Who Will Stay and Who Will Go
The Cats had their earliest NCAA tournament exit of the John Calipari era which means the speculation on next season’s roster gets a head start. At this point the biggest question is about what players will enter the NBA draft and what players will stay. The NCAA has changed the withdrawal deadline for players that wish to remove their name from the NBA draft to May 25th. That means that players can declare for the draft, get feedback from teams, and even go to the NBA combine if they are invited. Then they can take that information and make a decision to stay in the draft or return to school. That will likely lead to several guys “testing the waters” to see where they stand in regards to their draft stock. If a player does not get invited to the NBA combine it is a clear sign that they should return to school. Obviously Alex Poythress has finished his career at Kentucky but here is my own personal speculation on what to expect from the rest of the team. One thing to keep in mind is that the 2016 NBA draft is considered to be one of the weakest drafts in many years and that will affect who enters the draft.
Jamal Murray– He had an amazing season at Kentucky and set the single season scoring record for a freshman at UK. He also set the single season freshman 3 point record as well as mad a 3 point shot in every game he played in. He will be a top 10 NBA draft pick at the very worst and really can not do anything to improve his stock in what would be a very deep 2017 draft. Murray is a lock to enter the draft. It just wouldn’t make any sense for him to return.
Tyler Ulis– In my opinion Tyler Ulis was the best point guard I have ever seen play at UK and NBA scouts have taken notice. Despite his short stature Ulis is projected to be drafted in the 1st round by virtually every draft analyst. The weak draft is the perfect scenario for Tyler to enter the draft this year. There is literally no way that Ulis can ever get his stock higher than it is now. He will make the smart decision and enter the draft.
Skal Labbissiere– Despite his struggles this season the NBA is still intrigued by his potential. Sure you can draft a known commodity like a Buddy Hield but you could draft someone like Skal that has a much more unknown upside. He remains projected as a top 20 draft pick by almost all analysts and he will likely do well in the combine. Like it or not the NBA drafts on potential and they are particularly intrigued by the idea of drafting a player that could blossom into a star. Skal runs the risk of losing the mystery that entices teams if he returns and does not take a big step forward next season. Of course he is not “ready” to play in the NBA right now and any team drafting him would know that. They would stash him away on a NBA D-league team to develop for a couple years. The upside for Skal would be that he would be signed to a first round contract which is a 3 year guarantee that would at worst total close to 3 million dollars. If he ends up as a lottery pick his salary would be considerably higher. Alex Poythress was projected as a first round draft pick after his freshman season but he opted to return and he never regained that status again. Now he will likely go undrafted or late in the 2nd round at best. That does not mean Alex has any regrets about his decision but the reality is that it probably cost him a lot of money in the short term. It is certainly possible that Skal could improve his stock by returning but it seems more likely that he would hurt it and for that reason I think the only decision is for him to enter the draft. I will be extremely shocked if Skal is back in Lexington next season but I would welcome the surprise.
Isaiah Briscoe– His draft stock was once in the mid 20’s but has now slid out of even the 2nd round according to virtually every analyst. With the new rules I expect Briscoe to test the waters and see if he gets invited to the combine. He can get some input from NBA teams to help him make his decision. There is always a chance that he could decide to pursue his dream of playing professional basketball at whatever level he has to start at. There have certainly been players that opted to leave with the knowledge that they likely wouldn’t be drafted. With that said Briscoe is in a much different position than Skal. He would almost certainly start alongside De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk and have a good chance to improve his draft stock. A summer of working on his jump shot and free throw shooting would be very helpful for him. He would be a key piece in what will likely be a very good team and national title contender. Ultimately I think he will declare so he can get feedback and then opt to return to Kentucky.
Marcus Lee– He is not projected to be drafted in either round but a decision still remains for him. The reality is that he probably will not play his way into the draft next season either. So is he ready to try to make a go of things now or is he happy to play a final season at UK? He seems to enjoy being in college as much as any player in recent years so it would seem that another year of college would be fine by him. It would also give him one more season to try to improve as a player. There is a chance that he could improve his stock by not having to be relied on as a key player as he was this season. With the deep frontcourt the Cats will have next season he could play a specific role in which he could showcase his positive attributes better. The new rules seem like a great chance for Marcus to declare and see what NBA personnel has to say to him. I think Lee will eventually return to play his senior season at UK.
Derek Willis– The late season injury really slowed Derek down and may have taken away any chance at him drawing interest from NBA teams for the upcoming draft. If I was an NBA GM I would consider Derek a better NBA prospect than Marcus Lee because of his shooting. There have been a slew of big men in the NBA that made a long career out of standing in the corner and making open 3’s. The issue for Willis is who he would guard at that level. After the loss to Indiana he vowed to spend the summer working to improve his defense. He could test the water but with the need to heal his ankle fully I expect him to return to UK. He will be a factor for the Cats next season and if he can improve his defense he could see himself getting major minutes once again.
This is the roster that I am 100% confident in for next season barring a surprise transfer by anyone.
1. Dominique Hawkins
2. Derek Willis
3. Charles Matthews
4. Isaac Humphries
5. Mychal Mulder
6. Tai Wynyard
7. Sacha Killeya-Jones
8. Wenyen Gabriel
9. De’Aaron Fox
10. Bam Adebayo
11. Malik Monk
With the eleven players listed above that only leaves room for two more scholarship players. If both Briscoe and Lee opt to return it will fill out the Cats roster. The interesting thing is that Cal continues to recruit five star center Marques Bolden and has shown interest in Omer Yurtseven a 7 footer from Turkey. Cal is on record as saying they will probably add one more big man to the 2016 recruiting class. In fairness he said that a couple months ago so maybe he does not feel as certain about it at this point. Never the less he seems to be after Bolden heavily. The point is that there is not room on the roster for all of the players. The reality is that these things often work themselves out on their own and it is not worth worrying about. It will just be interesting to watch how it all plays out. The take away from everything is that Kentucky will have a deep and loaded roster next season. This year Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray did everything in their power to carry the Cats as far as possible. This coming year should be a return to a physically dominating roster that will be a problem for college basketball.