Kentucky lost its top seven scorers from the Final Four team last year, so the 2015-16 version should look noticeably different. So, in comes another great recruiting class of top-notch talent, ready to take on the bright lights and continue growing Kentucky’s brand—this time on a more global scale.
Not only did Kentucky get national attention from an ESPNU two-hour combine, but head coach John Calipari has recruited players in his 2015 class from Canada, Australia and Haiti, in Mychal Mulder, Jamal Murray, Isaac Humphries and Skal Labissiere respectively. These four, alongside Chicago’s Charles Matthews and New Jersey’s Isaiah Briscoe, bring a blend of talent and versatility to the roster.
Kentucky’s roster has an intriguing blend of talent, maturity, playmaking and shot blocking that Calipari can use to create a variety of different lineups. It should be an interesting year for the Wildcats, who seem destined for a new identity but still have similar expectations.
Sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis should run the show at point guard, but lacks long-term NBA talent, and is a backup at best at the next level. Athletic senior forward Alex Poythress is still returning from an ACL tear, but could be someone to watch as he trusts that left leg even more as the season progresses. Sharpshooting guard and junior college transfer Mychal Mulder and Ulis should give Kentucky enough outside shooting to keep the floor spaced.
With that being said, who are the top NBA prospects on this Kentucky team?
Honorable mention: Charles Matthews (SG/SF, Freshman), Mychal Mulder (SG, Junior), Tyler Ulis (PG), Alex Poythress (PF, Senior)
5. Marcus Lee 6-9 225 PF/C Junior
After two years buried deep on the depth chart behind a wealth of talent, Marcus Lee finally gets his chance as a junior to make an impact. He will most likely play both frontcourt spots this year, and possibly down the line thanks to his 7-3 wingspan. Lee is a good shot blocker and improved on all his athletic measurements from a year ago—including a maximum vertical of 39.5 inches.
He is projected to the second round right now, but could improve his stock heavily with what he shows this year. He is an NBA athlete and has the tools to have a breakout season alongside the many talented prospects up front for the Wildcats. Lee is raw offensively, so his growth on that end should be something to watch as he finally sees the court for significant action this year.
4. Isaiah Briscoe 6-3 200 PG/SG Freshman
Isaiah Briscoe is a physical, city-style point guard who brings great length (6-8 wingspan), defensive and slashing abilities on the perimeter. Questions remain about his decision-making, which might relegate Briscoe to playing more shooting guard with Ulis and Murray being more capable ball-handlers at this point—but Briscoe’s long-term upside remains highest as a point guard.
He is a physical player who can finish at the rim but needs to improve shooting from the outside if he’s going to play more 2-guard. There will most likely be some growing pains for Briscoe as a freshman growing more accustomed to playing alongside other ball handlers, but he brings a different element to the table as a physical presence in the backcourt. Look for Briscoe’s name to be in the middle of the first round with a successful year at Kentucky.
3. Isaac Humphries 7-0 260 PF/C Freshman
Isaac Humphries, a talented 7-foot freshman Australian, was proclaimed to be a potential No. 1 overall pick in a few years by Jay Williams, and while that might be a bit overboard, Humphries is very skilled as a 17-year old at this stage of development. Humphries has a huge 260-pound frame and shot it well from distance during the shooting drills. Humphries baby fat (12.2 percent) was a bit high, but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise given his youth, and the sky is certainly the limit once he grows into his body.
Humphries won’t be draft eligible for a few years, but it’s possible he has as much natural talent as anyone on this team. He has performed exceptionally well on big stages during the FIBA U-17 World Championships, which bode well for his chance at making an impact for the Wildcats at such a young age. Calipari knows Humphries has the chance to see the floor this season, saying on the broadcast that “Isaac needs to be on the floor some.” Look for Humphries to be a lottery pick whenever draft he enters.
2. Jamal Murray 6-4 205 PG/SG Freshman
I’ve written a bit on Jamal Murray before, and he remains the second-best NBA prospect on Kentucky’s 2015-16 squad. Murray is as talented a guard as there is in the nation, and he showed it over the summer on multiple occasions. At 6-4 and 205 pounds with a solid jump shot and handle, Murray can play either guard spot with ease and should be a playmaker alongside a trio of talented point guards in Ulis and Briscoe respectively.
Murray isn’t thought of as a great athlete but showed out well on the combine, with a 39.5-inch vertical jump. That is promising for the Canadian and his NBA prospects, as he seems more smooth than explosive. Murray has deceptive quickness to get where he wants to go offensively. His name has been in the top five recently and look for him to stay there with a solid season in Lexington.
1. Skal Labissiere 7-0 220 PF/C Freshman
Skal is one of the top two NBA prospects in the country right now, so it’s not necessarily a surprise he rounds out the top five at the top spot. Labissiere has yet to be cleared by the NCAA due to an “amateurism” issue, but that doesn’t take away from his natural talent and immense size. Labissiere has a soft touch from the perimeter and can block shots on the defensive end, bringing intrigue as an athletic, versatile two-way big man.
You’d be hard pressed to find a 7-footer with his combination of speed, explosiveness and fluidity, which is why Labissiere is slotted in either the first or second slots across most mock drafts at this point. Even if the NCAA deems Labissiere ineligible this season, it’s hard to imagine him falling from the top spot with scouts seeing his skill set up close. Labissiere gives Kentucky more versatility up front, and he should be able to play both frontcourt positions at the next level as well. Expect him to go in the top two with a successful season for the Wildcats.