The Kentucky Wildcats are riding high, and it’s come with great play from every scholarship player at one point or another.
If I could put everyone under stock up, I would just because of the growth each player has made individually and the improvements we have seen from the team as whole. Kentucky is playing as well as any team in the country, and it is because each piece is playing its part in the whole.
PJ Washington is on an absolute tear over Kentucky’s last five games where he’s scored in double figures in each with an average of 18 points per game. In the same span, he’s also averaging 8.8 rebounds. The problem with PJ is his inconsistency.
He has nine games under 10 points, and with his skill set and physicality, NBA teams won’t be looking for an excuse for that. If he continues to play with the motor he has and as well as he has over the last three games, Kentucky has the chance to be truly special and PJ will have a chance to earn the first round selection he was looking for last year.
Keldon Johnson has been the most likely draft prospect for the Wildcats all season. In almost every mock draft there has been so far, Johnson has been a first round pick, more specifically a lottery pick.
Keldon is an athletic specimen that has all the tools to be a great defender at the next level, and he plays with an immense amount of passion and aggression. The truly intriguing part of his game is his percentages.
Through 20 games, Johnson is shooting 51.1% from the field and 42.6% from three. Combine that kind of shooting with everything else Keldon brings to the table, and you’re looking at a top 10, if not top 5, prospect.
What a difference the last few weeks have made on the potential of Ashton Hagans. Big Blue Nation loved Quade Green, but his transfer has allowed the Wildcats point guard position to be more flexible and Hagans to shine defensively while steadily improving offensively.
In his seven starts in conference play, Ashton is averaging 12.3 points on 55.2% shooting with 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals in seven conference games. At this point, I don’t see him leaving yet.
But if he continues to improve at the pace he is, I can see him blossoming into a guy who could be another one-and-done floor general for John Calipari.
Every NBA team is looking for the next great shooter to add their roster, which is exactly what Tyler Herro can bring to any NBA team. The problem for Herro, though, is still the shooting consistency.
Tyler has had great games with great percentages, like when he scored 24 against Louisville, 21 against Texas A&M, and 20 against Auburn on 59% from the field and 53.2% from three through those three games.
Unfortunately, he’s also had games like against Kansas where he only scored 4 points on 2-9 shooting, including 0-4 from three. He’s already improved defensively and with his play making. If he can get any sort of rhythm with his stroke, I think he’s an X-factor for Kentucky and could be drafted in either the late first round or early second round by any NBA team.
After moving to the backup point guard spot for Ashton Hagans, you would think Immanuel Quickley would have taken another step back. In my eyes, I almost think he’s taken a step forward in the right direction.
His numbers aren’t eye-popping at 6.9 ppg. in conference play, but he’s shooting 50% from the field and 45% from three while starting to look a lot more comfortable and confident. He’s still prone to a bad decision or two and he’s not projected to be picked at this moment, but he’s not hurting himself in his shortened playing time.
Reid Travis’ play is making a difference for the Wildcats, but I just don’t know how much of a difference it’s making when it comes to his draft stock. He’s played like the big veteran he is all year with 12.3 points per game on 53.5% shooting with 6.8 rebounds.
His physicality and leadership got the Wildcats going against Kansas when he scored 18 points and snatched 12 rebounds with big plays in the paint, including dunks scoring while getting fouled. It just may not matter, though, because NBA teams are looking for young, long, and versatile bigs that can stretch the floor, none of which describe Travis.
He’s a solid prospect if he gets the opportunity to show off his jump shot or three ball a little more, but I don’t think that’s how Kentucky and Coach Calipari need him to play for this group. He has a chance to get drafted, but I’d say it’d be in the second round if anything.
John Calipari has now made it an emphasis to get Nick Richards going in any way possible. During garbage time of the Vanderbilt game, you could see they were going to him over and over offensively, leading to his best game of the season with 14 points and 4 blocks. That comes a game after he had 5 blocks against Kansas.
It was a struggle early on for Richards, who was in danger of falling out of the rotation. He’s shooting 57.4%, but he’s only at 3.7 points and 3.3 rebounds this season. He has the skill, ability, and potential to be a near double-double player every night, and we’re starting to see that as of late.
Richards is too valuable as Kentucky’s only real threat as a shot blocker and rim protector to not be getting extended minutes. He’s struggled to be consistent this season, but it appears the light is starting to come on.
EJ Montgomery isn’t playing badly, he’s just not playing enough. John Calipari keeps saying he’s trying to find ways to get him more minutes, but at only 13.9 minutes a game (and down to 10.9 minutes a game in conference play), he’s not able to really immerse himself in the game, adjust accordingly, and make a difference.
In his short time, he’s scoring 4.1 points, grabbing 3.4 rebounds and blocking 1.1 shots, but he’s just not playing enough to get a real healthy sample size for a team to feel good about giving him minutes over more deserving guys.
Hopefully, we see Montgomery return for his sophomore season and not only make PJ-type improvements to his game, but take PJ-type leaps because of it.
Just like Montgomery, we haven’t seen enough of Jemarl Baker to validate his stock being up. That doesn’t necessarily mean his stock is down, but he’s only appeared in 12 games for 8.5 minutes a game in his college career. If there’s one thing we all knew that he’s now validating on the floor is that he's a knockdown shooter.
In his short time, he’s already managed to shoot 40% from three point range and his shot mechanically looks as good as advertised. If Jemarl gets an injury free season where he shoots the ball like this in a bigger role in the offense.
But for that to happen, he’ll need to see the floor more. He’s played in eight or less minutes in four of the last six games.