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New NBA Draft projections have Wildcats rising

The newest mocks are fresh off the presses and three Wildcats are projected first-round picks

Houston v Kentucky Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

After the college basketball season concluded with Virginia ousting Texas Tech in overtime, the means we are officially in NBA Draft territory. Players will start declaring for the draft and players will come back for a second (or third or fourth) season at their school.

Early Tuesday morning, the first Kentucky Wildcats player to declare for the draft is off the board by way of PJ Washington. We all assumed PJ would be gone after this season anyway, but both he and UK made it official.

Then, Ashton Hagans announced he would return for a sophomore season.

That leaves questions surrounding Keldon Johnson (likely gone) and Tyler Herro on their status for next season.

Both Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report released their newest mock drafts, and three Wildcats are projected first-round picks.

PJ Washington

Sports Illustrated: Round 1, Pick 11 - Los Angeles Lakers

Bleacher Report: Round 1, Pick 10 - Minnesota Timberwolves

PJ has shot himself up the draft boards with his fantastic sophomore season. Washington dominated despite some early struggles in the early season. He became Kentucky’s go-to scorer and number one option on offense.

Both SI and BR see PJ as a top-11 pick in the draft and rightfully so. With projections of Washington landing in LA to play along with former Wildcat Rajon Rondo and the G.O.A.T LeBron James, that could be an appealing spot for a team in need of a serious stretch four.

If Washington lands in Minnesota, he could be part of a young core with tons of potential that already has playoff experience. He would pair up with former Wildcat Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and could spread the floor for both of them.

Keldon Johnson

Sports Illustrated: Round 1, Pick 18 - Boston Celtics

Bleacher Report: Round 1, Pick 17 - Orlando Magic

Keldon Johnson was projected as Kentucky’s top NBA draft prospect for the majority of the season, and I still believe that is true. The NBA drafts off of potential and Keldon is full of it. He has the body and athletic ability to succeed in the NBA, he just needs to work on some things. His play this season dropped him out of the top-10 and the lottery all together, but if he does fall, he’ll land in two good spots with Boston and Orlando, both playoff teams this season.

Boston obviously is going to be a force in the East for years to come with a core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, and maybe Kyrie Irving if they can keep him. Keldon would backup both Brown and Tatum, and bring everything to the table that they do.

In Orlando, KJ would be joining a group that has just reached their first playoff since 2012 and is loaded with young players. Guys like Aaron Gordon, Vucevic, Jon Isaac, and Markelle Fultz, Johnson could succeed there as well.

Tyler Herro

Sports Illustrated: Round 1, Pick 16 - Orlando Magic

Bleacher Report - Round 1, Pick 24 - Philadelphia 76ers

Tyler Herro is the big question mark surrounding who stays and who goes from this years team. He played himself into the first-round this season, but people seem to think he’s A.) not ready for the physicality of the league, and B.) a late first-round pick.

Tyler Herro would fair well in Philly, a team that has three star-players in Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Jimmy Butler. Herro would also be playing behind JJ Reddick and have a chance to learn from him and the way that he plays. Philly adding Herro would be a huge addition.

And for Orlando, take everything I said about Keldon and apply that to Herro as well. Both would succeed well down in Orlando, being surrounded by young talent on and up-and-coming team.