The Kentucky Wildcats have hit a bit of a road bump in recent weeks, but that’s not stopping some players from getting NBA hype.
The latest 2018 NBA Mock Draft from ESPN has three Cats cracking the first round. The highest of which is Kevin Knox, who still has a very good shot at hearing his name called in the lottery.
Part of that is due to his immense talent that we’ve seen glimpses of at such a young age, as he won’t turn 19 until August, when he figures to be in an NBA training camp.
For now, the latest ESPN projection has him landing with the Hornets at pick No. 12, joining Malik Monk and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
12. Charlotte Hornets - Kevin Knox
Knox hasn’t had a very efficient freshman season, partially due to his playing out of position, but there’s a significant market in the NBA for combo forwards in his mold who can make an open shot, defend multiple positions and offer some offensive versatility. He’s one of the youngest players in this draft, so he still has plenty of room to continue to grow. Marvin Williams is the only true power forward on Charlotte’s roster, but at age 31, he doesn’t appear to be part of the impending rebuilding plans.
Starting salary: $3,179,280
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to creep up into the lottery discussion, as he goes No. 19 overall to the Pelicans with DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Darius Miller, Rajon Rondo and DeAndre Liggins.
19. New Orleans Pelicans - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
With Rajon Rondo in the last year of his deal and no clear successor behind him, it would make sense for the Pelicans to think about drafting a versatile point guard who can operate in different lineups without dominating the ball for a team whose usage is largely sucked up by DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.
Gilgeous-Alexander has the size, length, multipositional defensive versatility and unselfishness needed to operate as a role player alongside stars.
Starting salary: $2,231,760
Coinciding with UK’s recent struggles has been Hamidou Diallo having a woeful January in which he’s often been more of a liability than an asset. That has him falling down in this mock draft and barely squeaking into the first round, going No. 28 overall to the Nets.
28. Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors) - Hamidou Diallo
The Nets were reportedly looking to lock down Diallo at the NBA draft early-entry withdrawal deadline last year, but they ultimately traded the pick after he elected to return to Kentucky.
Diallo’s stock has stagnated somewhat as he hasn’t made the type of progress scouts were hoping to see with his feel for the game or skill level. Still, he’s one of the best athletes in the draft and could very well continue to improve with the right skill-development coaching, as he’s very young and reportedly has a strong work ethic.
Starting salary: $1,630,320
As you’ll see with all three players, their starting salaries for their projected spots makes it very hard to pass on going pro this year if they feel good about their chances of going in Round 1. Even a late first-round pick like Diallo would be making over a million dollars next season, something that’s hard for any college player to pass on.
That’s another reason why we should just assume Knox, Shai and Hami are all heading to the draft this year unless their stock takes a major dip between now and May.
The good news for UK is no other player made this mock draft, which spanned all 60 picks. It’s only January, but not seeing guys like PJ Washington, Nick Richards and Jarred Vanderbilt even listed as second-round prospects could bode well for their chances of returning next season.
Here’s a look at what the entire lottery looks like in this projection:
1. Sacramento Kings - Luka Doncic
2. Atlanta Hawks - Deandre Ayton
3. Phoenix Suns - Mohamed Bamba
4. Orlando Magic - Marvin Bagley III
5. Chicago Bulls - Jaren Jackson
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Nets) - Michael Porter Jr.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers) - Trae Young
8. Dallas Mavericks - Wendell Carter Jr.
9. Memphis Grizzlies - Miles Bridges
10. New York Knicks - Collin Sexton
11. Utah Jazz - Mikal Bridges
12. Charlotte Hornets - Kevin Knox
13. LA Clippers - Robert Williams
14. Denver Nuggets - Troy Brown