Of the three guys who are going to be drafted in the 1st round of the NBA Draft, the one that intrigues me the most is Keldon Johnson. PJ Washington is a 2-year success story who I imagine will have a very solid NBA career. Tyler Herro is a little bit more of an unknown but falls in the Devin Booker range of guys who clearly showed improvement, have a noticeable skill set, and in the right situation will be successful. But Keldon comes into the draft with all of these questions:
-What is his biggest strength? What can he do in the NBA that will separate him?
-If he fall outside the Top 20, as many projections suggest, would he have benefited from another year at UK?
-As the most highly touted freshman, would we consider his legacy a disappointment if he doesn’t succeed in the NBA?
Keldon has this very strange resume and reputation. He averaged 13.5 points as a true freshman on an Elite 8 team. He had some amazing performances and was a key factor most of the season. He had zero off the court issues, was a fan favorite, liked by teammates. He was the kind of guy you pulled for so badly. But he also had a lot of holes in his season. Bad performances, some pouting on the court. He never seemed like a “leader”. The potential was clearly there but he rarely seemed to be reaching that potential. And for that, he will always be considered a middle tier Calipari one and done I would think.
His draft status also didn’t improve in his time at Kentucky and you could say it even declined, assuming he falls outside the Top 20. And like it or not, a guy’s draft status matters in this era. Whereas PJ and Herro both improved their status over the year, as guys like Bledsoe, Booker, Ulis, Gilgeous-Alexander, and others have, Keldon didn’t get that kind of bump. So despite the fact he will be a 19-year-old kid getting drafted in the 1st round of the NBA Draft, many will look down on that point. And that isn’t really fans fault to have that opinion because that is culture that Calipari has created and cultivated and promoted.
So that is where the mixed emotions come from. I want Keldon Johnson to reach that potential and become an NBA superstar like so many other UK players. He is incredibly easy to root for. But I also watched him play in 38 games this year. You don’t have to be a basketball expert to comfortably say that his game doesn’t appear ready for the NBA yet. I worry that if he washes out of the NBA that he will be a forgotten UK player despite having a very good freshman season. So where do we stand on Keldon Johnson, his legacy as a UK one and done player, and confidence level of him going into the NBA?