UK In The NBA: Tipoff Edition

Tuesday marks the start of the 2012-13 NBA season, and there are plenty of storylines to follow as we begin our second-annual UK In The NBA series at AllWildcats.com.

Tuesday marks the start of the 2013-14 NBA season, and there are plenty of storylines to follow as we begin our second annual UK in The NBA series at AllWildcats.com.

There are currently 22 former UK players on 15 different NBA teams, but not all the Wildcats are up to full form as the season is set to begin.

Most notably, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who underwent surgery in February to repair an ACL injury, has no timetable in place for a return. Talks around the league suggest a Derek Rose-like scenario may be looming, but Rondo is adamant that he will return to action this season.

"I'll be returning in the 2013-2014 season," Rondo said at the Celtics Media Day in September.

But Rondo is not the only former Cat currently rehabbing a knee injury. Rookie center Nerlens Noel tore his ACL in his only season at Kentucky and he may never suit up for the 76ers in his first season in the league.

"I doubt, everybody doubts that he's going to play this year," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said before a preseason game in Cleveland. "We don't want to waste this year. I think from a skill perspective, it's an opportunity for us to break down his shot, really work on his free throws and start a little bit from ground zero."

Noel slid to the sixth pick in the 2013 draft in part because of the injury after he was thought to be a lock for the top spot on almost every early draft board.

With the 76ers seemingly forfeiting their most recent first round draft choice for at least a substantial portion of the season, it may free up some playing time for another big man who once sported the Kentucky uniform.

Daniel Orton was waived by Oklahoma City on Oct. 10 and Philadelphia signed the 6-foot-10, 266-pound center just five days later, making it his third stop since entering the league in 2010.

Orton will immediately be inserted into a rebuilding situation in Philly with a roster that will allow him to see the court. It may be the perfect situation for the talented young big man who has certainly not had the opportunity to earn his worth thus far in his young career.

Darius Miller is another young player attempting to carve out a niche in the NBA, but the former Kentucky legend experienced a setback in Sept. when a he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot.

Miller is officially listed as day-to-day for the New Orleans Pelicans to begin the 2013-2014 season.

Doron Lamb

Much like his former UK teammate, Doron Lamb has yet to participate in preseason action for the Orlando Magic as he recovers from an ankle injury. Now in his second season in the NBA, Lamb is not expected to play a significant role for a Magic team that is stocked with backcourt depth.

It would not be a surprise to see the sharp-shooting guard spend some time developing in NBA's D-League in his second campaign.

Tayshaun Prince managed just 15 total minutes in the Grizzlies final preseason game after being held out of action for several weeks with a debilitating stomach ailment. The 33-year-old small forward, and eighth-leading scorer in UK history lost between 12 and 15 pounds while treating the illness, according to The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. However, Prince will be available to begin regular season play on Wednesday.

While the injury bug latched on to its fair share of former Kentucky stars, it is not all a story of misfortune as the new season kicks off. A pair of former Wildcats reached lucrative deals with their respective franchises.

John Wall signed a five-year, $80 million contract with the Washington Wizards, and his teammate at Kentucky, DeMarcus Cousins, signed a four-year, $62 million contract with the Sacramento Kings.

Wall has received as much pressure as anyone since he entered the league in 2010. As a rookie, he was immediately asked to turn around an abysmal Washington Wizards franchise. Now in his fourth year, the Wizards' front office has made the necessary moves to compete in the Eastern Conference, which will almost guarantee the name ‘John Wall' will be brought to attention when discussing guards on the All-Star ballot in February.

"Yeah, I feel like the pressure is a lot more," Wall said Friday during the Wizards' media day. "I embrace it. I love pressure. There is nothing to hide from. You hide from it; you don't need to be playing. That's just something I have, a competitive edge and a dog I think I was born with."

DeMarcus Cousins has grown into the role as the franchise cornerstone in Sacramento. The 6-foot-11 big man is arguably the most talented center the NBA has to offer with a complete skill-set on the offensive end of the floor. But the oozing talent is not enough for Cousins and his new contract.

Now he must exceed expectations and become a leader for a young Sacramento team with hopes of regaining some respect in the Western Conference.

"I'm going to go out there every night and leave it on the floor. I'm the leader of this team," Cousins said to the Sacramento Bee.

With the addition of Patrick Patterson the Kings added a locker room presence to help Cousins transition as he began his maturity process toward the end of last season. Sacramento landed Patterson via trade from Houston last February.

"When I first came here during (last) season, it seemed like he was somebody else," said Kings forward Patrick Patterson, who played with Cousins at Kentucky. "I don't know if it was because of the unsuccessfulness of the team, if there were problems on the team, or if he didn't like the situation he was in. But he wasn't the same DeMarcus I had seen back in Kentucky."

Sacramento is home to a trio of former UK fan favorites in the frontcourt with Patterson likely playing starters minutes at the four-spot alongside of Cousins. Chuck Hayes, who went undrafted in 2005 after playing three seasons at Kentucky, will earn solid minutes in the rotation, serving as a veteran defensive anchor for the Kings' second unit.

"I love his veteran leadership, his voice," Kings first year head coach Mike Malone said earlier this month. "He knows what all the right things are about, and he's holding others accountable when he needs to."

When thinking about all the UK players now in the NBA the majority of the names that come to mind are from the Calipari era. But there are several other veteran guys, like Hayes, playing that role for their respective teams.

Keith Bogans is new to the Celtics roster after being moved by Brooklyn as a part of the blockbuster trade this offseason that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to an immediate championship situation. The Celtics, however, have been thrusted into rebuilding mode and Bogans will likely not see many minutes this season as the franchise has elected to develop its young players despite losing a lot of games; a strategy that will be seen around the league in preparation for the much anticipated 2014 draft.

Nazr Mohammed is entering his fifteenth NBA season and his second season with the Bulls. He will play a familiar role as a reserve center for Chicago. Mohammed's teammate Marquis Teague is in a log jam at the point guard position with former Calipari point guard and league MVP Derek Rose returning to action to start the season.

Teague excelled in a larger role during the preseason, but that is not expected to transition to the court in his second NBA season. Don't be surprised, however to see the young point guard get moved as the Utah Jazz have been interested in Teague since he was drafted in 2012.

The Jazz need to fill a current void at the point guard position after their first round pick, Trey Burke, fractured his finger earlier this month. One position that is all but solidified is at center. Enes Kanter is coming off a shoulder surgery, but as he returns to game shape the Turkish star is expected to impact the league in a big way.

"I think he's coming along," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said to the Deseret News in Utah. "One of the things we have to consider with him is he missed a good six months from last year through the summer, being on the floor and being able to (work out) with the guys, so he's working his way back into basketball shape. And I think he's making great strides."

Another young big man expected to take his career to the next level in the 2013-2014 season is Pelicans forward Anthony Davis. After a rookie season, which the Pelicans coaching staff opted to play Davis less minutes in order to preserve his body, the 6-foot-10, 208-pounder is now prepared for the physicality of the league.

Davis averaged nearly 20 points and six rebounds per game throughout the preseason, and those numbers should only increase as the regular season begins with a boost in the minutes category.

"He's made the leap, and it's fun to watch him to develop," Davis' teammate Ryan Anderson said to The Times Picayune. "When he's aggressive, no one can stop him. That's what we continue to imbed in his mind."

Davis' former teammate at Kentucky, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, did not earn the same type of praise this offseason. While Kidd-Gilchrist is an exceptional talent, he has yet to tap into his potential on the offensive end of the floor as he continues to adjust his mechanically flawed jump shot.

"When I'm working with someone's shot, there is minor surgery which includes a few tweaks and there is major reconstructive surgery — this is reconstructive," Mark Price, who is in charge of fixing the flaws in Kidd-Gilchrist's jumper, said to the Associated Press.

Yes, the 6-foot-7 forward already holds the reputation as one of the elite defensive stoppers in the NBA coming into just his second season in the league. But that is not helping struggling Bobcats put points on the board. Finishing 29th among 30 NBA teams in scoring this preseason (90.4 points per game), Charlotte is a team in need of offensive production; a necessity that could keep Kidd-Gilchrist from logging major minutes this season.

Brandon Knight

Brandon Knight (Bucks) and Jodie Meeks (Lakers) are a pair of former Cats known for their abilities as sharp shooters. Knight was moved by the Pistons this offseason to possibly the most depleted roster in the NBA. While Knight turned in solid individual performances, the Bucks were defeated in each of their preseason games, which is likely the way the entire season will play out in Milwaukie.

Jodie Meeks is entering his second year with the ongoing saga that is the Los Angeles Lakers. He is expected to earn starters minutes at the shooting guard spot until Kobe Bryant makes his return from a torn Achilles.

"I sat down with Coach D'Antoni and (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak) and they just said I need to come into training camp basically hitting the ground running because we're not sure when Kobe will be back exactly," Meeks said toESPNLosAngeles.com.

Terrence Jones is another former Wildcat who has earned a starting spot to begin this season. Last year, Jones spent time in the D-League as the Rockets were jam-packed at his position. But Jones proved his worth and versatility down the stretch of the season and he will earn as many minutes as he can handle as he spaces the floor for dominant center Dwight Howard, the Rockets monumental offseason acquisition.

Josh Harrellson has been on the move since he began is professional career with the New York Knicks in 2011. He spent short stints last season with and Miami, Houston, and a again in New York before being ousted from the league altogether. Harrellson spent time in Puerto Rico and China where he was named Player of the Year in the CBA.

Now Harrelson finds himself back in the NBA where he recently signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Pistons. With a loaded frontcourt in Detroit, Jorts is hoping to make his way into the second unit as the regular season kicks off, but it will be a difficult task.

"It's very competitive," Harrellson said to NBA.com. "The backup spots are still open. There's going to be a lot of competition between me, Charlie (Villanueva), Jonas (Jerebko), so we're all going to come out and battle and whoever coach decides to put out there will be playing."

That leaves Eric Bledsoe, who is arguably the most intriguing player in the NBA coming into this season. Bledsoe has proved in his three seasons as a key reserve with the Clippers that he is a great talent with unbelievable athleticism. Now with the Phoenix Suns, Bledsoe steps into a starting spot at point guard for the first time in his young career.

"I was looking forward to this moment, and it came and I'm ready for it," Bledsoe told ArizonaSports.com.

Archie Goodwin, also a member of the Suns, has proven the critiques wrong in the months leading up to his rookie season. Many thought he was not ready to make the jump to the professional game, but the No. 29 overall pick in the 2013 draft is expected to play significant minutes off the Suns bench to start the season.

NBA TV Schedule
Former UK Players
Tues, Oct. 29
Chicago (Mohamed & Teague) @ Miami 8:00 p.m. on TNT
L.A. Lakers (Jodie Meeks) vs. L.A. Clippers 10:30 p.m. on TNT

Wed, Oct. 30
L.A. Lakers (Meeks) @ Golden State 10:30 p.m. on NBA TV

Thu, Oct. 31
Chicago (Mohammed & Teague) vs. New York 8:00 p.m. on TNT

Fri, Nov. 1
L.A. Lakers (Meeks) vs. San Antonio 10:30 p.m. on ESPN

Sat, Nov. 2
Chicago (Mohammed & Teague) @ Philadelphia (Orton) 7:30 p.m. on NBA TV

Sun, Nov. 3
Phoenix (Bledsoe & Goodwin) @ Oklahoma City 7:00 p.m. on NBA TV

Mon, Nov. 4
Houston (Jones) @ L.A. Clippers 10:30 p.m. on NBA TV


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