It featured a pair of lottery picks to go with two second-round picks, which is actually one of the thinner drafts for former Cats we’ve seen under John Calipari.
What will 2019 look like for the Cats?
Not only is Kentucky loaded with a roster already garnering preseason No. 1 rankings, but it also has seven former McDonald’s All-Americans in Reid Travis, PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickley, EJ Montgomery, Nick Richards and Quade Green.
You can pretty much add Ashton Hagans to that group, as he was ranked No. 6 overall in 2019 before reclassing to 2018.
That’s eight big-time talents that could hear their names called in what’s shaping up to be a very weak 2019 draft class.
Back in March, ESPN NBA Draft experts Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz wrote about how weak the 2019 class looks so far, calling it “abnormally weak.”
Virtually every NBA executive we spoke with was disappointed in the lack of sure-fire All-Star players at the top of this class. This might cause some teams to lower their asking prices during the offseason for 2019 draft picks, as this is widely shaping up to be an abnormally weak group of prospects available to be picked throughout the first round. A trickle-down effect appears to be happening this year, as a number of highly regarded prospects who were expected to enter the 2018 NBA draft reportedly are considering returning to school for another year.
They went on to say that, after Duke wings Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett, the talent in this draft drops off big time. Even Zion Williamson isn’t considered a great NBA prospect, partly because it’s not even clear what position he’d play in the pros.
But even if Zion turns out to be an elite NBA prospect, there’s really not much to speak of after the top 2-3 guys.
Even with unexpected returns like Washington, Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford and Missouri’s Jontay Porter — along with the reclassifications of Hagans and Western Kentucky’s Charles Bassey, this is still shaping up to be a thin draft that could have several first-round Cats.
Here’s a look at what some early 2019 mock drafts are projecting for the Cats:
15. Washington Wizards: Keldon Johnson
21. Utah Jazz: Ashton Hagans
22. New Orleans Pelicans: EJ Montgomery
4. Detroit Pistons: Ashton Hagans
7. Charlotte Hornets: Keldon Johnson
29. Toronto Raptors: Keldon Johnson
38. Brooklyn Nets: PJ Washington
Sports Illustrated (ranking):
12. Keldon Johnson
19. PJ Washington
10. Los Angeles Clippers: Keldon Johnson
16. Miami Heat: EJ Montgomery
17. Indiana Pacers: Ashton Hagans
ESPN (from April):
12. New Orleans Pelicans: Keldon Johnson
18. Oklahoma City Thunder: PJ Washington
Again, it’s early, but it’s pretty clear Johnson and Washington are already getting a lot of buzz as potential first-round picks next year. Personally, I think Washington is already set on the 2019 draft, regardless of how his season goes. Saying that, if he just puts up the same numbers he did as a freshman while cutting down on his turnovers, he should go in the late first.
Johnson is as complete of a player as Calipari has landed at Kentucky. He may not be the flashiest player, but he is already very advanced for an incoming freshman wing. If he comes out after one year, he should be a first-round pick.
Hagans is also someone I expect to be a one-and-done that goes in Round 1 of next year’s draft. As thin as this draft will be, it will be even thinner in regards to the point guards in it, making it much easier for him to leave after one season.
Montgomery is the wild card here. He has first-round potential, but he’s still a little raw and will be playing in a stacked frontcourt. If he gets a chance to grow and play heavy minutes into March, I think he’ll show he’s a first-round talent and will be off to the pros in 2019.
You could also call Richards a wild card. As Calipari has said multiple times, Richards has lottery potential, but with Travis, Washington and Montgomery in the frontcourt, the seven-footer may need the Willie Cauley-Stein three-year plan to reach his potential.
Being that this is Kentucky and Calipari is the coach, we should expect an unexpected name to emerge as a potential first-round pick next year, ala Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. I doubt that happens with Quade Green, Jemarl Baker or Immanuel Quickley.
But, maybe Travis can keep improving like he did every year at Stanford and sneak into the end of Round 1, though no projection includes him at this point. At worst, he should go in Round 2.
In the end, I expect UK to lose at least three early-entrants next year, but I also expect it to be a fun and memorable season that ends in the Final Four, so it will be well worth it.