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A dialogue between two writers, Aaron Smith and T.J. Walker, discussing the three weekend basketball decisions. We talk about whether the decisions were right for them, will Brandon Knight or DeAndre Liggins be missed more, and what the return of Terrence Jones means. This is a new type of article; contact us with suggestions, ideas, and general feedback.
T.J. Walker: A busy weekend in the Commonwealth has sports fans swirling, and it’s very rare when possibly the biggest news in Kentucky on the first Saturday in May isn’t the Kentucky Derby. But that was the case this weekend when UK freshman guard Brandon Knight announced Friday he was staying in the NBA Draft, freshman forward Terrence Jones held the Twitter world hostage on Saturday announcing he’d return to UK and junior DeAndre Liggins ended all the suspense announcing he would stay in the draft Sunday.
Aaron Smith: They did make quite a mess of the weekend’s holidays, didn’t they? Although I’m sure mothers across Kentucky were relieved to finally know their decisions. I think all three went not only according to expectation, but according to what they should do. All three made the right decisions, for their individual circumstances. Obviously, all three could have been a huge help for UK next year. But when you inverse the perspective, UK would not have helped Knight or Liggins out much, if at all, next year.
T.J. Walker: You’re probably right. The only way Liggins could have really improved his draft stock by staying an extra year would have required him becoming a knock-down three-point shooter — unlikely. Knight would be forced to the shooting guard position with incoming freshman Marquis Teague being a true point guard, and Knight told everyone he intends to be a point guard in the NBA. Both players, on a basketball stand point alone, made the smart move. And while UK couldn’t necessarily help them by staying, they could have surely helped UK. Which player will be missed more next season?
Aaron Smith: Brandon Knight, for a multitude of reasons. The biggest is evident just by looking at next year’s roster: if you had to pick a flaw, it’s a relative lack of depth at the guard position. You have Teague, and Doron Lamb proved a capable point guard for short stretches, but there’s not much (at least committed) after that. While Knight probably would be able to play off-guard at times, having him still available to run the point would be invaluable. Gilchrist is already billed as being able to replace Liggins’ defense, rebounding and energy, while also adding an offensive weapon. And UK has a plethora of forwards, although it does have a dearth of child-rearing forwards, if that counts for anything.
T.J. Walker: You make great, true points, but I’m going to disagree with you and say DeAndre Liggins. If you look at numbers, I have a pretty weak argument, and if we were going off sheer talent alone, the nod would go to Knight. But I believe intangibles and defense are strongly in Liggins’ favor. Liggins, who would have been a senior, has the advantage in experience and is one of the best defenders in the nation. If Liggins were staying, the All-SEC Defensive team would reside in Lexington. How would opponents score with Liggins on the guard or best player? Gilchrist, who correctly is almost as good defensively as Liggins, would be on the other, and Davis and Jones would be swatting everything down low. It’s an offense vs. defense debate and Aaron we all know, defense wins championships.
Aaron Smith: Man. That’s a rather enticing lineup. Calipari’s teams are usually underrated for their defensive abilities, because they’re typically pretty good. And having Liggins/Gilchrist able to lock up any team’s top two options would be suffocating. Although, because Liggins would be additionally bolstered by general team and individual success, I think you would have to put the over/under for amount of technicals he instigates at 7. That would be simply amazing to see the amount of trash he would talk. I still think Knight as an added guard would be more beneficial — and I’m not going to concede that Liggins has more intangibles than Knight, who earned the leadership role not through dominant play but through sheer work — but either really would have added significantly to UK. So, let’s turn from hypotheticals to realities: how big is the return of Terrence Jones?
T.J. Walker: If John Calipari could only pick one player to return out of the trio, it would have been Terrence
Jones. If you think UK is going to be thin at the point guard position, it would have been Perry Stevenson thin in the front court without Jones. Maybe not with bodies like this past season, but surely with talented bodies. Without Jones, UK would have had to either start 6’6 Michael Gilchrist, raw incoming freshman Kyle Wiltjer or senior Eloy Vargas down low with the nation’s best incoming big man in Anthony Davis. UK could get away with that lineup against average teams but against the nation’s best, UK would be at an extreme disadvantage. It’s huge that with Jones coming back, it will allow Wiltjer and Vargas develop as the season goes along without any unnecessary pressure. And of course in a numbers standpoint, you’re bringing back 16 points and nine rebounds with Jones. [Ed. note: Jones averaged 15.7 and 8.8]
Aaron Smith: Agreed – plus, Davis isn’t a true center. The difference between UK having a loaded front court and a shallow one hinged on Jones, and at 4:18 p.m. on Saturday that dynamic shifted toward the favorable side. While I’m thinking about it, I loved Jones’ tweet that day. It was short, simple, explicitly stated his goals, and seemed devoid of any tinkering from the PR staff. It was totally worth having to hit the refresh button 35 times.
T.J. Walker: I think a lot Big Blue Nation faced the same problem I did around four o’clock Saturday, no cell service at Churchill Downs! I saw several Kentucky fans running around like chickens with their heads cut off in the infield trying to find out his decision. But after his Friday escapades, tweeting pictures with mystifying, possible subliminal, messaging, I thought his announcement would have been similar. I was thinking a Twitpic, or a clever phrase, but for saying no to the NBA and millions of dollars, he handled it very professionally.
Aaron Smith: Were betting windows taking action on Jones’ decision? Because they could have. And those Friday messages were crazy. I had absolutely no idea what was going through his mind with those, or even if he had his mind made up to have a purpose in sending those out. Whatever. 19-year-old manchilds are impossible to psycho-analyze. But Jones’ return does give UK a plethora of options to work with in terms of lineups. Unlike last year, Calipari will have more than one viable option for what five he puts on the court.
T.J. Walker: The way people were losing money in Louisville Saturday, it’s probably a good thing Churchill Downs didn’t allow any additional sidebets. Plus how many people would have won that bet? I know I wouldn’t. When all three declared, I was confident none would come back. But I believe in the end all three made the best decision for themselves. I don’t know about you but the entire process was pretty tiring, which is why I won’t even start to think about the MASS EXODUS that will occur after next season. We’ll save that mess for next April.
Aaron Smith: After an eighth banner? Possibly.