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Kentucky Basketball: NBA Draft and Roster Predictions 4.0

Will Wenyen Gabriel and other Cats return to Lexington to cut down more nets? Are any more outside additions coming?

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Championship-Tennessee vs Kentucky Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-19 Kentucky Wildcats are coming into focus.

We now know Quade Green will return to compete for the starting point guard spot. It also looks like Tyrese Maxey is staying in the 2019 class, so the backcourt may not be quite as crowded as originally thought.

There’s also been more movement on the NBA Draft front, as five Wildcats will be at the event in Chicago.

That means it’s time for another look at who could be staying and going for next season.

PJ Washington

As the weeks roll on, the buzz continues to grow that PJ Washington is seriously considering staying in the draft. He’s still got plenty of work to do to convince an NBA team to even spend a second-round pick on him.

But with a good showing at the NBA Combine, Washington may be able to get a team to spend an early second-round pick on him and get a guaranteed contract. I don’t think that happens, but never say never.

It’s also hurting Washington’s stock that he needs finger surgery at some point. Fringe second-round prospects who are already battling an injury isn’t the best wear to endear one to NBA teams.

Regardless of how Washington performs at the combine, I’m confident he’ll take his decision close to the deadline to withdraw from the draft.

To recap, here’s a refresher of all the remaining dates involved:

  • May 15: NBA Draft Lottery in Chicago.
  • May 16-20 - NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.
  • May 30 - NCAA’s deadline for college players to remove themselves from the draft.
  • June 11 NBA deadline for all players to remove themselves from the draft.
  • June 21 NBA Draft 2018

Again, I would just go ahead and assume that Washington’s final decision won’t come until around, if not on May 30. He really wants to go pro, but he’ll probably need to do private workouts with as many teams as possible to feel good that he’ll be drafted early in Round 2.

I think his ultimate decision is still a toss-up for now, but I’m guessing he stays in the draft.

Prediction: Leaves

Percentage Chance Gone: 55%

Jarred Vanderbilt

When Jarred Vanderbilt declared for the draft, everyone assumed he was just getting feedback and was ultimately going to return to UK. There have even been rumors that Vanderbilt has undergone surgery and has been seen on a walking boot at UK.

But while that may be true, it sounds like NBA personnel are very interested in Vanderbilt, so much that some think he should stay in the draft.

Like Washington, I think Vanderbilt is looking for a good reason to stay in the draft, as his goal when he came to UK was to be a one and done, though as a first-round pick. There’s no shot Vanderbilt goes that high this year with as many injury concerns as he has. He also didn’t show much of an offensive game as a freshman.

If Vanderbilt returns and stays healthy most, if not all of next season, he’ll easily be a first-round pick in a weak 2019 draft class.

Prediction: Stays

Percentage Chance Gone: 35%

Wenyen Gabriel

I now think Wenyen Gabriel will wait to see what Washington and Vanderbilt do before making his decision. If both Vanderbilt and Washington come back along with EJ Montgomery coming in, it’s going to be hard for Gabriel to get significant minutes next season.

But if one of Washington and Vanderbilt leaves, that opens the door for Gabriel to have a major role on a Final Four contender. He would also give UK a junior leader for the first time in what feels like ages.

While Vanderbilt and Washington are more talented, you could make a case for Gabriel being the most important Wildcat for UK to get back. He’s a great rebounder like Vanderbilt, and his offensive game is more balanced than Washington, who does all of his damage in the paint.

It also helps the chances Gabriel returns that he didn’t get an invite to the combine. Had he gotten that invite, he may have felt good enough to stay in the draft, but that cold dose of reality may have him reconsidering his plan moving forward.

Prediction: Stays

Percentage Chance Gone: 45%

Already Returning

Already Gone

Roster Projection

There’s still a lot to be determined, but it’s hard to see UK not being a serious Final Four threat with who they’ll have on the roster next season. Even if UK keeps just one of the three guys testing the NBA waters, they’ll still have talent and depth at all five positions.

Here’s an updated projection of the roster for next season:

  • Sophomore guard Quade Green
  • Freshman guard Ashton Hagans
  • Freshman guard Keldon Johnson
  • Junior forward Wenyen Gabriel
  • Sophomore center Nick Richards
  • Sophomore forward Jarred Vanderbilt
  • Freshman forward EJ Montgomery
  • Redshirt freshman shooting guard Jemarl Baker.
  • Freshman point guard Immanuel Quickley
  • Freshman shooting guard Tyler Herro.

This is assuming PJ stays in the NBA Draft, while Tyrese Maxey and James Wiseman remain in the 2019 class, despite considering a move into 2018, while Stanford’s Reid Travis ultimately decides to reclassify and picks Duke. Travis has been mentioned as a possible UK target, but so too has Duke, and they have a bigger need at center.

However, with just 10 scholarship players, I do think UK will find a way to add one more scholarship player before the 2018-19 season begins. Maybe Maxey ultimately does move into 2018. Maybe Jalen Lecque picks UK and moves to 2018. Maybe another grad transfer option emergers (Mike Daum is my favorite potential grad transfer).

While I’m not ready to predict who that 11th player will be, I do think we should expect Calipari to have at least 11 scholarship players next season, not counting walk-ons who could earn a scholarship.