Now that the NBA draft is over, we finally know where our five (well, four. Wenyen Gabriel went undrafted) former Kentucky Wildcats will be playing at the next level. Let’s take a look at how they project on their new teams.
Kevin Knox – No. 9 New York Knicks
It’s a bit of a shock, but it’s official, Kevin Knox is going to be a member of the New York Knicks.
While he went higher in the draft than I expected (I had him falling off a cliff all the way to No. 17 despite most mock drafts slotting him in the 9-11 range), New York may actually be one of the best possible scenarios for him.
Instead of going in the middle of the first round to teams such as the Denver Nuggets, Washington Wizards, or Milwaukee Bucks – all teams with solidified shooting guards – the Knicks saw the gaping hole in their backcourt and went for the 6-foot-10 guard who can shoot from anywhere on the court.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) June 22, 2018
So how does Knox fit in with the Knicks? Quite favorably, actually.
The Knicks backcourt consists of Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina at the point with Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. at shooting guard. Knox is better suited to play the two, especially early in his NBA career, but will still earn plenty of minutes at the three on a young Knicks team still looking to build. Odds are he’ll see a lot of playing time at the small forward position as they try to work out a proper spot for him in the rotation. The Knicks have invested a large sum of money into Hardaway Jr. and he’s showed promise as their two-guard of the future, so Knox will have to play next to him or soak up minutes when he heads to the bench.
Knox is a good fit for New York because he brings another threat from the perimeter and can help make open shots as defenses will turn most of their focus on Kristaps Porzingis.
Knox still needs to work on becoming more consistent when attacking the rim and playing focused defense, but his shooting stroke is undeniable. He shot 36.9 percent from NBA three-point range in his lone season at Kentucky, per The Stepien, which is around the league average and would be a great number for him to aim for in his first season.
Something that is key here is that he’s going to have opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them, something he wouldn’t have nearly as much leeway with if he were selected by a low-seed playoff team trying to win sooner rather than later.
Knox worked well next to a prolific floor general in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, something he won’t have in New York with Mudiay (who may be the most inconsistent player in the entire NBA) or Ntilikina just yet (who is entering his second year after a solid rookie year but primarily succeeded as a defensive stalwart). Knox will have to rely on working off Porzingis to generate shots until he can become more consistent getting to the rim, which is a blessing more than anything else. He’ll be able to hang along the perimeter and hunt for open looks. He could be an incredibly difficult cover with his height and shooting ability if he dedicates himself to consistent off-ball movement on offense.
Another reason this fit works so well is because of Knicks new head coach, David Fizdale. Fiz is a great players coach who has always been able to make connections and get the most out of guys who specialize in one area. Fizdale was overly impressed with Knox in workouts and the consensus appears to be that Fiz was the one who really wanted to take a gamble on Knox.
It’s hard to tell right now if Knox will be a starter – that’ll become more clear after free agency gets rolling – but he has a clear role on this team without playing one minute. The Knicks needed more outside shooting to complement the backcourt and Knox provides that immediately.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – No. 11 Los Angeles Clippers (via Hornets)
After originally being selected by the Charlotte Hornets, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers were desperate for a starting point guard and they finally got their man, one that fits perfectly into their scheme.
SGA immediately brings a floor general playstyle that the Clippers were obviously missing with the departure of Chris Paul. Patrick Beverley played only 11 games last season due to injury, so they missed his production at point guard, but he can’t run and direct an offense like SGA can. If the Clippers do manage to hang onto DeAndre Jordan before next season begins, he and SGA will form a dangerous pick-and-roll that can beat the defense from every area of the court and – more importantly – create open looks for shooters. SGA is great at attacking the rim, he has a solid outside jumper and reads defenses better than any guard prospect in this draft.
With Lou Williams and Tobias Harris taking on most of the scoring responsibility, SGA won’t be asked to do as much as he was at Kentucky and can focus on setting up his teammates and attacking with perfect precision. He’s a brilliant basketball mind and it will be put on display even more so than it was in college.
Jarred Vanderbilt – No. 41 Denver Nuggets (via Magic)
Of the four drafted, this is without a doubt my favorite fit. Jarred Vanderbilt is a humongous work in progress but with so much unique potential. He plays stellar defense, rebounds at an already elite level, can slip passes through the tiniest windows, and handle the ball like a guard. Going to Denver couldn’t have worked out any better for him, especially since Orlando – one of the two NBA graveyards (sorry, Sacramento) – was the team that drafted him before trading him to the Nuggets (I understand that Denver had Orlando make the pick for them, I’m just happy he didn’t get stuck there regardless).
Nuggets head coach Mike Malone led one of the league’s most dangerous offenses last season with a focus on pushing the tempo and scoring as many points in as little time as possible. Vando is a one-man fastbreak and gives the Nuggets another option to keep a fast pace and constant pressure on opposing defenses at all times.
Vanderbilt is going to desperately need to develop a consistent touch around the rim before he does anything else, but even without it, he can be plugged into a small-ball lineup surrounded by the Nuggets many shooters and thrive.
Vanderbilt joins two other former Wildcats, Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles, who both had the best seasons of their still young careers. The Nuggets slightly missed the playoffs, in large part to a putrid defense and streaky offense, something they’ll bring Vanderbilt in to try and correct. If fully healthy, Vando can make an impact on day one and could end up being one of the steals of this draft.
I think his connection with Nikola Jokic is going to be dangerous (when Paul Millsap is on the bench, at least) and their combined basketball IQ could wreak havoc on underprepared defenses. Off the bench, Vanderbilt could play the point forward role alongside Mason Plumlee, another great passing big. Noticing a trend here? Vando, Plumlee, Millsap, and Jokic are all great passing bigs. The Nuggets clearly value that and it’s worked in their favor thus far. With Murray, Harris, and Jokic all scheduled to have huge seasons, Vando could slide in and quietly make an impact for a playoff team.
Great pickup for Denver. Better fit for Vanderbilt.
Hamidou Diallo – No. 45 Oklahoma City Thunder (via Nets, Hornets)
After being drafted by the Brooklyn Nets (the team most expected him to ultimately end up on) and quickly traded to the Charlotte Hornets, Hamidou Diallo was once again traded, this time to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was on three teams in less than three hours, but Diallo finally found his home in OKC.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) June 22, 2018
Unfortunately, I don’t have the same enthusiasm about Diallo’s fit in OKC as I do with Vando in Denver. The Thunder need shooting more than anything, in my opinion, and all they did was add another version of Terrence Ferguson to their plethora of over-the-top athletic guards/wings. With Russell Westbrook, Jerami Grant, Josh Huestis, Andre Roberson, and Ferguson, the Thunder already have way too many players who aren’t reliable outside shooting threats. If Paul George (and hopefully Carmelo Anthony) find their way to new teams, that only exacerbates the situation.
Playing time will be hard to find for Diallo and I don’t see how he fits next to Westbrook in any way that benefits him more than it hurts him. Then there’s also the history of Victor Oladipo, who was held back like a fourth-year sixth grader until he graduated to Indianapolis where he is now an All-Star. Westbrook is an incredible player, but not one that regularly makes the players that surround him better. The team is in win-now mode more than ever as Westbrook continues to age, and I just don’t see how Diallo is going to fit into their scheme that doesn’t include having him float around the perimeter begging for an opportunity.
Had Charlotte or especially Brooklyn drafted him, I’d feel a lot better about his potential in his rookie season, but I don’t believe in the Thunder all-of-the-sudden going through an entire shift in their offensive gameplan. I think Diallo will get some chances early in the season, but this doesn’t look to be an ideal fit for him at the moment.
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