3. I think arguing teammate quality in the assist considerations is a little bit weak considering how stacked Rose’s team was and that Evans honestly was more of a scorer (and is still considered so, wrongly, by some). But we’ll throw it out there for consideration.
Still, we’re left with the fact that right now, Wall leads in five of the eight relevant categories, and by quite a bit.
That’s just numbers, though, which as I always say, only tell part of the story.
The biggest reason I have such faith in Wall is that his skills are dying for an NBA set. His ability to run the pick and roll, to read off the screen and dribble-hesitate, then burst, begs for an NBA high pick and roll (think Brook Lopez, then go change pants). He combines hyper-athleticism with ridiculous touch, incredible speed, phenomenal confidence, and, this is key, tremendous vision (have I used all the cliche adjectives? I have? Good.). Wall has the best drive and perimeter-kick of any guard I’ve seen in college in a good long while. His aggressiveness in the open floor is such that when faced with a double-team, he doesn’t slow it back up, not because of bullheadedness, but because he knows he can beat his men. And he does! Often using a behind-the-back move which leaves me lying on the floor in pardon me, paroxysms of joy like Mutumbo after offing the Sonics.
Wall has a natural ability to find the open 12 foot baseline jumper. Which in college is like asking the pothead freshman down the floor to watch over your collection of original Van Goghs for the weekend. You’d get back and find that they’d inserted cardboard cutouts of Fozzy Bear.There were four surefire NBA assists that weren’t converted in Saturday’s UK-Lousiville game that Wall should have had. Instead he had to settle for what was ultimately a fine but non-overwhelming line, even if everyone knew who watched that it was Wall who took control of that game when Louisville grabbed a lead in the second half. Don’t get me wrong, Cousins is going to make a fine lottery pick, and he’s much further along than I’d suspected, but Wall was who won that game.
Are the turnover numbers worrisome? Sure, but if you’re looking at a prospect, aren’t turnovers the one thing you accept because you know you can coach those out? You can’t coach them to shoot that much better, or to attack consistently, or how to create for your teammates. You can’t coach him to outrun two men on a fastbreak or know when to nail an open jumper or reset the offense. The things you can’t teach? Wall knows.
Some of these things were said about both Rose and Evans. Rose’s blinding speed was stunning when he went in for a layup. Evans ability to attack with his size was downright terrifying. Rose had confidence, Evans had ferocity. But Wall is somehow the model in-between the two, the hybrid.
There’s a million ways this could go badly from here on out. He could struggle against tougher competition (though finding much tougher than Louisville, UConn, Indiana, and UNC is going to be tough). He could wind up with personal or legal trouble (busted last summer for breaking and entering in what could be a harmless prank or a sign of badness and we’ll never know which). There are all the usual draft-related nightmares (injury, bad coaching, being drafted by the Clippers). But even with all those things a constant in my mind, I still find myself thinking that this kid is going to do things in the league that we haven’t seen in a long damn while. And if you don’t take my word for it, read around. Heck, check the most rigorous analysts around.
But having seen what I’ve seen, I have no choice, even as someone so prone to overhype as I am. I have to stand by my conviction.
I believe in John Wall.