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A Look at Kentucky’s NBA Draft Prospects

With Kentucky ousted by Wisconsin in the Final Four on Saturday, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at each player’s outlook for the NBA and whether or not I think they should go pro. This team is loaded with talent throughout the roster, and chances are there will be a lot of turnover as incoming five-star recruits like Isaiah Briscoe and Skal Labissiere are ready to take on minutes from the start. Each player listed below is rated on Chad Ford’s big board for the 2015 NBA Draft.

Karl-Anthony Towns #1

7-0 PF/C 250 Freshman

Will he go pro?: Yes.

Should he go pro?: Yes.

Karl-Anthony Towns is widely projected among the top two picks in the upcoming draft, so it only makes sense that he leaves after one season in Lexington. Towns and Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor will likely battle for the top overall pick, although guards Emmanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell might have something to say about that.

It’s a good decision by the freshman, who I feel has the highest ceiling in this draft. Towns is a mobile seven-footer who can post-up and stretch the floor, although playing at Kentucky hasn’t allowed him to showcase the latter as much. He doesn’t have the post-up ability of his counterpart, but Towns’s natural tools, athleticism and shooting set him apart from the Duke center. The biggest thing with Towns will be workouts with Okafor, and how he fares could determine who ends up the first overall pick.

Willie Cauley-Stein #8

7-0 C 240 Junior

Will he go pro?: Yes.

Should he go pro?: Yes.

Willie Cauley-Stein hinted at it being his time to leave Lexington and head to the NBA after the loss to Wisconsin. Cauley-Stein offers potential All-NBA defense from the center position after a few years in the league. He’s extremely mobile, often guarding all five positions in college, and he’ll likely do much of the same in the NBA.

It’s easy to see his ability to move in space translate in the pick-and-roll heavy game the NBA has turned into today.  He looks like a potential Joakim Noah or Tyson Chandler-like defender when he adds some strength and learns the nuances of NBA defense. It’s time for Cauley-Stein to head to the NBA as he looks to be a potential top 10 pick.

Trey Lyles #16

6-10 PF 240 Freshman

Will he go pro?: Yes.

Should he go pro?: Yes.

Lyles isn’t as clear-cut to go pro as the first two are. A full season playing at his natural position of power forward would likely have him as a top five pick next season, but his potential is very high. He’s a highly skilled big man who can post up and finish with either hand and can score in the pick-and-roll with a mid-range game.

Lyles would benefit from returning to school and improving his foot-speed on defense as well as adding strength to defend the post. However, Lyles’s stock is at a high following a successful season, so look for him to take the next step and be a mid-first-round pick.

Devin Booker #19

6-6 SG 205 Freshman

Will he go pro?: Yes.

Should he go pro?: No.

Booker will most likely turn pro, but he’s the first member on this list that I think should hang around in Lexington for another year. He needs to work on a handle and in-between game in order to be successful at the next level. Also, he needs to improve on defense as he lacks sufficient length for the next level.

The success Kentucky has seen and Klay Thompson’s rise on the Golden State Warriors this season have both helped his prospects in the NBA. Like Thompson, Booker is a lethal shooter and scorer with a step-back jumper and perfect form. Although Booker has a lot of work to do to get on Thompson’s level, expect him to ride the wave and head to the NBA.

Dakari Johnson #37

7-0 C 260 Sophomore

Will he go pro?: Yes.

Should he go pro?: No.

Dakari Johnson is the third Kentucky center on this list, and he might be the best low-post scorer of the bunch, although Towns is obviously excellent as well. He exhibits patience in the post and the ability to seal as well as the strength to fight through contact at the rim. Johnson isn’t quite the defender as the other Wildcat centers, so it would help him to stay in Lexington in order to see big-time minutes as a junior.

Tyler Ulis #45

5-8 PG 155 Freshman

Will he go pro?: No.

Should he go pro?: No.

Tyler Ulis has already been hinting at coming back for his sophomore season after the loss to Wisconsin. The diminutive point guard will take the starting reins next season, and Kentucky will be better offensively because of it. Kentucky was simply a better offensive team with the pass-first Ulis leading the second unit this season.

Ulis is a true point guard who’s quick and has a nice jump shot. He does a solid job of setting up teammates and controlling tempo, something not all freshman point guards can handle at such a young age. The effectiveness of Ulis around his athletic teammates showed that he can perform at the highest level, but Ulis has a lot to improve upon. He desperately needs strength on defense and to help him finish at the rim. His height will always be a detriment to his NBA potential, but a few more years at Kentucky might make him a solid NBA backup for the majority of his career.

Andrew Harrison #56

6-6 PG/SG 210 Sophomore

Will he go pro?: Yes.

Should he go pro?: No.

The more highly-touted of the twins, Andrew offers versatility and size at the point-guard position when discussing his prospects at the next level. A legit 6-6 with good length and a solid build, Andrew takes advantage of that size when playing point guard. His size makes it easy to make passes into the post, as well as see over opposing defenses for lobs. However, he lacks awareness on defense and is turnover prone on offense, two things that could be improved upon if he stayed another year in Lexington.

Like his brother Aaron, Andrew lacks NBA-level quickness and athleticism to get to the basket and finish at a high level. He also lacks an in-between game and a consistent jumper to keep the defense honest. These deficiencies will need to be improved upon in order to have success at the next level. If Andrew heads to the NBA, look for him to be a second-round pick.

Aaron Harrison #80

6-6 SG 210 Sophomore

Will he go pro?: Yes.

Should he go pro?: No.

Aaron Harrison was the darling of last year’s tournament as a freshman who hit game-winning three-pointers almost every single NCAA tournament game before Kentucky lost to Connecticut in the championship game.  His NBA prospects aren’t great, but it’s easy to see him and his brother take the next step after all they accomplished in two years. Aaron has the same build as his brother; a compact 6-6 with sufficient length as a shooting guard.

However, he lacks quickness and consistency on the offensive end. He has a good jump shot but is just too inconsistent on this end, oftentimes taking wild and off-balanced shots. He has adequate strength to finish at the rim, but is out-of-control a lot of times, forcing difficult shots. He still has work to do, but like his brother, expect Aaron to be a second-round pick in the draft.

Marcus Lee #82

6-9 PF 220 Sophomore

Will he go pro?: No.

Should he go pro?: No.

Marcus Lee is an NBA athlete with length in the frontcourt. He should benefit the most from a return to Kentucky, with possibly the top three centers leaving. Lee is raw on offense but shows incredible timing and precision blocking shots on defense. He needs to add strength, as he’s just 220 pounds. He should put on 10-12 pounds to help withstand contact in the post and help finish at the rim.

I think Lee will be primed for a breakout year as a junior on next season’s Kentucky team. He can be a high-flying power forward who’s a beast on help-side defense as well as locking up his own man down low. Lee would benefit from a post-move or any type of mid-range jumper, but on defense his impact will be felt as he transitions into a starting role.

Alex Poythress #84

6-8 PF/SF 235 Junior

Will he go pro?: No.

Should he go pro?: No.

Alex Poythress should stay another season in Lexington as he looks to come back healthy from a torn ACL. Poythress has many things to work on to improve his prospects at the NBA level. First, he much choose a position. He’s a combo forward, without the range of a small forward and lacking the height of a power forward.

His best bet as a pro prospect is likely as a hyper-athletic power forward who can defend both forward spots. Hopefully he regains the athleticism that separates him from other combo forwards. If he gets any type of range on a jump shot, it would be huge for his pro prospects. He needs another year to round out his skills before heading to the NBA.

The Future

A Kentucky team built around Tyler Ulis, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee is a nice start. Maybe veteran guard Dominique Hawkins or forward Derek Willis are ready to make big contributions. Don’t bet against coach John Calapari to make some late attempts and get some more talent on-board to add to the existing class. Incoming freshman wing Charles Matthews, combo guard Isaiah Briscoe and center Skal Labissiere should be ready to contribute and Calapari should have the makings of another NCAA Tournament team in Lexington.


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