Monday, June 24, 2013
Path to the Draft: No. 3 Connecticut
By Eamonn Brennan
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.
Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989
Ray Allen (1996)
Richard Hamilton (1999)
Clifford Robinson (1989)
Rudy Gay (2006)
Caron Butler (2002)
Sixth man: Ben Gordon (2005)
The rest: Donyell Marshall, Emeka Okafor, Kevin Ollie, Charlie Villanueva, Kemba Walker, Andre Drummond, A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet, Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams, Jake Voskuhl, Khalid El-Amin, Travis Knight, Donny Marshall, Scott Burrell, Chris Smith, Tate George
Ray Allen is easily one of the best players any college has produced since the draft went to two rounds in 1989.
Why they're ranked where they are: Besides Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal, which players drafted since 1989 have had a better career than Ray Allen? There are a few worthy of argument, sure. Jason Kidd is up there. Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, too. But now that Allen has captured his second career NBA title at age 37 -- and not just won it, but hit the immediately legendary 3-pointer that saved the Miami Heat from elimination in Game 6 (and made a bunch of the Heat's highly mockable fan base look completely silly, which was beautiful) -- Allen has cemented his place among the best of the best players any college has produced since the draft went to two rounds in 1989.
How do you quantify such a thing? For starters, of course, there is Allen's shooting. Allen holds the NBA record for made 3-point field goals (2,857). Remarkably, he has taken the most 3s in the history of the game (7,120), while still maintaining a career average just above 40 percent. His mechanically invariable quick-twitch release, born of his maniacal workout habits, is a wonder that may never be replicated. He is the greatest shooter in the history of the game, period, and he has been doing it for 17 years.
But great shooting alone doesn't necessarily make you a Hall of Famer; were that the case, Steve Kerr would be a shoo-in. Though he has become more of a standstill shooter with age, Allen spent most of his career -- from the promising early years in Milwaukee to his four-year romp in Seattle to most of his time in Boston -- being much more than just a shooter. Allen could always put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. His size allowed him to finish in traffic, and his midrange touch was just as devastating as his perimeter marksmanship. Before the legs wore down in his mid-30s, Allen could just about do it all.
That's an awfully nice piece to have atop your school's list of NBA products, but of course with UConn it doesn't stop there. Richard Hamilton has had his own excellent run in the league, most of it spent in Detroit, where he averaged around 1,500 points per season and was a key piece in the Pistons ensemble that shocked Shaq and Kobe Bryant (and Karl Malone and Gary Payton) to win the NBA title in 2004. Hamilton was sort of a poor man's Allen. He did his scoring in similar ways -- tirelessly working off wing screen actions -- but weirdly enough his jump-shooting prowess never extended to the 3-point line. Had Hamilton ever added that piece to his game for more than a season or two, he'd be a surefire Hall of Famer. Though, "poor man's Ray Allen" still adds up to a hefty NBA career.
Figuring out just how good Rudy Gay is has been a subject of some controversy in the past year or so, after the newly analytics-obsessed Grizzlies traded Gay to the Toronto Raptors and never lost a step en route to the Western Conference finals. Offensive inefficiency is the main complaint about Gay's game -- sometimes he's just a little too happy to take that outside jumper. But even so, Gay is a super-tall wing player with guard skills in a league that prizes such things, and he already has cobbled together an impressive resume. One could say the same for Caron Butler, who has visited a couple of All-Star Games and averaged 15.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals in a very-much-above-average-if-not-totally-spectacular body of work.
And then there's Clifford Robinson. It might be easy to forget about old Cliff, not only because he's not the only NBA player to go by "Cliff Robinson" (the other, Clifford Trent Robinson, was drafted out of USC in 1979). Robinson was drafted in 1989, the first year eligible for this project, and when most people think of Jim Calhoun's trendsetting NBA pros they think of Allen, Donyell Marshall and Kevin Ollie before they ever think of Robinson. But in fact, Robinson's 17-year career is the longest of any pro UConn has produced. Nor does Robinson merely get points for longevity. While his final three seasons (from age 37-40) were just-hanging-on affairs, Robinson averaged in double figures every season from 1991 to 2004. His longevity also was marked by an unusual durability; Robinson played in at least 75 games every season until 2004 (save the strike-shortened 1999 year, when he tied for the league lead with 50 games played). In all, Robinson's 1,380 career games put him ninth on the all-time list. He played a ton of professional basketball, almost all of it at a high level.
Those five players alone would probably warrant a spot near the top five in our Path to the Draft rankings, but there is so much more. Ben Gordon has had a very productive career; Emeka Okafor has averaged a career double-double while playing for atrocious teams in Charlotte, New Orleans and Washington; Donyell Marshall and Kevin Ollie were tenured pros; and even Charlie Villanueva had a couple of really good seasons before falling off after Detroit signed him to a $40 million deal in 2009. The young blood -- particularly Kemba Walker and Andre Drummond, who looks as though he's going to be a beast -- should carry Calhoun's legacy of producing pros forward into the Ollie era. It's a solid, deep list, punctuated by singular brilliance at the top.
Why they could be ranked higher: The argument for ranking Connecticut higher will have a lot to do with the same dichotomy we've been dealing with for the last couple of weeks, the one that makes this whole conversation interesting in the first place*: quantity versus quality, and the nuances therein.
*Which is also why we didn't do something as simple as a points system to rank years played versus All-Star appearances vs. Win Shares or whatever other metric would have made this whole thing much more straightforward. Because it also would have been much more boring. Also, NBA careers are not simply quantifiable things.
For example: If you think a lengthy list of players that comprises its fair share of duds is more impressive than a handful draftees, a significant number of which are bona fide Hall of Famers, then your rankings might look a little bit different than ours. In this case, you might see UConn's combination of Allen (an elite all-timer) alongside this collection of top players and think there's no way the Huskies could rank behind the next two teams on the list. Or maybe you take the opposite view — that the Thabeets and Dysons and El-Amins of the world prove that UConn's pro bona fides are overrated. Our essential goal has been to balance those two concerns, which is why No. 3 feels about right to me.
Why they could be ranked lower: I don't think they could. No. 4 Kentucky and No. 5 Duke both have similar dynamics at work -- lots of products, plenty of solid pro careers, and their fair share of busts, too -- but neither group has a player with a career like Allen's. (Grant Hill comes closest, but those devastating injuries make it harder to put him on the mountaintop.) So, no. UConn might have an argument to move up; it's much harder to justify the opposite direction.
What’s ahead? Drummond is the one to watch. Despite seeming to rarely care about basketball as a collegian, the big man had an immensely promising rookie season in Detroit in 2012-13, averaging 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 20.7 minutes per game. Drummond still needs a great deal of polish in the low post, but there aren't many players in the league as athletic as he is, and none that possess his combination of size, strength and leaping ability. At the bare minimum, he should be a force on the glass for years to come. The ceiling is much higher than that.
It's almost hard to tell how good of a pro Kemba Walker is -- call it the curse of playing in Charlotte -- but things are trending in the right direction. After an anemic rookie season, Walker lifted his shooting percentage from 36.6 percent to 42.3 in his second year, scoring 17.7 points per game and adding 5.7 assists. He needs to develop his outside shot to make up for his lack of size, but his pure scoring and playmaking abilities give him value even as he sands off some of the rough edges.
Other than that, senior Shabazz Napier is probably the clearest NBA prospect on the Huskies' roster right now, but Omar Calhoun is an interesting look down the line, and in 2014 Daniel Hamilton, the No. 4-ranked shooting guard in his class, should give Ollie the kind of talent that will have NBA scouts spending the traditional amount of time in Storrs, Conn.
Final thoughts: Calhoun did plenty of things in his nearly three decades at UConn. He brought an old Yankee Conference power into the Big East. He made that old Yankee Conference power into a competitive Division I program. Then he turned it into a Big East power. Then he started winning national titles. His legacy of success doesn't stop in Storrs, though; Calhoun also created one of the most consistent NBA talent factories in the modern college game. The results are plain to see.