Kentucky’s basketball season is just two games old, but for the Wildcats’ high-powered starting five, that’s two games closer to jumping to the NBA in June. For those fans who—like Kentucky’s one-and-done frosh—can’t wait that long, here’s a look at some pro doppelgangers for the soon-to-be-pros in Lexington.
Willie Cauley-Stein is the only sophomore starter for John Calipari, and he already showed plenty of promise after replacing injured Nerlens Noel as a freshman. Noel hasn’t made his own NBA debut yet, but the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan has, and Lob City’s biggest starter provides a fine role model for Kentucky’s fleet-footed center.
Herein, a closer look at Cauley-Stein and Jordan, along with NBA counterparts for the rest of the starting five on the top-ranked team in college hoops.
Michael Carter-Williams is just seven games into his NBA career, but he's left little doubt about his breadth of skills. Whatever team is lucky enough to draft Andrew Harrison will be getting a similarly all-purpose point guard.
The freshman has more in common with Carter-Williams than just their exceptional height (6’6”, with the Wildcat also weighing in at a daunting 215 pounds).
Like Philly’s new playmaker, Harrison is a serious threat when calling his own number, though he doesn’t have the remarkable three-point touch that Carter-Williams appears to have discovered over the offseason.
Both are highly skilled distributors and dedicated defenders, though Carter-Williams' nose for steals is a cut above his Wildcats counterpart (and most NBA PGs, for that matter).
Think of Aaron Harrison as the player Utah wished it was getting when it drafted Alec Burks three years ago.
Kentucky’s freshman shooting guard is better than Burks in every area (especially when it comes to raw scoring ability), but they share many of the same relative strengths and weaknesses.
The 6’6” Jazz youngster has much the same build as Harrison, who’s longer than he is strong at the moment. Notably, both players have a propensity for using their long arms to get into passing lanes to rack up steals and easy baskets.
The duo also share the skills and instincts to play point guard (if not, perhaps, the quickness of most NBA floor leaders), and both are good rather than great three-point shooters.
Although James Young is the de facto small forward in Kentucky’s starting lineup, his game is more along the lines of a 2-guard’s at the NBA level.
Nick Young, currently the biggest member of L.A.’s three-man backcourt, brings a similar skill package to his similar role.
Like the Wildcats freshman, Nick Young is a slender 6’6”, boasting great leaping ability and quickness but not a whole lot of muscle.
Neither has learned to translate his athleticism into elite defense at this point, but both are impressive dunkers and dangerous three-point shooters (who, coincidentally, both happen to be slumping a bit from long range in the early season).
At 6’9”, 260 pounds, Zach Randolph is currently about 10 pounds heavier than Julius Randle. The Z-Bo of today, though, isn’t nearly as good a comparison for the UK frosh as the player Randolph was before his 2012 knee injury.
Like Randle, the Grizzlies forward (a slightly lighter All-Star in the season before he got hurt) was a lot more mobile than his weight would suggest, fighting for rebounds with quickness and energy as well as strength.
Both players also share an impressive inside-outside offensive game, able to nail mid-range jumpers with ease but still featuring the toughness to grind for points on the low block.
However, it’s worth noting that Randle (unlike the NBA vet) appears willing to pass the ball on occasion, rather than shooting it every time it arrives in his hands.
DeAndre Jordan led the NBA in field-goal percentage last season, not because he’s a good shooter—he isn't—but because he so rarely takes any shot that isn’t a dunk.
That description isn’t a bad fit for Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, either, and the two big men share plenty of other similarities.
Both blend the size of a true center (Cauley-Stein is already 7’0”, 244 pounds) with the speed and leaping ability of a much smaller player.
Both are also most valuable for their imposing defense around the rim, where size, strength and quickness translate into big-time shot blocking totals as well as bushels of rebounds.