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3 Wildcats in top 20 of ESPN’s NBA Draft rankings

All three of the Cats have the potential to be selected earlier than their rankings.

Jamie Boggs - Sea of Blue

One day before the 2019 NBA Draft, ESPN released its final version of the “best available” player rankings.

There are not very many surprises. But the landing spot for the three Kentucky Wildcats prospects in confirmation of what we have already heard: they will all be off the board before pick No. 20.

While there has been buzz that Tyler Herro may be the first Wildcat selected, PJ Washington is ranked first of the group at No. 16. Herro comes in at No. 18, with Keldon Johnson right behind him at No. 19.

However, almost every mock draft has all three players coming off the board earlier than their ranking, which does not take into account individual workouts or team-specific needs. ESPN does provide a full analysis of each draftable player.

No. 16 - PJ Washington

Strengths- Not particularly tall at 6-8 in shoes, but has a chiseled frame, big hands, a 7-3 wingspan and an 8-11 standing reach that should allow him to see minutes as a small-ball center. Fairly quick off his feet and has solid explosiveness off two feet.

- Developed into a versatile offensive player in his sophomore season, converting 42% of his 3-point attempts and 55% of his 2s. Was utilized in a variety of ways at Kentucky -- both facing and with his back to the basket, playing as a pick-and-roll finisher and moving off the ball in open spaces. Creative finisher with good hands and touch.

- Can make an impact as a defender and rebounder thanks to his length and improved conditioning and activity level. Showed a lot of toughness by playing through injury in the NCAA tournament. Ticks quite a few boxes on both ends of the floor. Has a high floor.

Improvement areas- Awareness is average on both ends of the floor. Not a great passer -- posted a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. Split-second late rotating and making decisions defensively at times. Didn’t always play with a consistent motor earlier on in his career.

- Shot the ball well as a sophomore (33-of-78 from 3) but that was on a small sample size and an outlier compared to the rest of his career. Made just 63% of his free throws in college.

- Spent nearly the entire pre-draft process in a boot after injuring his foot and playing through injury in the tournament. Well-known player to teams, but inability to conduct private workouts may not be ideal.

No. 18 - Tyler Herro

Strengths- Solid positional size for a combo guard at 6-6 in shoes despite short arms. Decent frame at 192. Scrappy defender who shows an impressive competitive level on and off the ball.

- High-level shooter who can fill it up out of a variety of actions, especially off the dribble. Can hop or 1-2 into pull-up 3s. Capable of creating space with step-backs. Great elevation and balance. Catches on the hop in transition. Can sprint off screens or into handoffs. Shot 93.5% from the free throw line as a freshman. Picturesque shooting stroke.

- Has offensive upside beyond shooting. Played some PG at the prep level. Comfortable in second-side pick-and-roll. Can make basic reads out of pin-downs or ball screens. Changes speeds to get into his pull-ups. Has touch on floaters.

Improvement areas- Lacks a degree of defensive upside. Likely at his best guarding point guards in the NBA given his wingspan. Good but not great feet. Struggled with quicker guards like Jared Harper at the collegiate level. Will have to get by on feel and toughness in the NBA.

- Live-dribble game and finishing package are still developing. Made only 24 shots at the rim in the half-court in 37 games. Shot under 50% at the rim and generated only 3.1 free throws per 40 minutes. Has a floater but lacks deceptive finishes. Not overly explosive as a leaper and doesn’t get great extension.

- Given his role as a shot-maker, you’d like to see him knock down more than 35.5% of his 3s once he gets to the NBA. Looks much more comfortable off the dribble, as he ranked in the 47th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers (and only the 25th percentile when contested).

No. 19 - Keldon Johnson

Strengths- Has good physical tools for an NBA wing at 6-6, 216 pounds with a 6-9 wingspan and 8-8 standing reach. Strength and length should allow him to slide up to the power forward position at times in smaller lineups

- Aggressive, versatile player on both ends of the floor. Powerful attacking in a straight line or in the open floor. Capable outside shooter with feet set.

- Highly competitive rebounder and defender. Plays with toughness, intensity and confidence. Has a relatively high floor thanks to his dimensions, ability to guard and make an open shot.

Improvement areas- Not yet a dynamic shooter at this stage, especially pulling up off the dribble or on the move. Has improved, but he’s still very streaky (38% from 3; 70% on free throws). Doesn’t have the quickest release.

- Powerful, but not an especially fluid or explosive athlete creating in the half-court. Struggles to create high-percentage offense for himself or others when he can’t get by opponents in a straight line. Average passer.

- Energetic defender, but not the rangiest or most instinctive player around. Struggles at times to stay in front of smaller and quicker players.

Where will these Wildcats ultimately end up? Tune into ESPN Thursday night at 7:00 pm EST to find out.