The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

SEC Power Rankings Week 10: Relating your favorite NBA players to SEC football

With the NBA season in its first full week, The Hustler compares each SEC team to its NBA player equivalent.
Ziyi Liu
Zach Cunningham (41) blocks a field goal as Vanderbilt lost to the Auburn Tigers 23-16 at Jordan Hare Stadium Auburn, Ala., as photographed on Nov. 4, 2016. (Hustler Multimedia/Ziyi Liu)

This last week has been special for American sports fans. The return of the NBA meant that the primary five professional sports (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS), even if for a brief time, were playing at the same time. In light of the return of America’s premier basketball league, The Hustler has decided to celebrate the NBA and its stars (as well as some of its… less talented members) with player comparisons between the SEC’s members and the talent of the NBA. 

1. Georgia 8-0 (5-0)

NBA Player Comparison: Nikola Jokic

This is a pretty straightforward comparison, as Nikola Jokic is the best player in the NBA right now. He may not make the flashiest plays, as throughout a game you may find yourself thinking, “I haven’t really noticed Jokic that much.” But, when you check the box score at the end of the game (normally a Nuggets win), he’ll have put up a 30-point triple-double. He does it week in and week out with unsettling consistency. Georgia football is the same story, as over the last three years, they have made it a routine of blowing out teams without many “wow” moments. Both Jokic and Georgia are clearly the best in the business, and it will take a heroic effort to dethrone either of them this year.

2. Alabama 7-1 (5-0)

NBA Player Comparison: LeBron James

For the past 20 years, LeBron James has dominated the sport of professional basketball. Overwhelming greatness on both ends of the court has led him to march through the NBA postseason year after year, laying waste to his conference. Alabama was in a similar position to James for the last decade, unrivaled in greatness and talent. However, things have changed. James is aging, and other players have surpassed him, yet he still remains at the top of his field, capable of going toe-to-toe with anyone. Alabama is in a similar position, having lost some of its world-beating power in recent years, but don’t count the Crimson Tide out with their ability to face off against anyone. 

3. Ole Miss 7-1 (4-1)

NBA Player Comparison: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Along with wearing incredibly aesthetic blue jerseys, OIe Miss and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (SGA) share a lot in common. They’re both elite talents that fall slightly under the radar. Did you know that Gilgeous-Alexander averaged over 31 points last year on 51% shooting? Probably not, but that’s one of the best scoring lines for a guard in the last 10 years. Once he makes the playoffs, SGA is finally going to get his chance to show the country his elite skills. Similarly, this Ole Miss team under Lane Kiffin has demonstrated a knack for winning close games. If they manage to pull off the upset against Georgia on Nov. 11th, an underappreciated program will finally be thrust into the national spotlight. Don’t sleep on Ole Miss or SGA.

4. LSU 6-2 (4-1)

NBA Player comparison: Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell is certainly one of the most electric offensive players in the game right now. He can pull up for side-step threes, barrel into the lane and finish with touch on a floater, and if you give him space, you will end up on a poster. He’s always one of the league leaders in scoring, so why is he unceremoniously eliminated from the playoffs each year? LSU and Mitchell share some similar issues: defense and clutch-time decision making. Despite immense offensive prowess, both Mitchell and LSU struggle to have their defense keep up with their offense. LSU this year has seen its defense let the Tigers down repeatedly and this has locked them out of breaking into the top tier of contenders, just as it has held Mitchell back from being able to stand among the true top tier of the NBA. 

5. Missouri 7-1 (3-1)

NBA player comparison: De’Aaron Fox

If you don’t live in Missouri, you’d probably barely heard of Brady Cook, Cody Shraeder, Luther Burden, Darius Robinson or Ty’ron Hopper before this year. They were all good players but rarely got any national attention. Ever since getting drafted, De’Aaron Fox has fit that mold perfectly. He always played late at night for a terrible team, but last year, this perception finally changed. The upstart Kings made the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, and Fox rose to the occasion, averaging 27 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds against the Warriors. He won the hearts of the nation but, unfortunately, lost a heartbreaking game seven. That feels like a jarringly accurate prediction for what will happen this weekend when Missouri takes on Georgia. They’re good enough to give Georgia a game, and hundreds of thousands across the country will take notice if the game is close at halftime. However, it feels inevitable that Georgia will find a way to squeak out a win, giving “America’s team” a heartbreaking loss.

6. Tennessee 6-2 (3-2)

NBA Player comparison: Tyler Herro

Solid, dependable, yet limited come playoff time. Sound familiar? Tyler Herro consistently toes the line between above-average role player and all-star, and Tennessee every year seemingly finds itself in a similar position, stuck between solid football program and actual contender. This year is no different, as Herro has started the year off strong, averaging a career-high 26 points per game, enough to make him seem like a top-tier offensive threat. And yet, we know he just isn’t. There’s a reason the former Sixth Man of the Year finds himself in trade rumors every summer, and there’s a reason Tennessee never sees itself mentioned among the true top tier of college football. Despite all the numbers and despite the success, there’s a ceiling. Tennessee grabbed another solid conference win this week against Kentucky while Herro was dropping back-to-back 30-point performances, but we still see through both of them. Tennessee, like Herro, simply does not have what it takes to break through to the next level. 

7. Texas A&M 5-3 (3-1)

NBA player comparison: Julius Randle

Every year, Knicks fans get excited about Julius Randle and for good reason. He’s one of the most talented players in the Atlantic division.. And yet, despite generally putting up solid stats, Randle never wins as many games as he should. And when he gets to the playoffs, it gets even worse. No one can pinpoint an exact reason for his struggles. It just happens year after year. As I’m sure you guessed a few lines ago, Texas A&M follows the exact same pattern. No one can definitively point to a reason for their struggles. Sure, Jimbo Fisher hasn’t helped his cause this year, but it’s hard to blame it fully on him when every other Aggie coach has met the same fate. At some point, I think we just have to call it unavoidable.

8. Florida 5-3 (3-2)

NBA Player comparison: DeMar DeRozan

In a one-game sample size, DeRozan can look like one of the best players in the league. His three-level scoring talents consistently produce good numbers, and he consistently has been on winning teams throughout his career (and the Bulls). But is he actually a superstar? No. Florida loves to tease us with flashes of greatness, beating a ranked Tennessee team earlier this year and racking up some conference wins, but we know the truth. Florida, like DeRozan, isn’t all that. We aren’t fooled by the fluid pull ups and scoring number; we know DeRozan is ineffectual at generating actual winning, and we similarly aren’t fooled by Florida. Is DeRozan a solid player? Absolutely. Is Florida a solid team? Absolutely. But are either of them actually that good? Signs point to no.

9. Kentucky 5-3 (2-3)

NBA Player comparison: Jordan Clarkson

Jordan Clarkson is a player that divides his team’s fanbase. On one hand, he’s a very good scorer and can give you 20 points in just 25 minutes. On the other hand, he turns the ball over a lot and contributes almost nothing outside of his scoring. Additionally, he always has a three-game stretch each year where he looks like the second coming of Larry Bird. Sound familiar Wildcat fans? Every year, Kentucky beats some bad teams and one competent team, sparking questions about if they’re legitimately contenders. And every year, the Wildcats get absolutely throttled by the first good team that they play (normally Georgia). One has to feel bad for them, as their fanbase doesn’t deserve it.

10. Auburn 4-4 (1-4)

NBA Player comparison: Kevin Love

Years ago, Auburn would have found themselves a lot higher on this list. They were a perennial contender who actually could, and did, win the whole thing. Clearly something changed. In the early 2010s, both Auburn and Kevin Love found themselves at the top of their respective industries, champions respected by all. But Love kept playing and kept getting worse. Now, Love’s averages have plummeted, and he finds himself a role player instead of a rebounding, floor-stretching champion. Love no longer is treated like anything close to a star, and Auburn similarly has lost respect. Though fans may love to remember the days of Cam Newton and title winning, Auburn just isn’t the same program anymore. At this point in his career, the memories of greatness are there, but the actual greatness isn’t for Love, and the Auburn Tigers find themselves in a similar position. 

11. Mississippi State 4-4 (1-4)

NBA Player comparison: Jeremy Lin

I know that most of the players on here are current players, but this comparison is just too perfect not to use. In the 2011-12 season, Jeremy Lin made a bad Knicks team must-watch television. His famous “Linsanity” run had the entire country breathlessly watching a franchise that had not been exciting in a while. Unfortunately, he got hurt towards the end of the season and never played like that again. Lin went on to be an average role player for the rest of his career. In 2014, Mississippi State was picked to finish in the middle of the SEC. Led by superstar quarterback Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs strung together three consecutive top-10 wins to launch themselves into the No. 1 spot in all of college football. They remained there for a few weeks but got taken down by No. 5 Alabama in a heartbreaking 25-20 loss. They then fell apart and lost to both Ole Miss and Georgia Tech. They haven’t come close to reaching those heights since.

12. Arkansas 2-6 (0-5)

NBA player comparison: Russell Westbrook 

A Russell Westbrook drive has so much potential. A spinning layup, a dropoff pass to a rolling big for a dunk, a kick out for an open three or even a slam from the man himself. But Westbrook’s brain often gets in the way of him letting his athleticism shine. Why drive in for a high-percentage shot when you can take one dribble into the three-point arc, side step, leap 30+ inches in the air and launch the ball directly at the top of the backboard? Arkansas had such potential this year, but it has gone unrealized. The roster seemingly improved, KJ Jefferson was set to be at the top of the conference, and yet, here we are with no conference wins and some truly sad losses. When everything goes right, Arkansas looks like it could be a good team, barely losing to Alabama and LSU, showing the potential they actually have. And when things are going right, Westbrook looks like a solid player for a contending team. But alas, they often do not, and we are left with losing streaks for Arkansas and 2-for-18 nights from Westbrook. 

13. South Carolina 2-6 (1-5)

NBA player comparison: Jaylen Brown when he goes left

South Carolina’s staggering difference between talent and results fully merits this comparison. Whenever Jaylen Brown drives right, he is an ultra-talented player performing a typical basketball move. Whenever Spencer Rattler drops back to pass, he is an ultra-talented player performing a typical football move. Then, suddenly, everything goes flying off the rails. Brown loses his dribble and the opposing team gets an easy two points. Rattler gets sacked and gives the opposing team an extra drive. In Brown’s case, his team loses a critical playoff game in large part because of those free points. In Rattler’s case, he gets to watch his defense give up yet another touchdown. South Carolina’s struggles are not fully on Rattler, but his unexplainable tendency to take sacks is a major factor.

14. Vanderbilt 2-7 (0-5)

NBA Player comparison: Udonis Haslem

Another former player makes our player comparison list. Udonis Haslem played for 20 years. He probably should have been out of the league after year 10, and yet, his status as a key member of the Miami Heat kept him in a league where he wasn’t at the level of his peers. Sound familiar? The Vanderbilt Commodores remain in the SEC year after year, and year after year they get outclassed by other conference teams. But because of his key spot on the Heat, Haslem had a spot in the league as long as he wanted one, no matter his performance on the court. And as a founding member of the SEC, Vanderbilt will remain in the conference for as long as they see fit.

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About the Contributors
Adam Burns, Staff Writer
Adam Burns (‘27) is from Scottsdale, Ariz., and studies human and organizational development, business and data science in Peabody College. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find him playing sports, spending time outdoors or exploring new places. He is also an extremely passionate Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Diamondbacks fan. You can reach him at [email protected].
Cathal Malin, Staff Writer
Cathal Malin (‘27) is from Chapel Hill, N.C., and is studying economics and political science in the College of Arts and Science. Outside of writing for The Hustler’s Sports section, you can find him watching (or playing) basketball. You can reach him at [email protected].
Ziyi Liu, Author
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