The NBA Draft was Thursday night, and oh, what a night it was. While the first three picks were a foregone conclusion, all hell broke loose after that, with a flurry of trades shaking up the draft, and causing everyone, including me, to scramble to try and figure out who was going where by the end of draft night. Seriously, is it that hard to just let the team who is keeping the player make the pick????
Anyway, now that we’re a full 36 hours removed from the final pick, it’s time to take a step back and realistically look at where everyone landed. Specifically, the players from Kentucky.
That’s right, “graduation night” was again fruitful for John Calipari’s Wildcats, with three of Kentucky’s players going in the first round of the draft, and two in the Top 15.
So where did the Wildcats go? And how do they fit? Let’s take a look.
PJ Washington – Charlotte Hornets
The first Wildcat off the board Thursday was also the team’s best player in 2018-2019 – PJ Washington. To Washington’s credit, after bypassing the draft in 2018, he returned to school, got better in just about every way imaginable and saw his draft skyrocket because of it. Washington jumped up draft boards throughout the season and it was very much deserved.
Even better for Washington, the fit with the Hornets should work out in his favor. No, Washington won’t be joining a competitor, and depending on what Kemba Walker does in free agency, he could be joining an organization that is in all-out rebuild mode. Walker has said publicly that he would take less to sign the Hornets, but it’s still up in the air whether he’ll be there long-term. If he isn’t, the Hornets might be, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this, the worst team in the NBA next year.
At the same time, there will also be plenty of playing time to be had. Frank Kaminsky (sorry for bringing him up, Kentucky fans) will be a free agent heading into the off-season and after he averaged eight points and three rebounds per game, I find it hard to believe that the Hornets will be in a rush to re-sign him. Also, 33-year-old Marvin Williams (I can’t believe he’s still in the NBA) will become a free agent after this coming season, which should open more opportunities in the front-court for Washington down the road.
Cody Zeller and Nic Batum are both signed for several more years in the front-court, but Zeller is more of a traditional five than a four, which shouldn’t impact Washington. And while Batum has a similar skill-set to Washington he has also been a colossal disappointment for this club. If the team goes into a full-fledged rebuilding mode, look for them to try and move Batum. Even if they don’t, it would probably benefit them to play the you guy with more upside potential over the 30-year-old veteran (one who is grossly overpaid, by the way).
Point being, the Hornets will likely ease Washington into the lineup this year, and he could be a starter by his second season. And if Walker leaves and the Hornets go in full-scale rebuild mode (shedding veterans with pricey contracts) Washington could see an even bigger role.
As it pertains solely to Washington (and not the state of the entire organization), this is a great fit.
Fit for PJ Washington: A-
Tyler Herro – Miami Heat
It’s tough to find many players, anywhere in the draft (not just from Kentucky) who were faster-risers than Tyler Herro over the past year. Herro was ranked 37th overall in the final 247 Sports’ recruiting rankings in 2018, behind a slew of players who either remain in college and transferred after unproductive seasons (Quentin Grimes, Jordan Brown, Jahvon Quinerly) or players who elected to declare anyway and went undrafted (Lugentz Dort, Moses Brown, Jaylen Hoard). All those guys were believed to be better players coming out of high school than Herro. Yet there he was on draft night shaking Adam Silver’s hand.
It really was an incredible rise, and the best part is, that beyond his success moving up draft boards, Herro found an almost perfect landing spot from both a developmental and basketball perspective in Miami.
Starting with the “developmental” side, it’s hard to argue with anything that Pat Riley and the Miami Heat have done through the years. No, they haven’t won a title since LeBron James left town, but the bottom-line remains that they are a very hands on organization, one that takes the developmental aspects of playing in the NBA very seriously. Herro will be pushed hard (something I’m guessing he won’t mind), but will also be in a caring, nurturing family environment, ironically, a lot like Kentucky. He’s not in an organization where he won’t hear from the head coach or front office for three months after the season ends. There is a reason that Riley is a Hall of Famer, and a guy that has built winners everywhere he’s gone.
And from a basketball perspective, it’s even better. The Heat ranked 26th out of 30 teams in scoring last season, and just 21st in three-point shooting. Meaning, this is a team that desperately needs an infusion of the one skill Herro has – putting the ball in the basket. Not to mention that with Dywane Wade retiring there is also open playing time in the backcourt, and with several more of the team’s key players entering free agency next season, there will be plenty of playing time to go around in the coming years. If Herro balls out this season, it isn’t an exaggeration to say he could be one of the two or three big building blocks for this entire organization within a year or two. They really don’t have a ton on the books beyond next season.
Now because it’s Miami, and a place that can always attract free agents, there’s a chance that the team could quickly sign veterans to get competitive next off-season.
But considering that Tyler Herro is a bucket, and the Heat sorely lack guys getting buckets, this fit makes too much sense. There is a legit chance that Herro becomes a STAR in Miami. And it’s clear that Riley already likes him.
Fit for Tyler Herro: A-
"We're excited. Really excited about Tyler… we made a great pick today."
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) June 21, 2019
Keldon Johnson – San Antonio Spurs
Thursday obviously wasn’t the draft night that Keldon Johnson expected. Touted throughout the season as the team’s “best pro prospect” it never really materialized during the off-season and many (including me) wondered if he’d fall on draft night after not really exhibiting one, real NBA quality skill at the college level. As if all that weren’t bad enough, there was actually a false report that Johnson would get drafted by the Cavaliers earlier in the first round, making the final few minutes of his wait that much more painful.
Still, for as disappointing as the first few hours of the NBA Draft were for Johnson, the result was fantastic: He is going one of the best-run and most successful organizations in the NBA over the last two decades.
At this point the San Antonio Spurs track record speaks for itself. They’ve made the playoffs 22 straight seasons, the longest active streak of any of the major professional sports in America. The last time they missed was 1997, two years before Johnson was born. And even though they’re not quite the juggernaut they once were since Tim Duncan retired, they’re still an organization that’s built to win in the short-term and have success long-term.
As far as the fit, well it isn’t perfect. The Spurs best player is DeMar DeRozan, who to be honest, kind of has the exact same skill-set as Johnson. Bryn Forbes, who is more of a shooter than play-maker on the wing, is also entrenched in the rotation. The Spurs also have a bunch of young guards in their organization (Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker), although none of those guys really have the same skill-set as Johnson.
That’s the bad news. But the good news is that since Johnson isn’t a lottery pick, no one really expects him to come in and fight for playing time right away. He will have time to develop at his own rate.
Speaking of which, the Spurs are one of the NBA’s most active organizations with using their G-League affiliate (the Austin Spurs) to develop players. Look for Johnson to spend a good chunk of time shuttling back and forth between the G-League and NBA next year, as he fights to find a permanent spot in San Antonio’s rotation.
The fit isn’t perfect. But Johnson will have his chance to prove he belongs in San Antonio.
Fit for Keldon Johnson: B