Today is the day for NBA Draft decisions, and Kentucky has three big-time decisions coming today.
PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Wenyen Gabriel are all making decisions today about their future, whether to stay at Kentucky or leave for a professional career.
But how important are each of these guys to Kentucky’s success next year? Let’s rank them.
1) PJ Washington
Washington, to me, is the biggest piece for Kentucky that still remains a mystery because of Decision Season. If Washington returns, he is immediately a team leader next season and in my opinion, an SEC Player of the Year candidate.
The only thing that would hurt him is being on a team with so many players, his numbers won’t be as high as some other guys. However, Washington has the potential to be a go-to guy on a team that has Final Four potential, which would seem to bode well for his draft stock in a weaker 2019 draft.
Washington showed what he was capable of against Kansas State in the Sweet 16, although most people remember him for his free throw shooting. If he comes back and improves on his free throws, develops a reliable mid-range jumper and shows three-point range, and improves on passing out of double teams in the paint, I think Washington is as critical of a piece as anyone on the team.
If Washington returns, I look for him to become a 14-15 ppg scorer and improve his rebounding numbers to 8 or so per game.
I really want to see him blossom in a second year, and I hope that season is at Kentucky and not in the G-League.
2) Jarred Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt is probably number one on this list if you can guarantee a healthy season, which nobody can guarantee at this point.
Vanderbilt, in my opinion, has the most room for growth. If he is healthy—and that seems kind of uncertain at this point—and can become a reliable scorer around the basket while at least being considered a threat to hit an open jumper from the perimeter, he brings a ton of versatility and value to the roster.
We already know how well he can rebound the ball. We already know he is a skilled passer and while he has some room to grow on defense, he is long and quick, two valuable assets on the defensive end.
Vanderbilt simply comes down to three questions: is he healthy? Can he stay healthy? Can he improve offensively?
If he checks all three of those boxes—and the health aspect is hard to determine with his history—I also think he is a big-time player next year who could be a major factor either as a starter or 6th man.
Until we can be certain of Vanderbilt’s injury situation, I place him behind Washington.
3) Wenyen Gabriel
That’s certainly no slight against Gabriel, and I would love to have an experienced junior on the squad next season; however, of the three, Gabriel comes in third because Kentucky has seemingly shored up several of the areas that Wenyen provides most.
Wenyen is a really good three-point shooter, and bringing him back adds another perimeter shooting option on the floor, which Calipari and Kentucky would surely love to have.
But on the other hand, Immanuel Quickley and Tyler Herro bring in solid perimeter shooting, as does E.J. Montgomery and Quade Green returns as a player that shot 38 percent from three last season. Not to mention Jemarl Baker, who could be the best shooter of the whole group.
All that to say, Kentucky should have an adequate number of shooters on the team, and one more would be great, but it doesn’t appear to be a glaring hole right now.
Wenyen’s other main role is as an energy and hustle guy, fighting for 50/50 balls. Certainly that is a valuable asset, but guys like Keldon Johnson, Ashton Hagans, and others can bring that level of intensity. Wenyen is a solid rebounder too, but Washington and Vanderbilt are better at it.
Wenyen, in my opinion, probably only comes back if both Washington and Vanderbilt leave, but nobody knows for sure. Certainly fans would love to have him back, as he would bring those previously mentioned attributes as well as some upperclassmen leadership as well as being a guy that his teammates seem to really respect and enjoy playing with.
You can never have too many of those guys, but if Wenyen does decide to leave, I can’t cast any blame on him for wanting to seek professional options and make some money for himself and his family. If only he was able to make money for himself and his family while he was still in college....
Regardless of the decisions, let’s wish these guys well on their future plans, whether they are at Kentucky or on the professional route.