The NBA draft is now only one day away and five former Kentucky players hope to have their names called in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory.
Kentucky will have its fingers all over this draft as there are players that could go as high as number eight and as low as the very last pick in the draft. Either way, it should be an exciting night and we hope that all five players will hear their name being called and begin their NBA career as a draft selectee.
With this article, I’m going to be giving my personal opinion on where I think our five former Wildcats can (and should) end up by the time Thursday night’s draft concludes. So let’s get right into it starting with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
*I have also previously written draft projection pieces for all players except Jarred Vanderbilt (due to a lack of available film) that will be hyperlinked in blue on each individual player’s name.*
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – No. 8 to the Cleveland Cavaliers
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has gone from a backup point guard to an all-but-guaranteed lottery pick in less than nine months. His transformation as a player has been fascinating and exhilarating to watch. His improvement was apparent with every game he played and by the end of the season, he was Kentucky’s best player by a considerably wide margin.
At 6-foot-6 with a seven-foot wingspan, SGA plays a slow-paced style of basketball and beats his defenders with well-timed attacks and ferocious dribble moves. He has NBA potential as an elite floor general and should make an immediate impact for whatever team drafts him. With that being said, the Cleveland Cavaliers may take a chance on him with the eighth overall pick (the pick they acquired from Boston – via Brooklyn – in the Isaiah Thomas deal last summer). If Michael Porter Jr. and Trae Young are both off the board for the Cavs (the two players I believe to be atop their draft board), SGA could find himself in Cleveland next season, with or without LeBron James.
What the Cavs lacked last season – among a multitude of things – was a reliable floor general. They attempted to amend that by trading for George Hill, but saw mixed results. While I’m not entirely sure that SGA and James would be an ideal match, he would at least be a solid piece to move forward with if James does, in fact, leave for greener pastures. SGA’s confidence grows the more he plays and being the centerpiece of a rebuild will allow him free reign to develop and prosper.
If the Cavs do decide to take a Young or Porter Jr., the next most realistic option for SGA would be the Charlotte Hornets, who have the number 11 overall pick. SGA would then join Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Malik Monk, but likely as a backup to Kemba Walker, unless they decide to trade him and go all in on a rebuild. Which, in that case, SGA would be their best asset moving forward.
There is a strong chance that Porter Jr. could be gone by the number eight pick, although it’s more likely that Young is still available and, if he is, Cleveland might elect to go with the Oklahoma guard and one-time Kentucky recruit, especially since he’s been given the seal of approval by LeBron James. If they do, I would expect SGA to slip to Charlotte at 11 and it would be a huge surprise if he’s still available after the Los Angeles Clippers pick both 12 and 13.
There is also the possibility that the Toronto Raptors trade up in the draft to select SGA, a Candian native, something that has recently surfaced in the draft newswire. It’s not something I would actually expect to happen, especially with how open the Raptors were about releasing that kind of sensitive information, essentially giving away all trade leverage, but stranger things have happened.
Kevin Knox – No. 17 to the Milwaukee Bucks
In the days leading up to the draft, the noise surrounding Kevin Knox has been relatively quiet. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. He hasn’t had any bad workouts or interviews, but he hasn’t done anything to “wow” front offices as of late and his draft stock is taking a hit because of it. It’s not even that Knox is losing his status as a top-tier prospect, because he still is, it has more to do with the fact that this draft is so deep that other prospects are simply overtaking him.
Players such as Lonnie Walker IV (Miami) and Zhaire Smith (Texas Tech) have stood out as unique personalities with playing styles that separate themselves from the rest. With that said, I believe Knox is going to slip to the Milwaukee Bucks at number 17, a few spots outside the lottery. Most mock drafts have Knox going somewhere in the 12-15 range, but the Clippers (who own picks 12 and 13) seem sold on Texas A&M’s Robert Williams and they need a guard who can run the offense more than anything else (hello, SGA). I don’t see him finding his way into the top 10 and the Denver Nuggets (pick 14) already have Gary Harris, the Washington Wizards (pick 15) already have Bradley Beal, and the Phoenix Suns (pick 16) already have Devin Booker.
There is the possibility that the Nuggets make a move on Knox at 14 and try to slide him to a small-forward position, but I believe Knox’s calling in the NBA is as a two-guard. If he’s still available for Milwaukee at 17, odds are he’ll be the best overall prospect remaining and at that point, the Bucks should take a chance on him. They already have shooting guard Khris Middleton, but also a new head coach in Mike Budenholzer, who is a great X’s and O’s coach and can put Knox in situations that benefit him the most.
The Bucks have had a curious string of shooting for the rafters on their mid-first round draft picks in recent years (drafting Giannis Anteotkounmpo at 15, Rashad Vaughn at 17, Thon Maker at 10, and most recently D.J. Wilson at 17) with only one of those picks actually landing so far (Antetokounmpo). Knox would be a safer pick and one with much fewer question marks around his head. It may take a year or two for Knox to truly develop, but he’s a player the Bucks can still work with for the immediate future. Knox can shoot the hell out of the ball and it’s the best time in NBA history to specialize in that area.
Hamidou Diallo – No. 40 to the Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets have long been fascinated by Hamidou Diallo and his potential as a threat on both sides of the ball. They were prepared to select him in last year’s draft and will likely have the opportunity to do so again.
Diallo isn’t going in the first round, that much is almost certain, as his range is anywhere from 31 to the mid-40s. Falling outside of the top 45 would be surprising for Diallo, who wasn’t as impressive in workouts as he was last season, but still has scouts buzzing about his potential and undeniable athleticism.
Brooklyn would be a great fit for him, especially with where the franchise currently stands. They are still acquiring young talent and have yet to make the transition from “rebuilding” to “built and ready to go”, so the players within the system have plenty of time to learn and make mistakes. The Nets have molded players such as Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, and a few others from players with potential to players with more than capable NBA ready skills. Their development staff has been outstanding the last few years and Diallo could benefit the most from them.
Other teams of note that might take a chance on Diallo are the Orlando Magic, who have the number 35 overall pick. The Magic have a new, defensive-minded head coach with Steve Clifford and are still in the early stages of their rebuild (although the Magic have been in rebuild mode ever since the departure of Dwight Howard back in 2012). Orlando already has a couple players that somewhat mimic Diallo (Mario Hezonja, Terrence Ross, Jonathan Simmons), but none of them have really panned out yet as key pieces for their future. I’d also keep an eye on the Detroit Pistons at number 42 if Diallo does happen to fall that far.
Jarred Vanderbilt – No. 49 to the San Antonio Spurs
Jarred Vanderbilt is one of the most intriguing prospects in this years draft, right up there with Mo Bamba from Texas and Zhaire Smith. Vanderbilt has an incredibly unique skill set that can best be described as somewhere between a mix of Ben Simmons and Lamar Odom. Vanderbilt isn’t a shooter by any means, but an already elite-level rebounder with advanced passing instincts to rival it at 6-foot-9.
The San Antonio Spurs make sense for Vanderbilt (although you can say that about literally any draft prospect) and he could benefit greatly from their player development team. The Spurs have a knack of taking players with clear weaknesses (like Vanderbilt with his jump shot) and plugging them into a system that diminishes those weaknesses and highlights their strengths. Also, learning under head coach Gregg Popovich is always a blessing, despite the fact that superstar Kawhi Leonard may not be around by the time next season begins.
Vanderbilt is an interesting prospect because of how much we don’t know about him. He played only 14 games at Kentucky on limited minutes and has been dealing with a nagging foot injury, but had he played all season healthy, there’s a chance he could also be in the lottery discussion. It’s somewhat similar to Michael Porter Jr.’s situation, who clearly has All-Star potential when healthy, but injury concerns weigh heavy over his head. Now, Vanderbilt is nowhere near the prospect Porter Jr. was and still is, but, nonetheless, there will be a team that takes a chance on Vanderbilt and will do everything they can to maximize his potential, because there is a ton there.
I believe Vanderbilt could go as high as 32 to the Memphis Grizzlies and as low as 58 to the Denver Nuggets. He has no true stock in my opinion and it’s going to come down to which team thinks they can look past the multiple foot injuries and try to build the next Lamar Odom. The Spurs would be a great situation for him if he falls that far, but something tells me we shouldn’t be surprised if he gets drafted before Diallo.
Wenyen Gabriel – Undrafted
While Wenyen Gabriel has performed well in workouts and interviews, it’s still unlikely that any NBA team drafts him. There may be a small possibility that the Phoenix Suns (No. 59) or even the Oklahoma City Thunder (No. 57) pick him up right at the end of the second-round, but the odds are not in his favor.
Gabriel doesn’t have a definitive NBA ready skill right now. What he does have is a collection of skills that can one day develop into an NBA skill set, but at this moment, he’s still a few years away. Another year at Kentucky would have probably done him more good than bad, but I can’t blame him for taking the leap and going for the paycheck. I’ve long believed that Gabriel can be a rotational player in the NBA and I still stand by that, but no team is going to be willing to take the risk on him with where he’s at as a player, especially if he can be picked up post-draft and work his way up through the G League.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan, where I’ll be providing live draft coverage and giving my analysis on draft selections.