With Demarcus Cousins now teaming up with another former John Calipari disciple (Anthony Davis) in New Orleans, it’s worth asking: Which former Kentucky player has had the biggest impact in the NBA?
We’re only ranking Calipari’s Kentucky players (sorry Rajon Rondo) and only those who have played an NBA game this season are eligible.
Here's the list we came up with.
Aaron Harrison, Charlotte Hornets (second season)
Harrison went undrafted in 2015 but has managed to latch on with the Hornets’ organization even if most of his time is spent in the D-League. He has played 26 total NBA games in his career, including just five this season.
Kyle Wiltjer, Houston Rockets (rookie)
This one has a bit of an asterisk next to it since Wiltjer technically ended his career at Gonzaga after beginning it in Lexington. He has averaged 1.1 points per game in nine appearances for the Rockets this season.
Skal Labissiere, Sacramento Kings (rookie)
Another rookie (even if he arrived in Lexington four years after Wiltjer), Labissiere has appeared in eight games this season for the Kings where he is averaging 2.5 points. Cousins’ departure for New Orleans should open up more playing time for Labissiere down the stretch.
James Young, Boston Celtics (third season)
Young was drafted in the mid-first round in 2014 but has never seemed to get his footing in a loaded Boston backcourt. He has bounced back and forth between the D-League and the Celtics over the last three seasons, never averaging more than 3.4 points per game in a season. He has played well of late, tallying double-figures in two of Boston’s last four games.
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Tyler Ulis, Phoenix Suns (rookie)
Despite being one of the shortest players in the NBA (he measured at 5’8 ¾ inches without shoes at last year’s combine) Ulis has found a steady role with the Suns. He is averaging 3.1 points per game and 1.3 assists in his rookie campaign, which included a 13-point, six assist performance against Houston two weeks ago.
DeAndre Liggins, Cleveland Cavaliers (played parts of four seasons in the NBA)
Liggins was a holdover from the Billy Gillispie era but played two seasons with Calipari, helping the 2011 Wildcats to their first Final Four in 13 years. After bouncing between the NBA, the D-League and Europe since the 2011-2012 season, Liggins has finally found a home with the Cleveland Cavaliers this year, playing in 45 games (with 19 starts) for the defending champions.
Archie Goodwin, New Orleans Pelicans (fourth season)
Goodwin seemed to find his groove in Phoenix last season, averaging 8.9 points, including eight 20-point games. He was a casuality of the numbers game with the Suns and released prior to this season. He landed in New Orleans where he’s played just three games this season.
Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies (second season)
Harrison parlayed a second round draft selection 2015 into a two-year fully guaranteed deal, and as he’s gotten comfortable in Memphis has emerged into an important role player. Harrison has played in 53 of the team’s 58 games this season and is averaging 6.2 points and three assists, scoring double-figures 12 times.
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Trey Lyles, Utah Jazz (second season)
After averaging a respectable 6.1 points per game and 3.7 rebounds as a rookie last season, Lyles has seen his numbers mostly go up across the board in 2017. He’s averaging 7.3 points per game as a valuable reserve for a team which is currently sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference standings.
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Willie Cauley-Stein (second season)
Cauley-Stein earned second team All-Rookie honors last year, tallying seven points, five rebounds and a block per game in his first season in the league. Those numbers have dipped this season, but with the departure of Cousins, Cauley-Stein will likely receive more playing time down the stretch.
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Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets (rookie)
Murray has been one of the most productive rookies in the league this season and at just 19-years-old is quickly emerging into a future offensive star. He’s averaging 8.9 points per game in his rookie year, but that number is a bit deceptive when you realize he tallied just two points in his first four games. Since then he’s been red-hot, with eight double-figure scoring games in his last 11 before the All-Star break.
His five 20+ point games are the most of any player selected in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Hornets (fifth season)
Kidd-Gilchrist seemed headed for a solid NBA career after earning second-team All-Rookie honors in 2013 but hasn’t been able to stay healthy since. He hasn’t played in more than 55 games since 2014 and just when it looked like he was going to break out last season – averaging a career-high 12.7 points per game – he went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors (seventh season)
Another holdover from the Gillispie era, Patterson was a key role player with Calipari’s first team in Lexington and has served in the same capacity over seven NBA seasons. Patterson has played for three clubs during that stretch, averaging a career-best 10.4 points in 2013-2014, splitting time with the Rockets and Kings. Last season he helped the Raptors make the Eastern Conference Finals while tallying seven points and four rebounds per game in 20 playoff appearances.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers (fourth season)
Noel missed all of his rookie season with a knee injury but bounced back to average nine points and eight rebounds (while finishing eighth in the NBA in blocks) during his first full campaign in 2014-2015.
Last year signified the valuable defense-first role player Noel can be in this league as he averaged 11 points, eight rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, in what was a breakout year. Unfortunately those numbers have regressed this season with Joel Embiid healthy and cutting into Noel’s minutes. It will be interesting to see if Noel stays with the 76ers long-term.
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Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder (sixth season)
Like Wiltjer, Kanter has an asterisk next to his name, since he never technically played for Kentucky. He did however commit to Calipari and enroll at the school for the 2010-2011 season before the NCAA ruled him ineligible.
Since then Kanter has turned into a surprising NBA success story, specifically the last two seasons in Oklahoma City. He averaged just under 13 points and eight rebounds last year helping the Thunder advance to the Western Conference Finals and has upped his production to 14 points per game this season, to go along with six boards a contest as well.
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers (third season)
Randle missed all but one game of his rookie season to injury, but has emerged into a solid building block ever since for the Lakers. He averaged 11 points and a team-high 10 rebounds last season, before upping his points per game to nearly 13 a game, to go along with eight boards and three-and-a-half assists this season. That includes two triple-doubles this season.
Terrence Jones, New Orleans Pelicans (fifth season)
In five seasons in the league Jones has emerged as a valuable role player for both the Rockets and Pelicans, averaging at least 11 points per game in three of those seasons. That included an exceptional 2013-2014 campaign where he averaged career-highs in points (12.1) and rebounds (6.9).
Jones was off to another phenomenal start this year in New Orleans (11.5 points per game and 5.9 rebounds) but in an unfortunate twist, it seems like he will be the odd man out with the Pelicans acquisition of Cousins. Multiple outlets have been reported that Jones will be traded sooner, rather than later from New Orleans.
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Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns (sixth season)
While Knight doesn’t get the credit of the guys below him, he has quietly had a more productive NBA career than most realize. He has averaged double-figures in all six of his NBA seasons and topped the 17-point per game mark in three of them. Just last season he averaged a career-high 19 points per game in Phoenix.
After spending the majority of his career in the starting lineup, he has mostly come off the bench in 2016-2017, averaging 11 points per game.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (second season)
Although his former Kentucky teammate Karl-Anthony Towns got most of the rookie buzz last season, Booker quietly had one of the most productive first seasons in NBA history. Booker topped the 30-point mark six times, and in the process became the fourth youngest player in league history to ever top 1,000 points for his career. The only players who did it faster were Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
This year his numbers are up to 21 points per game, and effective in October (when he turned 20) he became the sixth-highest scoring teen in NBA history, trailing only James, Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Durant and Dwight Howard.
Karl Anthony-Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (second season)
It’s a bit early to throw out any bold proclamations on Towns, but if he continues at this pace it isn’t hyperbole to say he’ll go down as one of the greatest big men in NBA history.
Last season he was unanimously voted NBA Rookie of the Year after setting Timberwolves’ franchise rookie records for scoring, rebounding, blocks and field goal percentage (not bad for a franchise which had both Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love in their rookie seasons). His numbers have gone up in 2017 where he is in the Top 15 in the NBA in points (23.7), rebounds (11.1) and blocks (1.44) per game.
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Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns (seventh season)
Bledsoe will probably eventually be passed by Towns and Booker, but since this list is solely about NBA productively we give the seventh year guard the slight edge based on what he’s done in his NBA career.
Since arriving in Phoenix four seasons ago Bledsoe has been one of the most quietly productive guards in the league, averaging at least 17 points and five assists in each season. He is also in the midst of the best season no one is talking about, with career highs in points (21.6) and assists (6.2) which included a triple-double in the Suns last game before the All-Star break.
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DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans (seventh season)
We all know about the negative that comes with Cousins but what can’t be disputed is that when he’s focused on basketball he’s one of the best big men in the game. The three-time All-Star has averaged at least 14-8 every year he’s been in the league and his 27.8 points per game is currently fourth in the NBA this season.
What’s most impressive is that he has quietly put up monster numbers in Sacramento for years now. He’s averaged at least 20 and 10 for each of the last five seasons, and is on pace to finish in the Top 10 in the NBA in both points and rebounds for the fourth straight season.
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John Wall, Washington Wizards (seventh season)
While guys like Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are often discussed as the league’s premiere point guards, Wall has quietly put up numbers have matched just about any of them.
Since arriving in the NBA in 2010 Wall has averaged at least 16 points, four rebounds, seven assists and a steal in every season, and tallied at least 16 points and 10 assists per game in each of the last four. While he’s known as a “shoot first” point guard, Wall is on pace to finish in the Top 3 in assists for the fourth straight season.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (fifth season)
In just his fifth season in the league, Davis hasn’t emerged as one of the “best young stars” in the game, but as one of the game’s brightest stars, period. He has averaged at least 20 and 10 in each of the last four seasons, and finished in the Top 5 in scoring in the entire league in just his third NBA season (2014-2015). He also led the league in blocks in both 2014 and 2015 and earned one All-NBA Defensive Team honor.
Davis’ best season is this one however, where he currently ranks fifth in the league in scoring (27.7 points per game) sixth in rebounding and second in blocks. While it remains to be seen how Davis will be effected by playing with Cousins, as things stand he’s the best former Kentucky player currently in the NBA.