Spin Cycle: Ranking UConn’s last 5 NBA first round picks 

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The UConn men’s basketball team captures an electric win against Xavier during an afternoon game on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT. Former Huskies James Bouknight and Christian Vital were in attendance, as well as Tik-Tok famous dad Marc D’Amelio. The Huskies victory gave them their 10th Big East win of the season, while also extending their current win-streak to three straight victories. Photo by Sofia Sawchuk / The Daily Campus.

As the self-proclaimed “Basketball Capital of the World,” you’d expect UConn to have a strong track record of producing high-quality NBA talent, right? As it turns out, UConn basketball players haven’t really caught the eyes of NBA scouts in recent years. The school produced its first NBA draft selection since 2016 when James Bouknight was selected eleventh overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 2021 NBA Draft. 

Despite the recent lack of players to reach the NBA, several Huskies have been selected by NBA teams in the 21st century. In fact, most UConn athletes selected in the NBA Draft have been selected in the first round rather than the second, indicating that those selected possess superior skills than their draft-class counterparts. Since 2011, UConn has had five basketball players become first round draft selections. For the sake of comparison, and to evaluate the professional track records of recent Huskies, I’ll be ranking UConn’s previous five first round selections based on how they fared on a professional stage: Bouknight, Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond and Kemba Walker. 

5. James Bouknight, G, Charlotte Hornets 

Since being selected 11th overall in the 2021 NBA draft, Bouknight has seen inconsistent minutes, has shown flashes of potential and has filled in the cracks by being ejected from his old stomping grounds at Gampel Pavilion. In all seriousness, Bouknight has the tools to become a legitimate NBA player, though he has yet to make the permanent transition to the NBA. When he was drafted, many were under the impression that the Hornets believed in Bouknight’s potential as a raw prospect and took a flier by selecting him early in hopes of reaping the results of his development in the future. In the meantime, Bouknight has split most of this season between Charlotte and their G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm. For Greensboro, Bouknight has been outstanding, averaging a solid 25.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. However, on the NBA-level, Bouknight’s numbers translate to 5 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game in just over ten minutes per game. For most of the season, Bouknight’s minutes have taken place in garbage time as he has yet to establish a consistent role in head coach James Borrego’s rotation. Until the Hornets give Bouknight a chance to play regularly, it will be hard to analyze his professional success. 

4. Shabazz Napier, G, EuroLeague 

Once an NCAA Tournament hero for Connecticut, Napier was selected 24th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Hornets and was traded to the Miami Heat on draft night. He would play one season in Miami, in which he averaged 5.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game from 2016-2019. Napier’s scoring statistics increased with each year, when he averaged a career-high 11.6 points per game on a career-best 42.8 field goal percentage for the Washington Wizards. Between 2014 and 2019, Napier suited up for six NBA teams, which were the Heat, the Wizards, the Orlando Magic, the Portland Trailblazer, the Brooklyn Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, Napier’s NBA career was short lived, as his 2019 season would be his last in the NBA before becoming a professional player in Europe. Napier signed with Zenit St. Petersburg in the summer of 2021. It is unclear if Napier has seen playing time with his new team, as Napier does not have any official stats recorded on Zenit’s official website. Even so, no matter where Napier suits up, he will forever be remembered for his effort leading UConn to NCAA Tournament championships in 2011 and 2014. 

3. Jeremy Lamb, G, Sacramento Kings 

Many will easily forget the impact that Lamb has had at each step of his NBA career, but wherever he’s played, he’s been a steady contributor. The twelfth pick of the 2012 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets, Lamb was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder as a part of the deal that sent James Harden to Houston. Being a ten-year veteran, Lamb has averaged a steady 10.2 points per game over an average of 20.8 minutes per game. After being traded to the Sacramento Kings along with Domantas Sabonis, Lamb has officially been a part of five NBA teams, including the Rockets, the Thunder, the Kings, the Hornets and the Indiana Pacers. His best season came in 2018 with the Hornets when Lamb averaged 15.3 points per game on 44.0 field goal percentage. Although his stats won’t blow your mind, it’s hard to deny Lamb’s presence as a steady contributor has been key for every team that he’s played for. Despite his professional success, Lamb’s career highlight likely was when he helped UConn win the 2011 NCAA Tournament. 

2. Andre Drummond, C, Brooklyn Nets 

With the ninth selection in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons selected UConn’s Andre Drummond, a one-and-done player in college. Drummond immediately became a force in the NBA, as he was one of the league’s better centers for the better part of the decade. Over nine seasons, Drummond owns a career stat line of 13.9 points and 13.4 rebounds per game on a 53.8 field goal percentage. In addition to the Pistons, Drummond has spent time with the Cleveland Cavalier, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers and was most recently traded to the Brooklyn Nets. For many years, Drummond was a major trade candidate around the NBA as one of the premier rebounders in the league. Overall, Drummond’s play has made him a two-time NBA All-Star, All-NBA Third Team member, four-time NBA rebounding leader and a member of the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Despite the NBA becoming a shooter-dominant league, Drummond has managed to stay relevant even with his old-fashioned big-man style of play. Though he hasn’t seen much postseason action in his career, Drummond’s regular season play has made him a constant contributor no matter what team he has played for. 

The UConn men’s basketball team captures an electric win against Xavier during an afternoon game on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT. Former Huskies James Bouknight and Christian Vital were in attendance, as well as Tik-Tok famous dad Marc D’Amelio. The Huskies victory gave them their 10th Big East win of the season, while also extending their current win-streak to three straight victories. Photo by Sofia Sawchuk /The Daily Campus.

1. Kemba Walker, G, New York Knicks 

With the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Hornets selected 2011 NCAA champion and Final Four Outstanding Award recipient Kemba Walker. After averaging a solid 12.1 points per game as a rookie, Walker became one of the league’s prominent scorers and never averaged below 17.3 points per game between 2012 and 2020. He averaged a career-best 25.6 points per game in 2018, his last season with Charlotte, before he signed with the Boston Celtics as a free agent. After two seasons in Boston, Walker became a member of the New York Knicks, his hometown team. Over his 11-year NBA career, Walker has been a 4-time NBA All-Star, a member of the All-NBA Third Team and a two-time NBA Sportsmanship Award. Unfortunately, Walker has seen little postseason success after spending a majority of his career with the lowly Hornets, and he has been plagued by a knee injury that has nagged him for the last few seasons. Even if Walker cannot return to his pre-injury scoring form, his sportsmanship and ability to remain humble despite going criminally unrecognized during his prime will always be embellished. 

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