When looking at the mock drafts it becomes very clear that Kentucky’s ability to produce TOP prospects for the NBA has declined in recent years. This is especially true at the center position. That’s what I want to focus on with this piece. Let’s look at the position year by year:
09-10 – Demarcus Cousins
Cousins was ranked 3rd overall coming out of high school. Derrick Favors was the top player overall and the top center that year. Favors went 3rd in the NBA Draft and Cousins went 5th. I would say that the development was great for Cousins. Even though he stayed consistent from recruitment to draft, he definitely grew tremendously in his skill in his one year at Kentucky and made the right choice to leave early for the NBA.
10-11 – Enes Kanter/Josh HarreLlson
I want to include Kanter in this conversation because he was able to practice throughout the year. Kanter was ranked 8th overall and behind Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones in the PF-C rankings. Kanter was drafted 3rd overall and Sullinger and Jones stayed for their sophomore year. Those practices, as limited as they may have been, helped Kanter develop enough to succeed early in his NBA career. Josh Harrellson was a bright spot in Kanter’s absence. The senior from was one of the few that stayed during the transition from Billy Gillispie to Coach Cal. He was ranked 270th overall as a JUCO prospect in 08 and in his senior year bumped his averages up. His points per game rose from 1.3 to 7.6 and his rebounds per game improved from 1.2 to 8.7. Harrellson went undrafted and spent some time in the G-League before making a few NBA rosters and playing a total of 75 games for the Knicks, Heat, and Pistons collectively. This wouldn’t have happened without the growth he experienced at Kentucky.
11-12 – Anthony Davis
Greatest Cat ever? Davis was #1 overall and went #1 overall. Moving on.
12-13 – Nerlens Noel
Interchangeably the best prospect coming out of high school with Anthony Davis in the last 20-30 years for Kentucky. We all know the story of this year and the injury that cost Kentucky their season. Noel was still able to get drafted 6th overall. The growth Noel showed from day one to his injury was great showing a leap in offensive output to go with his already great defensive presence.
13-14 – Julius Randle
Randle came in as the 2nd ranked prospect overall and was a double-double machine (and still is) for Cal. Randle was drafted 6th overall behind Joel Embiid and Aaron Gordon. I’d say his development was right where it needed to be.
14-15 – Karl-Anthony Towns/Willie Cauley/Stein
2014-15 was one of the biggest examples of how well Kenny Payne and the Kentucky staff could help big men develop. Early in the season, KAT struggled a bit and by the end of the year he was an absolute BEAST!!!! Towns came in as the 5th overall prospect behind Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander. He ended up drafted #1 overall. Willie Cauley-Stein was a Junior at this point and enjoyed success throughout his time at Kentucky culminating in a Defensive POY and taking his original ranking of 43rd overall into the 6th overall draft pick!
14-15 – Skal Labissière
Skal was heralded as the rightful heir to the big man fortune at Kentucky. He was ranked as the #2 overall prospect and it was clear very early on that he wasn’t where he needed to be. That didn’t improve much throughout the year as he was coming off the bench a lot towards the end of the season. Eventually he was drafted 28th overall in the NBA Draft. This may be the worst example of development during the Cal era. How much of that can be attributed to the staff as opposed to the player?
16-17 – Bam Adebayo
Bam was ranked 9th in a loaded 2016 class. He was behind Harry Giles and Jonathon Isaac and turned his one year at Kentucky into a 14th overall pick and a successful start to his NBA career. I’d say that the staff at Kentucky redeemed itself!
17-18 – Jarred Vanderbilt
This was an injury issue combined with NBA scouts seeing raw potential. Vanderbilt only played 14 games at Kentucky and still ended up getting drafted 41st. The staff can’t be blamed for this one and the development of PJ Washington and Nick Richards was already beginning.
18-19 – PJ Washington
Sophomore PJ Washington could be one of the best players for turning the tide on the players that decide to come back to school not seeing themselves as a failure. His stats improved from 10.8 PPG to 15.2 and 5.7 RPG to 7.5. PJ came in as the 15th best prospect and got drafted with the 12th pick last year. His rookie season was a good one in the shortened year and it’s clear that the staff really helped Washington improve during his time in Blue.
This group of guys really shows one thing to me, Kenny Payne and the Kentucky staff know how to develop big men and have made it a priority throughout the Cal era. Nick Richards will be drafted in June and he’ll be the next man to see that improvement from his college career. His tradjectory looks a lot like that of Willie Cauley-Stein and I hope that he sees the kind of success WCS has seen. Looking forward to next year, Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware are the incoming freshman and are highly touted. Matt Haarms could be coming in from Purdue and the 7’2″ center could be a big piece of the puzzle of a somewhat small team.