There is a common thread between some of the biggest breakout stars of the NBA's bubble in Orlando. In the seeding games, Devin Booker caught fire to lead the Suns to a perfect 8-0 finish to the season. In the playoffs, Tyler Herro just torched the Celtics for 37 points in the conference finals and Jamal Murray is becoming a certified star for the Nuggets, who are also among the league's final four.
All three players were guards at the University of Kentucky who NBA teams overlooked coming out of the draft. And they aren't alone, as you could also include Shai-Gilgeous Alexander of the Thunder. That's four players at the same position who were drafted out of the same school with the seventh pick or later, who all should have been taken higher in retrospect.
Murray was the seventh pick with guys like Dragan Bender and Kris Dunn chosen ahead of him. Gilgeous-Alexander was taken 11th and both Booker and Herro were the 13th overall picks.
Murray at seven means only a few teams missed on him. The others, though, were picked in the teens and those decisions quickly backfired as Booker, Herro and Gilgeous-Alexander all found immediate success in the league.
So, what does it mean? Playing the same position at the same school is often not much more than a coincidence. Sometimes the big man from Georgetown is Jahidi White.
But surely there must be something to this, as four of the last five draft classes have produced this type of phenomenon. Perhaps at a minimum, it suggests taking a second look at the Kentucky guards who could be next in line.
In this year's class, there happen to be two Kentucky guards not projected to be top picks. Tyrese Maxey is a likely first-rounder, while Immanuel Quickley is expected to fall in the second round. The Wizards have already interviewed Quickley in the pre-draft process, as NBC Sports Washington reported. He could be an option for their second round pick at 37th overall. Maxey may not be in their range, as they pick ninth and he is likely to go late in the lottery or outside of it.
Both are 6-foot-3 combo guards who made the All-SEC team this season for the Wildcats. Maxey averaged 14.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Though he shot only 42.7 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from three, he is considered to have high upside, even being compared to Bradley Beal by The Ringer.
Quickley was the SEC Player of the Year as a sophomore this past season. He led Kentucky with 16.1 points per game while also grabbing 4.2 rebounds. He shot an impeccable 42.8 percent from three on 4.8 attempts per game.
Both put up plenty of points at Kentucky, but didn't lead national championship teams like others have for John Calipari, or flash the athleticism of his other, more high-profile prospects. That could be the recipe for an overlooked Wildcat.
For comparison's sake, here's a look at the numbers of each of these guys in their final years at UK:
- Tyrese Maxey (2019-20) - 14.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.9 spg, 42.7 FG%, 29.2 3PT%
- Immanuel Quickley (2019-20) - 16.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.9 spg, 41.7 FG%, 42.8 3PT%
- Tyler Herro (2018-19) - 14.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.1 spg, 46.2 FG%, 35.5 3PT%
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2017-18) - 14.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.6 spg, 48.5 FG%, 40.4 3PT%
- Jamal Murray (2015-16) - 20.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.0 spg, 45.4 FG%, 40.8 3PT%
- Devin Booker (2014-15) - 10.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.4 spg, 47.0 FG%, 41.1 3PT%
As you see, Murray had the best numbers, hence why he was the highest draft pick of the bunch. Booker scored the fewest points, but played on by far the most loaded Kentucky team of the bunch and has become the best NBA player of the ones already in the league. Maxey and Quickley, though, have stats that compare favorably to Herro and Gilgeous-Alexander.
The four already succeeding in the NBA have since proven their games were better-suited for the pros than in college. The fact these cases keep piling up may tell us something about Calipari's program at Kentucky. It could be as simple as he recruits so much talent, it's only natural some players are going to get overshadowed or even lost in the system. It may just happen more often to scoring guards than other types of players.
They aren't the only Kentucky players who teams whiffed on in the draft, and not the only ones balling out in the bubble. Bam Adebayo has emerged as a legitimate star for the Heat after going 14th overall in the 2017 draft.
This year's Kentucky crop, though, is highlighted by guards with Maxey and Quickley. Maybe NBA teams will learn a lesson from the past and not underrate them this time around.