With another No. 1-ranked recruiting class waiting in the wings, there are still plenty of questions regarding what John Calipari’s roster will look like next season at Kentucky.
It’s established that five-star recruits Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Malik Monk will all be Wildcats, and there’s still a chance that five-star center Marques Bolden will join them.
So, which of the current high-profile Cats will be back for another run?
The latest NBA mock draft from DraftExpress.com was released this week and includes four UK players in the top 60, with two others within striking distance of second-round status.
There still are seven regular-season games and the tournaments to go, so there’s time for these projections to change. Newly adopted NBA Draft rules will allow college players more time to make their final stay-or-go decisions, with a deadline of May 25 for players to withdraw their names from consideration.
For now, it’s shaping up as another draft night heavy on former Wildcats.
Skal Labissiere — projected as the No. 1 overall pick coming into the season — is no longer the top UK player on the DraftExpress.com board.
Still, despite Labissiere’s lackluster play — 7.0 points and 2.9 rebounds in 16.8 minutes per game — the 6-foot-11 freshman is projected by DraftExpress.com analyst Jonathan Givony as the No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft.
“He’s 7 feet tall. He’s extremely athletic,” Givony told the Herald-Leader. “He has nice touch. I think he’s skilled. He’s a very good shot blocker, averaging four blocks per 40 minutes. It’s hard to find guys like him.”
Labissiere caught the attention of NBA scouts after his performance in April’s Nike Hoop Summit practices, where he went head to head with projected No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and the best post players in his own recruiting class.
“He destroyed them,” Givony said. “A lot of the scouts are wondering, is Kentucky a place for development or is it more of a place to go and showcase yourself if you’re ready to play right away. He’s obviously on a very short leash over there.
“Just because he’s not producing right now doesn’t mean he can’t still develop into a really good player. And I think he will. I really do.”
Fellow freshman Jamal Murray has supplanted Labissiere as the No. 1 Wildcat in the mock draft, coming in at No. 8 overall.
His NBA readiness has been particularly apparent over the past couple of games, in which Murray has averaged 29.5 points and made 14 of 20 three-point attempts.
“He’s just a really polished guy for someone who’s 18 years old,” Givony said. “For him to be scoring the way he has in the SEC, that’s impressive. That perimeter shooting ability, that ability to throw it up from all over the floor — that’s what a lot of teams are looking for.”
Freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe is No. 32 on the DraftExpress board — two spots outside of the first round.
“I know for a fact that he’s going to at least try to enter the draft,” Givony said. “Is he going to stay in? I don’t know. Kentucky has an unbelievable class coming in. He might think to himself, are things going to be that much better for me next year with Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox?”
Fox and Monk — both lead guards — are considered top-10 national prospects, and their addition means Briscoe probably will be playing primarily off the ball if he chooses to return.
That’s been his role this season with Tyler Ulis running the point.
“He’s playing out of position,” Givony said of Briscoe. “And for a guy who is not a very good shooter, to be playing without the ball is difficult. That projection is based on the kind of player they think he could be if he was in a more optimal situation to showcase his strengths.”
Briscoe projects as a point guard or combo guard in the NBA. Offensively, he’s best with the ball in his hands. Defensively, his frame makes him a more versatile pro prospect.
“He’s long enough to play the ‘2,’ and he’s really strong on top of that,” Givony said.
Givony characterized Ulis, currently listed at No. 51 overall, as one of the toughest players to project. He pointed out that each NBA franchise has a handful of personnel dedicated to the draft, and opinions will differ from scout to scout and team to team, especially on a player like Ulis, whose size would make him an outlier in the league.
“Would it shock me if he ended up being a first-round pick? Absolutely not,” Givony said. “There’s a range that these guys can go in, and his range is a little bit bigger, being a 5-9 guy.”
One argument is that — since Ulis is not going to get any taller — he might as well jump to the NBA now.
Givony said Ulis’ decision would be more complex than that, and NBA personnel aren’t always the most honest when explaining those complexities.
“Another year in college could make him potentially more ready to help an NBA team,” he said. “You’re going to get stronger, you’re going to mature. You’re going to be a year closer to being ready to be in an NBA rotation.
“The problem is that’s not how NBA teams draft. They say that all the time, but that’s not how they act. If you look at the track record, they punish guys for staying in school. They’re always going to go for the mystery guys that might end up being great but probably won’t be.”
Lee, listed at No. 74 on the DraftExpress Top 100 list, has gone 11 consecutive games without scoring in double digits. He’s fouled out in five of those 11 games and has logged more than five rebounds in only one of the past eight games.
“We haven’t seen a lot of progress from him in the last three years,” Givony said. “He’s still, for the most part, kind of the same guy. At some point the potential starts wearing off and people start expecting production.”
Poythress is No. 86 on the Top 100 list.
“If you look around the NBA, there aren’t that many 6-8 power forwards who can’t shoot,” Givony said. “And that’s going to be the challenge for him. His defense, his athleticism — that’s going to give him a chance, but gone are the days that you would peg this guy as a top-20 pick. It’s just not there.”
DraftExpress.com mock draft lottery picks for 2016
- 1. Ben Simmons (Louisiana State)
- 2. Brandon Ingram (Duke)
- 3. Dragan Bender (International)
- 4. Kris Dunn (Providence)
- 5. Jaylen Brown (California)
- 6. Henry Ellenson (Marquette)
- 7. Jakob Poeltl (Utah)
- 8. Jamal Murray (Kentucky)
- 9. Diamond Stone (Maryland)
- 10. Skal Labissiere (Kentucky)
- 11. Buddy Hield (Oklahoma)
- 12. Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame)
- 13. Ivan Rabb (California)
- 14. Furkan Korkmaz (International)