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4 Wildcats listed in ESPN Draft Stock top 50

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Ashton Hagans is rising, while another Wildcat in inching closer toward first-round territory.

Jamie Boggs - Sea of Blue

With each update, NBA Draft projections get more interesting for the Kentucky Wildcats.

While Keldon Johnson and PJ Washington have been the only two Wildcats consistently listed in mock drafts, two of their teammates join them in the top 50 of ESPN’s new NBA Draft Stock Watch.

Johnson and Washington remain as the only two Kentucky players in first round range, but Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans have worked their way into the NBA Draft discussion. No other current Kentucky Wildcats appear in the top 100.

Johnson is the top Wildcat on the board, currently being ranked as the No. 10 overall prospect. ESPN staff had this to say about Johnson, who has been struggling as of late:

Strengths- Has good physical tools for an NBA wing.- Aggressive, versatile player on both ends of the floor. Powerful attacking in a straight line or in the open floor. Capable outside shooter. - Highly competitive rebounder and defender. Plays with toughness, intensity and confidence, and he has a good feel for the game.

Improvement areas- Not yet a dynamic shooter at this stage, especially pulling up off the dribble or on the move. Has improved, but he’s still very streaky (30 percent from 3; 73 percent on free throws). - Powerful, but not an especially explosive athlete creating in the half court. - Struggled with his conditioning earlier in his career.

Johnson has consistently been projected as a lottery pick, but if his recent struggles continue he may fall into the later part of the first round.

Washington, on the other hand, seems to be improving his stock. ESPN lists him at No. 20, and they had this to say about the sophomore:

Washington compares physically to Rudy Gay, Jerami Grant, and Kawhi Leonard. Taking into account his athletic testing results brings up the name Noah Vonleh as his top comp.

Washington has enviable physical tools and will almost certainly hear his name called in the first round if he can find a way to use his tremendous measurements to better perform defensively and on the glass, which didn’t happen consistently enough as a freshman.

PJ would have likely been drafted last season, but he wanted to secure his spot in the first round. So far, so good.

Tyler Herro comes in at No. 40 on the list of “Best Available” players, which would slot him near the middle of the second round depending on the needs of teams. Virtually nobody projected Herro as a one-and-done player, and I believe that is still likely the case. However, with a player that thrives on confidence, you have to think this will be motivating for the Wisconsin native.

And if Herro is truly the 40th best NBA prospect right now, you have to think he’ll inch closer toward first-round range if he has a strong finish this season. Kentucky certainly needs him to step up in order to become a legitimate Final Four threat, so if they make a deep run in March, perhaps it could lead to Herro entering the draft.

The guy you have to think is skyrocketing on draft boards is Ashton Hagans. He has currently ranked as No. 43 on ESPN’s list, but he has looked like a lottery pick in the last five games. If he continues to play the defense he has shown as of late and shows that his shot is improving, Hagans could propel himself into the middle of the first round.

At this point, we should probably expect Washington, Johnson and Hagans to be in this year’s draft. But just losing three guys would be a major win for John Calipari and his 2019-20 team.

For what it’s worth, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish make up three of the top four prospects, but it’s actually Murray State’s Ja Morant who checks in at No. 3. Western Kentucky center Charles Bassey checked in at No. 69.

In the SEC, it’s actually Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland who’s the conference’s top prospect at No. 7. He’s out for the rest of the season while recovering from knee surgery, but he’s still in line to be a high pick in June if he enters the draft.

Former Kentucky big man recruits Jaxson Hayes (12) and Bol Bol (13) also cracked the top 15.

Click here to check out the entire list of the top 100 prospects for the 2019 NBA Draft.