ESPN is gearing up for the incoming NBA season by predicting the league’s top talent, and several former Wildcats made the list. The world wide leader in sports has released players projected to be the No. 11 through the No. 100 player in this year’s class – at the time this article was originally posted on KSR, the top-10 list has not been released.
The rankings, voted on by ESPN’s panel of NBA experts, were sorting the players expected to make the biggest splash this season – not of “all time.” It therefore does not take into account previous seasons they’ve played in the league, and it also excludes or undervalues some of the league’s injured players (i.e. Demarcus Cousins).
Kentucky had eight former players make the list, and that’s not including Anthony Davis, who will presumably crack the top-10 list once it’s published. Here’s where those eight Wildcats landed.
No. 18 – Karl Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
The big man is currently listed as the most-touted former Cat for the coming NBA season.
No. 25 – De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
The point guard finished third in last year’s Most Improved Player competition, and he’s still extraordinarily young – even for the “one and done” era. Fox doesn’t turn 22 years old until this December. He served as the Kings’ starting point guard for the latter half of last season. Could he be joined by Tyler Ulis in the backcourt this season?
No. 27 – Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Murray was one of the breakout stars of last season’s NBA Playoffs, averaging over 21 points per outing across 14 games. ESPN sees him following up those performances with more stellar ones, as he made a huge jump from last season to this one. In last year’s ranking, he was listed as the expected No. 47 player.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) April 18, 2019
No. 30 – Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Last year, Booker averaged over 26 points and six assists per game, good for a career high during his five years in the league. He’s also on his fifth head coach. Could this be the year we see Booker finally take charge and lead the Suns to a semi-successful season? ESPN’s insider Bobby Marks picked the former Cat as his “bold prediction.”
“We’ll see Devin Booker selected to play in the All-Star Game. Because of how poorly Phoenix has played since his arrival, we forget how good Booker has been. Yes, his defense is a work in progress, but with a new coach in Monty Williams and finally some stability at point guard in Ricky Rubio, Phoenix should start winning more games and allow Booker to get the recognition he deserves.”
No. 64 – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is only entering his second year of playing with the pros, but he’s already being hailed as one of the class’ most-talented players. He averaged 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists last season. Over the summer, he was traded from the LA Clippers to the Oklahoma City Thunder during the Paul George trade, which also involved Kawhi Leonard. How will his new home affect his potential or reputation?
ESPN wrote that although he has the potential to be “one of the league’s best two-way point guards down the line,” Gilgeous-Alexander “needs to continue shooting it better from 3 and rely less on inside-the-arc jumpers.” Long-2 U, anyone?
No. 67 – Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee Bucks
Bledsoe earned an active role on the Milwaukee Bucks’ roster last season, alongside the year’s Most Valuable Player, the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo. Bledsoe averaged nearly 16 points and five rebounds per outing last season, but he underperformed in the NBA Playoffs, specifically the Eastern Conference Finals. How will he bounce back?
No. 81 – Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Adebayo will be teaming up with former Cat Tyler Herro in Miami this year, alongside one of the Heat’s free agency acquisitions, Jimmy Butler. Bam’s teammates have praised him throughout the duration of the off-season – is this the year Adebayo shows the Heat what he can really do?
Well, we certainly know what he can’t do… beat Takeru Kobayashi in a competitive-eating contest.
No. 92 – Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Julius Randle rounds out the list for the former Wildcats, coming in at No. 92 out of 100. He averaged 21.4 points on 52 percent shooting last season for the Pelicans before being traded to the Knicks during the summer’s free agency period. As much as Kentucky fans dislike the Blue Devils of Duke, it’ll be an interesting combination to see how he plays alongside rookie RJ Barrett. He’ll also be joined by Kevin Knox. At the very least, it should be exciting.
One other notable ranking? Murray State’s Ja Morant came in at No. 93 on the list. Kentucky’s latest draft picks – Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and PJ Washington – did not crack ESPN’s top-100 list. Neither did John Wall, Kevin Knox or Malik Monk.
What do you think? Did ESPN get it right? Check out the full lists on ESPN.com