Did sacrificing for the good of the 2017-18 Kentucky team prevent Hamidou Diallo from showing his full range of basketball skills?
Can Kevin Knox maintain a consistent level of intensity?
Could Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s spectacular improvement from November to March continue into the future?
Is PJ Washington merely gathering valuable feedback to use next season for Kentucky and then the 2019 NBA Draft?
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These are among the questions hovering over UK players participating in the NBA Combine which was set to begin Wednesday in Chicago. A fifth Wildcat, freshman Jarred Vanderbilt, was invited to the Combine but tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he does not plan to attend.
Here’s a look at what each player may want to prove at the Combine and in any subsequent workouts for teams:
The second-highest vertical leap ever measured at a Combine last year validated the perception of Diallo as an extraordinary athlete. So the athletic testing this week is beyond redundant.
“We already know he’s a good athlete,” NBA consultant Ryan Blake said. “For him, he has to play. He has to do well in the five-on-fives in every skill to show he knows what he’s doing.”
SI.com went a step further, saying “lack of ball skills have been exposed.”
More than once last season, Diallo said he had to keep his full range of abilities holstered for the sake of the team.
It’s not unusual for a prospect to play out of position or be inhibited in some way in order to help the college team, Blake said.
“But he’s going to have to prove it,” the NBA consultant said of Diallo. The five-on-five games at the Combine can serve this purpose.
“His competitiveness comes and goes sometimes, and he’ll have to get tougher,” SI.com said of UK’s leading scorer last season (15.6 ppg).
Blake echoed the sentiment.
“Knox’s intensity level was a little bit inconsistent (this past season),” said the NBA consultant, who advised Knox to “maybe show that professional work ethic. . . . That he’s ready to be a professional.”
Time is on his side. The NBA is aware that Knox will not turn 19 until August.
Like Knox, Gilgeous-Alexander is projected as a solid first-round pick in the June 21 NBA Draft.
SI.com vividly described the developmental curve in Gilgeous-Alexander’s freshman season: “Timid in November, and finished as one of the most productive point guards in the country.”
Perimeter shooting was not a strength of Gilgeous-Alexander’s game. But his willingness, if not eagerness, to improve made a good impression.
Gilgeous-Alexander could score points, so to speak, by shooting well at the Combine. But if, as expected, he does not play in the five-on-five games, that can be overlooked, Blake said.
The NBA has PJ Washington on its radar. SI.com assessed him as having a “good touch around the basket, a 7’3” wingspan and powerful leaping ability, all of which help him play taller than his height.”
The five-on-five games can enable Washington to reinforce the view that he’s a versatile defender who sets good screens.
To ask about Washington’s NBA Draft stock is to be reminded of the value of going through the evaluation process.
“One good thing that happens when players test (their value at the Combine) is they get educated,” Blake said. “They get coached while they’re there. So it’s also a learning experience. You want to make the right decision.
“If you go back to school and you come back (in 2019), you might not be overwhelmed. You might be more confident.”
Vanderbilt, perhaps the player with the most questions surrounding his UK future, raised even more Tuesday when he tweeted this:
"I've decided not to attend the NBA combine. I'm still weighing my options and working my way through the decision process. Appreciate the continued support!"
When asked earlier how Vanderbilt could improve his draft stock at the NBA Combine, Blake got right to the point.
“Don’t get hurt,” the NBA consultant said. “And when he gets his medical testing, it doesn’t come back as something that’s long-term damage.”
Vanderbilt’s history of injury continued in his freshman season for Kentucky. He missed the first 17 games and the last six games. This makes him something of a mystery.
How does an NBA scout evaluate Vanderbilt? “I don’t know,” said Bobby Marks, who covers NBA front offices for ESPN. “That’s the question.”
SI.com said much the same thing. “His small college sample size . . . makes his NBA fit difficult to peg,” the website said. “Right now, he feels like a tweener.”