By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
University of Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans announced on Sunday that he will forego his last two seasons of eligibility and keep his name in the NBA Draft. Many UK fans will hate to see him leave but don’t count among them his head coach at UK, John Calipari.
“Ashton is ready for this,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “From where he was when he got here two seasons ago to where he is now isn’t even close. He’s a completely different player and he’s built his skills and his confidence to take that next step.”
And Calipari is correct, Hagans is a completely different player from a year ago. But is it enough? Last season Hagans averaged 11.5 points, 6.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. But he also averaged 3.4 turnovers and shot 45 percent from the field. Even worse Hagans shot 26 percent from 3-point range.
So, the question is, after two seasons, has Hagans done enough to prove to NBA teams that he can play at the next level?
In today’s NBA, teams place a premium on outside shooting. In fact, now more than ever, a player has to be able to hit from the outside. The “outside” being another two feet farther back than college at it’s farthest point. Ben Cohen, sports writer covering the NBA for the Wall Street Journal said in an article recently when discussing the state of shooting in the NBA, “The average NBA player shot 36.2 percent from beyond the arc last season — the best shooting year in the last decade. If you can’t shoot, you can’t play in the NBA.”
So, will shooting 26 percent from beyond the arc in college be enough to interest NBA teams in a player that is a defensive wizard playing off the ball? A player that can create shots for his teammates at a 6 assist clip per game level?
Ryan Carr, Director of Scouting for the Indiana Pacers, recently discussed with NBA Sports Camps what he looked for in an NBA player.
“First, I focus on skill level. I watch to see where a player’s skill set is in proportion to other athletes the same age. I also look for athleticism. By athleticism, I not only mean their physical size but also what they are able to accomplish with that size. Athleticism is speed, quickness, strength, as well as potential. Another key factor I look for is basketball IQ — I want to know if they really understand the game,” Carr said.
“For me, Basketball IQ is a player’s ability to limit mistakes. He knows how to make the right play at the right time without forcing. A player with great basketball IQ plays with poise and understands tempo. He can take what the game gives him and make the most of each situation.”
So for Ryan Carr, athleticism, not forcing the play and eliminating mistakes are keys to being an NBA player. I think everyone agrees that Hagans has the athleticism but what about the basketball IQ? One would have to think that at this point Hagans hasn’t proven that he can run the offense from the point guard position without forcing the play or making unforced errors with the basketball.
So back to the original question, has Hagans done enough to prove to NBA teams that he can play at the next level?
Based on the elements that seem to be valued by the NBA — basketball skill, athleticism, shooting and basketball IQ — it seems to me that Hagans will have an extreme uphill battle to be successful in the NBA. That doesn’t mean he can’t make it.
Former UK player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wasn’t the best shooter in his class when he decided to leave UK for the NBA. But what he did have was tenacity, willingness to work hard and a winner’s attitude. In fact, David Aldridge of NBA.com said about Kidd-Gilchrist at that time, “MKG is beloved by NBA scouts for a simple reason: he plays hard. His path to the pros is his relentlessness. Playing hard, as I’ll say for the billionth time, is a skill.That gives MKG the nod among every NBA personnel person I spoke with …”
That might be the ticket for Ashton Hagans. Follow in the footsteps of Kidd-Gilchrist. Outwork everyone else on the floor. John Calipari believes he can do just that.
“We know what Ashton can do to change the game defensively and how much better he got offensively, but what’s going to separate him is his competitiveness,” Calipari said. “That kid is a winner. His competitive spirit drives him and is why I love him. If I’m going to battle, I’m taking Ashton.”
So, hearing what Calipari has said and knowing what type player Hagans is, I wouldn’t count him out as a player that can find a spot on an NBA roster. But he will need to bring every intangible he has — along with exceptional defense — every time he hits the floor.
The question is, is he willing to change his game so that he becomes a complementary player instead of a guy that the offense runs through? Is he willing to play smart and make the easy play on offense while turning up the heat on defense?
Only time will tell, but usually time is not something that a lot of potential NBA players get. Here’s hoping Hagans gets his share.