As the NBA “Final Four” tips off shortly, Kevin Durant will be the best former college player on the court still playing for an NBA title. (if you’ve been away, before you read this read the great piece on Marquette taking on Ohio State on the aircraft career.)
Dwyane Wade isn’t far behind and is probably the 2nd best, but since the Value Add database doesn’t go back prior to 2006, I can’t compare him to other pre-2006 players like Tim Duncan at Wake Forest or tell for sure if he would rank ahead of the next best Value Add COLLEGE players still playing, James Harden and DeJuan Blair. This table ranks the COLLEGE careers of the players on the four remaining teams, for players who were in college since 2006 (Updated table, thanks to LA on MUScoop for catching that I had listed the line for Indiana's Darren Collison instead of Kansas' Nick Collison who unfortunately played for Kansas back in 2003):
|rank||PLAYER||College||NBA||College Career Based on Value Add/Class|
|1||Kevin Durant||Texas||OKC||in 2007, he was the 1st freshman to be top Value Add, and Anthony Davis is the 4th|
|2||James Harden||AZ St||OKC||Only player to be top 10 as a FR and SO in 2008, 2009|
|3||DeJuan Blair||Pitt||SA||As a SO in 2009 already 3rd best behind Blake Griffin and Ty Lawson|
|4||Kawhi Leonard||SD St||SA||In 2011, 2nd best SO behind Derrick Williams|
|5||Russell Westbrook||UCLA||OKC||In 2008 as a SO already 11th overall|
|6||Mario Chalmers||KS||MIA||In 2008, 4th best as a junior which is better than 3rd as SR (Cole)|
|7||Rajon Rondo||KY||BOS||21st best overall in 2006, first year of database|
|8||Reggie Jackson||BC||OKC||In 2011 5th best junior, so could continue improvement|
|9||James Anderson||Okl St||SA||In 2010, 6th best JR, 3 spots behind Jimmy F Butler!|
|10||Cole Aldrich||KS||OKC||In 2009, was 5th as a SO but slipped a little JR year|
|11||Norris Cole||Cleve St||MIA||In 2011 3rd best player, but that was as SR|
|12||Eric Maynor||VCU||OKC||In 2009 was 6th best, but like Cole that was as SR|
|13||JaJuan Johnson||Purdue||BOS||Steady improvement until 7th best as SR in 2011|
|14||Lazar Hayward||Marquette||OKC||Also steady improvement until 34th at MU, but actually behind Jimmy F Butler even then|
|15||Cory Joseph||Texas||SA||In 2011, 12th best freshman|
|16||E'Twaun Moore||Purdue||BOS||Steady improvement until 63rd as SR in 2011|
|17||Daequan Cook||OSU||OKC||In 2007, 40th best freshman|
|18||Dexter Pittman||Texas||MIA||In 2009, was top 5% of players as a junior|
|19||Patrick Mills||St. Mary's||SA||In 2009, was already top 10% as a sophomore|
|20||Joel Anthony||UNLV||MIA||In 2007, top 10% of all players|
|21||Avery Bradley||Texas||BOS||In 2010, 46th best FR|
|22||Derrick Byars||Vandy||SA||In 2007 broke top 5%, but that was as senior|
|23||Sean Williams||BC||BOS||In 2007 broke top 10% as a junior|
|24||Terrel Harris||Okl St||MIA||Steady improvement, but still only broke top 5% as senior in 2011|
|25||Greg Stiemsma||Wisc||BOS||Was still not in 10% of all players in senior year of 2008|
There are 4000 D1 players every year, and even among the top 5% of players every year (ranked 1st to 200th) almost all are wishing they were sitting where Lazar Hayward is with Oklahoma City trying to grab a ring. (Listen to interview with Lazar by clicking here.)
It is very rare to have an NBA player who was not excellent as a college player. Of the 25 players on the four remaining rosters who played in college since 2006, only Greg Stiemsma did not make it into the top 10% of all college players by his senior year. This is not a criticism of a former rival, as Stiemsma is in the top 50% of NBA players. However, the former Badger is one of the rare exceptions like Andre Drummond who is trying to become an NBA player WITHOUT being at least pretty dominant at the college level.
When pulling up the database for the other players on the roster, Durant is clearly the greatest since he was already the best Value Add player in the country as a freshman. This year Anthony Davis became the 4th freshman to top the Value Add list.
James Harden stayed around for two years, and is the only player I can find who was one of the best 10 players in the country both his freshman and sophomore seasons, according to Value Add.
It’s a close call between him and DeJuan Blair for the 2nd greatest Value Add player in the Final Four. I give a slight edge to Harden for two incredible years, but actually as a sophomore Blair was better. He was already the third best player in the country in Value Add behind only Blake Griffin and Ty Lawson, and is on pace to be in the top 10% of all NBA players by the time he hits his peak performance in the next few years.
San Antonio has stayed at the top of the NBA by correctly valuing players like Blair both in drafts and in trades. In 2009, they didn’t pick until the 37th choice. The Spurs watched as 36 other teams picked before they grabbed Blair with their first pick. Many of those picks were on guys who it was clear at the time would never reach Blair’s level.
As for Lazar Hayward’s great career at Marquette, there are really 13 players left in the playoffs who were even bigger stars in college. Lazar was the 34th best player in the country, but not until his senior year. Guys who make the top 50 as a freshman or sophomore are usually big stars, and guys like Jimmy Butler who break into the top 10 as a junior usually do very well.
Norris Cole was the 3rd best Value Add player last year while at Cleveland State, and should be good, but that’s not the same as a guy like Harden, Blair or Wade who is already dominant as a sophomore.
Still, Hayward’s steady climb throughout his MU career gives him the 14th best COLLEGE career of any player still on the court, and the ranking of the 25 above puts them in order.