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8 Wildcats in ESPN’s latest NBA Draft rankings

Reed Sheppard continues to climb up NBA Draft boards.

Reed Sheppard Dylan Ballard - A Sea Of Blue

It’s looking more and more likely that the Kentucky Wildcats will only get to enjoy one season of Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard.

Coming into the season, Sheppard wasn’t on anyone’s NBA Draft boards, while Dillingham was viewed as a fringe NBA prospect who could likely use multiple years of college basketball.

That’s not how things have played out, and it’s been a great development for Kentucky, as those two have played at an incredibly high level that has this team thinking about No. 9.

That’s how it will hopefully end, because we’re probably not seeing either one of them back for next season at their current pace. The latest example of why that’s likely is ESPN’s new 2024 NBA Draft rankings, which have Dillingham coming in at No. 7 overall, followed by Sheppard at No. 16.

Here’s what Jeremy Woo had to say about Dillingham.

Dillingham continues to show growth at Kentucky, settling into a role in a crowded backcourt in which he has been able to create and make a positive impact. While not gifted with great size, Dillingham changes speeds and creates off the dribble as well as anyone in this draft class, and he has shown maturity in his adjustment to college basketball coming from Overtime Elite’s more wide-open league. Dillingham’s passing and decision-making has been solid, and he’s shooting well from deep thus far. There’s a variance of opinion on all of Kentucky’s prospects — and Dillingham’s lack of great tools and physicality presents concerns as a viable starter, particularly holding up on the defensive end — but he has certainly helped his standing two months into the season, and there’s some significant upside in the way he creates shots.

And here’s what Jonathan Givony said about Sheppard.

The biggest surprise of the NBA draft cycle thus far, Sheppard has played an essential role in Kentucky’s transformation into one of the fastest-paced offenses in college basketball. He has emerged as arguably the best shooter in the class, shooting 28-for-50 from 3 (56%) through 12 games, while showing high-level pace and court vision whipping passes all over the floor with his terrific feel for the game.

This also manifests itself vividly on the defensive end, with Sheppard generating steals and blocks at an outstanding rate. Measured at just 6-2 with a 6-3 wingspan, Sheppard’s physical tools are a major question mark, especially since he has struggled at times handling pressure and being swallowed up inside the paint as a primary ball handler versus the better teams Kentucky has faced. As good a defender as he is off the ball, he gets overpowered one-on-one by bigger players as well. For those reasons, SEC competition will reveal a lot about Sheppard, particularly in how his role evolves operating behind and alongside Kentucky’s other star freshman guards.

Those are the only two Cats who earned a write-up, but there are several more players within the top 100 NBA prospects ranking.

DJ Wagner comes in at No. 27, followed by Justin Edwards at 28, Aaron Bradshaw at 36, Ugonna Onyenso at 58, Zvonimir Ivisic at 70, and Tre Mitchell at 77.

Go here to check out ESPN’s complete NBA Draft rankings.