BOZICH | Ulis, Towns and what could -- and should -- have been a - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Ulis, Towns and what could -- and should -- have been at Kentucky

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The play of Tyler Ulis (left) and Karl-Anthony Towns stirs questions about Kentucky basketball. The play of Tyler Ulis (left) and Karl-Anthony Towns stirs questions about Kentucky basketball.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are locked in a tug-of-war for recognition as the highest-scoring rookie in the National Basketball Association. Both average 17.1 per game.

Towns has delivered 30 double-doubles. No other rookie has more than 18. Towns has more double-doubles than Anthony Davis, LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Chew on that for a second.

Towns has made better than 85 percent of his free-throw attempts. He leads the 2015 class in offensive rebounds – and defensive rebounds.

Sorry, Mr. Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns will be the 2016 NBA rookie of the year, confirming that the Minnesota Timberwolves made the right call taking him with the first pick last June.

Then there is the little guy that Towns left behind in Lexington – Tyler Ulis.

Buddy Hield of Oklahoma, Ben Simmons of Louisiana State, Denzel Valentine of Michigan State and maybe Jarrod Uthoff of Iowa appear to lead Ulis on many college basketball player of the year forecasts.

But if you’re giving me one player for one game this season, I’d be thrilled to have Ulis, Kentucky’s unrelenting point guard.

Over the last 10 games, Ulis has averaged 20.8 points, 7.5 assists and only 1.8 turnovers. He’s made 68 of 134 field goal attempts, including 17 of 45 from distance. Don’t reach for your calculator. That translates to 50.7 percent overall and 37.8 from the three-point line.

Ulis is unlikely to overtake all four players I mentioned for Player of the Year, but he is performing the way a first-team all-American performs. The kid is a star.

That generates three questions:

A. How dominant would Kentucky be this season with Towns in the middle as a college sophomore?

B. How did the Wildcats fail to win the 2015 NCAA title with those two dynamos (and more) in their lineup?

C. Wasn’t John Calipari’s biggest miscalculation not giving Towns and Ulis more minutes, especially against Wisconsin in the national semifinals?

Answer A: Kentucky would have been the team to beat for the title – unless Okafor had returned to play a second season at Duke.

What Towns is doing is remarkable. Andrew Wiggins, who plays with Towns, was the top scoring rookie last season. He averaged 16.9, slightly less than Towns.

The only two rookies to average more than Towns over the last five seasons were Damian Lillard of Portland in 2013, who delivered 19.0 points per game, and Kyrie Irving of Cleveland, 18.5 in 2012.

Answer B: The Wildcats did win 38 straight before losing. I can explain the 38, but not the one.

Answer C: Well, maybe I can explain it. More shots for Towns and more clock for Ulis would have certainly helped.

Towns, for the record, played 31 minutes, two fewer than teammate Willie Cauley-Stein and six fewer than Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky in UK’s 71-64 national semifinal loss to the Badgers.

Towns led the Wildcats with 16 points and nine rebounds, numbers that were better than his full-season stats.

Towns was not the reason Kentucky was outplayed (and outscored by seven) in the second half. He played all but one of the final 20 minutes and scored 11 of his 16 points. Calipari knew he had to ride his big guy – and that Towns needed more than the three field-goal attempts he had in the first half.

But Ulis?

He played half of the final 20 minutes, making one basket and taking two shots, both from distance. According to Ken Pomeroy’s analytics, Ulis had the most efficient offensive rating (160) of any player who performed in the UK-Wisconsin game last April 4, better than Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, who earned a 158.

Kentucky’s second-best performer in Indianapolis was Towns at 125.

Given an opportunity to play more than 36 minutes per game this season, Ulis has confirmed that he’s as prolific as any guard in college basketball.

Given the opportunity to play better than 30 minutes per game for the Timberwolves, Towns has confirmed that he’s as prolific as any rookie frontcourt player since Blake Griffin in 2011.

As a pair, Ulis and Towns make you wonder what could – and should – have been at Kentucky.

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