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 Wenyen Gabriel would mean to the Kentucky Wildcats.
- The last player who returned for his third season before entering the NBA draft was Willie Cauley-Stein. Like Gabriel, Cauley-Stein wasn’t mentioned in any mock drafts following his freshman and sophomore seasons. However, Cauley-Stein had a monster junior year with the “Platoon Team” and was selected 6th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. In what could be a familiar situation this year, Gabriel staying would allow him to be not only a veteran presence in the locker room and on the court but also likely increase his draft stock with a major increase in both depth and talent, especially at the guard positions.
- With what is expected to be a guard-heavy roster this fall, the dribble-drive offense should be the focal point of each gameplay for head coach John Calipari and the Wildcats. Gabriel is a player who could greatly benefit from that. Not only would he draw bigs out of the paint, but Gabriel also has the ability to make players pay by consistently knocking down outside shots. Gabriel noticeably increased his 3-point shooting percentage to nearly 40% but also increased his overall shooting percentage, 2-point percentage, free-throw percentage, total rebounds, steals and blocks per game.
- Gabriel, opposite of potential return Jarred Vanderbilt, has been extremely durable while at Kentucky. He’s in fact never missed a game and, as a “thinner” big man, has shown flashes of banging inside. His hustle, especially towards the end of this last season, was contagious throughout the lineup. A return to the Bluegrass could be great for the younger players.
- While Gabriel would certainly help the offense, that’s assuming this season wasn't an anomaly. While Gabriel’s stats (and eye-test) increased in all areas, he could easily go south just as much as he went north this season. Assuming that Gabriel electing to come back may nudge P.J. Washington or Vanderbilt towards the draft, that is something that could potentially hurt Kentucky’s front court.
However, assuming he doesn’t decline, I don’t see any “cons” to Gabriel returning. Getting any of Gabriel/Vanderbilt/Washington back is a win for Kentucky. While it’s likely that Gabriel leaves for the NBA or a roster spot overseas, a potential return would be huge for what will be another young Kentucky roster in the fall.