Very recently I was tweeted the following question and statement, “Do you see anyone that’s ready to leave early (now)? Honestly? I don’t.” and “Is the NBA dumb enough to take 4-5? Sure. That’s on them.” Now that’s not trolling from a Louisville or Indiana fan, but a legit question from a member of the Big Blue Nation that I’ve had to give some serious thought to, and at this point in the season, I have to agree with them. No one is ready to leave early. Granted, we are only 11 games into a very difficult schedule thus far and have fared decently well, though much lower than expectation demanded. Having said that, please understand that I am only answering a question with some stats, what I’ve seen and some gut so please don’t question whether I bleed blue because I most certainly do.
When attempting to answer a question like this, it’s important to understand there are no “right” answers as this is all a matter of subjective opinion based on stats, game footage and the old “gut.” So, now that I’ve told you that at this point in the season, none are ready to leave early, I’ll tell you that Willie Cauley-Stein and James Young are the closest right now. No, that’s not a typo. I didn’t forget to include Julius Randle or the Harrison twins.
The Harrison twins have shown flashes of brilliance along with the frustration of being young and adjusting to playing basketball on the biggest stage. Aaron in particular has put up stellar numbers at times going for 16 against Northern Kentucky, 28 against Robert Morris, 22 against Eastern Michigan, 15 against Providence and Baylor, and 20 against North Carolina. So he’s averaging 14.4 PPG for the season which isn’t bad. Our only true PG, Andrew Harrison is averaging 10.9 PPG on the season but only 3.8 APG to 2.45 TOPG. Subtract the TO from the Assists and he’s only averaging 1.368 APG. Now, numbers aside, neither Aaron nor Andrew are “dogging it” out there on the floor. They don’t take plays off and their body language is much better than at the start. And once they each develop the killer into their identity as scorer and floor general, they’ll be ready to leave early right then. Because, like I said, it’s not all about numbers.
Again, I don’t think anyone is ready to leave early but still feel that Willie Cauley-Stein and James Young are the closest and that’s not based on statistics.
Even as I type what I’m about to, Willie Cauley-Stein was nowhere near ready when the season began but as he’s found an identity, he has been pretty amazing. Though he’s only averaging 8.7 PPG and 8.1 RPG, he size, speed and dexterity have made him dominant in the defensive post. He’s shooting 62% but only on 63 shots and couldn’t hit FT’s unless his life depended on it but at 7’1″, controlling the paint is his game and he’s playing it well. He leads the team in blocks at 48 (4.4 BPG), reaching a high of 9 in games against Providence and Boise State. He brings a fire and passion that shows with every blocked shot. Think Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers.
James Young is our most versatile scorer. He has 3-pt range, though he gets a little happy back there and is an incredible slasher/finisher at the rim. He has a nose for the ball and doesn’t mind to get down and dirty. He only has a 39% FG and 34% 3-pt but those seem to be more issues of shot selection, decision making and timing, which he MUST improve upon, rather than inability. With his size, athleticism and skill set, the 14.1 PPG scorer on a loaded team seems to be among the closest to being ready right now to leave early. Think an upgraded version of J.R. Smith.
Now there is one I’m on the fence about and that’s Julius Randle. Initially I said he’s not ready but this could go either way for me.
Physically and mentally Julius Randle is a beast who can take over a game at any time but he’s still learning when and how. And yes, I know he’s averaging some 18 points and 12 rebounds/game but the NBA isn’t all about numbers. It’s about situation and identity on both ends of the floor and he’s a bit of a liability defensively. In an interview I did with ESPN’s Jeff Goodman a few weeks ago, he said of Randle that “what you see is what you get” meaning heis physically ready and his offensive game is already developed. He seems often out of position on D but perhaps that’s due more to defensive scheming or what have you. Once he is able to continually position himself on the floor in the places he is most dominant, he’ll dominate on that end as well. Again, physically and mentally he’s NBA ready and once he expands his identity defensively and develop a mid-range game, he’ll be ready to leave early. But that could be in a game or two.
Understand that I am not bashing anyone on our team because, as you can see, they are living into their roles for this team during this extremely difficult and early season. What I did was take their season at a glance now and opine who I thought was closest to ready to leave early now. I fully expect that all 5 will be ready by season’s end. And yes I left a few players out but Dakari Johnson would be drafted purely on potential and I don’t know how GM’s would handle Alex Poythress. He has the game, there’s no doubt about that.
This is just an opinion so be nice.
On, On, U of K!