ORLANDO, Fla. – Even prior to the 2020 NBA Playoffs, the Kentucky men’s basketball program, during the John Calipari era, was already the undisputed king of helping players reach the next level.
The proof has long been in the numbers:
Far and away more NBA Draft picks than any other school in the last 10 drafts (38)
The most first-round selections (29)
The most lottery picks (21)
The most No. 1 overall selections (three)
And again this season, the most players on NBA opening-day rosters (29)
But UK’s NBA presence went to an entirely different level this postseason. There were more Wildcats (13) on postseason rosters than any other school at the start of the NBA Playoffs, but it was their impact that dominated the “bubble” at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Whether it was Jamal Murray’s jaw-dropping scoring performances on a nightly basis, Tyler Herro’s rise to stardom as a rookie, Bam Adebayo’s unforgettable game-winning block or ultimately the culmination of three Wildcats – Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo and Frank Vogel (head coach) – winning the NBA championship, former UK players and staff had their fingerprints all over every facet of the postseason, leading some to call the bubble in Orlando the “Kentucky Bubble.”
Let’s take a look at some of the most noteworthy achievements and milestones the Wildcats achieved in the postseason (notes are compiled from a number of sources, including STATS, the Elias Sports Bureau, ESPN Stats & Info, StatMuse, NBA sports information offices and UK Athletics Communications and Public Relations consultant Corey Price):
– Former UK players totaled 2,249 points in the 2020 NBA Playoffs, 1,458 more than the next-closest school (Marquette). The second-most points ever in an NBA postseason run is 1,593 by North Carolina in 1993, 656 short of Kentucky’s final tally this season. UK players had surpassed that mark before the NBA Finals even began
– The finals marked just the fifth time in NBA history that four players from the same college played in the same NBA Finals. La Salle (1956), UCLA (1980), North Carolina (1991) and Arizona (2017) previously set the benchmark
– With Adebayo, Davis, Herro and Murray shining in their respective conference finals series, UK became the first school with four former players to post 30 or more points in the conference finals
– With Davis collecting a ring, he’s the 15th different former Kentucky player to win an NBA championship as a player. Davis is the first former Calipari player from Kentucky to win an NBA title.
– In collecting his first NBA ring, became just the eighth player ever to win an NCAA crown, an Olympic gold medal and an NBA title – and the first one since Michael Jordan. He is the first player with Kentucky ties to earn that distinction
– Eighth former player to win both a national title at Kentucky and an NBA title
– One of three players to win an NCAA national championship, be named national college player of the year (by one of the NCAA-recognized organizations), be selected No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft and win an NBA ring
– Davis and LeBron James became the first pair of teammates in NBA history to average 25 points while shooting 50% from the field in a single postseason (minimum six games), and the fourth to do so in the NBA Finals
-Became the fifth player ever to shoot 50-40-90 (field goal, 3-point and free-throw percentages) or better in the NBA Finals. The 6-foot-10 forward shot 57.5% from the floor, 42.1% from 3 and was 30 for 32 from the free-throw line in the finals
– His 34 points in game one of the NBA Finals were the fourth most in an NBA Finals debut since the 1976-77 season
– In game two of the NBA Finals, totaled 32 points and 14 rebounds, one of only three players in NBA history with 32 or more points and 14 or more rebounds while shooting 75% from the field in an NBA Finals game
– His game-winning 3-pointer in game two of the NBA Western Conference finals was his first game-winning buzzer beater of his playoff career. He became the seventh Laker in team history to connect on such a shot in the postseason
-Scored the most points by a Wildcat in NBA Playoffs history
– In collecting his second NBA ring, Rondo became just the third Wildcat to win multiple NBA titles as a player and the first to do it with multiple teams
-First player ever to win NBA titles with the Lakers and Celtics since the Lakers relocated to Los Angeles
-Oldest former Kentucky player to win an NBA title
– Finished the 2020 NBA Playoffs with 105 assists off the bench, good for the most assists by a reserve player in a single playoffs since such stats were first tracked in 1970-71. He achieved that mark while missing the first-round series vs. the Portland Trail Blazers
-Currently sixth on the NBA’s all-time NBA postseason assists list
-One of only two players over the last 35 seasons with 15 or more points and 10 or more assists off the bench in the NBA Finals
-Posted eight double-doubles in the postseason, the second most in Miami Heat history
Recorded a career-high 32 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in game six of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, becoming the only player in NBA postseason history to post at least those numbers in an Eastern Conference finals game
-Third-youngest player to score at least 32 points in a series-clinching win in the conference finals or later in the NBA Playoffs
– His block of Boston’s Jayson Tatum with 3.7 seconds remaining in game one of the Eastern Conference finals – a stuff some, including Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, called the best block in NBA postseason history – marked the first rejection of a potential game-tying or go-ahead dunk in the final minute of a postseason game since the NBA started tracking play-by-plays during the 1996-97 season
-Grabbed at least 15 rebounds and dished out five assists in back-to-back playoff games on Aug. 24 and Aug. 31, the first player in Miami postseason history to accomplish the feat in consecutive games
-Youngest player ever to drop 30 points in a playoff game off the bench
-Broke Alvan Adams’ 1976 record for most consecutive double-figuring scoring games with 20 straight
-Youngest player ever to appear in and start in the NBA Finals
– Connected on 48 3-pointers in the postseason, the most by any rookie in NBA Playoffs history and tied for the third most in Heat history
His 11 3-pointers in the NBA Finals are also a rookie record
– Scored 335 points in the postseason, the fourth most by a rookie in NBA Playoffs history
After scoring a career-high 37 points, all off the bench, vs. Boston in game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, became the first rookie in NBA postseason history to score that many points off the bench in a playoff game and tied for the fourth most by any player off the bench in postseason history (since starts were tracked in 1970-71)
-With the 37 points, also became the youngest player to ever score at least 37 points in a playoff game in league history
Fourth player in NBA history to score 30 or more points in a playoff game at age 20 or younger
-In the first-round series vs. the Jazz, scored 142 points over a three-game stretch, one of only three players in NBA postseason history to accumulate that many points in consecutive games
– Became the first player since Jordan in the 1993 NBA Finals with three straight 40-point games
– In game six of that torrid scoring run, scored 50 points on just 24 shots. Only Bob Cousy scored at least 50 points on fewer shots
Scored 40 points in game seven of the Western Conference semifinals, the first former Kentucky player to score at least 30 points in a game seven of an NBA postseason series. It was also a Denver franchise record and just the ninth time in NBA history a player scored at least 40 points in an NBA Playoffs game seven win
– First player in NBA history to average at least 25 points and at least five assists while shooting at least 50% from the field and at least 45% from 3 in a single playoff run (minimum of 10 games)
Kentucky in the NBA
Kentucky has enjoyed unprecedented success at putting players in the NBA under Calipari. In the 10-plus seasons of the Calipari era, 38 players have been selected in the NBA Draft, more than any other school. Included in the recent run are 29 first-round picks, three No. 1 overall selections (Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and John Wall) and 21 lottery selections. A staggering 29 players from Kentucky were on NBA opening-day rosters (including two-way and inactive lists), the most of any school. Thirteen former Wildcats were on rosters for the NBA Playoffs, which also led the country.
Calipari’s players are not only reaching the next level, they are succeeding when they do. His players have garnered 22 All-Star selections. Derrick Rose (from Memphis) was named league MVP in 2011. Five of his players have been tabbed All-NBA (Rose, Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Davis and Towns), three have been named NBA Rookie of the Year (Rose, Tyreke Evans and Towns), and 14 players from Calipari’s first 10 teams at Kentucky have made the NBA All-Rookie teams. UK has produced more All-NBA players, more NBA All-Rookie and more NBA All-Defensive players than any other school in the Calipari era.
Using figures compiled by basketball-reference.com and spotrac.com, Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose but not Rondo) have amassed more than $2.26 billion in career NBA contracts. In the 11 seasons Calipari has been the head coach at Kentucky, his players have totaled nearly $1.9 billion in NBA contracts.
In just the 2019-20 season alone, UK players were slated to make more than $255 million. Calipari-coached players only (which includes Rose but not Rondo) will make more than $260 million.
Calipari has had at least one player selected in the top 10 of the draft in each of the last 12 seasons, dating back to his time at Memphis. No other school or coach in the country has had a first-round pick in each of the last 11 seasons. Calipari is the only coach in the history of the sport to have four players drafted No. 1 overall (Rose – 2008, Wall – 2010, Davis – 2012, Towns – 2015).