With the 2018 NBA Draft having passed, we’re starting to get a look at how the 2019 class could shape up.
Of course, it’s going to include several Kentucky Wildcats, which has been the case every year under John Calipari. Since Cal came to Lexington, UK has had at least two first-round picks in every draft, and 2019 will be no different.
However, there’s a lot of debate as to which Cats could be first-round talents in a weaker 2019 class. But one name consistently being projected in the first-round range is incoming freshman Keldon Johnson.
The physical wing is ranked No. 16 in Sports Illustrated’s early big board for next season, which ranks the top 60 prospects.
He’s extremely competitive and can bully opponents with a consistent mid-range game and ability to finish around the basket with either hand. Johnson is physically mature and highly polished in terms of skills and approach, and should put up numbers for Kentucky early in the season. If he continues to shoot consistently from three-point range, he should be able to put himself in the first-round mix, but he may lack elite upside given he relies more on strength than explosiveness.
Not far behind is sophomore forward PJ Washington, who checks in at No. 19 after a promising freshman season.
Washington was at his best playing as a small-ball five this season, with freakish length that helps compensate for his lack of height, and returns to Kentucky expected to anchor the frontcourt with his rebounding and finishing skills. He was impressive at the combine with his overall work rate and court awareness, and will have a much better shot at the first round in 2019. He doesn’t have crazy upside, but his skill level on the interior and quickness off the floor could make him a quality role player.
I think it’s almost a given those two will be first-round picks in 2019 if they stay healthy next season. Their talent is going to be hard for 30 teams to pass on in the first round of next year’s draft, which really thins out after the first 5-10 picks.
I also think there’s a decent chance EJ Montgomery would be a first-round pick if he came out, but for now, he’s ranked No. 36 in this ranking.
Montgomery is a talented big with ball skills who will be in the mix at Kentucky and will have a shot at the first round with a strong season. In the past, he’s had a penchant for spending too much time trying to be a guard, and his toughness has been questioned. Still, as a smooth, versatile lefty with inside-out game, his potential to space the floor will certainly pique scouts’ interest.
Last but certainly not least, new UK big man Reid Travis comes in at No. 55:
His future role is likely as a small-ball center, where his defensive mobility and thick upper body could make him an asset in switch-heavy schemes. Travis is a plus rebounder who’s comfortable doing the dirty work and has begun to develop some range on his jumper. There’s a chance he’s the engine that drives Kentucky in smaller, versatile looks alongside P.J. Washington.
This ranking does not include Ashton Hagans or Nick Richards, both of whom I feel good about being drafted if they come out next year. That said, it’s clear that entering next season, UK doesn’t have a lot of sure-fired NBA talent that they’ve become accustomed to.
The good news is UK actually has more experience and depth than we’ve seen recently, which is why they’re the favorite to win it all next season. If that comes to fruition, then we should probably expect it to lead to 4-6 players leaving for the pros next year.