With Kentucky’s season officially over, it’s now that nerve-racking time of the year where Wildcat fans obsess over which players will be staying and which ones will be spending their immediate future in the big leagues.
Nothing has been made official yet, but the consensus seems to be that P.J. Washington and Keldon Johnson are likely heading to the NBA Draft. Both are considered first-round locks and should benefit from what is being publicized as a historically weak draft. Reid Travis will obviously audition for a spot in the draft while the decisions for Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans are still up in the air.
Below I am going to compile the numbers and predictions from five different sources that have evaluated these players and ranked them according to their research. The mock draft rankings will be pulled from ESPN, NBC Sports, Sporting News, Tankathon, and The Athletic.
Let’s start with the two players expected to be drafted the earliest; Washington and Johnson.
ESPN: 13th – Miami Heat
NBC Sports: 12th – Charlotte Hornets
Sporting News: 16th Brooklyn Nets
Tankathon: 24th – Philadelphia 76ers
The Athletic: 14th
Conclusion: Washington is going to be a borderline lottery selection. Him going anywhere in the top 10 would be a shock at this point, unless he does incredibly well with individual team workouts. The top of this draft is littered with wings/guards and Washington might actually be one of the two or three best frontcourt prospects along with Jaxson Hayes (Texas) and Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga), but his 6-foot-7 frame is going to hurt his draft status more than anything. However, shooting over 42 percent from three as a sophomore gives him a massive boost in his potential as an undersized forward. The NBA is thriving off of players like that right now.
Tankathon slotting Washington at 24th is low. Any team would scoop him up before he hit the mid-20s, in my opinion, but somewhere in the 11-19 range sounds about right for what he brings to the table. I doubt there’s a multiple time All-Star lurking inside of Washington, but a rotational NBA role player could very well be in his future.
ESPN: 15th – Orlando Magic
NBC Sports: 20th – Indiana Pacers
Sporting News: 15th – Miami Heat
Tankathon: 21st – Indiana Pacers
The Athletic: 18th
Conclusion: The consensus on Johnson is a bit more clear than Washington. All five sites have the 6-foot-5 wing going in the 15-21 range. He’s much more raw in terms of overall talent than Washington, but is clearly a bonafide scorer from most areas of the court and was a massively underrated rebounder during his freshman year. Johnson’s NBA ceiling is far superior to Washington in that the NBA is built around big wing players like Johnson who can create their own offense. He should be more of a “work-in-progress” type of prospect, but one that some team in the late-teens will take a chance on if they missed out on a wing player earlier in the draft.
ESPN: 41st – Atlanta Hawks
NBC Sports: N/A
Sporting News: N/A
The Athletic: 53rd
Conclusion: Personally, I hope Hagans comes back for another season, but I would easily understand why he’d choose to try his hand in the NBA after just one year. Hagans has the benefit of being younger than most of his peers, which could result in him having a “longer leash” of sorts once he does make it to the next level. The back end of this draft is nothing special. Hagans could very easily sneak into the second round and if an NBA team gives him a guarantee, I think he should take it.
Hagans could just as easily come back and boost his stock to the moon with an improved season as the lead guard on another elite Kentucky team, but his overall play dwindled towards the end of this season and could happen again. In my opinion, Hagans is the riskiest prospect from an NBA perspective. There’s a lot to love about his defense but way more to question about his offense. If next year’s draft is better than this one – as it is expected to be – Hagans could improve and still find himself in the second round. A lot of it is going to come down to what he hears from the NBA Combine in mid-May.
ESPN: 20th – Oklahoma City Thunder
NBC Sports: 17th – Detroit Pistons
Sporting News: 26th – Philadelphia 76ers
Tankathon: 20th – Boston Celtics
The Athletic: 24th
Conclusion: If you’re hoping and praying that Tyler Herro returns to Kentucky for his sophomore season, you might want to avert your eyes from any and all NBA mock drafts. The Bucket is going to get a first-round guarantee by some team. His defense improved enough throughout the season that it can no longer be held against him and his offense has been a proven trait of his since December.
Anywhere outside of the lottery and into the late first-round appears to be the consensus from the media. There’s guaranteed money as a first-round pick and Herro could face a similar decision that Hagans is feeling: would he find himself in the position again next season? If Herro comes back, Kentucky can kick off the season as a title favorite. But will there be more draft-eligible players in next year’s draft that could surpass him even if he shines again as a sophomore? These are surely things he’ll want to try and get a better idea of come the Combine. If I’m Herro (and I very clearly am not), I put my name in the draft and don’t look back.
Only ESPN and The Athletic had mock drafts that also included the second-round. Neither of them had Reid Travis listed. I’m not entirely sure where Travis sits right now with NBA front offices and scouts, but we’ll definitely have a better idea of that after the Combine. With Travis, there is no returning to UK. Preparing for the NBA draft is all he has left as a college athlete. Travis has a solid wingspan, a massive frame, and great instincts around the basket. Extending his range to the perimeter towards the end of the season surely did him some favors with scouts, but at 23-years old, his potential isn’t going to be as promising as the 19 and 20-year olds. He’s a below average passer and not quite the shot blocker NBA teams would like. He’ll find his way onto a team somehow, whether it’s through the draft or being picked up as a free agent, but it could come with a lengthy stint in the G League first.