Ranking College Basketball's Top 10 Freshman Duos in the Past Decade
In college basketball, a great freshman class can't be considered a great class if there's only one star to come out of it. Even the best need some support, a sidekick who joins the program at the same time to form a feared freshman duo.
Over the past 10 years, most of which has coincided with the lifespan of the NBA's age restriction, the one-and-done style of recruiting has given us several pairs of talents that might have otherwise never even set foot on campus. Many classes that rank highly on Rivals.com or Scout.com turn out to be little more than one superstar and a bunch of spare parts, but those aren't the guys we come to honor here.
For this exercise, we turned to our friends over at ValueAddBasketball.com. The advanced metric site loosely defines "Value Add" as an individual player's impact on a game's point spread or how many points his team would lose on both ends if he were to miss a game. For a more detailed explanation, click here.
The basic criteria for including a pair of freshmen was that both men had to record a Value Add (VA) of at least 4.00 points during their debut seasons. This ensured that both were pulling their weight to ensure team success.
To give a little perspective, the following players recorded VAs at or around 4.00 during the 2013-14 season: Oklahoma's Cameron Clark, BYU's Tyler Haws, UMass' Chaz Williams, North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo and Baylor's Isaiah Austin. Only 218 of Division I's 4,500-plus players managed 4.00s last year.
Accomplishing a 4.00 VA, much like a similar grade-point average, is harder than it sounds. Over the past 10 seasons, only 21 pairs of freshmen managed to both break 4.00 VAs in their rookie years. Three came from the class of 2013, and four of those six players are now in the NBA.
We rank the duos here by the combined total of the two players' Value Adds. As one might expect, Kentucky is well-represented, but it's not the school with two pairs in the top five. Who is? Read on.
These 11 pairs met the criteria of matching 4.00 Value Adds, but they didn't quite have big enough totals to crack the top 10:
11. Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, UCLA 2012-13 (11.51 Total Value Add)
—Adams: 15.3 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, 2.2 steals per game, 6.70 Value Add; Anderson: 9.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 4.81 VA
12. Robbie Hummel and E'Twaun Moore, Purdue 2007-08 (11.20 TVA)
—Hummel: 11.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, .865 FT%, 6.57 VA; Moore: 12.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, .434 3-pt. FG%, 4.63 VA
13. Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight, Kentucky 2010-11 (10.76 TVA)
—Jones: 15.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.9 blocks per game, 5.94 VA; Knight: 17.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.2 assists per game, 4.82 VA
14. Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona 2013-14 (10.53 TVA)
—Gordon: 12.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5.63 VA; Hollis-Jefferson: 9.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.90 VA
15. Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young, Georgia Tech 2006-07 (10.47 TVA)
—Crittenton: 14.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, 6.33 VA; Young: 14.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, .419 3-pt. FG%, 4.14 VA
16. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, Michigan 2012-13 (10.47 TVA)
—McGary: 7.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, .598 FG%, 4.77 VA; Robinson: 11.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .572 FG%, 5.70 VA
17. Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, Texas 2010-11 (10.08 TVA)
—Joseph: 10.4 PPG, 3.0 APG, .413 3-pt. FG%, 4.63 VA; Thompson: 13.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.4 BPG, .546 FG%, 5.45 VA
18. Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene, Syracuse 2007-08 (10.06 TVA)
—Flynn: 15.7 PPG, 5.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 5.75 VA; Greene: 17.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 4.31 VA
19. Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier, UConn 2010-11 (9.39 TVA)
—Lamb: 11.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 5.26 VA; Napier: 7.8 PPG, 3.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 4.13 VA
20. James Johnson and Jeff Teague, Wake Forest 2007-08 (9.06 TVA)
—Johnson: 14.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.79 VA; Teague: 13.9 PPG, 1.8 SPG, .395 3-pt. FG%, 4.27 VA
21. Moe Harkless and D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's 2011-12 (8.57 TVA)
—Harkless: 15.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 4.14 VA; Harrison: 17.0 PPG, 1.6 SPG, 4.43 VA
10. Davon Jefferson and O.J. Mayo, USC 2007-08
Jefferson: 12.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, .575 FG%, 4.18 VA
Mayo: 20.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, .409 3-pt. FG%, .803 FT%, 7.54 VA
A top-five recruit in the class of 2007, O.J. Mayo recruited himself to USC and brought a friend. That buddy, Davon Jefferson, despite being a top-15 prospect himself, was chopped liver compared to Mayo, who had been drawing ink in Sports Illustrated since he was in the seventh grade.
Still, lost in all the upheaval about Mayo—and as we later found out, Jefferson too—taking illegal extra benefits is the fact that the pair played pretty well together as men of Troy.
While everyone knew what Mayo brought to the table, Jefferson was less of a known quantity. The attention on Mayo allowed Jefferson free rein on several occasions, and he made the most of it. He dropped 23 points and nine rebounds against Oklahoma, then scored 17 on Kansas in the next game. He scored 25 against UCLA and put up double-doubles over Memphis and Arizona.
Jefferson lacked the consistent brilliance that Mayo was capable of producing, but he finished the season strong. He averaged 12.0 PPG over his final five, shooting 63.2 percent from the floor. As a sophomore, he would have been the Trojans' undisputed star.
All of that made Jefferson's decision to follow Mayo into the draft rather puzzling. While Mayo was picked third overall and has been a consistent double-digit scorer ever since, Jefferson went undrafted and has carved out a journeyman's career overseas.
9. Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle, Kentucky 2013-14
Harrison: 13.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 5.07 VA
Randle: 15.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG, .501 FG%, 6.70 VA
Julius Randle was explosive from the first moment he put on a Kentucky jersey. His first seven games—and nine of his first 12—ended in double-doubles. He averaged 18.1 PPG and 10.5 RPG over the pre-conference portion of UK's schedule.
Aaron Harrison averaged a respectable 14.7 points himself during those out-of-conference games, but he had a couple of games that qualified as real stinkers.
Both young men saw their fortunes dip in SEC play, Harrison in particular scuffling to a .376 field-goal mark in conference. But, there's something about Kentucky in March as long as John Calipari's on the sidelines and no one's torn an ACL.
It seemed that Harrison couldn't miss in the NCAA tournament, much to the chagrin of Big Ten elites Michigan and Wisconsin. When he or anyone else did, it seemed Randle was always there to put it back. He cranked out four more double-doubles to pace UK to the Final Four, then put up two more double-figure scoring games once there.
Was Kentucky's 2013 recruiting class the greatest ever? Hardly. But the group was almost good enough to rally from four months of frustration to deliver a national title. That would have paid for every brick and turnover.
8. Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, Kansas 2013-14
Embiid: 11.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.6 BPG, .626 FG%, 6.08 VA
Wiggins: 17.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 5.84 VA
Andrew Wiggins arrived at Kansas with arguably the most hype for any freshman since Patrick Ewing or Ralph Sampson. Turns out, his bigger classmate, Joel Embiid, was even more valuable to the Jayhawks.
Embiid had moments of brilliance in the nonconference schedule, but he frequently found himself the target of whistles from people in striped shirts. For example, see his three-game stretch at the Battle 4 Atlantis, in which he averaged 9.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 fouls in only 16.0 MPG.
By Christmas, though, Embiid was taking over the world. He crushed New Mexico star Alex Kirk in a head-to-head duel. He came close to a triple-double against Oklahoma State. Against top Big 12 contender Iowa State, he put up averages of 15 points and 10 rebounds in his two meetings.
Meanwhile, Wiggins was facing questions about his killer instinct after shaky games against Oklahoma State and Texas. He would answer some of them by demolishing West Virginia in the regular-season finale and scoring 30 against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament. Still, Wiggins' career ended with a whimper as he scored only four points and pulled only four rebounds in an NCAA loss to Stanford.
Embiid's back injury may have been fatal to the Jayhawks, as he could have put up a strong fight against the Cardinal's big men. Nevertheless, the Cameroon native reached his potential faster than anyone expected, even while his touted Canadian teammate struggled with his own outsize expectations.
7. Ty Lawson and Brandan Wright, North Carolina 2006-07
Lawson: 10.2 PPG, 5.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 6.18 VA
Wright: 14.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.8 BPG, .646 FG%, 6.00 VA
If we were searching for freshman trios, Ty Lawson and Brandan Wright would join with Wayne Ellington and battle it out with all comers. The three rookies were all among Rivals' top nine prospects in the class of 2006. Along with sophomore Tyler Hansbrough, they made the 2006-07 Tar Heels one of the best teams in the nation, despite also being one of the youngest.
Lawson's jet quickness and Wright's skyscraping verticality dazzled opponents who were already dazed by Hansbrough's relentless intensity. There was plenty of physical talent on that team to overcome the lack of experience.
Of the top eight scorers on that Carolina team, only one—senior Reyshawn Terry—was an upperclassman. Even as callow as that team was entering the NCAA tournament, it was still a No. 1 seed, standing among the favorites to win the national championship.
That championship wouldn't materialize in 2007, but Lawson, Hansbrough, Ellington and sidemen such as Danny Green and Deon Thompson stayed to finally snare their elusive prey in 2009. Wright, however, departed immediately for the NBA, where he became the No. 8 overall pick of the 2007 draft by the Charlotte Bobcats.
6. DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall, Kentucky 2009-10
Cousins: 15.1 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.8 BPG, .558 FG%, 7.02 VA
Wall: 16.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 6.13 VA
Since 2003, the top two prospects on the Rivals 150 have gone on to the same college exactly once. The cream of the 2009 class, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, kicked off the John Calipari era at Kentucky with a seismic bang.
Both Wall and Cousins were close to playing for Calipari at Memphis before he relocated to Lexington. Once the controversial coach arrived at UK, he assembled one of the better recruiting classes in recent memory, adding two other Rivals top 25 prospects in Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton.
Calipari stayed almost exclusively faithful to his own guys when it came to delegating minutes. Junior Patrick Patterson was the only Wildcat upperclassman to average more than two points per game.
While several other prospects had bolted for the NBA draft since the league instituted an age restriction in 2005, the 2010 Wildcats were the first team to be completely decimated by early-draft defections. Wall and Cousins were top-five picks, with Bledsoe, Patterson and Orton joining them in the first round. UK became the first institution to sire five first-round picks in the same draft.
As a mere footnote, UK reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, falling to a hard-nosed West Virginia team. The Cousins-Wall class became the first of several at UK to treat a deep tournament run as a formality during their predraft stopover.
5. Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger, Ohio State 2010-11
Craft: 6.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, .377 3-pt. FG%, 5.73 VA
Sullinger: 17.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, .541 FG%, 9.27 VA
As a top-five prospect in Rivals' rankings of the class of 2010, home-grown Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger was expected to be a star from day one. Point guard Aaron Craft, ranked No. 111, didn't truly establish himself as a star right away, but he was certainly a major asset for a Buckeye team that needed playmakers after the loss of National Player of the Year Evan Turner.
Sullinger smashed opponents of all sizes, hanging 40 points on IUPUI, while also putting up 27 points and 16 rebounds against Illinois. His USBWA National Freshman of the Year honor seemed a mere formality after he finished sixth in the Big Ten in scoring and third in rebounding.
Craft only started two games as a freshman, but opposing point guards would have been forgiven for running and hiding behind their mamas when he came off the bench. His steal numbers occasionally bordered on the ludicrous, as he ripped seven against Iowa and averaged 4.6 over five games in late February.
The Buckeyes were stopped in the Sweet 16 by a Kentucky team that was oddly led by upperclassmen Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins. Craft picked four pockets, but he couldn't buy a basket in the two-point loss. OSU would reach the Final Four the following season, after which Sullinger left for the NBA—a year late, according to some analysts.
While the only complaint with Sullinger's two seasons at OSU would center on his health, Craft was never able to become a consistent scorer. He was, however, always one of the nation's best defenders.
4. Mike Conley and Greg Oden, Ohio State 2006-07
Conley: 11.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 6.1 APG, 2.2 SPG, .518 FG%, 8.70 VA
Oden: 15.7 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.3 BPG, .616 FG%, 7.05 VA
High school teammates at Lawrence North in Indianapolis, center Greg Oden and point guard Mike Conley were set to dominate for an Ohio State team that was returning only two of its top seven scorers.
And they did just that.
Oden turned in a season that, despite nagging injuries, conjured memories of Goliaths of yore. Names such as Patrick Ewing and Ralph Sampson were connected to Oden's, at least once he was able to take the court following offseason wrist surgery.
Of the big man's 32 games as a Buckeye, 14 ended with double-doubles, and none ended without Oden swatting at least one shot. Despite all the blocks, he had never encountered a lot of foul trouble, committing four in a game only five times heading into the NCAA tournament.
There, referees were much less forgiving, as Oden averaged only 27.0 MPG over State's last five games, fouling out for the first time and committing four fouls in each of the other games.
Despite not having Oden in the lineup early on, Conley still had no problem finding capable scorers to pass to. He dished 6.6 assists per game in the seven that Oden missed, losing only to North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
In the NCAA tournament, Conley stepped up as a scorer, while Oden struggled with fouls. Conley dropped in 18.4 PPG from the second round on, but a combined 45 points from the duo in the title game wasn't enough to overcome defending champion Florida.
3. Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, Kansas State 2007-08
Beasley: 26.2 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 1.6 BPG, .532 FG%, 11.55 VA
Walker: 16.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.69 VA
It could be argued that Bill Walker didn't exactly pull equal weight in his partnership with Michael Beasley, but in all reality, how could he? Beasley turned in a season for the ages during the 2007-08 campaign, seeking to erase the prior season's Big 12 freshman star, Kevin Durant, from the public's mind immediately.
Beasley made it all look easy, topping Durant in scoring and rebounding, despite playing more than four fewer minutes per game. The pair are members of an exclusive club, as only three players since 1997 have averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds per game, according to Sports-Reference.com. Beasley is the only one of the bunch to top 12 boards a night.
To be fair, Walker had his moments of dominance as well. He put up 30 points and 10 boards against Cal, 27 and 10 against Wagner and 31 and 11 against Baylor. Of course, immediately after that Baylor explosion came a one-point, 0-of-14 shooting night against Texas. Walker simply couldn't turn the switch on and keep it on the way Beasley did.
For crying out loud, Beasley had only five games in college that weren't double-doubles. He broke 40 points three times and 30 on another 10 occasions. Three games into his college career, he was averaging 30 points and 20 boards.
Those kinds of numbers simply don't get put up by any power-conference player in today's college basketball climate. For five months, the modern college basketball fan was treated to a freak show.
2. D.J. Augustin and Kevin Durant, Texas 2006-07
Augustin: 14.4 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, .441 3-pt. FG%, .838 FT%, 5.95 VA
Durant: 25.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 1.9 BPG, .404 3-pt. FG%, .816 FT%, 10.62 VA
Before Kevin Durant, players capable of being All-Americans as freshmen usually bypassed college for the NBA altogether. Durant may have been the first player to show college basketball fans that perhaps the one-and-done rule had its benefits. After all, it's unlikely we would have seen Durant go to college if he didn't have to.
Durant became the first freshman voted a consensus All-American since Chris Jackson of LSU in 1989. All he did to earn the honor was rank fourth in the nation in both scoring and rebounding. He drained threes as well as he attacked the rim, and his spidery length made him a defensive threat to boot.
Then listed at 6'9" and 215 pounds, Durant was only about 10 or 15 pounds short of fitting anyone's prototype for the perfect basketball body. He was prone to getting shoved around if he tried to post up muscular true centers, but that was about the only group of people that could get over on him at Texas.
Augustin knew where his bread was buttered, simply making sure Durant got the ball where and when he wanted it. He led the Big 12 and ranked fourth nationally in assists.
Texas could have had a pair of one-and-done prospects on its hands, but Augustin's debut season ended with a thud. He produced only six points on 1-of-8 shooting along with six turnovers and five fouls in a second-round NCAA tournament loss to USC. He altered the final impression by staying another year and becoming an All-American himself.
Of course, Durant went on to become the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player, while Augustin is about to suit up for his fourth team in three years.
1. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky 2011-12
Davis: 14.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 4.7 BPG, .623 FG%, 12.35 VA
Kidd-Gilchrist: 11.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 6.28 VA
No, Anthony Davis' VA score is not a typo. He would have ranked seventh on this list merely by himself. His season is the second-best in ValueAddBasketball.com's records, ranking behind only Duke's Jon Scheyer in the Blue Devils' 2009-10 national title season. Speaking of national titles, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist are the only duo on our list that actually carried a team to an NCAA championship.
Kentucky's victory had to have a chilling effect for coaches everywhere, as Wildcat boss John Calipari could now announce to blue-chip recruits that not only could he get them into the NBA draft lottery in one year, but he could also make them champions. The Wildcats haven't been able to recapture the same magic since, although the 2013-14 team came mighty close.
These Wildcats simply mauled opponents with a devastating defense. Kidd-Gilchrist was one who always put on his work boots for the defensive end, and Davis was simply one of the fiercest rim protectors the game has seen in decades. His defensive VA score is the best since 2003.
That defensive value was clearly on display in the national title game. Davis suffered through easily his worst offensive game at Kentucky, but he was instrumental in stifling Kansas center Jeff Withey and holding the entire Jayhawk team to 35 percent shooting from the floor. UK's 67-59 win was not pretty, but the suffocation of Kansas fit right in with what made the team—and its freshman stars—great.
All stats aside from Value Add courtesy Sports-Reference.com.
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