Kentucky Basketball: Who's the Most Valuable Wildcat?
With Kentucky basketball past the quarter pole of the season many questions still loom for this young team.
Will Ryan Harrow become the next great point guard for John Calipari? Are they deep enough to make a run in March? Are they talented enough to make a championship run? Who is the leader of this team?
However, I have a different type of question to ask. Who is the most valuable Wildcat?
Not necessarily who is the best player on the roster...but out of the seven-man rotation Calipari uses who is the one person Big Blue Nation can't lose to injury or foul trouble in a game?
The slides will be in order of who is the least valuable Wildcat to the most important. As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments section.
7. Willie Cauley-Stein
Willie Cauley-Stein might be the best backup center in the country, but for Kentucky he is the least valuable Wildcat who gets significant playing time this year.
Cauley-Stein is currently averaging over seven points and five rebounds while playing an average of 20 minutes a game.
Known as a high-energy guy, Cauley-Stein usually gets in the game to spell fellow freshman Nerlens Noel or sophomore shooter Kyle Wiltjer. Cauley-Stein has shown flashes of dominance with a double-double against Samford, but he is still a raw project.
The fact of the matter is Kentucky has a star in Noel, and Cauley-Stein is simply a backup on the roster.
6. Archie Goodwin
How can the leading scorer for Kentucky be only the sixth most valuable player for Kentucky so far this season?
Simply put, he can be replaced. Sure Goodwin is a great scorer and can get to the rim, but he's not a great shooter or defender.
He showed he can play sparingly at point guard, but he has often been turnover prone and unable to successfully distribute the ball when he's leading the offense.
Now, Goodwin is a great talent. He will be a first-round pick in next year's NBA Draft and was a McDonald's All-American last year. However, it could be argued that Kentucky is a better team when Goodwin isn't on the floor.
5. Julius Mays
Julius Mays has been Kentucky's leader so far this season and will be called upon to be the veteran leader as he is the only senior on the Wildcats' roster.
Despite this being his first season in Lexington after transferring from Wright State, where he transferred to from North Carolina State, Mays has been Kentucky's most consistent player. He is currently averaging 9.7 points per game and committed only 11 turnovers in Kentucky's first 10 games.
Mays has been a deep-ball threat for the Wildcats as he has connected on 16 shots from behind the arc. More importantly he has provided a calming influence for the team, most memorably giving Goodwin a piggyback ride off the court after an injury.
Mays will only continue to develop his role with Calipari's system since he is a more stable backup point guard than Goodwin.
4. Kyle Wiltjer
Kyle Wiltjer does more for Kentucky than meets the eye. While many think of Wiltjer as just a long-range shooter he is quietly recording five rebounds per game and is second on the team with 21 assists so far this season.
Wiltjer is valuable to the Wildcats because of the dribble drive motion offense that Kentucky runs. With pretty much every set in the offense requiring four players to play on the perimeter, it is an added bonus to have a 6'10" power forward who shoots 41 percent from the three-point line and can pass the ball the way Wiltjer does.
While his defense is suspect at best, Wiltjer brings too much to the table offensively for Calipari to take him out of games. Even when Wiltjer isn't shooting well from the outside, other defenders are required to still respect his ability to and that allows for more driving lanes as well as more post space for Noel to work.
On top of all that, Wiltjer is also a veteran this year for Kentucky even though he is just a sophomore who played in only 12 minutes a game last year. With Kentucky losing their top six players on last year's squad, Wiltjer will be called upon to use his experience from last season.
3. Nerlens Noel
Nerlens Noel is Kentucky's most decorated player. He was named the USA Today National Player of the Year, given Parade All-America honors and labeled the top-rated recruit by both ESPNU and Scout.com.
However, he's not No. 1 on my list for the most valuable Wildcat.
Noel has lived up to the hype ever since he shaved UK into the back of his flat top by averaging 10.7 points per game, nine rebounds a game and 3.9 blocks per game so far this season. He has been a top-notch defender, not just for his blocks but also his ability to defend the post and cause steals. Not too many big guys lead their teams in steals.
Noel has been the high motor guy as well, as he can usually be found diving on the floor for every loose ball. But, in Calipari's system big guys aren't as valuable as other positions—sans Anthony Davis who was an aberration due to his talent.
On the offensive side Noel is still limited to dunks and quick spin moves to the rim. He is only going to get better as the season goes on and may very well end up being the most important player on this team. But for now, there are two who are more valuable than he is.
2. Ryan Harrow
This team will go as far as Ryan Harrow takes them. He is the only true point guard on this team—sorry Jarrod Polson.
Harrow needs to be on the court for over 35 minutes a game in order for Kentucky to be fluid on offense and for the team to click. Harrow is the type of point guard that thrives in Calipari's free-flowing system.
He is very crafty with the ball and rarely turns it over as he averaged only half a turnover a game in his eight games this season. On top of that he is able to get to the rim and finish with a runner to get the ball over centers.
Harrow has the confidence to be a great point guard as well. He isn't afraid to look for his own shot and knows when to look for it. He has been a calming force for Kentucky since returning to the team after leaving it for an illness and then family problem.
The dribble drive motion offense that Calipari plays is only successful with a true point guard. That player must know how to push the tempo and when to attack the rim versus kick it to the open shooter.
While Harrow may determine how far the team goes there's only one person on this team that gives it a chance to even reach that level.
Find out who it is next.
1. Alex Poythress
Alex Poythress is the most valuable player for Kentucky as well as often the most forgotten about. Despite being the No. 13 ranked player in the class of 2012 behind teammates Goodwin and Noel, Poythress gives Kentucky the chance to be great.
While it is often believed point guards determine how great Calipari's teams are it is often a wing player that is the most important player. The 6'7" freshman provides Calipari with the diverse wing he needs on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Poythress is able to play both inside and outside on offense as he is averaging over 15 points per game so far this season. Defensively Poythress has the capability to guard four different positions on the court, much like Darius Miller was able to last season.
Poythress is rapidly improving with each game, becoming a scoring threat and upping his rebound total to over six rebounds per game.
More importantly there isn't a backup for Poythress. There isn't another wing player on Kentucky's roster this year.
Noel might be the best player, but Calipari can sub Cauley-Stein in and he can still make an impact on the game. There is an influx of guards on the roster this season and Kentucky can combine any sort of lineup with Harrow, Mays and Goodwin.
But, Poythress is different. No one else is as diverse as him on the roster and with him not on the floor Calipari has to make the decision to either go with three guards or play big with both Cauley-Stein and Noel on the floor. Poythress just adds another dimension to the team.
If Kentucky wants to make a run in March to another Final Four, it will Poythress that gives them the chance to get there.