Could Kentucky Beat the Toronto Raptors?

The other day, Wages of Wins favorite Charles Barkley (if Magic Johnson is the God of advanced stats, Barkley is the Jesus, or at least the Zeus – Jordan has to be some kind of supernatural deity, too), anyway, Charles Barkley asserted that this year’s Kentucky Wildcats would beat this year’s Toronto Raptors, and they’d maybe beat Charlotte, too. We know, of course, that being a really, really (and in Barkley’s case add two more reallys) good basketball player doesn’t always mean you’re any good at analyzing other basketball players (See Jordan, Michael and Thomas, Isiah). But is Barkley right in this case?

Let’s start by looking at the team we have much more data on, the Toronto Raptors. The following chart lists all Raptors players who have played at least 500 minutes this season. It shows their current WP48 (0.099 is average), their Rookie WP48 so we can get an idea of how much each player has improved (or, in some cases, declined) since his rookie season, and College Draft Relative Win Score, which compares each player in his draft year against the average drafted player at his position since 1995 (average is 7.18). With these three numbers, we can get as close to comparing apples to apples as possible. I guess it’s kind of like comparing a ripe apple with a picture of it before it was ripe to an unripe apple.

Toronto Pos G Min WP48 Rookie WP48 College RWS College Year
Jose Calderon PG 45 1525 0.184 0.095 N/A N/A
DeMar DeRozan SG/SF 48 1700 -0.042 0.064 5.07 2009
James Johnson SF/PF 49 1270 0.084 0.005 7.91 2009
Ed Davis PF 50 1128 0.201 0.190 9.77 2010
Andrea Bargnani PF/C 24 808 -0.085 -0.013 N/A N/A
Amir Johnson PF 49 1211 0.199 0.291* N/A N/A
Linas Kleiza SF 36 775 0.023 0.013 1.70 2005
Jerryd Bayless PG 31 705 0.094 -0.091 5.84 2008
Aaron Gray C 34 570 0.122 -0.002 9.20 2007

When we look at this year’s Raptors, we can make a few interesting observations:

Now let’s take a look at this year’s Kentucky Wildcats.

Kentucky Pos G Min RWS
Marquis Teague PG 38 1236 3.59
Doron Lamb SG 38 1179 7.08
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist SF 38 1187 7.98
Terrence Jones PF 36 1052 6.29
Anthony Davis C 38 1206 14.15
Darius Miller SG 38 989 6.07
Kyle Wiltjer PF 38 451 1.39
Eloy Vargas C 31 195 0.72

We can also make some interesting observations about Kentucky:

  • Only two of Kentucky’s players, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, are better than the average drafted player at their position, although Doron Lamb is really quite close. The average rookie produces about 0.050 wins per 48 minutes, which is much less than the 0.099 produced by the average player. So probably only Davis would post a WP48 greater than 0.100 in the NBA right now.
  • Anthony Davis is really good. Like really, really good. Like the most sure fire no. 1 draft pick since LeBron really good. His WP40 in college is right around the 0.500 mark. So yes, he’s about 5 times better than the average college player. And he’s 19 years old.
  • Marquis Teague is not a good point guard. In fact, he’s less productive than the average college point guard (which is much, much worse than the average drafted college point guard).

Let’s make some comparisons:

  • Toronto has two starters who produce at an above average rate in the NBA. Kentucky probably only has one. Toronto has two above average producers on the bench. Kentucky has none.
  • Toronto has one player who produces at twice the rate of an average player (Ed Davis). I’m confident Kentucky does, too (Anthony Davis; no they’re not related).
  • Toronto has two starters that produce at a negative rate (they actually cost their team wins). Kentucky probably has one (Teague).
  • Toronto has a very good point guard – arguably top 5 in the NBA. Kentucky has a really bad point guard. On the flip side, Toronto has a really bad center; Kentucky has a really good center.
  • Toronto has adults who have played in the NBA against the best competition in the world for years. Kentucky is full of people who can’t drink legally and beats up on teams with other people who can’t drink legally.

So what does this mean? If I were a betting man, I think Toronto would probably beat Kentucky if they played today. Why? For one, Toronto has much more experience on both the individual and team level. There’s something to be said about going up as a team against the best competition in the world week in and week out. Toronto also has an expert facilitator (Calderon) who would eat Kentucky’s point guard for lunch. Calderon would likely be able to do what he wants when he wants – score at will and get his teammates involved. Bargnani might actually minimize Davis’ effectiveness. Since Bargs plays around the perimeter so much, he would draw Davis out, which would disallow him from owning the defensive paint like he usually does. This is of course assuming Calipari would assign Davis to Bargnani, which would probably happen because, remember? Bargnani is an offensively versatile star! Or, at least, that’s what most people like to think. Also, which rules the teams are governed by would make a huge difference. Kentucky would probably have a huge disadvantage with NBA rules since it only has one great 3-point shooter (Lamb) and none that have proven that they can consistently hit 24-foot shots. Also, with the NBA 3 point line, Toronto could spread the floor more, which would hinder Anthony Davis’s effectiveness to some degree.

Who would win, of course, isn’t the question I asked in this post. I asked could Kentucky win. And to that I think the answer is yes. Kentucky has 5 players who could probably compete in the NBA. The point guard discrepancy would be a hard one to get by, but Kentucky is probably better than Toronto at 3 of the 5 positions in its starting lineup. Also, Anthony Davis is a monster. Frankly, having a guy like that on your team gives you a chance to win.

If Kentucky could beat Toronto, it goes without saying that the Wildcats could probably take Charlotte and Washington as well. Charlotte hilariously only has two above average players on its entire roster (Bismack Biyombo and Derrick Brown). So if Kentucky has a chance against anyone, it’s the Bobcats. Either way, I’d certainly pay to see Davis and Co. take on any of these terrible NBA teams – it’d make for some great basketball (something that Charlotte, Washington, and Toronto frankly aren’t used to).


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