- Amin Elhassan
Over the past few weeks, we've looked at the recent NBA draft talent produced by Kentucky and Duke. Today we analyze another college basketball blue blood in Kansas, which has catapulted numerous illustrious careers, including a first overall draft selection in Danny Manning in 1988 (Wilt Chamberlain would have been one as well were it not for the territorial selection rule).
However, Kansas has a chance to join Kentucky in a rare distinction: have two players from the same team get drafted with the first two picks of the draft (Kentucky did it with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in 2012). Andrew Wiggins was the presumptive No. 1 overall pick entering the season, but his teammate Joel Embiid has captured the imagination of fans and talent evaluators alike, and may have the inside track to being the first name announced by newly minted Commissioner Adam Silver this June. Either way, the NBA's Kansas alumni count figures to grow by several this year, with Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis also in the conversation.
Here's a look at the best Kansas draft picks who are still active in the NBA (sorry, Drew Gooden). The criteria for ranking include résumé and scout evaluation since joining the NBA, current production, potential (where applicable) and expectations based on draft position.
It's hard enough to imagine there being nine better players in a draft than Pierce, but here's some trivia that most won't recall: He wasn't even the first Jayhawk selected in 1998. That honor went to Raef LaFrentz (third overall), which is laughable now, but illustrates many of the question marks surrounding Pierce coming out of college. He was an inconsistent college 3-point shooter, and to say he wasn't a superlative athlete would be very polite. So there were legitimate concerns about his ability to create his own shot.
Needless to say, those concerns were unfounded as Pierce almost immediately established himself as a draft-day steal, averaging 16.5 points per game, a number he would not dip below again until this season. Pierce has gotten by using his craftiness and guile, with an arsenal of pump fakes and excellent footwork to help him have the space necessary to create his shot. He also is extremely adept at getting to his "kill zones," around the elbow areas where he has consistently been efficient.
The apex moment of his Hall of Fame career was, of course, winning the Finals MVP in 2008 as the Celtics won their first championship since the days of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. But to focus on Pierce's Big Three tenure would be a disservice to the earlier years, when he scored more than 25 points per game in five out of seven seasons and helped Boston get to the playoffs in four straight years, including the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002.
Amin Elhassan provides his rankings for the best NBA draft picks who've played at Kansas since 1998. He leads with Paul Pierce, a 10-time NBA All-Star.