“He’s the Player of the Year in the country, and everyone knows it, but they’re afraid to say it because he’s 5-9.” - John Calipari on his star point guard, Tyler Ulis.
If you don’t think that Tyler Ulis has put together an outstanding season, you’re crazy. However, you’re craziness might reflect NBA scouts who are going to overlook his fantastic season, and pass on him in the draft because he’s only 5-9. The leader of the Wildcats has captured many accolades: SEC POY & DPOY, SEC tournament MVP, SN First-Team All-American, First-team All-SEC, and is a finalist for the Wooden Award.
His numbers are just as impressive, and the diminutive guard averaged 17.2 points per game and 7.2 assists per game for Kentucky this year; no player in the last 20 seasons of SEC play has averaged those.
With March Madness starting this weekend, I doubt the NBA is on Ulis’ mind. Most likely, once the tournament is over, Ulis will declare for the draft and be drafted in the early second round.
Would waiting one more season be something to consider? Let’s discuss.
Why Tyler Ulis Should Go
If I’m going to talk about why Ulis should stay, it’s only right to talk about why he should go. He’s undoubtedly one of the nation’s top five point guards — if you put him in a bigger body, like Kris Dunn, he’d probably sweep the POY awards and challenge Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram for the number one pick.
With an average of 7.2 assists per game, Ulis is second to Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine (7.6) among major conference players in that category. Where he differs from Valentine, and a lot of other players in the country, is that he rarely turns the ball over. His average in that category is 1.9, making his AST/TO ratio almost four to one.
He doesn’t do too much and can make the easy pass, like this one out of the pick-and-roll:
While being short does have its disadvantages, Ulis is a lot quicker off the bounce than his defenders and uses his tight handle to get into the lane and create.
Jamal Murray’s play as of late has taken some of the spotlight from Ulis, but he still managed to average over 17 points per game this year, including 14 games with 20-plus. He can score from all three levels, but not quite the consistency you’d want.
Along with the ability, he possesses an aggressiveness on offense that is critical to the success of smaller guards at the next level. Isaiah Thomas averaged 12.4 FGA per game during his time at Washington, and he has a chance to be the best sub-six-foot player ever; Ulis is at 12.5 for the season.
Why Tyler Ulis Should Stay
The main reason Ulis should remain for his junior season is that he’s not going to get the respect he deserves from a team’s front office at this stage. If he stays one more year, there’s an excellent chance that he’ll put up tremendous numbers that can’t be ignored by owners and GMs. It would be egregious for a front office to disregard someone who’s consistently getting 20 points and ten assists in a powerhouse conference like the SEC.
Ulis’ feel for the game is remarkable, but he can struggle with his shooting at times. His field goal percentage is a tad low, 42%, but mostly because of his unusual struggles from behind the arc. After shooting 43% as a freshman, Ulis has dropped to 34%. He is taking more threes, and some of them aren’t the best in the world. However, his two-point field goal percentage is right around 49%, pretty good for a player who takes a lot of mid-range jump shots and floaters.
Lastly, he’s a bit undersized when it comes to muscle and strength. Kentucky recorded Tyler Ulis’ weight at 160, up five pounds from last year — comparing him to Isaiah Thomas, who weighs around 185. He’ll be in the weight room regardless, but doing it at Kentucky could benefit him more because he’s shown to have relatively few problems regarding strength and doesn’t get pushed around easy.
There’s about a 1% chance of Tyler Ulis going undrafted because his basketball skill rivals the best in college hoops. As of now, he looks like an early second-round pick, which is disrespectful. I believe that if a team in the 20-25 pick range selects Ulis, they won’t regret it. I also believe that if he stayed at school, he’d be able to work to become a lottery pick, which would be almost unheard of.
Ultimately, it comes down to how he (and Kentucky) plays in the tournament and how much his stock rises.