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3 Wildcats getting first-round draft buzz, including Tyler Herro

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Herro has shot up the charts, while it may be best for Hagans to return for a sophomore season.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

Three Kentucky Wildcats are currently getting NBA Draft buzz, according to latest Sports Illustrated mock draft.

Keldon Johnson has stayed steady in his spot as a lottery pick, though he is starting to drop a bit as he’s down at No. 13 now. He had been in the top-10 range for much of the season, but he hasn’t quite played that well as of late, though he’s still been a major piece of Kentucky’s 10-game winning streak.

Johnson has always been a player whose value lies in his floor as a likely contributor, and he’s been steady if not spectacular for the Wildcats this season. His three-point shooting has been encouraging, his competitiveness runs high, and there are no glaring holes in his skill set.

It should not come as a shock that Johnson is the highest ranking Wildcat on the board. He has the most potential with his freak athleticism and high-powered motor. He is like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a jump shot, but he just needs to work on his defense a little and he could easily rocket up the draft board.

PJ Washington’s recent play has made him a serious first-round draft pick come June. He has put up 20 or more points in five out of the last six games for the Wildcats and has looked like the best player in the country when he turns it on. He comes in at the No. 22 pick, which actually feels low considering how well he’s been playing over the last month.

He’s mobile, bouncy, and his rebounding, passing and defensive positioning enable him to impact games even when he’s not scoring. Washington has always been a sound finisher, and his jump shot continues to improve—his three-point range has looked more convincing of late, as well.

If Washington can keep up his dominant play through the last leg of the season, it would not be far fetched to see him sneak into the lottery, especially now that he has developed a viable three-point shot.

Tyler Herro has been getting a lot of buzz here recently when it comes to his draft stock, as evidenced by his No. 27 ranking in this big board. He could be a fantastic late first-round pick for a team like the Golden State Warriors, or even going back home to the Milwaukee Bucks, as he adds a pure scoring threat from the outside.

His ability to make difficult shots from deep and playmake a little on the side has always been endearing, and he plays with a bit more toughness than is generally advertised. Herro has also cut back a bit on his tendency to overdribble, and profiles as a potentially dangerous supporting scorer on the perimeter. His body type doesn’t have much appeal from an NBA standpoint, and he might be a liability defensively as such.

Herro has the potential to be a Devin Booker-like player, although maybe not the cornerstone of a franchise. If Herro can keep up his play and start being a pure knock-down shooter, like Booker was during his month of February at Kentucky, he could be a mid first-round pick and maybe sneak in at the end of the lottery based on his potential.

Ashton Hagans right now is a projected second-round pick, coming in at the No. 45 pick on the big board. Despite his impressive play ever since he took over the starting role, his lack of a jump-shot, and lack of scoring ability in general, is holding him back from being a first-round pick.

His value begins on the defensive end, where he has some of the best hands in college basketball and moves his feet at a great clip. Think about De’Anthony Melton as an athletic, defensive-minded backcourt analog in last year’s draft, and Hagans comes along in a similar vein. He’s still very much developing as a playmaker and scorer, still can’t shoot and will likely be best off returning to school to polish his game.

Kentucky fans should be selfishly wanting Hagans to come back for another year, as he would be paired up with Immanuel Quickley again and Tyrese Maxey for a dynamic backcourt. Hagans coming back would also give him another season to improve his stock and prove his worth, especially if he can develop a decent mid-range game and three-point shot.

Then again, if Kentucky ends up making a deep run in March and makes it to the Final Four, it’s easy to envision it happening with Hagans is playing at a higher level, thus getting him into the first-round discussion.

You can look at the entire big board here.