It took five months longer than usual, but the NBA Draft has finally come and gone. Which means that for Kentucky basketball, another “graduation day” has occurred, just as the new season is about to begin. Not only is college basketball about to tip next week, but incredibly, the NBA season is only a little over a month away.
That’s right, those same guys who just got drafted last night? You’ll see a bunch of them in an NBA arena near you soon (well, in the few places that will allow fans anyway).
Regardless, with the NBA Draft in the rearview, it’s time to reflect on Wednesday night while also time to look ahead, and answer the question: How will all six former Kentucky Wildcats who signed NBA contracts last night (yes, that includes Nate Sestina) fit in with their new teams, if at all?
Here are grades for how all six former Wildcats fit with their new teams.
Immanuel Quickley (New York Knicks)
Here are some truths about the NBA Draft: When you’re selected in the lottery it’s clear that your new organization not only likes you, but will build at least part of its future around you. Yet when you’re drafted really anywhere in the back half of the first round, second round or go undrafted, you’re simply hoping to find a place that will give you a chance, and where you can carve out a niche.
Well, consider it mission accomplished for Immanuel Quickley.
First off, the one thing he does well (shoot the lights out) is the one thing that New York desperately needs. Last season, the Knicks ranked dead last in the NBA in three-pointers made per game, had the second fewest attempts and had the fourth worst three-point percentage of anyone in the league.
In other words, they need shooting, and they need shooting now.
Add in the fact that he was drafted by a team that obviously believes in him (thanks to the Kenny Payne connection) and things went about as well for Quickley as they possibly could’ve on Wednesday night. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he snuck into the first round, where he has fully guaranteed money for several years either.
So while we can all make fun of the Knicks as an organization, things worked out about as well as they possibly could’ve for Quickley individually.
Tyrese Maxey (Philadelphia 76ers)
To be blunt, it’s a pretty weird time to be joining the Philadelphia 76ers organization.
They just traded Al Horford. They could be trading Ben Simmons. They could be trading Joel Embiid. They could be trading for James Harden. Or they could remain pretty much status quo with a roster built around Simmons and Embiid.
But regardless of what pieces come or go, the one thing this team will need (no different than the Knicks) is shooting. If the roster remains built around Simmons, well, he can’t shoot, meaning that there will be plenty of opportunities to knock shots down playing off the ball. And if they somehow get Harden (which seems unlikely at this point) they will definitely need more shooting around him for when he drives to the basket – in the rare circumstances that he actually passes the ball.
Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of me saying that it’s a good fit for exactly what Maxey does.
And regardless of who his teammates are, he should be able to carve out a role.
Nick Richards (New Orleans Pelicans)
First off, shout out to Nick Richards, who had arguably the single most emotional moment of the night when he got on FaceTime with John Calipari. It was one of those incredible moments, where you realize just how far this kid has come. He went from essentially being unplayable as a sophomore to an NBA Draft pick one season later, and will go down as one of the best stories of the entire Calipari era at Kentucky when it’s all said and done.
"You deserve it. You worked for it … what are you crying because you're happy? You know I love you, kid." @UKCoachCalipari congratulating @iamnickrichards on his graduation #NBADraft night.#LaFamilia is #BuiltDifferent ?? pic.twitter.com/oEcyFiRcGy
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) November 19, 2020
So that’s pretty cool.
What’s also cool is that he too found a heck of a landing spot, in his case in Charlotte.
While the focus on Wednesday night in Charlotte was on LaMelo Ball, it’s part of a larger trend, where the organization is clearly in the middle of a youth movement. Along with Ball, there is PJ Washington (heard of him?!), Miles Bridges and Devonte Graham, as well as a handful of veterans like Terry Rozier.
The one thing they’re missing though, is an inside presence and rim protector.
Clearly, those are the things that Richards does better than anyone else.
To be clear, I’m not saying that Richards will be Charlotte’s opening day starter at center or anything like that. But there are very clearly minutes to be had in that team’s frontcourt.
Again, as a second rounder, that’s all you can ask for.
Ashton Hagans (Minnesota Timberwolves)
First off, credit to NBA insider John Calipari with scooping the rest of the basketball world on the Hagans-to-Minnesota news. Glad to see that guy working himself up the ladder as one of the most trusted voices in NBA media.
Just got great news! @H23Ash is signed a two-way deal with the @Timberwolves! He’s going to have big brother @KarlTowns with him. I’m looking forward to big things from Ashton. He's built for this. pic.twitter.com/rjoyOZWJnf
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) November 19, 2020
Two, when I first saw Hagans was headed to Minnesota, I really didn’t think much of it. Neither good, nor bad, whatever. But on second thought, I actually do think it’s a pretty nice fit.
First off, it’s pretty clear that the Timberwolves are committed to D’Angelo Russell at point guard, and they just traded for Ricky Rubio as his back-up, but with Rubio now surpassing his 30th birthday, he’s not the long-term answer at the back-up spot. Therefore, while Hagans will almost certainly have to spend a part of next season in the G-League, there could be a clear path to a role in this organization at some point.
Add in the fact that the Timberwolves just selected a good friend of his (Anthony Edwards from Georgia) and that as Calipari said, Hagans will have a big blue mentor in Karl-Anthony Towns, this situation really worked out about as well as it could’ve.
Hagans will obviously need to put in the work long-term to earn a spot and role on this roster, but the path is there.
EJ Montgomery (Milwaukee Bucks)
When he was at Kentucky, the constant complaint we all heard from Montgomery was that he felt like he wasn’t being used in the right way. That he had more to his offensive game, that he could step out and hit three’s and just needed a chance to show it.
I can’t say that I necessarily believe it, but I will say: Montgomery will now have his chance to prove the doubters wrong, as he heads to the perfect organization to show the skill-set he wants to prove he has. Outside of the Rockets recently, no organization has embraced the idea of three-point shooting and spacing quite like Milwaukee, which finished fourth in the league in three-point attempts a season ago.
Again, I’ll believe that Montgomery is the next Steph Curry when I see it.
But if he wanted to show off a more diverse offensive game, this is definitely the organization to do it in.
Nate Sestina (Brooklyn Nets)
So, Sestina just signed a contract in Russia a few weeks ago, yet apparently he also signed with the Nets last night? Hmm, I had no idea it worked like that?
Regardless, I can’t say I necessarily see a world where Sestina is closing out playoff games in crunch time with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but hey who knows, stranger things have happened, right?
(Don’t answer that!)
Best of luck to all the Wildcats – and all the players drafted on Wednesday night – on the next step of their journey!