Does the NBA have another Isaiah Thomas on the way?
Thomas, now the Celtics’ 5’9″ All-Star point guard, was famously selected with the “Mr. Irrelevant” 60th and last pick in the 2012 draft. But he battled his way onto the Kings’ roster, into playing time, into being “The Pizza Guy,” and eventually into being an All-Star in Boston.
Is Kentucky’s 5’9″ Tyler Ulis the next guy in that line?
In one sense no, because Ulis likely will get taken closer to 20 than 60. But in terms of being disrespected for his height, maybe. Here is what Ulis told Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com.
“I keep a good attitude because my confidence is high,” he said here as part of the pre-draft combine. “I don’t really think about what people say. Everything’s always worked out well. I was this small at the high school level and it worked out. Obviously it worked out in college. And I feel like it’s going to keep working out….
“I feel like if I was 6-1, 6-2 I’d be No. 1 or No. 2,” Ulis said. “But I’m not 6-1, 6-2. I’m 5-9. I got what I have, I love it, I feel like I’ve worked for what I got. I’m just going to keep playing.”
Ulis was considered a good, pesky defender at the college level, but when most NBA guards are at least four inches taller, that can present a defensive challenge. Ulis’ college coach John Calipari had nothing but praise or his guard:
“I’ve coached a lot of great leaders and great point guards in all my years of coaching. Tyler Ulis is the best floor general that I’ve ever coached. What I loved is he grew into that position. You couldn’t speed him up and you couldn’t slow him down unless he wanted to do one of those things. He coached the team this season as much as I did, and I’m proud to say that.”
Ulis, the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, was the spark that kept the Kentucky offense going, and along with his leadership, Ulis showed a penchant for hitting big shots when the team needed them. Small, 5’9”, and quick, Ulis is a tremendous ballhandler with great control. He is a threat in the pick-and-roll where he can disappear behind a screen, and he has the space to knock down the jumper or try to get into the defense. He has very good vision, and while not a flashy passer, he is a smart one, and he knows where to get teammates the ball in spots where they can score quickly. Ulis has knocked down some big jumpers this year, but his long-range shooting still isn’t great, just 34 percent, and because of his size, he needs time and space to get his shot off. He has improved his ability to score around the basket, using his size and speed to an advantage to create space for a short or mid-range jumper. Defensively, Ulis is a pest, and he can create chaos with his ability to seal off the perimeter. As for the NBA Draft, Ulis doesn’t have the strength or athleticism of say an Isaiah Thomas, so the NBA will be a major adjustment, but he is smart and could be a decent back-up at the next level.
He’s expected to be drafted around 20, give or take a few spots. I hear what our man Isaacson is saying about Ulis not being a starter at the next level, but after watching Thomas the past few seasons I’m not writing anyone off.