Upside. That is the word that is most often mentioned when it comes to the draft, and this year is no different. When looking at the top of the draft board, it is all about upside and who can help a team in the future rather than in the now.
Upside is also a very scary word. Both Greg Oden and Darko Milicic had upside and potential. Oden has been a free agent for most of his NBA career and Milicic was out of the league so fast that his nickname could be the flash.
With that said, teams in pursuit of one of Kentucky’s seven draft prospect have nothing to worry about. None of them should end up being the next Oden of Milicic. Barring reaching too early for Willie Cauley-Stein or Trey Lyles, each player will have a chance to develop into great role players down the road.
The obvious selection
There is no doubt that Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns has major upside. He is a 7-foot forward/center who can score and crash the rim. His physical tools are unchallenged by anyone else in the draft whose last name isn’t Okafor.
While his numbers are not off the charts — 10.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game and 1.1 assist per game — Towns is still one of if not the best prospects in the draft. He has the ability to score inside and stretch the floor if need be. His ability to pass the ball is also impressive for a big man.
The only question mark some have for Towns is his defensive ability, which is why some draft experts still have Jahlil Okafor being taken before Towns. His defensive ability can be worked on over time and will evolve the longer he is in the league.
As it stands, Towns is projected to be taken first overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to DraftExpress.
The shooter and the protector
Devin Booker and Cauley-Stein are two players that are projected to go in the middle portion of the lottery picks. Booker is one of the best shooters in the draft, which goes hand-in-hand with the NBA’s “small ball” agenda. Being compared by many to J.J. Redick, Booker shot just over 40 percent from 3-point range while at Kentucky.
Due to Kentucky’s depth this past season, Booker’s stats were contained. He averaged 10 points per game. His size — 6 feet, 6 inches — will make him among the bigger shooting guards in the draft.
Similar to Redick, not many people are talking about Booker’s defense. As is the case with Towns, those skills will evolve with age — he is only 18 years old. It is projected that he will be drafted ninth overall to the Charlotte Hornets, where he would join former UK standout Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Defense is not an issue for Cauley-Stein. Many draft experts consider him as one of the best and most versatile defensive players in the draft. He is a very physical player who is not afraid to go after every rebound.
Standing at over 7 feet tall, Cauley-Stein is more of a prototypical NBA center. He is strong, big and loves to battle in the paint. One of his best games was a Dec. 5 victory over Texas, where he recorded a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
He is also referred to by experts as one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the draft. DraftExpress currently has Cauley-Stein going 11th overall to the Indiana Pacers. Some draft boards have him going as high as sixth overall to the Sacramento Kings, which would pair him with NBA and former UK standout Demarcus Cousins.
The rest of the pack
Trey Lyles leads the way for the rest of the UK prospects in this year’s NBA draft. He is currently projected to stay just in the lottery picks of the draft — he is projected to go 13th overall to the Phoenix Suns.
Lyles draft stock was hurt somewhat due to the depth of Kentucky. He didn’t get a chance to showcase his ability like he would have if UK wasn’t so deep. Regardless, he has the size and offensive skill set to make an impact on a team a year or two down the road.
He will definitely be able to stretch the floor in the NBA and make things happen for other players on the team. He has great upside because he is so young and talented. The only fear is that a team my reach too early to get him, which would hamper his ability to grow into a great role player over the next few years.
Dakari Johnson is another Wildcat who may have benefited from more minutes. Another prototypical center, Johnson does a good job of protecting the rim. While he can be an offensive liability in the NBA, he will still produce rebounds and blocks for teams coming off the bench.
It is doubtful that he will be an all-star at the next level, but Johnson will be a good contributor as a role player.
The Harrison twins are still a little underrated. Andrew Harrison has the best chance to succeed as a role player in the NBA. He is the more versatile player between the two. It may take some time, but he will develop if he is given the chance to.
Aaron Harrison, the only UK prospect being projected to go undrafted, is a good shooter that showed up during clutch situations several times throughout his career. If he doesn’t get drafted, there is a good chance a team will sign him to a short deal, non-guaranteed deal to come off the bench.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN