Kentucky NBA Draft predictions: Who stays and who goes?

by:Jack Pilgrim03/25/18
The Kentucky basketball season is officially over, which means the next task at hand for the Wildcats is the NBA decision process. Last year the first round of decisions started rolling in the first week of April, which means we should be hearing a few official decisions in the next week or two. Hamidou Diallo, however, waited all the way up until May 24 before announcing his return to Kentucky, so it could take a month or two to learn about players on the fence. Let's take a look at upcoming decisions and some predictions:

Kevin Knox

Prediction: Gone Confidence level: 95% Analysis: For a 6-foot-9, 220 lbs. forward with a smooth shooting stroke, impressive athleticism, and length, his game has been suited for the NBA since day one. He has proven he can score with the best of them in college basketball, including several dominant games against elite defenders. He's still rough defensively, lacks an elite motor, and his family isn't necessarily hurting for money, leaving that five-percent buffer. But don't be mistaken, Knox is gone.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Prediction: Gone Confidence level: 95% Analysis: SGA came in as a four-star guard expected to be nothing more than a solid role player for the Wildcats. As the year progressed, the Kentucky freshman proved to be the team's best player. He will have to work on his jump shot a bit, but his ability to get to the basket will translate extremely well to the NBA. He's a natural leader, and his length on defense will be enticing to teams. He could return and be the best point guard in college basketball, but don't count on it. There was a time it was a given Gilgeous-Alexander would return, but teams are in love with him, and they'll convince him to enter the draft and become a lottery pick.

Hamidou Diallo

Prediction: Gone Confidence level: 65% Analysis: When he made the decision to return to Kentucky last offseason, there was a preconceived notion this would be his only season at Kentucky, similar to Isaiah Briscoe last year. Despite an incredibly inconsistent year with more downs than ups, I'm afraid he has had his heart set on leaving for too long to return now. If teams tell him there is no chance he's drafted in the first round and he needs to return, it's possible his hand might be forced. He'll be spending a lot of time in the G-League, and he has some serious work to do with his shooting stroke before he ever sees meaningful minutes in the NBA. It's in his best interest to return to school, but I think his heart is set on the league.

Quade Green

Prediction: Return Confidence level: 85% Analysis: Green proved to be an impressive scoring threat on offense and a vocal leader on the team, but never showed enough to be a point guard in the NBA yet. His defense improved late in the year, but he was still a liability on that end and would certainly be in the NBA. Green still shies away from contact at the rim, he disappears on offense too often, and his size is still an obvious issue. Green will play in the NBA one day, and he'll be solid, but he's not there yet.

Sacha Killeya-Jones

Prediction: Return Confidence level: 85% Analysis: Killeya-Jones had his moments, but never proved to be more than a solid role player for Kentucky this past year. He still has impressive potential, and should be a solid and consistent rotation player for the Cats next season. There were rumors he would transfer last offseason, but he stuck around. The only way he leaves UK this offseason is if he decides to find a greater role elsewhere and transfers (unlikely).

PJ Washington

Prediction: Return Confidence Level: 75% Analysis: Washington dominated in the post on occasion late in the season, and proved to be one of the more consistent offensive threats on the team. He became a tenacious rebounder, and even improved on defense. A double-double on any given night would have surprised no one. But his game relies on bully ball, and that won't work in the NBA as an undersized power forward. As of now, his game is mostly layups and dunks by overpowering smaller defenders in the post. He doesn't have a dynamic repertoire of offensive moves, and isn't a major threat athletically, which is the major difference from Bam Adebayo's decision to leave after one year last offseason. He'll likely put his name in the draft, go through the early process, but withdraw.

Nick Richards

Prediction: Return Confidence Level: 75% Analysis: Going into the year, it was a foregone conclusion Richards would be a one-and-done, and he thought it too. He was an athletic freak who once told KSR shot-blocking was "second-nature" to him. If he could come in and immediately produce the way Willie Cauley-Stein did, lobs/easy lay-ins at the rim on offense, rebound, and block shots, he was a first-round lock. But he was lost more often than not on defense and missed opportunity after opportunity on offense. He has all of the tools physically, but if he was unable to separate himself in the Kentucky frontcourt with his own teammates, he won't be able to on an NBA roster. If an NBA team convinces him they can work with him on offense, maybe he goes the G-League route, but I don't see it at all. Richards has incredible potential, and I believe he'll eventually be a stud in the NBA. Right now, though, he's just not ready.

Wenyen Gabriel

Prediction: Return Confidence level: 60% Analysis: Gabriel is a knockdown shooter in a 6-foot-10 body, he has impressive length, a nonstop motor, and he's a solid rebounder, all things NBA teams love. That being said, his only offensive game right now is shooting threes, he's far too skinny, gets worked in the paint on defense. High potential, but inconsistent production and he'd get abused on defense in the pros. There are whispers he wants to make the jump to provide for his family, which would be the only reason he would feel the need to leave this offseason. He genuinely enjoys school and would love to become a college graduate. I'd say he's likely to return, but there's certainly a chance he goes the professional route, whether it be NBA or overseas.

Jarred Vanderbilt

Prediction: Return Confidence level: 51% Analysis: Vanderbilt has the hardest decision to make on the team. He is incredibly raw offensively, but was one of the top rebounders in college basketball this past season. His energy is ridiculous, he's athletic, and showed a ton of promise on defense. He showed both on-court production and potential for even greater success at the next level. If he returned to work on his offensive game, he could be one of the best players in college basketball next year. His injury history is the key to his decision. If he returns and suffers another foot injury, NBA teams could mark him down as injury prone and his career could be over before it starts. At the same time, injuries are freak situations, and he'll have to face the situation sooner or later. His situation is the perfect example of high risk, high reward. My gut says he returns next season and becomes a star for the Cats, but I wouldn't blame him for a second if he went after the guaranteed money this offseason.

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