Kentucky Basketball: Projecting the Wildcats' 2016-17 Starting Lineup

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2016

Kentucky Basketball: Projecting the Wildcats' 2016-17 Starting Lineup

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    There is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the future of the Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team, but what we do know is this squad is going to be loaded.

    Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis and Skal Labissiere are all gone after declaring for the NBA draft and signing with agents. Marcus Lee and Isaiah Briscoe have declared as well, although both can return if they choose. While Briscoe appears more likely to come back to Lexington, Lee seems determined to move on to the next level.

    "I want people to know I am serious about this," Lee said of declaring for the draft, per's Jeff Goodman. "I've talked to [head coach John Calipari] about this, and he definitely understands that I'm going to the NBA this year."

    As a result, projections for next year will include Briscoe, but not Lee.

    On the other hand, the Wildcats are bringing in yet another elite recruiting class, ranked No. 1 in the country by 247Sports. The group could be even better with the addition of still-undecided Marques Bolden, although once again we will assume he doesn't land in Lexington.

    Even without Bolden and the departed stars from last year, this is still a team that should contend for a national championship next season. It has high-upside talent and plenty of depth that should give Calipari plenty of options for his lineup.

    While a lot can change before November, here is an early prediction for the starting lineup in Game 1.

Guard: Isaiah Briscoe

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    Kentucky utilized a three-guard lineup throughout last season because it put the best players on the court. Even with Briscoe likely becoming the only returning member of this trio, he could be a part of a new elite set of guards this year.

    As a freshman, Briscoe showcased a lot of what made him such a highly touted prospect. The 6'3" guard was a stud defender who often matched up against an opponent's leading scorer. Offensively, he showed off his point guard skills with 3.1 assists per game and could drive into the paint and finish near the rim as well as anyone.

    The problems came from the times he wasn't near the rim, because Briscoe's shot is as bad as imaginable for an undersized guard.

    According to Hoop-Math, Briscoe made just 32.1 percent of two-point jumpers and 13.5 percent of three-point attempts. Perhaps the most embarrassing stat was his 46 percent shooting from the free-throw line.

    Some people just aren't good shooters, but the rising sophomore needs to spend the entire summer working on his game away from the basket or else he won't have much of a future in this sport.

    Briscoe still has plenty of value on the court; the young player just has a lot of room for improvement.

Guard: De'Aaron Fox

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    A backcourt of Briscoe and De'Aaron Fox might give Kentucky the best perimeter defense we have seen under Calipari.

    Fox stands at 6'3" but has incredible length and athleticism that will make him a terror on defense from day one. He will be difficult to drive against while also possessing the ability to break up passing lanes off the ball. With his skill set, he clearly picked the right program to take advantage of his aggressive nature.

    Of course, Fox also has plenty of ability on the offensive end.

    The point guard showcased his scoring talent in the Jordan Brand Classic, racking up 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting while taking home Co-MVP honors with future teammate Malik Monk. Like Briscoe, he is best when attacking the basket but is more than capable of knocking down a shot from the outside.

    He also has the passing ability that will be missing from this team with Ulis no longer on the roster. He can penetrate on his own and then dish to bigs in the post or shooters on the wing. He doesn't quite have the vision of future UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, but he can certainly get others involved.

    As the top point guard in the 2016 class and No. 4 player overall, per 247Sports, Fox will definitely get a lot of playing time next season.

Guard: Malik Monk

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    This three-guard lineup would struggle against bigger opponents with Monk (6'3 ½") being even smaller than Murray (6'4"). Any team with a traditional lineup and a big small forward would represent a tough matchup for this group.

    However, there also aren't many opponents that will be able to defend Monk, one of the best pure scorers in the class.

    Although the Arkansas native isn't as well-rounded as Fox, he can certainly light up the box score. He has a nice shooting stroke from the outside and can consistently create looks for himself from anywhere on the court. He also has good athleticism to attack the basket and finish at or above the rim.

    Kentucky often has freshman leading scorers, and Monk can be the next in line to take on this role.

    The biggest question is how he will react to having this much talent around him. The guard is best with the ball in his hands, but on this team he might be forced to share the spotlight and learn how to move around the court without the ball. It will be a challenge to make sure he doesn't disappear at times during games.

    While learning a new position will be a process, Monk can be a star offensively and a go-to option right out of the gate.

Forward: Derek Willis

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    Derek Willis almost seems out of place on a team of McDonald's All-Americans and future NBA stars.

    The rising senior doesn't have the upside or athleticism of most of the players on the roster. What he does bring is a versatile skill set and the heady play of someone who will be valuable next season.

    Willis showed this past year what he can do as an offensive mismatch. The 6'9" forward can step out and hit a three while also posting up smaller defenders and scoring in the paint. According to, he was the sixth-most efficient player in all of college basketball with an offensive rating of 131.8.

    Considering he also more than held his own defensively and on the glass, it was no wonder he started to earn more playing time as the year progressed.

    While this is a new season with new players around him, there is no reason Willis should go back to his reserve role off the bench. He adds a much-needed dynamism to the offense with his ability to spread the floor, opening things up for the rest of the team to make plays inside. He also does just about everything you ask him to do on the court.

    As one of the few upperclassmen on the roster, Willis will be needed for leadership and guidance and should be a member of the starting rotation in November.

Forward: Bam Adebayo

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    Between Labissiere, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis, Kentucky has had a lot of big men who can play like guards in recent years. For better or worse, that does not describe Edrice "Bam" Adebayo at all.

    Adebayo is an old-school forward who does his best work within five feet of the basket.

    The incoming freshman is a physically imposing player at 6'9" and 232 pounds of solid muscle. On offense, he simply bullies his way to the basket, using his size to force opponents out of the way. He does have improved technique and plenty of skill around the paint, but his best attribute is his strength.

    This same strategy is used on the defensive end, where it is a chore to get around him. This also helps him become a vacuum on the glass, as he showed in the McDonald's All-American Game when he tallied 16 points and 12 rebounds, the only double-double of the game.

    Adebayo has room to improve on both ends of the court, but his physicality allows him to be college-ready from the moment he steps on campus.

    Even though Kentucky will have plenty of depth in the frontcourt this year, Adebayo is clearly the best option to provide the interior presence Calipari looks for on a team. He should be a starter right away and hold onto that spot throughout the year.


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    Wenyen Gabriel, Forward 

    The appeal of Wenyen Gabriel is his upside. The 6'9" forward has the size, length, athleticism and skill set that scouts love.

    He just needs to learn how to put it all together.

    Gabriel can make shots from the outside while also being a threat to block shots, giving him the ability to spend time anywhere from the wing to center. He needs to add some consistency along with more fluidity to his game, finding ways to create opportunities for himself on offense.

    His versatility will make him valuable on this roster, but Gabriel might be a year away from contributing at a high level.

    Sacha Killeya-Jones, Forward 

    Although Sacha Killeya-Jones needs to add strength and isn't quite as athletic as Gabriel, he is much more advanced mentally, and it could help him get more minutes as a freshman.

    Killeya-Jones runs the floor well and will get a lot of points on his motor alone. He always finds a way to be around the ball and should set a good example for those around him. Meanwhile, he has plenty of skill with a quality jump shot and a developing back-to-the-basket game.

    He isn't expected to be a major shot-blocker on defense, but he will be in the right spot more times than not and use his length to make everything tough for opponents. This should be enough to become a factor during his freshman season.

    Isaac Humphries, Center 

    While Isaac Humphries only managed 9.1 minutes per game as a freshman, he certainly improved as the year progressed, providing some big minutes when needed off the bench.

    As a true 7-footer with good strength, the Australian has the potential to be an above-average defender at this level. According to KenPom, he ranked second on the team in block rate (7.6 percent) and defensive rebounding rate (18.2 percent), both numbers being better than starter Lee.

    Although he probably will still be relegated to a minor role with plenty of frontcourt depth on this roster, he can continue to develop and potentially become a factor for this program down the line. 

    Charles Matthews, Guard 

    At times, Charles Matthews represented the only backcourt depth Kentucky had last year. The freshman wasn't much of an offensive threat (he only scored three total points in his last 11 games), but he filled his role as a defender, passer and rebounder.

    Even if the minutes reduced late in the year as the coaching staff shortened the bench, Matthews still did his job when asked.

    Next year should represent a similar role for Matthews, who has the athleticism and scoring ability to make an impact when his time comes. He needs to work on his outside shot, but if he is more aggressive with the ball in his hands, he could be a big factor off the bench.

    Dominique Hawkins, Guard 

    When he is healthy, Dominique Hawkins can be a valuable part of the offense thanks to his shooting ability from the outside. He hit only 27.6 percent of his shots from three-point range last year, but he has the talent to be a threat from deep.

    At the very least, he is someone defenses have to account for from beyond the arc, unlike Matthews or Briscoe.

    On a team that will lack many alternatives in the backcourt, Hawkins and Mychal Mulder will battle for playing time, and the former should have a leg up if he is 100 percent.

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