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Latest ESPN mock draft has 2 Wildcats in the lottery

UK is poised for a strong showing when the NBA Draft tips off on Thursday.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Houston vs Kentucky Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats are set to have three first-round picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft. Two of them may end up being in the lottery.

To this point, the majority of NBA mock draft projections have had just one Wildcat cracking the first 14 picks, which has been PJ Washington for the most part.

However, several recent projections have Tyler Herro creeping into the end of the lottery, including the latest from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.

First up in this projection is Washington, who goes 13th to the Miami Heat, which has become a popular projection leading up to the draft. That would mean UK fans get to see Washington and former Wildcats star Bam Adebayo team up in the same frontcourt.

With Bam Adebayo likely being suited to seeing significant minutes at the center position, it’s difficult to point to another long-term option at the power forward spot that the team can build around, which could make a player in Washington’s mold make sense.

Washington has the length to defend multiple positions on the interior, he can stretch the floor from the perimeter and he brings plenty of long-term upside. His toughness and versatility will fit well on any team.

Up next is Herro, who goes 14th to the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics could lose quite a bit of firepower in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier off to free agency and neither player being a lock to return. That makes drafting a combo guard such as Herro -- who can play pick-and-roll, make shots while set or on the move and bring competitiveness and feel -- appealing here.

Herro has slowly moved up draft boards with strong workouts and interviews given the dearth of shooting in a league that desperately covets dynamic players in his mold.

Finally, Keldon Johnson goes 18th to the Indiana Pacers.

A huge chunk of the Pacers’ rotation is entering free agency this summer, including most of their wing depth, which could cause the team to look at adding a small forward via the draft.

The Pacers have long valued toughness, versatility and 3-point shooting -- all strengths for Johnson. Although his struggles creating offense off the dribble caused his stock to fall somewhat, Johnson won’t need to be much of a ball handler on this team in the short term.

This is one of the few mock drafts that have three Wildcats cracking the first 20 picks, which would make for a great night for John Calipari and his program.

This would also be great news for all three Wildcat draftees, as the Heat, Pacers and Celtics are three good organizations to land with.

Here is what the lottery of this projection looks like:

  1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, Duke Blue Devils
  2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, Murray State Racers
  3. New York Knicks: RJ Barrett, Duke Blue Devils
  4. New Orleans Pelicans: Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech Red Raiders
  5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland, Vanderbilt Commodores
  6. Phoenix Suns: Colby White, North Carolina Tar Heels
  7. Chicago Bulls: De’Andre Hunter, Virginia Cavaliers
  8. Atlanta Hawks: Cam Reddish, Duke Blue Devils
  9. Washington Wizards: Sekou Doumbouya, France
  10. Atlanta Hawks: Jaxson Hayes, Texas Longhorns
  11. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nassir Little, North Carolina Tar Heels
  12. Charlotte Hornets: Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga Bulldogs
  13. Miami Heat: PJ Washington, Kentucky Wildcats
  14. Boston Celtics: Tyler Herro, Kentucky Wildcats