As the year of 2018 comes to a close, the 2019 NBA draft inches closer by the day.
Recently, Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman released his latest 2019 big board for next summer’s NBA draft. Of the 60 members, two Kentucky Wildcats were listed. Specifically, both landed in the first round with projected for the lottery.
Keldon Johnson, Freshman
Projection: 11th Overall
Stats: 15.2 PPG, 6 RPG, 50% FG, 32% 3FG
Skill-wise, Johnson isn’t the sharpest in terms of creating his own shot, playmaking or shooting. But he’s agile and forceful attacking downhill, and he’s flashed enough shot-making potential when set. Teams should buy into his tools, burst, production and energy and bet on his handle and jump shot to improve.
Johnson has consistently been one of Kentucky’s best players on the court over the course of the team’s first nine games. The freshman talent doesn’t necessarily have a weakness in his game, creating a high floor-medium ceiling that NBA teams love to have in two-way wing players.
That position seems to be Johnson’s calling in the NBA, which will likely have his name called in the lottery portion of the NBA Draft. Kentucky as a team is currently in turmoil, but Johnson could drastically increase his draft stock by taking over the team and leading them to success. Just ask Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
PJ Washington, Sophomore
Projection: 21st Overall
Stats: 14.0 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 51% FG, 53% 3FG
Individually, Washington came out a winner from Kentucky’s loss to Seton Hall. His 29 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four blocks served as a reminder of his blossoming inside-out versatility. He’s now made eight threes through nine games after making five in 37 games last year. And he’s nearly doubled his rebounding rate from 11.6 percent to 21.5 percent. Washington needs to become more aggressive and consistent to solidify his status as a first-round prospect, but his improved shooting and mobility have helped reignite his stock after an unconvincing freshman year.
Washington’s recent addition of the three-point shot to his arsenal has to have NBA scouts drooling. Standing at just 6’7, Washington’s best chance at a significant role in The Association was to add a consistent outside shot. Knocking down over half of his attempts has solidified his ability to stretch the floor when needed.
The decision to return to school was interesting for Washington, but seems to be paying off quite well. As the season moves along, expect he, Johnson and Reid Travis to lead one of the better front courts in the country. If Washington continues his stellar play in big games, his stock could potentially leap into the lottery as well.
Two snubs from this list seem to be Travis and Tyler Herro. Travis has been Kentucky’s best player to date while Herro has flashed signs of significant upside. If both can play at a consistent level, they should become more draft-relevant as the season moves along.
Elsewhere, 247 Sports just released their updated big board of the top 20 NBA prospects. Only one Wildcat made this list in Keldon Johnson:
An athletic wing prospect, Johnson has solid length at 6-foot-6 and brings energy on both sides of the ball. He’s at best attacking the basket and scoring at the rim and in transition. While his shot mechanics are fine, he lacks consistency as a jump shooter at this stage. Making almost 44 percent of his three-pointers looks great without perspective, but he was at 32 percent before making six threes on Saturday. Defensively there’s a lot of potential, as he’s tracking as a multi-positional defender in the NBA. There’s upside here and the potential to move this list.
It’s hard to imagine a Kentucky team having just one player selected in the top 20 of any NBA Draft, but then again, this team has left a lot to be desired, especially some of the guys were were projected as first-round picks before the season in EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards.
All three of those guys clearly need another year of college, but there’s still plenty of time for them to emerge and become legitimate 2019 prospects.