With no more University of Kentucky basketball games to be played this season, attention turns to what has become an annual exercise in speculation — who stays at UK and who moves on to the NBA?
Jamal Murray is almost certain to leave Lexington after setting the school’s freshman scoring record and logging the program’s eighth-highest scoring season ever.
DraftExpress.com currently projects Murray as the No. 7 overall pick in the June 23 draft.
Jonathan Givony, the lead analyst for DraftExpress.com, told the Herald-Leader on Monday that Murray is most likely to be taken in the 5-10 range, though he left the door open for him to be selected even higher.
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Givony said Duke’s Brandon Ingram and Louisiana State’s Ben Simmons are likely to be the first two picks — the order is up for debate — and the next tier of talent begins after that.
“There’s not a lot of separation between the different guys in this draft once you get past 2,” he said. “It’s really just whatever flavor you like.”
After Murray, it gets interesting.
DraftExpress.com has Skal Labissiere as the No. 10 overall pick in its latest mock draft. A former No. 1 recruit, Labissiere averaged just 6.6 points and 3.1 rebounds as a freshman at UK.
Still, Givony said NBA scouts remain intrigued by Labissiere’s game, and some of his late-season performances provided a glimpse of his upside.
“A 7-foot, extremely mobile power forward/center who can switch on the pick and roll, who can hedge, who can rotate all over the floor, who can block shots really instinctively and who can also step outside and make shots,” Givony said. “And that’s huge in today’s NBA. It’s hard to find big guys who can do all of those things.”
Givony mentioned the 8-15 range as a likely outcome for Labissiere in this year’s draft. He also thinks the Haiti native will improve his status once NBA teams are allowed to start meeting with prospective draft picks and put them through workouts (a process that is likely to begin in late April).
“I think a lot of it is going to come down to workouts and interviews, and I think Skal is going to do really, really well there,” Givony said. “While some people might have him lower right now, I’m kind of anticipating that he’s going to do really well in the pre-draft process.”
Depending on which team picks Labissiere, he could spend quite a bit of time in the NBA’s developmental league. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Givony said.
“I really think that the D-League has improved remarkably in the past few years,” he said. “And NBA teams are now really heavily involved in that, and they have NBA coaches coaching these guys every single day. And the level of competition is very high. Every guy in the D-League was a first team, all-conference guy. They’re all men, and it’s a much higher level than college.
“I think it will work out fine for him, honestly.”
Sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis is now projected as a first-round pick — DraftExpress has him at No. 19 — and NBA teams are warming up to the first-team All-American despite his lack of size.
“It’s not a very good year for point guards, and he looks like he’s a pretty safe bet to be a really, really good backup point guard in the NBA,” Givony said. “And there’s value in that.
“I don’t want to put a ceiling on where his stock might be a year from now. But I do know that people are discouraged by this year’s draft class, especially at the point guard spot. And they seem to be very encouraged by next year’s draft class.”
DraftExpress.com’s early mock draft for 2017 has four point guards among the top seven overall picks.
The biggest question mark among UK players is Isaiah Briscoe, who excelled as a perimeter defender and rebounded well for his position but struggled mightily with his shot during his freshman season.
Briscoe made just five of 37 three-point attempts (13.5 percent) and was an abysmal 46 percent from the free-throw line.
Projected as a late first-round pick at the beginning of the season, he is now ranked as the No. 80 overall player by DraftExpress.com.
“I’m not sure he would get drafted if he was in the draft this year,” Givony said. “He looks like he’s so far away from helping a team right now. If I were advising him, I would tell him, ‘Go back to school and work on your shooting.’ Not everybody has to be one and done. There are a lot of really, really good players in the NBA that spent three or four years in college. There doesn’t need to be a rush with a guy like that.”
Givony said he still expects players like Briscoe to enter their names in the NBA Draft under new guidelines that will allow them to be evaluated directly by NBA teams without jeopardizing their college eligibility, as long as they remove their names from the draft by May 25.
DraftExpress.com does not have Marcus Lee among the top 100 prospects for this year’s draft. “Everybody saw how he finished the year,” Givony said. “So I don’t think there’s really anything to talk about right now with him, in regard to the NBA Draft.”
Senior Alex Poythress is ranked as the No. 90 overall player by DraftExpress.
Givony pointed out that St. John’s senior Sir’Dominic Pointer was selected with the 53rd overall pick last year with the understanding that he would report directly to the Cavaliers’ D-League franchise, forgoing a chance to make the NBA roster.
A deal like that could be a possibility for Poythress, who could also go undrafted and try to catch on as a free agent.
“These are the kind of arrangements that are made in the second round,” Givony said. “So he’s going to have to navigate that. And a lot of guys would rather just go undrafted and try to make a team outright.”
Kentucky players in DraftExpress.com’s top 100: