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A Tribute to Big Blue Nation

Calipari’s Kentucky

In 2009, John Calipari left the University of Memphis to take the head coaching position at the University of Kentucky.  It was a move that shook the basketball landscape and perhaps changed it for good.  In the 11 years since he was hired, Calipari has consistently been in the top 2 of recruiting classes in the nation.  When you read a list of his former players during this timespan, it’s a who’s who of elite NBA talent. While this has been great for Kentucky fans, it’s been even better for us NBA fans. Particularly in this 2020 postseason. For this post, I’m going to rank the performances of Kentucky alumni in the 2020 Playoffs. 

This post will focus on Calipari’s Kentucky (sorry Rajon Rondo) and only those KU alumni who made it to the 2020 playoffs (sorry Karl Anthony-Towns, John Wall and Demarcus Cousins).  That means Kentucky basketball players who played between the years of 2009-2020.  Before we get into the rankings though, I want to show some love to the players who didn’t quite make the cut. 

  • Honorable Mentions: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Patrick Patterson, Hamidou Diallo, Nerlens Noel and Wenyen Gabriel

*Author’s Note: “When I say Class of __” I’m referring to Calipari’s recruiting class that year.

Without further ado, here are the top performances from Kentucky Alumni in the 2020 playoffs (so far). 

7. Enes Kanter (Class of ‘10), Boston Celtics

The Turkish shark was a fan favorite on this year’s Celtics team.  Kanter didn’t play a huge role but he was consistent during his minutes.  At this point in his career Enes has been reduced to a specialist role.  When the Celtics needed a big body to rebound and get some points in the paint, Kanter was their guy.  He had some good on-court moments during the playoffs but for the most part his biggest contribution came from a race between him and Marcus Smart in the pool.

6. Eric Bledsoe (Class of ‘09), Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks started the postseason with expectations of an NBA Finals run. The Miami Heat put an end to that in 5 games.  Bledsoe gets a lot of blame for the Bucks underachieving but Milwaukee has deeper issues than just him.  The Kentucky product was solid if not spectacular for the Bucks this postseason but only the future will tell us whether Bledsoe will keep his starting role with rumors of Chris Paul and other roster turnover being discussed. Despite that, the Kentucky product averaged a respectable 11.7 points and 5.9 assists in the playoffs and stepped up when Giannis went down.

5. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Class of ‘17), Oklahoma City Thunder

SGA is one of the most fascinating players in the league. The 22 year old 6’5 guard fills so many roles for a team with his versatile skill set.  At times, the Thunder used him as a small forward in one of the best lineups in the NBA this season.  Shai hasn’t had his breakout moment yet but you can feel it coming.  He averaged 16.3 ppg in the Thunder’s 7 game series with Houston and showed flashes of the talent we’ve been expecting out of him.  The future is bright for the former wildcat.

4. Tyler Herro (Class of ‘18), Miami Heat

Tyler Herro has busted down the door and announced his arrival in this year’s postseason. The 20 year old was the catalyst in the Conference Finals against Boston averaging 19 points a game and punctuating his performance with a 37 point outburst that put Miami up 3-1. Herro is the youngest player on this list. If his trajectory continues to trend upward, we could see Herro rise even higher next postseason.

3. Jamal Murray (Class of ‘15), Denver Nuggets

I feel like I’ve written a ton of words on Jamal Murray within the last month (here and here) but his performance in these playoffs has been that noteworthy and extraordinary.  The Denver Nuggets are a team that I would expect to be competing for a championship for the foreseeable future.  Off the strength of Nikola Jokić alone this team was considered a contender.  Once the playoffs began though, Murray elevated his game to the point where they could have won the ‘ship this year.  The Blue Arrow out of Kentucky has proven to us and himself that he’s a building block the Nuggets need to build around to stay near the top of a crowded Western Conference.

2. Bam Adebayo (Class of ‘16), Miami Heat

In the Kentucky yearbook for 2016 Bam Adebayo was voted “Most likely to be a position altering big man” by his classmates.  That is a lie but it’s not a far-cry from what Bam has done this postseason. Adebayo has changed the most from who he was at Kentucky. He went from a hulking, traditional big man for Big Blue Nation into the multi-faceted playmaking 5 for the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat.  The glow up for Bam is real and his emergence in this postseason is one of the biggest reasons the Heat are playing in the final round. 

1. Anthony Davis (Class of ‘11), Los Angeles Lakers

It’s been a long road for Anthony Davis to get back to the mountaintop. In 2012 he led Kentucky to the NCAA National Championship in spectacular fashion earning MOP honors. That version of Anthony Davis was a raw teenager displaying a talent level so breathtaking that the New Orleans Hornets (soon to be Pelicans) made him the undisputed 1st overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. 

The 2020 version of Anthony Davis is even more breathtaking.  Davis is averaging a staggering 28.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists per game in these playoffs while also throwing in 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Playing with Lebron has certainly helped but The Brow might be the best player on the Lakers currently. The list of players who have won both an NCAA championship and an NBA championship is surprisingly small.  However if Davis can do it, he’ll join the likes of Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan. That’s one hell of a group to be included with and AD’s stock is only rising.

Bonus: Devin Booker (Class of ‘14), Phoenix Suns

Despite missing the 2020 playoffs, Devin Booker deserves a mention here for his seeding games performance.  If the point of this article is to highlight the phenomenal play of these former Kentucky Wildcats then Booker has to be included. 30.5 ppg, an 8-0 record for his Phoenix Suns and a huge game winning buzzer beater only add to Devin Booker’s growing resume.  Now if we could just get Phoenix in the postseason so we can see shit like this at the highest level.

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