UK Men's Basketball

New NBA mock draft shakes up order of UK players (and what it could mean for next season)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the MVP of the SEC Tournament over the weekend.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the MVP of the SEC Tournament over the weekend. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Just in time for the first week of NCAA Tournament play, ESPN has released an updated mock draft and prospect rankings for this year’s NBA Draft.

There’s also a new top Cat on ESPN’s list.

UK freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has moved up to No. 13 overall — lottery range — in the latest ESPN mock draft posted Monday morning. The Wildcats guard was the MVP of the Southeastern Conference Tournament over the weekend, and — in a separate post Monday — was singled out by ESPN as one of the biggest “risers” in conference tournament play.

Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 21.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.7 assists and just 1.7 turnovers in three SEC Tournament games.

ESPN’s mock draft sends him to the Denver Nuggets, with a starting salary of $3,020,280 if he’s selected with the No. 13 overall pick.

Fellow UK freshman Kevin Knox is No. 15 — the first pick outside of lottery range — in ESPN’s new mock draft, going to the Phoenix Suns. Being selected in that spot would net Knox a starting salary of $2,725,680.

No other UK player is listed as a first-round pick, but freshman guard Hamidou Diallo, who tested the NBA waters after last season, is slotted at No. 43 overall in the ESPN mock draft, going to the Los Angeles Lakers with that pick.

Diallo is widely expected to again go through the NBA Draft process after this season. Also seen as a possible early entrant is injured UK freshman Jarred Vanderbilt, who is not listed in ESPN’s mock draft but is ranked No. 60 overall on the website’s latest Top 100 rankings for this year’s draft. That would make him the very last pick of the draft, if he ended up there and all the players in front of him declared, based on ESPN’s projections.

Vanderbilt, who missed the first 17 games of UK’s season with a foot injury, is currently sidelined with a sprained ankle that kept him out of the SEC Tournament. He’s emerged as one of the best rebounders in the country during his time on the court this season.

No other UK players were listed in ESPN’s top 100 rankings.

Even if Diallo and Vanderbilt opted for the pros — and there’s obviously still a good chance either or both could be back in Lexington next season — the ESPN projections would mean the return of Quade Green, PJ Washington, Nick Richards, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones, five key contributors off this season’s team. UK also has scholarship players Jemarl Baker and Tai Wynyard on the roster, though Baker has missed all of this season with an injury and Wynyard is currently suspended indefinitely, leaving his return next season in question.

The Cats also have three highly touted players — point guard Immanuel Quickley, shooting guard Tyler Herro and wing Keldon Johnson — signed for next season. UK is still recruiting five-star post player E.J. Montgomery, and class of 2019 point guard Ashton Hagans is a UK target who might move to the 2018 class in time for next season.

Barring a wave of surprise postseason decisions, John Calipari’s 2018-19 team is shaping up as an uber-talented blend of returning players and five-star recruits.

Now, back to this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky has made the tournament 56 times, the most in NCAA history. But that's not where its superiority in the tournament record books stops.

Kentucky has made the tournament 56 times, the most in NCAA history. But that's not where its superiority in the tournament record books stops.

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