Kentucky vs. Wisconsin: NBA Comparisons for Starters in Final Four Showdown
Saturday night’s Final Four matchup between Kentucky and Wisconsin could hardly feature two more disparate programs. Bo Ryan’s Badgers have built their reputation on years of great team defense and largely anonymous scorers, while John Calipari’s one-and-done factory in Lexington includes almost nothing but players with imminent NBA ambitions.
To help NBA fans who haven’t seen much of the underexposed Badgers (or the massively hyped Wildcats) this season, we present a look at the two starting lineups through the lens of the pros. Each player is matched with the closest NBA approximation to his own skill set, including SEC Freshman of the Year Julius Randle and two-time All-Star Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Read on to learn why Z-Bo's the best pro to emulate the Kentucky star, along with NBA doppelgangers for the rest of the starters in the Wildcats-Badgers clash.
Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin: Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks
Traevon Jackson isn’t the kind of player whose name winds up as a top performer in the box score nor the kind of athlete who compiles a highlight reel of “did you see that?” moments. All he does is make plays and win games, whether his team needs him to hoist a key shot or find the right man with an assist.
Atlanta’s Jeff Teague hasn’t been able to do so well on the “winning games’ part since Josh Smith’s departure, but he plays a similar jack-of-all-trades role for the Hawks. Neither player is flashy, but both provide the kind of steady leadership that coaches love to have on their rosters.
Ben Brust, Wisconsin: Jodie Meeks, Los Angeles Lakers
Ben Brust is a first-rate three-point shooter (.392) who doesn’t especially stand out in other areas. The Badgers’ career leader in treys is a decent scorer, but at 12.8 points per game, he’ll never be mistaken for Kobe Bryant.
Current Los Angeles Lakers sniper Jodie Meeks, however, is another mater.
While Bryant-less L.A. flounders in last place, Meeks—aptly, a former Kentucky star—is providing secondary scoring and tremendous long-range shooting (.398), though he doesn’t have the impact as a rebounder that Brust does.
Josh Gasser, Wisconsin: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
The lowest-scoring member of Wisconsin’s starting five is de facto small forward Josh Gasser. The 6’3” junior is on the floor for exactly one reason: to shut down the other team’s most dangerous perimeter scorer.
That’s much the same philosophy that has allowed Khris Middleton to start 57 games in Milwaukee, despite scoring just 11.7 points per contest. The 6’7” Middleton does very little that shows up in a box score, but like Gasser, he’s a defensive stopper par excellence.
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Sam Dekker is a strong scoring option, but he’s far from the best three-point shooter on this Badgers roster at .323. He’s also a middling rebounder, with his lack of bulk (at 220 pounds) cutting down on the benefit he gets from his 6’8” length.
Similarly, Utah’s Gordon Hayward (at 6’8”, 207 pounds) hasn’t done much on the glass now that he’s a full-time starter again.
However, he’s contributing 16.1 points a game to Utah’s cause, even as his three-point accuracy has dropped to a career-low .313.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Spencer Hawes, Cleveland Cavaliers
The NBA player who really belongs in this spot is Raef LaFrentz, but as he last played in 2008, Spencer Hawes will have to do. The well-traveled Cleveland center places in the top 20 in the league in three-point shooting (.412) while blocking a solid 1.2 shots per game.
That’s the closest the current NBA can come to approximating the distinctive skill set Frank Kaminsky has brought to Wisconsin, especially in the postseason.
The 7’0”, 234-pound beanpole is a deadeye jump shooter (including .378 from long range) who also uses his long arms to protect the rim (1.7 blocks per game, including a six-rejection outburst against Baylor).
Andrew Harrison, Kentucky: Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder
At 6’6” and 215 pounds, Andrew Harrison is equipped to outmuscle pretty much any collegiate point guard.
He’s not a world-class shooter, and his playmaking (though improved in the postseason) is a work in progress, but he’s a matchup nightmare for less physical opponents.
Reggie Jackson isn’t quite as big as the UK freshman, but his strength provided a similar edge for Oklahoma City while filling in for the injured Russell Westbrook.
Now back to his reserve role, he’s continued to record solid—but unspectacular—offensive numbers, though he’s a vastly better defender than Harrison is.
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: Gerald Henderson, Charlotte Bobcats
For all his recent clutch heroics, Aaron Harrison is nothing special as a three-point shooter (.357 on the year). He’s been far more effective attacking the rim, where he can use his 6’6” length to finish and draw fouls.
That’s a similar formula to the one 6’5” Gerald Henderson has been following in Charlotte. The Bobcats guard is a good—but not game-changing—defender, too, another trait he shares with Kentucky's closest approximation of a ball hawk.
James Young, Kentucky: Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets
The NBA has plenty of small forwards who live off their sheer athletic ability, and Wilson Chandler occupies a middle ground in that group.
He’s not a devastating three-point option (like Trevor Ariza) or an incompetent one (like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), and he’s a respectable defender without being a bona fide stopper.
All those intermediate skills also apply to Kentucky’s James Young, though he’s spent the season proving that he thinks he’s a better three-point shooter than his actual .346 accuracy.
Young has had his explosive scoring nights, but the Wildcats’ best games are ones where he, like Chandler, turns in solid performances up and down the box score without dominating the ball.
Julius Randle, Kentucky: Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
As tough as Julius Randle has been to contain in the low post, his scoring numbers (15 points per game) haven’t actually been all that overwhelming. On the glass, though, Randle has been up there with the best in the country, grabbing 10.7 rebounds a night.
Zach Randolph no longer has the mobility of the Kentucky freshman, but at 6’9”, 253 pounds, he’s almost a carbon copy of Randle’s build.
He’s also having a very similar year for the Grizz, dominating the boards as always but with a little less than his usual All-Star-caliber scoring punch.
Dakari Johnson, Kentucky: Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
Dakari Johnson has one job when he's on the floor for Kentucky: score from the low block, using his enormous size advantage (at 7’0“, 265 pounds). Everything else is gravy, even rebounding, where he defers to running mate Julius Randle.
The 6’11”, 253-pound Greg Monroe has a similarly board-happy frontcourt partner in Andre Drummond, leaving the former Georgetown center free to focus on scoring.
He’s doing that in spades (15.1 points per game), even while putting up unremarkable numbers elsewhere.