The Kentucky Wildcats are still a major work in progress, but there’s no denying the immense potential that lies within several players.
Between Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, Hamidou Diallo, Shai Alexander, Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt and Wenyen Gabriel, there could be as many as seven future NBA Draft picks on the current roster.
Obviously, some will progress faster than others, and we may only see two players leave for the 2018 NBA Draft after this season. However, the latest NBA Draft big board from ESPN has seven UK players listed among the top 100 prospects for next year’s draft.
To no surprise, Knox leads the way at No. 10, followed by Diallo (21) and Richards (28) as potential first-round prospects. Knox and Diallo are very likely to leave this season, but Richards is a big wildcard at this point.
The freshman center has shown flashes of becoming a star at some point this season, but he’s also shown enough inconsistency to think he’ll need another year of college to fine-tune his game before going pro.
Coming in the second-round range were Washington (40), Vanderbilt (41) and Shai (47). If that’s the range they’re projected to go in when it’s time to declare, expect all three to come back for their sophomore seasons.
Elsewhere, the latest NBA big board from Sports Illustrated has five Cats among their top 60 prospects. Coming in at No. 9 was Knox, the highest ranking he’s received in a major publication thus far.
He’s developed into a capable three-point shooter and has enviable physical tools, with the size and reach to guard either forward spot and rebound effectively. Knox could stand to be more aggressive attacking the basket, and still has games where he disappears for long stretches. But his body and versatility project well, and he’s still quite far from the player he could eventually become.
Diallo isn’t too far behind at No. 20:
Diallo is a divisive prospect, but nobody can argue with the freakish bounce and length that makes him worthy of first-round looks. He can run and jump with anyone and has enough of a handle to turn the corner and attack the basket, but his jumper needs work and he’s far from a finished product. Beyond easy transition points and his ability to get to the line, there’s not a ton else to Diallo’s game yet. He’s still so athletic that signs of substantive progress could land him in the lottery.
Richards doesn’t crack the top 30 prospects, but he’s still in first-round range at No. 31:
Although extremely raw and prone to foul trouble, Richards’s size, rebounding, mobility and shot-blocking potential hold intrigue. He’s well-built, highly agile and can play above the rim. But his feel is lacking, and he’s very old for his class as a 20-year-old freshman. If he becomes a reliable rim-runner and shot blocker, Richards should be able to make an impact, but there are serious questions about his overall floor awareness.
Vanderbilt is also sneaking up on first round range at No. 39 overall:
He has a history of leg injuries and a thinnish lower body, but he’s a good athlete who can handle the ball a little bit and can make an impact on the glass and as a versatile defender with length. He can also make plays for teammates, particularly in the open floor. The health issues are a concern.
After not being ranked previously, Washington has now climbed up to No. 50 in this ranking:
Despite a lack of ideal height, Washington's 7'3" wingspan gives him a unique physical profile and enables him to defend fours, fives and some threes on the perimeter. He’s a powerful leaper and intelligent player who has begun to make an adjustment to the college game. He may work best as a small-ball center at the next level and needs to prove he can be a shot-blocking presence. Washington’s baseline offensive skill level and shooting potential are also promising.
Of all these players, I could see Washington making the biggest jump between now and the end of the season. If he plays like he did vs Monmouth, he’ll be projected into the first round by season’s end.
Vanderbilt is the biggest wildcard of the bunch. If he can return, play big minutes and stay healthy, his NBA potential is through the roof, so it would undoubtedly showcase itself in that scenario.
However, Vanderbilt is not playing right now, and there’s no clear-cut return date. There’s also no guarantee he’ll stay healthy once he’s back in action.
In the end, Knox and Diallo are the only guys I feel confident are gone next year. I do think there will be one more departure, but the most I can see leaving right now for the NBA is three.