Over the weekend, UK opened its doors to NBA scouts and executives for the second straight season. With seven players gone to the NBA from last year’s squad, this year’s Pro Day gave both scouts and fans a chance to check out the mysterious group of newcomers, which includes projected #1 draft pick Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray, the star of the summer.
For two days, scouts and executives watched the Cats, and I spoke to one respected NBA executive to gather his thoughts on John Calipari’s latest crop of talent. In short, he was impressed.
“My first general impression is make green room reservations for some guys,” the executive said. “They’ve got some really good guys. Not like kind of good, not like ‘Geez, look at the guy, he’s draftable,’ You’re looking at ‘okay, is this guy a 1-2-3 (pick) type guy, is he a green room type guy, is he a first round guy, is he first round/early second?’ The talent jumps out.”
But of course, this being Kentucky, that’s not surprising.
“The names change, but the stories remain the same. You’ll be looking in the green room and there will be a number of guys with Wildcat hats on,” the executive said.
“You’re not going to have a 1-2-3 conversation and not have Skal in it.”
Who are some of the guys our contact envisions being in that green room at the NBA Draft next June?
“Skal and Murray are easy green room guys. Easy,” he said. “Tyler [Ulis], there’s really no question, Tyler will have a decision to make to decide if he wants to enter today or tomorrow. It’ll be his choice.”
The executive said it became clear very quickly that the 7′ Skal lives up to his billing as the potential number one pick.
“When you look at him, you know he’s in the 1-2-3 (pick) conversation,” he said. “You’re not going to have a 1-2-3 conversation and not have Skal in it. It takes about five minutes to figure that out.”
In fact, the executive said that kind of certainty allowed him to spend more time evaluating other players.
“You watch Skal the first day in Lexington, and the second day, you’re working on other guys because you have him figured out.”
Murray may still be a mystery to fans, but the executive said seeing the talented guard during UK’s pro day was further proof he’ll be a lottery pick in June.
“If you watched him in the international competition this summer, there’s nothing to talk about,” he said. “If you saw him in the Pan Am games this summer, make your green room reservations.”
“Historically, it has proven foolish to bet against John in developing guys.”
Earlier this week, Adam Zagoria cited a scout who said freshman Isaac Humphries was one of the three most impressive players at the combine. Because Humphries is only 17 and won’t be eligible for the draft until 2017, the executive we spoke to said he didn’t spend too much time focusing on him.
“Honestly, you kind of put him off to the side if you’re looking at him as a professional evaluator because he won’t be eligible until 2017. You make some notes on him, but you have time on him versus where you’re looking at Murray or Briscoe, you’re intense on those guys because they’re only going to be here a minute or two.”
Does that mean Briscoe should be lumped into the handful of guys who may head to the league next summer? Our executive turned to horse racing terms to explain.
“If you’re at Keeneland, you’re looking at him as a Derby possibility. It’s going to take some time to develop and all that stuff, but as a professional evaluator, you have to skew things with Kentucky because of Cal’s track record. You look at his past performances, he brings them along quickly. That’s the record of this trainer. When Briscoe’s playing downhill and is allowed to use his speed and strength and everything, you see that transformation right away. You watch him and see what Cal does with this guy. Historically, it has proven foolish to bet against John in developing guys.”
“He went from not on my radar to on my radar.”
Alex Poythress didn’t go through some of the drills, but our executive said it’s not a question of if he’s going to be drafted, but where.
“Alex is going to be in the league. He’s going to be in the league. We haven’t seen him seriously post-injury and it looks like he still has some physical work to do there. It’s just going to be a conversation of is he a first rounder or a second rounder?”
The executive noted that Marcus Lee “looks better” and without a stable of bigs in front of him, will finally have a chance to showcase his talent.
“Last year you have to completely throw out because he was on this team that was just incredible and now he’s gonna get a chance to play and let’s see what he does with it. He’s clearly a better player than he was a year ago at this time. John’s getting him better and we’re going to find out how much better.”
The executive didn’t hesitate when I asked him which player surprised him the most: freshman guard Charles Matthews.
“He jumped out at me as a defender and worker,” he said, echoing the feedback Calipari mentioned during his media day press conference this morning. “He got my attention. I had not seen him before. He went from not on my radar to on my radar.”
“You keep a close eye on the Kentucky guys because John’s not going to hold them back”
The most cynical of reporters like to spin UK’s Pro Day as another media opportunity for a program constantly in the spotlight. While that’s partially true, the executive we spoke to said it gives him and his colleagues a head start on tracking the best prospects for next year.
“You can’t name a program that is more evaluated, scrutinized, spent time at because you know they have pros and you know Cal is going to develop them and you know he’s not going to hold him back,” he said. “You keep a close eye on the Kentucky guys because John’s not going to hold them back. It’s different. It’s different than it is in most places.”
“If I was in the NBA’s green room, I’d be saying ‘How many reservations? Three? Four? How many seats should I set aside?'”