On Tuesday, Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo of ESPN released their latest 2024 NBA top 25 draft prospects, and the Cats have four players getting selected in the first round.
Justin Edwards is the first Cats that appear in the rankings as ESPN has him as the No. 13 overall prospect. Prior to the season, Edwards was viewed as a top-five draft pick and now has fallen almost out of the lottery.
Here’s what Woo had to say about Edwards.
Edwards has the frame and tools to succeed at the NBA level, but underwhelming early play has thrown his draft stock into flux. He hasn’t shot well — a skill that was purported as his calling card — and hasn’t looked fully prepared for college competition, which is harder to swallow considering he’s set to turn 20 years old, making him a year or more older than many freshmen. He currently projects safest as an off-ball floor-spacing wing due to his limited feel, a role that can certainly earn him good draft position, but it will be on Edwards to make a more convincing case by making 3s and contributing positively on the defensive end. Frankly, he hasn’t looked like a potential lottery pick, and expectations might need to be reframed some.
Rob Dillingham was previously ranked as the No. 31 overall pick but now has become the second Kentucky player listed at No. 16 overall.
Dillingham has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the freshman class, shooting the ball significantly better and playing a far more under-control, relatively mistake-free style than he did before Kentucky. Dillingham is one of the draft’s most talented ball handlers and passers, showing impressive speed, pace and feel for the game while getting to the right spots on the floor and making the game easy for teammates. The biggest question Dillingham will face comes on the defensive end, where he has little room for error having measured several times at 6-1½ with just a 6-2 wingspan; poor dimensions for an NBA point guard. His size affects him most vividly defensively, where his intensity comes and goes and he can be very casual with his approach, especially off the ball.
Reed Sheppard made the biggest jump out of anyone as he was not ranked in the previous rankings and is now listed as the No. 22 overall player.
Sheppard has been a revelation for Kentucky this season, turning in several strong showings and forcing his way into the draft conversation. While his more touted teammates have largely struggled, Sheppard has been a constant with his perimeter shooting, energy, poise and excellent decision-making. Sheppard doesn’t have a great physical profile for an NBA guard and wasn’t expected to challenge for one-and-done status — and it might ultimately benefit him in the long term to spend multiple seasons in college — but he has stepped up when sorely needed, which has been hard to ignore considering the context. It’s not hard to see him finding his way into an NBA role, but he’s also not the type of guard in which teams traditionally invest high-end draft capital.
DJ Wagner is the fourth Kentucky player in the top 25, but he also saw his ranking drop as he fell from No. 14 overall to No. 24 overall.
Wagner was up and down in his first seven games before suffering an ankle injury. He looked inconsistent as a finisher, shooter, playmaker and defender, which gives him quite a bit of room to improve when he returns to the lineup for Kentucky soon. His creativity operating off crossovers and hesitation moves is intriguing when paired with the touch he shows on floaters and short-range shots, and he has shown some flashes of playmaking defensively that could be harnessed as his thin frame continues to fill out. SEC competition will tell us a lot more about Wagner’s standing in this draft, as opinions vary drastically in NBA circles on how to evaluate him long-term.
You can check out the entire updated top 25 prospects from ESPN here.