The Kentucky Wildcats are usually big winners in the NBA Draft.
However, with several incoming freshmen projected to be multi-year players, as well as a monster 2018 recruiting class being in the works, UK could dominate the 2019 NBA Draft like no other.
1. Chicago Bulls
R.J. Barrett | Montverde Academy (HS Sr.) | SG | Age: 17
Barrett established himself as arguably the top prospect in high school basketball with a phenomenal showing at the U19 World Championship in Cairo this summer. He's a highly versatile wing player with tremendous scoring instincts.
At No. 2, it’s uncommitted forward Zion Williamson, who is actually listed as a power forward.
Zion Williamson | Spartanburg Day (HS Sr.) | PF | Age: 17
Williamson is more than just a social media phenomenon, although his freakish explosiveness is a big part of what makes him special. He plays with a reckless abandon that scouts love to see and has a good feel for the game along with a willingness to defend. The big question mark is whether he can develop any type of jump shot, since he's not very tall at around 6-foot-7.
There’s no question Zion and Barrett are the top two recruits in their class, so it only makes sense for them to go back-to-back in the 2019 draft. I still think there’s a good chance UK lands at least one of them, but with such a crowded roster (more on that below), it’s hard to see both ending up in Lexington.
The first Wildcat to hear his name called is Immanuel Quickley at No. 6 to the Pacers.
6. Indiana Pacers
Immanuel Quickley | John Carroll School (HS Sr.) | PG | Age: 18
Quickley has prototypical size and length to go along with strong perimeter shooting prowess and multi-positional defensive versatility. He's a high-IQ guard who does a lot of the things you look for in a point guard his size.
Quickley is a very talented player, but it’s a little surprising to see him already projected as a top-six pick following what would be his freshman season. This also shows why Zion is so high on playing with Quickley in college.
As for current Wildcats, Kevin Knox is the first to hear his name called, going NO. 12 to the Hornets with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
12. Charlotte Hornets
Kevin Knox | Kentucky (NCAA Fr.) | SF/PF | Age: 18
Knox is one of a half-dozen players on Kentucky's roster who fancy themselves as wings or combo forwards, none of whom has a consistent jumpshot in his arsenal at the moment. He's a fluid athlete who can guard multiple positions when motivated, but he'll have to show he can buy into his role as an energy giver and make shots consistently from the perimeter to cement his standing among NBA decision-makers.
Then comes P.J. Washington, who goes No. 16 to the Thunder.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder
P.J. Washington | Kentucky (NCAA Fr.) | PF | Age: 19
Washington fancies himself a small forward, but might end up seeing significant minutes at both Kentucky and in the NBA as a versatile big man who can operate inside and out thanks to his budding skill level. Becoming a more consistent shooter and defender will be key to unlocking his NBA potential.
The Cats make it three forward going within six picks of each other as Jarred Vanderbilt lands in Boston at No. 18:
18. Boston Celtics (via Clippers)
Jarred Vanderbilt | Kentucky (NCAA Fr.) | SF | Age: 18
Vanderbilt is yet another combo forward type vying for minutes and shots on a stacked Kentucky roster. He has the size and length to play quite a bit of 4 in the NBA, but he is a very good ball handler and passer who does an excellent job of crashing the glass and igniting fast breaks. Vanderbilt needs to significantly improve his jumper to maximize his NBA potential, as he has been considered a non-shooter for most of his career.
The final Wildcat to hear his name called is Sacha Killeya-Jones, who goes No. 28 to the Rockers after what would be his junior season in Lexington.
28. Houston Rockets
Sacha Killeya-Jones | Kentucky (NCAA So.) | PF | Age: 19
A highly touted recruit, Killeya-Jones was a total nonfactor as a freshman. He might be able to put things together in the next two years still, as his skill level and overall talent is undeniable. He's a long, rangy and mobile big man with impressive footwork and touch, but struggles to put it all together in game settings. He also lacks a degree of toughness and feel.
Seeing four UK forwards in the first round of this projection shows how talented the Cats are in this regard. It also shows why we probably shouldn’t get our hopes up on getting Zion and Barrett, as the roster is already shaping up to be a loaded one in the 2018-19 season.
Then again, I think Knox is a one-and-done player, and there’s a good chance Vanderbilt is too.