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Chad Ford praises Kentucky Basketball; Talks Wildcats' NBA draft prospects

From Jamal Murray's superstar prospects, Tyler Ulis' injury and Skal's ceiling, Chad Ford did an in-depth breakdown of UK's NBA prospects while praising what John Calipari has built.

When it comes to getting to the pros, no college program has helped players get their better than Kentucky Basketball does at getting multiple Wildcats into the NBA every year.

Since John Calipari came to UK, there have been three different Wildcats go No. 1 overall in their respective drafts, not to mention every freshman who's left UK for the NBA ended up becoming a first-round draft pick.

That's why ESPN NBA Draft guru Chad Ford said during a draft conference call with reporters that UK is where he'd send his son if he were an elite recruit.

"What John Calipari does is have huge influence all season because of the way that he plays his players, the system he runs them in, the access that he gives the NBA teams," Ford said. "He does help players get drafted. There’s no question if my kid was an elite prospect, I would send him to Kentucky because I think he’s got the best — that would give him the best shot to go high in the draft."

For this year's class of UK NBA prospects, Ford had high praise for Jamal Murray, who he thinks "has the ability to be the best perimeter scorer in this draft."

As for Tyler Ulis, Ford doesn't know how serious the reported hip issue is, but does admit it's the kind of story that gets 'leaked' before every draft to help a certain prospect fall to a certain team who really wants him. Ford still thinks Ulis will end up going in the first round, as will Skal Labissiere, whom Ford thinks could go as high as No. 7 to Denver.

Here's a recap of everything Ford had to say about UK's draft prospects.

On UK's NBA Draft prospects
"Murray will go three to seven. He's got a pretty narrow range right now. He's in the mix literally with every single one of those teams with maybe the exception of the Suns. The Celtics are looking at him at three, Wolves are looking at him at five, Pelicans like him at six. Denver even likes him at seven as a nice backcourt mate to Emmanuel Mudiay.

"So, it's a little bit fluid there. He's battling guys that are in the same tier, and all of them are different in what they do. I think it's going to come down more to team need than it is necessarily on ranking talent. I think as far as talent goes, Murray has the ability to be the best perimeter scorer in this draft.

"I think that he's going to be a 20-point per game scorer in the NBA and one of the best shooters in this draft. Defensively, I think the concerns are there.

"Labissiere is a little bit harder. I'd put his range right now at about seven to 13. So, Denver at seven being the high point, Phoenix at 13 being the low point. I think many of us have projected, and I think it's very accurate, that the Magic at 11 look like the most likely spot for him to land.

"His ability to shoot the ball, to stretch the floor, protect the rim are elite. The question is: Does he know how to play basketball? Does he have a feel for the game? Does he have the toughness to play in the NBA?

"Those are all huge questions, but when you get to that portion of the draft I think because there aren't a lot of players left that are sure things, that most of those players are just rotation players now, you start to look at Skal and say, ‘Look, if Skal hits he could be Channing Frye. He might even be better than Channing Frye.'

"And if that's the case he's worth gambling even if it ends up being that he can't play. I think that's why you'll see Milwaukee at 10, Orlando at 11, Utah at 12 and Phoenix, who now has a second first-round pick in the lottery, just go ahead and roll the dice and gamble.

"So I think he's got a really safe range there. How he pans out as a player, I really think anybody that says they know is guessing. I think so much of it is going to have to be about his maturity and mental development and whether that can click, because the skills are there.

"As far as Ulis goes, teams are all over the board on him just because of his size. At 5-10, 150 pounds there's not a lot of precedent for guys that size excelling in the NBA. And people point to Isaiah Thomas (of the Boston Celtics), but Isaiah Thomas is a good 30 pounds heavier than Ulis is, and he's more of a scoring, super athletic, stocky guard.

"There is some precedent for guys like him and Nate Robinson in that role succeeding in the NBA. Ulis is going to be a bit of a trendsetter there. He has elite court vision. He is possibly the best passing point guard in this draft. I think that intrigues some people.

"As far as the hip goes, I'm still trying to collect information on how big of an issue this is. When you hear those medical reports it's difficult to ascertain how serious these sorts of things are down the road because they go through these prospects with such a thorough look that any little thing that has happened in your entire life.

"If you broke your arm in second grade it would be there on the report, and there might be a certain level of concern about it, how it healed. If it's something small like his hips are tight, the muscles are tight, I'd say that's 80 percent of the NBA.

"These players struggle with hip tightness, calcification of the hip, things like that. It could also go the other way. Kevon Looney last year slipped all the way down to 30 because they were concerned he would have to have surgery, which turned out to be true and he's had it this offseason, and that's obviously a more serious concern.

"The feedback that I've gotten from teams is, they're aware that there's an issue, and there's varying degrees, depending on doctors' concerning nature of things, on how concerned teams are. So, it's really hard to pick where Ulis goes, but I think he either goes somewhere in the 20s, or he ends up going somewhere in the 30s, but I think that he's going to get drafted and I don't think it's going to torpedo his draft stock.

"With Poythress, I think he's a possible second-round pick because he's an elite athlete, and I think he can defend multiple positions, and I actually hear he's shot it pretty well in workouts. That's what he projects, is a guy coming off the bench, playing great defense and hitting some spot-up 3s.

"If he can just do that I think he has a long career in the NBA. It's the question about will he be a great 3-point shooter that teams are concerned about. He shot it really well his freshman year, kind of went down from there. I see -€” I watched him work out several times in (Los Angeles), I think I see the potential there for him to become that, and you can't teach his athleticism."

On how much influence Calipari pushing Cal's recommendation for Murray to be No. 1 pick
"None. He's not going to be the No. 1 pick, and I don't think he carried that much weight. What John Calipari does is have a huge influence all season because of the way he plays his players, the system that he runs them in, the access that he gives the NBA teams. He does help players get drafted.

"There's no question if my kid was an elite prospect I would send him to Kentucky because I think that would give him the best shot to go high in the draft. You look at the terrible season that Skal had and the fact that he's going to be a lottery pick is amazing, and that has a lot to do with John Calipari.

"But going to a team saying, ‘You know what, you should take him over Ben Simmons,' I don't think that that's going to carry a lot of sway. As far as Jamal goes, I don't think anybody is going to actually debate John that if you're talking offensively, this kid is special.

"He can shoot it, he can score off the bounce, he has a scorer's mentality and instinct, and he's not afraid to do his job. That's a huge plus. But defensively, there are going to be issues in the NBA. There were issues in college, and I think those issues will be compounded in the NBA, and I think that may hurt him via a Kris Dunn, for example, if you're trying to compare those two guys together -€” or Marquese Chriss or Jaylen Brown, all these guys very elite athletes.

"And just that questioning does Jamal Murray have the lateral quickness? I think he's OK vertically and explosively, but does he have the lateral quickness to defend his position in the NBA, and I know that's what every general manager from three to eight is trying to figure out right now. How good is his offense versus his defense?"

On where Pelicans may go with No. 6 pick & comparing Murray to fellow guard prospects
"I would rank Dunn and Murray just a little bit higher than Buddy. I think they're very different players. So if Pelicans really need a point guard and are really looking at Jrue Holiday -€” and given the fact that he's in the last year of his deal, and the stress fracture, the health problems that he's had -€” that they really feel like they need to start developing a young point guard to work with Anthony Davis, I think Kris Dunn is a great fit.

"His ability to defend multiple positions, his athleticism, his ability to penetrate. I actually think Dunn might be a better prospect down the road than Jrue Holiday is. I think his ceiling is higher than Jrue's was. That's a really intriguing thing for them. You could argue they still have Jrue next year, and maybe they don't need to go that route, but I think Jrue can play off the ball.

"Obviously with Eric Gordon being a free agent you look and say, OK, having a two-guard that can really shoot the basketball is another major need for the Pelicans. Both Murray and Hield fit that role. I like Murray a little better for a couple reasons.

"One, he's 19, and if you look at what Buddy Hield did at Oklahoma at 19 where he averaged seven points a game, and you look at Jamal Murray what he did at 19 at Kentucky averaging 20 points a game, that's a pretty huge disparity. And statistically, if you look at it analytically, what players do at 19 is actually a very sharp indicator of what they're going to do in the NBA.

"Guys that don't figure it out until they're 20, 21, 22, tend to struggle more in the NBA despite where they end up topping out in college basketball. And I think the other thing about Murray is the ability to play multiple positions on the floor. He was a point guard in high school.

"He did not play that at Kentucky because Tyler Ulis was there, but he's got that feel for the game that I think allows the Pelicans to use him in different sorts of lineups, which I think is really attractive to a team like the Pelicans.

"Buddy is more just a pure shooter and scorer of the two. He's not a great ball handler, he's not a great defender -€” neither is Murray. If both of those guys are on the board, I can't tell you which way they'll go. I think that they both have an interest in a lot of them, and it really might be more how they're assessing the free agent market, how are they assessing trades.

"Aand do they think they'd have a chance to bring in a point guard that way, or do they think they'd have a chance to bring in a two-guard that way and then they draft the other guy?"