The 2011 NBA draft got significantly deeper (potentially) today when the Kentucky trio of Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and DeAndre Liggins announced that they would all be testing the waters and putting themselves through the evaluation process without hiring agents, giving each of the three the opportunity to withdraw before May 8 and return to school for another season.
Regardless of whether any or all of these youngsters stay in or back out of the draft, coach John Calipari's Wildcats will once again be stacked for the 2011-2012 college basketball season, thanks to yet another incredible haul of high school recruits, which includes three of the top six prospects in the nation.
Setting aside Big Blue's aspirations for a return trip to the Final Four, there is still the matter of what will become of Jones, Knight and Liggins should they remain in the draft.
Sure, one can speculate as to how each player's career in the NBA might turn out or how much success each one will or won't have at the professional level, but that's something that's best evaluated once the selections have been made, and we know full well who these kids will be playing with and playing for.
For now, let's put on our mock draftnik hats and have a look at where each of the three is likely to go in the June draft.
What better place to start than as close to the top of the draft as possible, where Brandon Knight figures to go.
Knight currently grades out as one of the top three point guards in the 2011 draft class, should he choose to stick around, along with Duke's Kyrie Irving and UConn's Kemba Walker.
The fantastic freshman from Fort Lauderdale led UK in scoring and assists with 17.3 points and 4.2 assists per game to go along with 4.0 rebounds and 37.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc. With those numbers, Knight set a Kentucky freshman record for points, with 657, and three-pointers made, with 87.
Knight's draft stock really took off during the NCAA tournament, during which he hit two game-winning shots, against Princeton and Ohio State, and scored 30 points against West Virginia while leading the Wildcats to their first Final Four in 13 years.
At 6'3" and 185 pounds, Knight has terrific size for an NBA point and plenty of court vision and awareness to boot. Now, while Knight may not be the pure point that Walker is and may not have the same remarkable athleticism that Irving possesses, he is still bigger than both—particularly the 6' Walker—and doesn't come with an injury history like Irving, who spent three months of his freshman season sidelined with a foot injury.
All told, Knight figures to be off the board within the first 10 picks, and might even sneak into the top five depending on how the draft lottery shakes out, sometime after Irving but before Walker.
Before Brandon Knight got around to hogging the freshman spotlight in Lexington, Terrence Jones was busy throwing down thunderous dunks and showing why he should be the first Wildcat off the board in 2011.
Jones' career at Kentucky got off to a quick start, with four games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in the first month and a half, before he really blew up with a school freshman record 35 points against Auburn in January.
Jones finished the seasons with averages of 15.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and, for good measure, 32.9 percent three-point shooting.
Not bad for a guy who, at 6'8" and 244 pounds, can do a little bit of just about everything on a basketball court.
The kid from Portland, Oregon is a terrific athlete with plenty of bounce in his shoes, length in his arms and spirit in his soul, though he does tend to be a bit inconsistent on the court, both emotionally and with his decision-making. At present, Jones has the body of a small forward but the game of a power forward, which makes him something of a 'tweener at this point—a stigma that no prospect wants to be slapped with.
Which of the three Kentucky players will have the best NBA career?
And though this year's draft is fairly shallow overall, it's still noticeably deep at the small forward position, wherein Jones will have to compete against guys like Arizona's Derrick Williams, the Morris twins of Kansas and international prospects Jan Vesely and Donatas Motiejunas, among others, to be a top-10 draft pick.
That being said, Jones still looks like a safe bet to be a lottery selection and, with some solid workouts, may even be able to sneak his way into the first 10 picks.
DeAndre Liggins represents the most questionable case of draft declaration among the three Kentucky teammates who threw their names into the hat today.
Liggins averaged 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game as a starter on Big Blue's Final Four squad.
The junior from Chicago is a tremendous defender—among the best in the nation—who led the Wildcats in steals this past season with 46. At 6'6" and 210 pounds, Liggins has plenty of size, strength and athleticism to parlay his reputation as a lockdown defender at the college level into a solid career in the NBA.
However, Liggins' defensive prowess alone won't get him even a sniff of the first round. At best, Liggins projects as a mid-to-late second-rounder.
Why so low? Liggins' offensive repertoire is notably limited and, at 23 years of age, his upside is quite limited, meaning that he isn't likely to become significantly better as a basketball player in the years to come.
That's not to say that Liggins doesn't have a viable future in the NBA. On the contrary, a defender of Liggins' aptitude should not have too much difficulty finding a spot on an NBA roster, particularly with so many prolific scoring guards and wings around the league these days that opposing teams need keep in check.
The point here is that no prospect, regardless of how tremendous his defensive ability may be, is going to be a first-round pick without something else to offer from his game. Even Bruce Bowen, who made a name for himself as a pesky presence on the perimeter for the San Antonio Spurs, went undrafted out of college and spent years floating around Europe before finding a niche for himself in the NBA.
Is DeAndre Liggins the next Bruce Bowen? Possibly, but that's difficult to tell. Is he a first-round pick? At this point, the answer is almost certainly "no."
Shortly after Knight, Jones and Liggins announced their decision to test the NBA draft waters, coach Cal came out in support of their choice, saying, "I support the decision these three have made to take advantage of the process of putting their names in the draft."
Of course, this should come as no surprise considering that prior to the announcement, Coach Cal came out in support of the trio at least submitting their names into the draft pool if not jumping in with both feet by hiring agents.
What remains to be seen is how the draft order will shake out after the NBA draft lottery, as the repositioning of various teams in the draft could affect when and where this Bluegrass trio goes.
In the meantime, Liggins will likely attend a draft combine in New Jersey to play his way onto some draft boards around the league while Jones and Knight figure to garner private workouts and meetings with various NBA teams, most of whom will likely hope that they see the draft process through to completion in June.
And back in Lexington, Coach Cal and Big Blue Nation will wait, with baited breath and some trepidation, to see if these three ultimately stay or go, though the arrival of the nation's best recruiting class in the fall should help to soften the blow.