With so much optimism about the upcoming 2018-2019 basketball season, it is easy to forget that the Kentucky Wildcats lost seven players in the off-season. Some of those will obviously hurt more than others, but just how much will these guys be missed?
I guess we can start by getting a few names out of the way. On the court, this team will not suffer from the absence of Tai Wynyard or Dillon Pulliam. The team GPA may take a hit with Pulliam gone, but I think the back court will be just fine without him.
However, you could argue that the other five guys were potential contributors to this otherwise loaded roster.
Sacha Killeya-Jones, who transferred to NC State after the season, averaged nearly 14 minutes per game last season off of the bench, playing critical minutes in the paint in relief of the often-underwhelming Nick Richards.
Killeya-Jones never did live up to his potential as an incoming McDonald's All-American, but he could still provide depth in the front court when injuries or foul trouble come into play. He did average nearly 10 points and 9 rebounds per 40 minutes of play, which could come in handy during SEC play when guys are banged up.
But with PJ Washington coming back and the additions of Reid Travis and EJ Montgomery, Sacha’s time on the court would likely be scarce this season.
Perhaps the biggest front court loss is Wenyen Gabriel, who has proven everyone wrong by securing a two-way contract with the Sacramento Kings. Toward the end of last season, Gabriel was really hitting his stride and finding his role in John Calipari’s system.
Wenyen Gabriel ( @WenyenGabriel ) going 7 for 7 from deep in the SEC tournament against Alabama (2018) pic.twitter.com/Pd7NgBEXbg— Classic KY (@KY_Clips) June 11, 2018
He became a serious threat from the outside, hitting nearly 40% of his three pointers last season. He also led the team in blocks with 1.1 per game and averaged 9.3 rebounds per 40 minutes. He was a competent defender solidified his role as an energy guy off of the bench.
Gabriel could have played a role on this year’s team, although he may have seen a decrease from his 23.1 minutes per game last season.
Jarred Vanderbilt is the biggest question mark of those that left early last year. His rebounding numbers were astronomical during his time on the court last season, averaging 18.6 per 40 minutes.
But with his health concerns, it is virtually impossible to predict how he could have contributed during the 2018-2019 season. It is also important to keep in mind how much of a liability he became on the offensive end.
If you think about it, the team went on their most impressive run of the year just after he suffered his season-ending injury. His statistics and defensive presence were impressive, but was he really good for the success of the team?
Another questionable early departure decision was that of Hamidou Diallo. He showed flashes of incredible productivity during 2017-2018, and had one of his best games in the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo.
Hamidou Diallo windmill jam. pic.twitter.com/sbf7JxMTzz— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) March 17, 2018
But between the 2017 and 2018 NBA Drafts, Diallo’s stock dropped. Could he have returned to improve his stock? With such an athletic back court in 2018-2019, he likely would not have stood out as much. And although he slipped to the middle of the second round of the draft (45th overall pick), he did land a guaranteed contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s also played very well in the summer league and preseason.
Probably the two biggest losses from last year’s roster were Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Knox was expected to be a superstar from the get-go, and lived up to the hype every now and then. Gilgeous-Alexander was the biggest surprise of the season, often looking like the team’s best player.
Kevin Knox led last year’s team in scoring (15.6 points per game) and was 3rd in rebounding (5.4 per game). There is nobody on the current roster like Knox, given his size and mid-range shooting ability.
Although I do believe Knox will be the better pro due to his size, I expect Keldon Johnson to replace the productivity that Knox brought to the team. Knox could have definitely been one of the stars on the 2018-2019 roster, but his contributions would not be essential this season as they were last year.
Gilgeous-Alexander was a strong defender that could get to the bucket at will. He also led the team in minutes and was a real warrior on the court.
Between Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, you would have to think that they can cover Shai’s 14.4 points and 5.1 assists per game in addition to locking up opposing guards. But will they have the leadership and heart that Shai showed down the stretch?
Of course, the hopes are high for the new guys on the roster but you never really know how they will perform after the tip-off. Knox and Alexander were special players at Kentucky, and Gabriel, Diallo, and Killeya-Jones were all role players with skills to bring to the table.
Who do you think would have made the biggest impact on coming back to Kentucky for the 2018-2019 season?