Compared to past drafts, the 2018 NBA Draft was a little lighter on Kentucky Wildcats than usual.
Sure, two still went in the lottery, but it was not headlined by Kentucky players as has been the case in previous drafts. The first to go was Kevin Knox at No. 9 overall, and we plan on examining how Knox fits in with the New York Knicks, as well as how the other three Cats fit in with their respective clubs.
Given that only two Wildcats went in the lottery, it may be a matter of how well the respective second-rounders fit in in the G-League, but it is still worth taking a look at the pro prospects for the four Wildcats taken.
Without further ado, let us dive in and take a perspective on how each Cat will fare in their respective rookie seasons and throughout their NBA careers.
(9) Kevin Knox - New York Knicks
Kevin Knox figures to have a great NBA career for a number of reasons, but the primary reason is that he fits where the league has gone, with respect to being a big man that offers plenty of skills typically found in guards.
Knox should be able to function as a stretch 4, and given that the Knicks are a still evolving and developing talent, one would figure the organization does what it can to both get him playing time and see how he fits with the existing pieces on the roster, like Kristaps Porzingis.
Porzingis will not likely be available to begin the 2018 season, which could benefit Knox’s development for the time being. He should get plenty of playing time and touches early on as he develops a feel for how he can best adapt his game to the NBA’s style.
Given an NBA comparison of Tobias Harris by NBADraft.net (and by Chauncey Billups during the draft presentation on ESPN), Knox will be a capable scorer from day one.
What he will have to avoid is his tendency to fade during games, but given that the Knicks are largely a work-in-progress, he will spend a lot of his time simply adapting to pick and roll situations that the Knicks will run with last year’s lottery pick Frank Ntilikina.
Knox’s ability to move off of the ball and his high release point should get him plenty of good shots, even as the Knicks try to figure out just what they have in Knox, and others. The best part about Knox is that he should be able to adapt to whatever role the Knicks ultimately decide is best for him.
All that said, he projects anywhere from being a very solid role player to a “semi-star” but he is not really the type of player that is expected to be a superstar, nor are any of the other Wildcats taken in the 2018 draft.
With proper seasoning though, the Knicks should have a career-starter type who can blend well on offense and complement Porzingis very well if he’s available later in the 2018-19 season.
Projection: Strong role player
(11) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - Los Angeles Clippers (via trade)
Gilgeous-Alexander was linked as high as No. 6 overall to the Orlando Magic in pre-draft reports, but he ended up going more where people expected when he was taken No. 11 overall and dealt to the Clippers.
Gilgeous-Alexander may be the best point guard in the draft, and the Clippers were searching for immediate help at that position after surrendering Chris Paul in a trade a season ago. The Clippers are an interesting team in a lot of ways, because there is sufficient talent to remain a playoff club, but not enough to be any real sort of threat to the best teams in the Western Conference.
It is hard to say the team is rebuilding with the veterans still on its roster, but Gilgeous-Alexander will have a golden opportunity to lead a veteran team in his first NBA season.
That said, point guards typically have the toughest adjustment of any position when transitioning to the NBA level, and Gilgeous-Alexander more than has his work cut out for himself in that respect.
First off, he should be able to be a premier defender at both guard positions from day one, given his impressive 7-foot wingspan and 6-6 height. He has the work ethic to become a lock-down defender, and his 1.6 steals per game last season were hardly the result of pure gambling. Gilgeous-Alexander is also a capable mid-range shooter, which is another skill that usually translates right away. Before he is ready to matchup against 2 guards, he might need to add some bulk and strength, but his footwork will aid him until his body is more NBA ready.
Billups was extremely high on his prospects during the ESPN broadcast, and that is no small billing from a guy who was a great defender and leader during his NBA career. The Clippers might give him a shot at the starting role, but do not expect it to be without its obstacles and bumps.
The Clippers got themselves a great point guard, it is just a matter of not expecting too much too soon, and what happens with the remainder of the roster is still anyone’s guess because the Clippers are clearly a team in that dreaded region of “NBA limbo,” being too good for the lottery (though there) and not good enough to contend. That is hardly Gilgeous-Alexander’s concern though, as he begins to carve his name in an ideal location, given the lack of guards to challenge him for playing time in Los Angeles.
Projection: Career starter, in time
(41) Jarred Vanderbilt - Denver Nuggets (via trade)
Vanderbilt was the first Cat taken in the second round by Orlando, but then he was quickly dealt to the Nuggets. The Nuggets could find playing time for Vanderbilt, but judging by the recent history of the team, it seems more likely he spends most of this season playing in the G-League.
Denver drafted Malik Beasley two seasons ago in the middle of the first round, and he still has yet to crack the rotation in any meaningful way. Denver has a lot of talent, but little of it is “top shelf,” which leaves most of their positions in a logjam of sorts. Vanderbilt will have the opportunity to learn from veteran forward Wilson Chandler.
Chandler is actually a very similar player, given the ‘tweener similarities, versatility on the defensive end, and outstanding athleticism. All things said, Vanderbilt probably would have been better off returning to UK for another season or two, but he does have NBA talent and the chance at a real NBA career.
His nearly 40-inch vertical will bode well for him and should help him become an even stronger rebounder, but the Nuggets also are more or less just rolling the dice on his talents by dealing for him in the second round.
There is the outside chance that he just blows everyone away and becomes a rotation player in his rookie season, but the past track record of Denver leads us to believe he spends far more time dominating the G-League. And that could be just as good for his development as more time under John Calipari.
It just seems that with him having missed time due to injury, and being one of the draft’s youngest players, that more NCAA seasoning would have been his best option. Whatever the case, we wish the young buck luck as he tries to prove himself as the next level.
ProjectIon: Potential role player
(45) Hamidou Diallo - Oklahoma City Thunder (via trade)
Diallo is quite raw, and he is also destined to spend probably the entire year in the G-League. But he is also an outstanding athlete with an NBA-ready body and the talents to become a rotation shooting guard for many years to come if he continues to work.
The Thunder certainly have sufficient depth at the guard positions to render his NBA prospects something of a long shot, but Oklahoma City could hardly resist rolling the dice on a guy with a 6’11” wingspan and 44” vertical leap.
The most realistic prospect for him next season is that he simply wins the G-League dunk contest, while showing what he can do defensively against fringe NBA talents in the Developmental League. He had already thought of entering the 2017 draft, but knew he had little chance of being selected high and chose to return to Kentucky.
After another year at the college level, he had done little more than assure second-round status, but getting drafted is one step in the right direction.
To become a legitimate NBA talent, he needs to add a lot of skills he has yet to incorporate into his repertoire: his ball handling is weak at best, and his shooting ability is lacking. He tries to do too much at times, but the thought is that with some seasoning in the G-League he can figure some of this out and perhaps become a third guard in Oklahoma City’s rotation by next season.
And if he does not do that, the Thunder certainly expended little in rolling the dice on the No. 45 overall pick.
Projection: G-League All-Star, longshot NBA prospect