Despite having three well-rounded players in this year’s draft class, Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari’s lottery streak may be coming to an end.
Few things are certain in the NBA Draft: Someone will cry as their NBA dreams are realized, Jalen Rose will provide some questionable draft comparisons, and John Calipari will angle himself correctly so he can be on camera as another Kentucky prospect gets selected in the lottery.
This year, however, draft viewers may only see two of those things, as the Kentucky Wildcats’ streak of lottery picks could finally end.
Since the arrival of John Calipari as head coach in 2010, the Wildcats have had at least one player drafted in the first 14 picks in each subsequent draft. He’s sported top selections in John Wall, Anthony Davis, and Karl-Anthony Towns, and twice coached multiple players selected within the top five.
Calipari’s streak reached its peak in 2015, when the Wildcats turned a near undefeated season into four players selected within the first 14 picks. After Towns went first to Minnesota, Willie Cauley-Stein went sixth to Sacramento, Trey Lyles went 12th to Utah, and Devin Booker went 13th to Phoenix.
Last season, Calipari had four players drafted, including the Knicks’ own Kevin Knox with the eighth overall pick and Shai Gigleous-Alexander picked 11th overall.
This season? The Wildcats will be lucky to see any of their top draft prospects selected in the lottery.
Let’s take a look at the three players vying to keep Calipari’s streak alive.
Kentucky’s best bet to preserve the streak might be a freshman guard from Virginia.
Last season, Keldon Johnson showed all the skill set of an effective off guard. He got to the basket offensively and spaced the floor for Kentucky. Defensively, Johnson used his strong frame to shut down smaller players and his foot-speed to stay in front of speedier guards.
Still, there are concerns regarding Johnson’s long-term game. While not a ball hog, Johnson finished with just 1.6 assists and a 1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio (60 assists to 60 turnovers). That, combined with his pitiful block and steal numbers (28 steals and just six blocks in 1137 minutes) suggest Johnson would be on the lower end of 3-and-D guards if he were to reach his potential.
Yet, Johnson could be a solid defender and floor spacer at the wing—one of the most valuable archetypes in basketball. He faces a frightful climb with players like Kevin Porter Jr., Romeo Langford, and Nassir Little all battling for the bottom half of the lottery, but Johnson could be the one to emerge.
While Keldon Johnson is Kentucky’s best chance at a lottery selection, P.J. Washington might be the best Kentucky player in the 2019 draft class.
Washington ticks all the boxes for both a big wing player and an ideal stretch 4.
Averaging 15.2 points as a sophomore, Washington saw his three-point shooting jump to 42.3% over 78 attempts—while also averaging 1.2 blocks per game. The ability to alter shots and space the floor is a rarity and could be a perfect fit in the right system.
Washington would be a great selection in the back-end of the lottery. Teams like Charlotte, Minnesota, and Miami could all use Washington’s combination of size and defense. However, due to various injuries over the last two seasons, Washington will most likely slide into the middle of the first round.
Washington has the best overall game, and Johnson offers the most desired archetype of the group. Still, Tyler Herro might be the most interesting of the bunch. Of the three, Herro is the only one who provides an elite skill right away: shooting.
Another freshman, Herro provided a majority of the spacing and creation for Kentucky this past season, averaging 14.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. His shooting profile—53.8% from two-point range, 35.5% from deep, and 93.5% from the free throw line—is encouraging for someone whose value stems from his ability to space the floor.
With a negative wingspan, Herro could be fighting an uphill battle on defense. That said, he finished last season with 40 steals and 12 blocks, and maintained good awareness on that side of the ball. What he lacks on defense, Herro makes up on offense as a secondary ball-handler and shooter.
We’ve seen similar profiles—Malik Monk and Luke Kennard recently—go in top 12 picks in prior drafts, so there is a precedent for this to happen. That said, Herro might be best slotted for a team in the teens willing to look past his defensive warts in favor of his shooting.
Since the arrival of John Calipari, the Kentucky Wildcats have been an NBA Draft factory, successfully navigating top high school prospects through one collegiate season before sending them off to the NBA. However, this streak of lottery selections could come to an end on Thursday.
Each of his prospects offers positives. Johnson has a 3-and-D mold; Washington is a jack-of-all-trades forward who could play everywhere on the floor; Herro is a shooter and secondary playmaker. Each player feels like a top-20 pick, but due to the large pool of decent players—and lack of star upside—the class is wide open after pick three.