All apologies: More excuse-making re: Kalin Lucas and the NBA

Posted: March 2, 2010 by Jared Field in College

I’m amazed at the kind of flak you take in this state for being critical of Michigan State basketball in any way, shape or form. We’ve had some discussions on this site regarding Kalin Lucas and his ostensible status as an NBA prospect; I haven’t, however, seen a debate anywhere else. It’s just gospel, right?

Now we get this from Mlive, just one day removed from the latest Kalin Lucas flameout in a big game: Eight points, eight turnovers and one assist against the Hummel-less Boilermakers. (And to think there was a debate about which player was more important to his team.)

From MliveHere are Lucas’s numbers. Compare those to Darren Collison’s at UCLA. Nearly identical, and Collison played in a weaker PAC-10 than Lucas’s Big Ten. Both are similar sizes. Both are quick. I don’t know that Lucas will be as good a NBA player as Collison has turned out to be, but they do have similar resumés as potential prospects.

This leads me to believe that the blog’s author, Patrick Hayes, is not just rooting for the green, but smoking it as well. I understand the Collison comparison in one sense: He was a late first round and a point guard. But, as I see it, that’s where it ends.

Comparing Collison’s last college season to this season for Lucas (presumably his last), doesn’t serve the latter well. Collison, who is bigger and more athletic, shot considerably better from the field, the 3-point line and the foul line, had a better assist-to-turnver ratio, more rebounds, more assists and more steals. Oh, and Collison is a better defender (he was among the best in the PAC 10). Ever heard Lucas called a stopper? And while his field goal percentage is up sizeably, his outside shooting has gotten significantly worse.

When I was a kid, first-round NBA guards were better than Kalin Lucas.

  1. The debate here will hinge on potential, not collegiate numbers. Many have blossomed AFTER leaving Izzo’s and other college coaches’ systems and being freed up in the weak defense of the NBA. Will this happen for Lucas? We shall see…

  2. Eric Snow had a long career too though…

  3. Shawn Respert (much better than Snow, Lucas, and Lawson in college) didn’t. Translation to the NBA is going to be the key.

    • Jared Field says:

      I totally agree. But at his size, could you see him becoming a defensive stopper in the league? He’s my height.

      Eric Snow was 6-3 and like 210. The measurables matter more in the NBA.

      Lucas is NBA quick, but what other transferable NBA skills does he have? I mean, if he could shoot like Respert, I’d have nothing to say.

  4. I definitely understand the question marks and he has a ton to prove. I personally do not believe there are stoppers in the NBA. The closest were Bowen, Artest, Pippen, and Rodman. There are good defenders, but they’re only as good as the shot blocker behind them or they are the shot blocker themselves. Look at Tayshun Prince. No one considers him an elite defender anymore. Why? No more young Ben and Rasheed behind him.

    Lucas won’t be a stopper, and probably not ever really close. But he can get stronger and learn to shoot better with proper teaching, so we will have to see how much work he puts in. Brandon Jennings showed that shooting can be repaired as well.

  5. “Collison, who is bigger and more athletic,” …

    You sure about that? They list Collison at 6-0 160. I know Lucas’s height is overstated, but he’s roughly 5-10/11 and 190. So no, Collison is not bigger. Lucas is actually bigger strength-wise. I wouldn’t say Collison’s necessarily quicker either.

    “When I was a kid, first-round NBA guards were better than Kalin Lucas.”

    Really? Every year? There was never a guy drafted in the first round who was a reach or who was worse than Lucas? Ever? This statement has no merit or grounding in reason.

    Another thing — you harp on the “doesn’t show up in big games” thing. This season? Sure, you could say that. Last season? I think you could say the exact opposite. He had good games against every Big 10 power in a season in which the team won the Big 10, as well as good tourney games against USC and UConn and a decent game against Kansas.

    Is his clutchness overstated? Of course it is. Sports writers are hyperbolic creatures. But is he the least clutch player who ever walked the planet? Of course not. He’s had at least as many good games in important moments as bad ones, but to know that, it would require you to spend two minutes looking at boxscores from last season, and who has time for that?

    It’s alright. I get how you do. You get a meme going, in this case “Kalin Lucas is overrated,” and then every bad game, “See! I was so right!”

    The problem is the statistics just don’t back that up. He’s scoring more efficiently this year (as you just casually gloss over). He’s not just shooting a better percentage, he’s shooting 7 percent better — that’s a significant jump (not sure why the three-point shooting is relevant … isn’t the goal to get better shots?). His assists are down (4.6 vs. 4.0) and turnovers are up (barely … 2.4 vs. 2.2) because minus Suton, they need more scoring out of Lucas. When guards look to score more, their assists inevitably go down and turnovers inevitably go up. You know that, but it doesn’t fit your meme.

    Kalin Lucas will play in the NBA because he’s a quick guy with point guard skills who can shoot well enough to free up is ability to get in the lane. Defenses are different in the NBA — the grabbing/hand-checking that teams get away with in college doesn’t exist and zones are rare. That’s why quick guards are in demand. That’s why Collison was a first round pick despite the fact that the Hornets already had Paul and Eric Maynor was a first round pick by the Jazz even though they had D-Will and Lawson was a first round pick despite Billups’ presence in Denver. It’s why Jonny Flynn snuck into the lottery or Ricky Rubio was drafted even though he made it known he wouldn’t sign. Teams can never have enough quickness. Quick guards are the new lumbering centers — remember in the 80s and 90s when every slow 7-footer was a first round pick (Todd Fuller, Eric Montross, Jon Koncak, etc.)? Teams loved size then like they love quickness now. If Lucas has a good tourney and leaves early, he’ll be a late first round pick.

    That’s not a predictor of great NBA success or saying that Lucas is a great player right now. It’s saying that he has the right skills at the right time in the NBA.

    • Jared Field says:

      The differece between you and me is that you bleed green. I don’t. I just love the game.

      Players, especially ones on the fast track to the NBA, are supposed to get better, right? So the glossing that’s being done is yours, not mine. He’s regressing.

      Further, you’re glossing over a litany of deficiencies when you casually state that has “the right skills” or “point guard skills.”

      Last I checked point guard skills are, roughly: 1.) Ability to defend; 2.) Elite passing ability/court vision; 3.) Elite ballhandling; 4.) Leadership and 5.) ability to get to the basket.

      If you can’t see the deficiencies in some of those areas, I don’t know what else to say. Actually, I’ll give you this: I do consider him an elite ballhandler. Some don’t, but I do. And, of course, #5 is obvious.

      And perimeter shooting does mean more in the NBA than in college for point guards. So 3-point shooting is a legitimate factor.

      Look at the two players and tell me that Lucas isn’t smaller and less athletic. Come on.

      And of course there have been numerous “reaches” in NBA drafts going way back. He’s just the latest. You can’t see it because you wear green-colored glasses.

  6. Sloc says:

    I hope you’re right cause I like the kid personally, but I don’t see it in his game. I didn’t see it last year. I even went as far as saying he’s one of, if not the worst Big 10 POY that I can remember. He only won the award cause he played on the best team.

    How can a guy who 80 percent of the time gets in the lane, then wildly throws the ball at the hoop while attempting a triple sow cow make it in the NBA with better defenders and bigger guys when that crap doesn’t even work in college? Yes his jumper is improved from a year ago, but it needs to get a whole lot better for NBA defenders to respect it.

    No, he doesn’t show up in big games. Period. One Big shot against Kansas last year. That’s it. Don’t tell me about Minnesota or Michigan this year. If he didn’t sleepwalk through the first 35 minutes of the UM game his team wouldn’t have needed his last second shot to win. He has far too many 3-13 games, and it just so happens that those usually come against the better competition.

    Finally, as for Darren Collison. It is NO comparison. If you remember, Collison was projected to be a top 5 pick after his junior year, but he decided to stay in school. Bad decision, he had a bad year and dropped to the end of the first round. Point is, you can’t compare these two. People knew Collison was going to be a high level pro. No one (other than Green bleeders) has ever said Kalin will be THAT good.

    Collison led the pac 10 in steals and was 2nd in assists, and shot 45 percent from 3… Kalin hasn’t and i say can’t come close to that. Ok, so they’re both small, so what. Nothing else is comparable between the two.

    • I never, ever saw Collison projected top five. Not saying he wasn’t, but DraftExpress or never had him that high. He was late lottery everywhere I saw him that year.

      I’m not comparing them as players, but you can absolutely compare their situations. Guys who maybe hung around college too long, had some flaws exposed and everyone harped on them — “OMG! He’s so overrated! He’s not an elite shooter! He’s not clutch because of that one game I watched!”

      The point is, focusing on Lucas averaging half an assist less per game this year or two tenths of a turnover more per game glosses over the fact that he still has skills that are in demand in the NBA right now. Does it mean that I think he’ll be near as good as Collison? No. But I could absolutely see a team with a need for perimeter quickness or a backup PG taking Lucas late in the first round. I don’t get why that’s so inconceivable, especially in an overall fairly weak year for point guards after the top one or two guys.

      And Sloc, doesn’t show up in big games, period? That’s pretty definitive. And also pretty inaccurate. He has certainly been bad vs. Purdue, OSU and Wisconsin this year, but last year he had three good games vs. OSU, one vs. Purdue and one vs. Wisconsin in-conference. He had good tourney games vs. USC and UConn, as well as the shot you mention against Kansas.

      I wouldn’t call him a great clutch player or anything, but you just can’t say that he never shows up in big games. He’s shown up in plenty, unless last season’s body of work counts for nothing.

      And the “you just bleed green” argument is as weak sauce as it gets. Do I root for MSU? Sure. I was raised on Fab Five though.

      More than being a fan of MSU, I’m a fan of reason. And it’s not reasonable to say that Kalin Lucas is having some kind of horrible season when he’s scoring more points per game on more efficient shooting. He hasn’t taken the leap that people were expecting, but he’s still a good player with skills that make him a fringe, late-first-round NBA prospect, particularly if he has decent Big Ten and NCAA tourneys.

  7. […] numbers: Tracking Kalin Lucas in big games Jump to Comments While the debate is still raging regarding Kalin Lucas and his NBA prospects, let’s look inside the […]

  8. I’ve acknowledged this season in every post I’ve made. Sloc didn’t say this season. He said “he doesn’t show up in big games, period.”

    I’m just saying he showed up big in quite a few big games last season.

  9. sabetodo says:

    The closest comparison to Lucas currently in college is Scottie Reynolds from Villanova, and he’s projected to go #56, according to That’s undrafted territory. This draft is low on good point guards, too, so what does that tell you about how GMs feel about Kalin’s stock?

    The current NBA comparison for Kalin is not Collison, who was an awesome defender and shooter at UCLA. It’s also not Ty Lawson, who is much faster than Lucas and a much better athlete. To me, it’s Tony Parker. They are both really fast, but not blurs like Lawson. They struggle making the shots off the dribble and from long range, unless wide open. They finish well at the basket (though Parker is much better than Lucas right now, Parker has NBA experience. Obviously.). They even have similar forms on their jumpshots. In my opinion, Duncan and Popovich made Tony Parker. If Kalin Lucas gets into a system with a coach who knows how to use his talents, he’ll be a good player, like Tony Parker is a good player. Otherwise, he’ll struggle. Since the odds of landing in the right system are slim, I’m thinking he’s gonna struggle.

    • PJR says:

      Good Points! Not only do you have to have the talent, but you have to have the right talent fit! That makes the odds an order of magnitude harder to achieve success!

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