With two weeks until the NBA Combine, along with four weeks until entrants must make their final decision, it’s time to break down what a potential return of Jarred Vanderbilt would mean to the Kentucky Wildcats, and why he might actually be better off staying in the NBA Draft.
- With at least one of P.J. Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Vanderbilt expected to stay in the draft, retaining Vanderbilt would likely be the favored player to return. Vanderbilt saw the floor for only 14 games last season. His absences came both to start the season as well Kentucky’s postseason run of which was cut short by the Kansas State Wildcats. This definitely limits the amount of film scouts will have on Vanderbilt and his injury-clouded history also raises some red flags. Add in his inability to consistently shoot outside the paint, and the suggestion he needs another year of college ball becomes bigger and bigger. With that said, Vanderbilt absolutely provides the most upside of Gabriel, Washington and himself. Therefore, retaining Vanderbilt raises the ceiling for next year’s Cats.
- It’s my prediction that Gabriel has ultimately already made up his mind to leave, but if Washington has a great combine, he will leave too. Following the transfers of Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard, this leaves a thin front line for Kentucky. They’d return only Nick Richards and Vanderbilt and only add E.J. Montgomery. Even with the possibility of top-recruit Vernon Carey possibly reclassifying into the 2018 class, it would be essential that Vanderbilt return to man the Kentucky front court.
- With a guard-heavy roster next season, a pick-and-roll offense could have high potential with Vanderbilt. He isn’t the shooter they need in a dribble-drive offense and even in a pick-and-pop offense he would struggle outside of 12 feet. However, his ball handling and playmaking skills in the pick-and-roll would be fun to watch. That’s not to mention that Kentucky will add multiple shooters to space the floor around Vanderbilt, as he showed flashes last season of being a willing passer.
- The one downside of Vanderbilt returning and Gabriel, Washington leaving is depending on Vanderbilt’s health. If he went down for any stretch of the season, Kentucky would be at the mercy of foul trouble each night without him. Washington and Gabriel each played in 37 games last season, with each nearly tripling the amount of games Vanderbilt was able to see the hardwood. Health is a must for Vanderbilt if he elects to return for another season in the Bluegrass.
- Despite his time spent rehabbing from injury, Vanderbilt never showed he had developed a consistent jumpshot. Gabriel certainly came on late in the season as a spot-up, lights-out three point threat and Washington (despite struggling from the strike) proved to his mid-range jump shots. While a pick-and-roll offense would potentially be unstoppable, everyone knows how much head coach John Calipari loves his dribble-drive offense. With Vanderbilt in the game, it would be difficult for Kentucky to truly space the floor.
- If you’ve watched Montgomery’s highlight reel, he mirrors a lot of Vanderbilt’s game. His jump shot is iffy but his motor, drive to the basket and rebounding/playmaking skills are elite. Having not only Vanderbilt but also Montgomery on the floor (together) would allow for great passing and rebounding but scoring could become a bit of an issue. If Calipari intends on playing Montgomery big minutes, Kentucky would almost be better off having Gabriel who can spread the floor and not clog the paint alongside Montgomery.
Despite the cons, getting any of Gabriel/Vanderbilt/Washington back is a win for Kentucky. While one or two of them would be an odd fit in next year’s offense, they’d easily bolster the front court depth and Calipari and his staff would surely figure out the rest.