Kris Wilkes is the most frustrating of the three possible UCLA draftees for me to write about today in advance of the NBA draft. In contrast, I am rooting for Jaylen Hands. Hands improved and made an effort to make himself a better player. He came in a great athlete and left leading the Pac-12 in assists as a point. Kris Wilkes came in as potentially a prototypical NBA wing and left as more or less the same.
For my part, I thought last year depended on Kris Wilkes stepping up and being the leader. I thought it would happen and UCLA would be an NCAA team. Wilkes did not. Again, I would argue Hands stepped up and became a Pac-12 level point. Wilkes became the master of scoring in garbage time. That is not totally fair. He did make a dramatic three-pointer on one gimpy leg to beat Notre Dame.
But I have to admit, Wilkes frustrated me. He is gifted, but lazy on defense. He has a good stroke, but shot 43% overall, 33% from three, and 67% from the line with his bizarre ultra-fast free throw stroke. I guess I am also irritated as he is the most likely to be drafted and I can’t get over the feeling he both underachieved and, more importantly from a UCLA fan perspective, did not give his all. Last year’s second round UCLA pick was Thomas Welsh, who no one doubted his work effort or devotion to UCLA.
As Andrew DK wrote yesterday: “Wilkes’ athletic profile and positional value” put him first of the three guys in likelihood to be drafted. Dimitri also wrote:
Of all the UCLA players eligible in this draft, Kris Wilkes is the one with the best chance at getting drafted. Does that mean he is the most NBA-ready of the trio? No, that honor goes to Jaylen Hands. But Wilkes has the best chance because you could see him developing into a 3-and-D wing. Now, of course, that’s all theoretical, as Wilkes’ collegiate shooting numbers did not inspire a ton of confidence, with his three-point shooting never rising above 40% and his FT shooting sitting at an abysmal 66% for his career. And, yet, Wilkes has talent and athleticism that could be unlocked by a smart organization. But, then again, I don’t know if any smart organizations would look at Wilkes’ draft profile and be willing to take a chance.
Like I said, I know Wilkes has all the tools to make it in the NBA, but I just wish he put more effort into them at UCLA, especially on defense. In a sense Wilkes is one of the reasons Alford was fired. On all of Alford’s “successful” teams, the best offensive player was also the best defender. Aaron Holiday was a tenacious defender, Lonzo Ball even defended the four and covered the best player from point to small forward, Norman Powell was a lockdown defender and Kyle Anderson was a great defensive rebounder. Wilkes was probably best benched when we needed defense.
I hate being negative and will root for Jaylen Hands to get drafted and have nothing against Moses Brown, but Wilkes will always be a frustrating player to me.