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NBA Mock Draft 2018: 3 Kentucky Wildcats in ESPN 60-pick projection

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A new projection has three Cats getting drafted within the 60 selections.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Despite recent struggles, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony recently projected three Kentucky Wildcats to go in the first round of the NBA Draft.

The team (and individual) struggles this team has faced have led many to think that none of the players currently on the team should go pro. Givony, ESPN’s Draft Expert, currently projects Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Hamidou Diallo to be picked in the first round.

The first Wildcat off the board that Givony projects is Kevin Knox at #12 to the Charlotte Hornets.

“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,” Givony said about Knox.

The next Wildcat off the board is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, just a few picks outside the lottery at #19 to the Chicago Bulls.

“Enter Gilgeous-Alexander, who has the size, length, multi-positional defensive versatility and unselfishness needed to operate as a role player alongside a variety of different types of guards,” Givony said.

And finally, Hamidou Diallo comes off the board at #28 to the Brooklyn Nets, the team reported to have been seriously intrigued with selecting Diallo in last year’s draft.

“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,” Givony wrote. “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.”

Knox is almost a certainty to leave for the NBA after this season, and although he isn’t really NBA-ready by any stretch, this draft is very top-heavy and after the first 7 or 8 picks, teams will begin drafting on potential, which Knox has plenty of. Especially if he performs well down the stretch, Knox is still a likely lottery pick despite his struggles this season.

Gilgeous-Alexander is the true wildcard to me. He is probably a first round pick if he goes, and while not ready to contribute right away, has a lot of the characteristics of a solid role player in the NBA. He could come back and that wouldn’t be a surprise at all, but barring major improvements to his perimeter shooting, I am not sure how much higher his stock goes.

Diallo, in my view, is almost a certainty to be gone too. He almost left last year without playing a game. Things could change, but if Brooklyn tells him that they will pick him late in the 1st round, he’s definitely gone. If he can’t get a first-round guarantee, maybe he reconsiders, but I can also see him leaving and taking his chances even if it could mean a second-round pick. For his sake, I hope if he leaves he has a guaranteed spot in the first and Brooklyn wouldn’t be a terrible place for him to land. Whoever picks him will just have to have patience and not rush him into a major role too early.

If this is how it plays out, Kentucky returns a pretty impressive core next year with sophomores Jarred Vanderbilt, Quade Green, PJ Washington, Nick Richards and Jemarl Baker, as well as juniors Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

That’s a solid group, assuming each of these players spend the offseason working on deficiencies in their game and take big steps forward that we have seen from freshmen that have returned for another year in previous years.

Add in Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, and one more player that we aren’t sure of yet, and this team could legitimately play 10-11 guys. That’s a team that not only has depth, but has some experience too, which is an exciting prospect.

The final stretch of this season will tel us a lot about how these players’ NBA Draft prospects are going to be shaping up though.