While fans are used to hearing of many Kentucky Wildcats projected to be selected in the first round, this year, it’s really only one name that was consistently talked about in Lexington, freshman phenom TyTy Washington.
Oscar Tshiebwe, the National Player of the Year, could’ve gone pro and been selected but opted to head back to college in hopes of enhancing his draft stock. Given the NIL offerings, it’s likely a smart decision for the rebounding machine.
Aside from Washington, Shaedon Sharpe, who never stepped on the court for head coach John Calipari, will also garner some attention given his immense playmaking and extremely high ceiling at the sport’s highest level.
Washington and Sharpe will be the two Kentucky players to hear their names called. Let’s dive into where recent mock drafts are projecting the two Wildcat standouts.
Shaedon Sharpe — No. 7 to the Portland Trail Blazers (excerpt)
Sharpe’s standing has solidified with some outstanding showings in competitive private workouts — his performances have improved with every visit, and he has demonstrated significantly more fire than teams expected from the intel they gathered on Sharpe coming out of Kentucky. Damian Lillard is said to be high on Sharpe’s talent, despite Sharpe being 12 years younger and seemingly on a completely different timetable from Lillard. Sharpe is clearly oozing with natural ability, possessing elite physical tools with his exceptional frame, length and explosiveness, to go along with dynamic perimeter shooting ability. There was a reason he was the No. 1-ranked player in his high school class, but his lack of experience and how little he has been evaluated might make it difficult for a team picking higher than this to roll the dice on him.
TyTy Washington — No. 22 to the Memphis Grizzlies
With the impending free agency of backup point guard Tyus Jones, who is in line for a raise after an excellent season, adding depth in the backcourt could make a lot of sense, especially a steady-handed guard like Washington who can play with or without the ball, excels in pick-and-roll and is a strong perimeter shooter. Washington has the size and length to play in many different lineup configurations for a team like Memphis, giving him nice positional versatility to go along with his strong feel for the game.
Shaedon Sharpe — No. 9 to the New Orleans Pelicans (excerpt)
Sharpe’s workouts have been a hot topic around the league over the past two weeks, and while teams have appreciated his willingness to compete against other prospects in three-on-three settings, the sense I get is that he hasn’t moved the needle enough to solidify a spot at the very top of the draft. Teams have expressed concerns about his motor and the fact he hasn’t logged many high-level minutes, and Sharpe hasn’t necessarily assuaged those issues behind the scenes. Still, teams picking toward the back of the lottery don’t expect him to be available there, and he remains a potential trade target for teams looking to move up into the 6-8 range, with Indiana, Portland and New Orleans all in play for him.
TyTy Washington — No. 23 to the Philadelphia 76ers
Unsurprisingly, the 76ers are thought to be exploring trade options including this pick as they look to shore up their supporting cast around Joel Embiid and James Harden. Considering Daryl Morey’s past distaste for using draft picks, it wouldn’t be surprising if someone else drafts here. That said, if Washington falls a bit, he’d be worth considering at this spot. Word is he hasn’t overwhelmed on the workout circuit and could be in for a bit of a slide. Despite an uneven freshman year, there’s still some optimism surrounding Washington’s context, as he played through injury and Kentucky guards have often fared better in the NBA. Still, he isn’t a great athlete or overly tall for a combo guard, and he’s a little bit polarizing, factoring in that he was quite old for a freshman. Washington may ultimately benefit from the fact this is a pretty thin guard draft, and he profiles as a potentially solid rotation option.
Shaedon Sharpe — No. 6 to the Indiana Pacers
TyTy Washington — No. 17 to the Houston Rockets (via Nets)
Shaedon Sharpe — No. 3 to the Houston Rockets
We all need to acknowledge something regarding the top of this year’s draft. The Banchero-Smith-Holmgren 1-2-3 is probably how the draft will shake out, in some order, on Thursday night. That said, the chances of those three players (which is to say: three bigs) actually proving to be the three best players from this draft is small. They each deserve to be where they are projected, but deserve has nothing to do with how this will unfold in the years to come. At least one player outside the top three is going to leapfrog at least one of those guys and wind up being better. So, this is my arrow in the dark. Sharpe hasn’t played competitive basketball in almost a year. He’s a total gamble. There is a lot there, though. Shooting, athleticism, explosiveness, gobs of potential. Some believe he’d be in the No. 1 conversation had he played at Kentucky. He didn’t. Maybe it takes a year or three. But maybe we look up in 10 years and he’s an All-Star. Let’s swing big.
TyTy Washington — No. 19 to the Minnesota Timberwolves
Wonderful shooting touch from the mid-range. Washington’s ability to get into the lane and utilize pick-and-roll scheming is what’s going to safely get him drafted in the first round. He’s a smidge undersized, and I don’t know if he’ll be able to be a starter for more years than not, but I do like his chances of being a good secondary option at the point for years to come.
Shaedon Sharpe — No. 6 to the Indiana Pacers (excerpt)
Sharpe is the most athletic player in this draft class and a dynamic shooter from beyond the arc. There is a ton of mystery surrounding Sharpe after he sat out the second semester at Kentucky. Regardless, Sharpe was the No. 1 player coming out of high school for a reason and the Pacers have room to take a swing at a prospect like Sharpe with Tyrese Haliburton, Malcolm Brogdon and Buddy Hield in the backcourt.
TyTy Washington — No. 21 to the Denver Nuggets
Kentucky head coach John Calipari has a tremendous track record with his former players, particularly guards, being productive pros. Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, Tyler Herro, Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley all played under Coach Cal. Washington played off the ball during his one year at Kentucky but is very comfortable as a primary ball handler and doesn’t have a problem getting downhill and creating for others.
Shaedon Sharpe — No. 5 to the Detroit Pistons
The Pistons dropped to No. 5 as a result of the draft lottery but it puts them in line to shore up their backcourt of the future in Sharpe and Cade Cunningham. Sharpe is a bit of a mystery man after declaring for the draft without playing a single game for Kentucky, but his elite scoring ability and leaping athleticism are a match made in heaven next to a playmaker of Cunningham’s caliber. Sharpe fills the void for a shot-creator in Detroit to round out an impressive and young offensive trio alongside Cunningham and sharpshooter Saddiq Bey.
TyTy Washington — No. 19 to the Minnesota Timberwolves
Washington was once considered to be a potential top-10 pick before injuries and inconsistency derailed his freshman season. The Timberwolves could use some depth in their backcourt behind Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell and if a talent like Washington is still on the board here, they could find their reserve floor general. Washington is a capable pick-and-roll ball-handler and a solid shooter, but he can be a streaky scorer. His ability to play on or off the ball makes him flexible for the team that selects him.