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Kentucky Basketball: Looking at Who Might Go, and Who Might Stay

We've had lots of observations about Kentucky's players, and who will be entering the draft. Here's some more.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Chad Ford talked with Kyle Tucker the other day, who produced an article summing up the why's and wheretofores of each Kentucky player's motivation to leave. I think Ford is due some respect in this area, as he has spend much of his life examining the college to professional basketball transition.

Having said that, I do think it would be prudent to offer a few observations to compliment his, to the extent I have any. I encourage you to read the article if you haven't, as I won't be quoting each of his points here, but rather adding some additional points of my own.

Julius Randle

Ford's argument is basically, "He's NBA ready enough to go, and he will." I think this is right. Randle could perhaps raise his draft position a spot or two, but it's fairly unlikely he's going to be able to raise it much higher with another year in school. He has holes in his game, but those holes would likely be filled faster in the NBA than in college.

James Young

Essentially, it's the same argument as Randle. Young needs to get better at what he already does well. He can do that in the NBA as well as in college.

Willie Cauley-Stein

When I originally sat down to write this piece, Willie hadn't decided. Now that he has, no observation is necessary. But I think his return does complicate matters for both Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson.

Andrew and Aaron Harrison

These two have always made decisions together, so we'll lump them together for the sake of family tradition.

Ford's observations concerning these two are interesting, and I will quote part of his comments for clarity:

This is the feedback that I've gotten from agents that have interviewed him and their dad: They feel like they weren't showcased or presented as well as they could've been as players and are not sure that another year at Kentucky helps them. They think their game is more ready for the NBA and will show better at the NBA level.

If you are wondering, dear reader, how the part about them "being showcased" is consistent with the comments we have heard from their father earlier this season, you and I are thinking alike. If the Harrison Collective really is concerned about being displayed like meat on the hoof, I would politely suggest that the NBA is a better place for that for sure. No Kentucky fan is going to take the "showcased" comment lightly, as many of us are addicted to basketball as a team sport, not as a stage to be set with the idea that we are peddling young athletic flesh.

I hope this is simply cynical agents either putting words into the mouths of the Harrison Collective, or doing other cynical agent things in order to create outrage to help their nefarious plans. If this really is the attitude of the Harrisons, well, I think I've said enough about that.

Since those observations by Chad Ford, he has since added some more information which can be found in this article by Ben Roberts today. In summary, he says that the Harrison twins wanted to go to the NBA this season but "The challenge for them is that the feedback from the NBA hasn’t been what they want to hear — even with their strong play in the tournament."

Andrew Harrison would probably be drafted in the first round, although I think there is no telling exactly where, and it is possible (but I think not likely) he might slip into the early second round. He projected himself as a combo guard rather than a true point this season, and I think that did him an injustice. I also blame Calipari somewhat for that, although I'm not sure how much. He's pretty likely to spend major time in the Development League before he becomes a rotation player.

Another year in college would almost certainly raise his draft stock significantly, well into the middle of the first round and possibly beyond, rather than the tail of the first round where most have him figured now. In my view, he would better serve his own interest by returning, but his argument for leaving is almost as strong, which is to say, "When opportunity knocks, you should answer the door."

Aaron doesn't have either the elite athleticism or the knock-down shooting ability (yet) to really capture professional interest for anything more than a second-round pick. His skill may translate better to the NBA than college, but he's going to have to prove it either in the D-League without guaranteed money or at Kentucky for another year. He can also use next season to develop into more of a true combo guard, which would be more of a plus for him than Andrew.

Finally, the twins have to decide one other somewhat weighty matter — what is playing together for one more season worth? Either this season or next, the Harrisons are going to be split apart, their time as a "package deal" most likely done for good and all, which will be something they have possibly never experienced. Their odds of becoming a starting back court in the NBA, or even playing for the same team for a significant amount of time, are pretty remote.

If they are happy calling their partnership quits right now, then perhaps the best thing would be for Andrew to enter the draft and Aaron to play at UK for one more season at least. After all, what's the difference? They're going to be split apart anyway, and it's axiomatic that Andrew is likely to be the higher draft pick. The concept that one could not stand the other going pro and him not does not seem likely given the maturity they have displayed at Kentucky.

Dakari Johnson

Chad Ford purports to know the least about Johnson, which seems passing strange since he played almost as much late in the season as Poythress and way more than Lee. But whatever.

Johnson, as Ford said, is not ready. He also said that about every other player except Randle and Young. I also agree with that assessment. Johnson isn't ready, and we all know it. But he has the unteachables — 7'0", 265#. So size-wise, he is ready.

Cauley-Stein's return complicates matters somewhat for Dakari. He may wind up somewhere late in the first round this season if he shows well in workouts, and he will be competing for minutes in a crowded front court next season. I don't think he should go, but I wouldn't rule it out, and I wouldn't rule out him sneaking into the first round. His size and strength are NBA-ready, even if his footwork, skill set, and defense are not. Raw 7-footers get drafted in the first round all the time.

Alex Poythress

Poythress passed the "eye" test in the tournament for Ford. The question will be, is he consistent enough, and does he bring enough tools in his toolbox to warrant a first-round pick? I doubt that, and so does Ford.

Considered in isolation and in addition to Lee and Johnson, Poythress probably has the most to gain from another season at Kentucky. With his elite athleticism, a modest improvement in his skills at ballhandling and shooting could vault him into the first round. If the Alex the Great that we saw at the end of the season shows up with any consistency, he will be in the first round no matter what.

The problem with Poythress staying is that, with WCS coming back, he's going to have to move to the wing forward position. That means this off-season might be do-or-die for him. If he's not able to handle and shoot next season, he might be backing somebody up again at the four. That isn't ideal. He needs to either get starter's minutes, or think about making a stab at the NBA, and I think this is a closer call for him than most Kentucky fans believe.

Marcus Lee

Chad Ford says that somebody would take Lee in the second round, and I think that's right. Lee has displayed a vast upside with his length and athletic ability. He lacks any meaningful basketball skill, however, and it may take more than one year for him to become a viable first-round prospect. He lacks the size to come in and play in the post, but with a bit of work on his face-up game, he could quickly become a dangerous "energy guy" off an NBA bench. But he needs some kind of credible offensive threat, even if it's only a hook shot.

Lee is very likely to stay. His leaving would make Orton's decision to go look like a slam dunk.

There you have it, for what it's worth. I am confident that Julius and James will declare for the NBA. I am also confident Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood will be graduating and have used up their eligibility. Beyond that, I have no confidence in any particular decision.

In order to be an instant contender, Kentucky really needs one of the Harrisons to stay, and if one stays, most likely both will. Besides them or the guys who I think are automatically gone, I think the guys with the most motivation to move on are Johnson and Poythress. Both could improve their stock by coming back, but the crowded front court is going to force Poythress to make his bones on the wing, and Dakari to compete with four other big guys for playing time at two spots. Everyone else is in somewhat of an ideal position, so if they don't get what they want from NBA scouts, coming back is only to their benefit.