I never enjoy writing this article because it means that the season is over. The Kentucky Wildcats were defeated by Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers. Once again, a more talented UK team went down to a team that was inferior.
More than most years, there are questions about who is staying and who is going. There are no surefire top 10 draft picks for the Cats this season, which is a first in the John Calipari era.
There are two guys that we know for sure are going. One of those is Reid Travis because he’s a senior and unfortunately his eligibility is up.
I’ll rank these in order from most likely to least likely to leave.
Washington came back for his sophomore year in order to improve his outside shot and to become more of a consistent player. He accomplished those goals and then some.
PJ was this team’s best player and there isn’t a question about it. He’s ready for the draft and we are all going to hold a special place in our hearts for what he did in the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight with an injured foot.
Most draft predictions have him being drafted late in the first round. There’s a chance that he could sneak into the lottery if he can go to the combine and show the NBA scouts that he is indeed an NBA style stretch four.
Keldon Johnson is the Cat that has the best chance to be in the lottery but he’s right on the fringe. He started the season strong but as the games got tougher his improvement wasn’t what BBN thought it would be.
Johnson has the prototypical NBA body for a wing player but his outside shot was very inconsistent and he had trouble finishing at the rim against size. His stock has steadily dropped over the duration of the season.
I think there’s a chance that Keldon returns much like PJ Washington did in order to improve his draft stock. There’s no doubt that he will test the waters and I think it all depends upon whether or not he feels strongly enough that he will indeed be in the lottery.
After the game, Keldon Johnson talked about getting back into the gym and getting ready for next season. I wouldn’t read too much into it because it was made after a hard loss and in the moment.
After PJ and Keldon, the waters get muddy. The reason I have Ashton here is because of what UK has coming in. Do I think he should return? Yes. Do I want him to return? Absolutely. I think a second year Ashton Hagans could be major for Kentucky...but as a second fiddle to Tyrese Maxey.
Maxey is De’Aaron Fox lite and will come in as the starting point guard immediately. The kid is that good. Some projections have Hagans late second round at best. Like Keldon Johnson, he will test the NBA waters.
UK is going to, once again, have an overabundance of guards next season. Will Hagans stick around and take a back-up role if Maxey is as good as advertised? Quade Green came back and transferred in the middle of the season because he saw his role diminishing.
Will Hagans look at Green’s decision to return as a mistake and get out while he can?
At the beginning of the season we were banking on Herro being back for two to three more seasons. But then he emerged as one of the best offensive players in the SEC and immensely improved his defense.
I do think Herro will test the NBA Combine in order to get feedback. Herro seemed surprised after the game when a reporter asked him what his plans for his decision is going to be after the season.
The question is is he physically ready for the NBA because I think mentally he is. If Tyler Herro returns I think he is an SEC Player of the Year candidate and he could work himself into the lottery. I also think he will be seen as Kentucky’s best player as well.
I think I just talked myself into Herro coming back.
Nick Richards isn’t going to the NBA. But will he test the transfer pool like Sacha Killeya-Jones?
While Richards’ improvement has not gone the way fans or Calipari would have liked it, this team will need him next season. For the moment, Calipari has no bigs committed for the 2019 recruiting class and it’s not looking good for guys like Jaden McDaniels and Matthew Hurt.
Will things ever click with Richards? I don’t know but I think it’s imperative he comes back and gives it another go at UK.
I think, next to Herro, EJ has the most upside of players that are likely to return. The physical talent is there and Montgomery had moments where he was an absolute force in the middle on defense. I am of the belief that he should have played more versus Auburn in order to shut down Jared Harper driving to the rim.
Montgomery doesn’t have much prospect of being drafted and I don’t think he will even consider a transfer. Montgomery’s return is going to be massively important for the Cats.
Immanuel Quickley will be a valuable guard off of the bench for Kentucky because he can play both the point and shooting guard. Defensively he was very good and he’s a cautious guard with a low turnover rate. But just like the situation with Hagans mentioned above, Quickley could look to move if he thinks he’ll be lost in the shuffle like Green this season.
I think there is more to Baker than we saw this season. He had some moments, specifically against Wofford, where he made a difference for the Cats. I also think with a full healthy offseason he can get his shot worked out and come back as another threat from three off the bench.