Yesterday afternoon, Matt Jones broke the news that Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would be making his NBA Draft decision on Tuesday night. As the year progressed, SGA developed into one of the top guards in the SEC, and we knew his chances of returning were diminishing by the game.
With this news, it’s almost a certainty he’ll be putting his name in the draft and hiring an agent.
Beyond that, however, there are nothing but question marks when it comes to upcoming decisions. We assumed Kevin Knox was a lock, but his father came out and said his family doesn’t need the money and they would welcome a sophomore campaign with open arms. Hamidou Diallo seemed like a lock, but his inconsistent play throughout the year left NBA scouts with more questions than answers. Jarred Vanderbilt’s injury situation, PJ Washington’s broken pinky/late-year development, Wenyen Gabriel wanting to provide for his family, etc.
Needless to say, these next few weeks are going to be wild for the Big Blue Nation.
Let’s walk through the best and worst case scenarios for next year’s roster when the dust settles on these decisions:
Best case scenario:
Gone: Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo
Return: Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt, Wenyen Gabriel, Quade Green, Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones
Signees: Immanuel Quickley, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Ashton Hagans
The Big Blue Nation wants the perfect mix of veteran leadership and young talent? You got it.
Calipari said he would never use the platoon system again, but he may have to if the right dominoes fall in the coming weeks.
If Kevin Knox tests the waters without signing an agent, NBA teams will likely tell him he is in the 15-20 range in this year’s draft. His family is not in need of money, and Knox has told his father he is in love with the college experience and playing at Kentucky. He could return to school, improve on defense and develop his jumper even more to become a top five-ten pick in a fairly weak 2019 draft. He could easily be one of the top players in college basketball next season.
Beyond Knox, all of the other names are guys that SHOULD return to school. Diallo seems hellbent on leaving, and even though he should come back, I don’t think anyone is expecting it. PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt are fringe guys right now, but could dominate as sophomores. Nick Richards absolutely needs to return, Quade Green and Wenyen Gabriel aren’t NBA players yet, and Killeya-Jones is just a role player right now. We’ve seen guys right on the fringe make the jump in the past, but this class doesn’t feel quite there yet.
Ashton Hagans is an interesting piece in this equation, as he absolutely wants to play at Kentucky, and he wants to do it in 2018… but he’s not a need if the Cats return all of those pieces. Ultimately, I believe he comes regardless and will thrive off the bench or work his way into the starting lineup as the year develops. Calipari won’t turn him down, especially with Gilgeous-Alexander likely gone.
This team likely wouldn’t match up with the top-end talent we saw with the 2014-15 team, but they’d easily be the favorite to win it all next season.
Worst case scenario:
Gone: Gilgeous-Alexander, Knox, Diallo, Washington, Vanderbilt, and Gabriel enter the draft.
Returns: Green, Richards, Killeya-Jones
Signees: Quickley, Johnson, Herro, Hagans, EJ Montgomery
In just about every year John Calipari has been at Kentucky, most guys on the fence end up leaving. If you play the odds, there’s a chance we see something similar this offseason. Daniel Orton, Marquis Teague, Dakari Johnson, Doron Lamb, etc., we’ve seen our fair share of headscratchers.
But even if we see a disappointing roster overhaul, we’d still see a very talented Kentucky team.
If two of Washington, Vanderbilt, and Gabriel leave, EJ Montgomery will absolutely be a Wildcat. Calipari will be able to sell him on playing time and being a star in the frontcourt. Coach Cal would likely push for one more piece to finish out the wing/power forward spot.
As I mentioned before, Hagans wants to be a Wildcat in the 2018 class, and with Gilgeous-Alexander almost certainly leaving, look for him to be the immediate replacement.
It’d be a major turnover, but it’s still something Coach’s Cal could work with.
So what is the most likely scenario?
Probably a solid mix of both. Almost every year, there’s a decision that leaves people scratching their heads. Could that be Wenyen Gabriel leaving to provide for his family? Kentucky fans certainly couldn’t blame him for that. Diallo shouldn’t, but like Isaiah Briscoe last year, some guys just want to pave their own path on their own time and college might not be their thing. He may follow in his footsteps. Washington had spurts of domination, especially late in the year. He could feel he is ready to make the jump. Not all of them, but I feel we’ll see one surprise, one way or the other.
If I had to put money down, I’d expect to see Green, Richards, Washington, and two of Gabriel, Vanderbilt, and Washington to return. And with that, a pretty darn solid core group next season.
We’ll likely see the first domino fall on Tuesday.
What do you expect the roster to look like?