All this chatter regarding the number of scouts in Rupp Arena the other night got me thinking: How many legitimate NBA prospects does Kentucky have on its current roster? It’s been awhile since we’ve had more than one at a time, let alone several, like we have this year. Some are gimmes, others are works in progress, and there are even a few potential diamonds in the rough buried at the end of the bench. Let’s break down the roster, layer-by-layer, in terms of perceived NBA talent. Part I can be found here. Next up:
The Keith Bogans/Tayshaun Prince Group (i.e., The guys that have every right to test the waters, but would almost definitely be best served by returning to school.)
Following the end of the 2000-01 season, Kentucky’s Keith Bogans and Tayshaun Prince made themselves eligible for that summer’s NBA Draft. Both had the numbers to go: Bogans finished the season as the team’s leading scorer (17 ppg), while Prince was named the SEC Player of the Year after averaging 16.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. However, after going through their workouts and talking to GMs, both decided that it’d be best for them to spend some more time honing their skills at UK. The NBA guys told Prince he needed to get stronger and work on his defense in the post; they let Bogans know that, as a general rule, they like their perimeter players to be able to dribble the ball with both hands. So both came back and both were better served for it. Following Prince’s senior season at Kentucky the Detroit Pistons made him the 23rd selection of the 2002 NBA Draft. Bogans ended up staying for two more seasons in Lexington, being named SEC Player of the Year in the process, before being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks (43rd overall) in 2003.
Kentucky’s current roster has one player, in my opinion, that should strongly consider the Bogans/Prince approach with this year’s NBA Draft. He has every right to declare, but I think he’ll find out (from the guys that know) that it’d be in his best interests to play another year (or two) of college basketball.
Strengths: Athleticism, Strength, Excellent Slasher/Penetrator
Weaknesses: Turnovers, Inefficiency, Outside Jumper
The idea of Eric Bledsoe turning pro at the end of his freshman year seemed fairly crazy for the majority of this season. All that changed, however, when Bledsoe went for 25 points against Florida, and suddenly people started calling him the second-best point guard prospect in this year’s class. This seemed like a great idea at the time, but once you take a look at Bledsoe’s numbers (specifically, his turnovers and 2-point FG%), I think you’ll realize that sort of talk is just insane.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Eric Bledsoe. He’s a strong, tough player, and has been able to do things (knock down the 3-point shot, score 20+ points when we need him to) that I hadn’t expected to see out of him this early. But for all the things he can do, there’s one thing he can’t: Not turn the ball over. Take a quick look at Bledsoe’s NBA Draft Express profile, and one of the first things you’ll notice is that he’s one of the most turnover-prone players in college basketball. Bledsoe averages about .32 turnovers per possession, which currently puts him 3rd from the bottom amongst all college players.
Another problem with Bledsoe is his jump shot. I know the numbers indicate he knocks it down at a fairly solid clip (42% from 3 for the season), but even the greenest NBA scout won’t have to look long before they realize that percentage is a little skewed. For one, he’s only hit 26 for the season, or one for almost every 25 minutes he spends on the floor. For two, they’re mostly uncontested, which allows him to get away with the slow, flatfooted jumper he currently hoists. For three, for a guy with a rep as a slasher, his 2-point FG% is brutal (46 percent). You’d have to think all of that would diminish Bledsoe’s high 3-point percentage in the eyes of most NBA scouts. As if that weren’t enough, his size kills him. He’s only 6’1”, which would almost certainly take away any chance of him playing off the ball at the next level, and only further compounds the issue of his jumpshot, or lack there of.
The quandary for Bledsoe, though, is whether or not it’d be worth coming back, since his role on next season’s team may not be any different from his role this season. It’s looking more and more like Brandon Knight will be a Cat, which, from what I’ve seen (of Bledsoe) and heard (of Knight), would create a situation for next year that’s not much different from the one we’re currently seeing: Bledsoe as the two-guard (with occasional point guard responsibilities), with Knight as the primary ball-handler. Bledsoe and Wall have coexisted beautifully this season, and I’m sure we’d be able to say the same thing about a Bledsoe-Knight backcourt next year. But as great as that is for Kentucky, it doesn’t do a whole lot for Eric Bledsoe, at least in terms of improving his NBA stock. Ideally, he’d be able to come back, run the point next season, cut down on his turnovers, improve his outside jumper, and show NBA teams that he’s ready to be a floor general at the next level. However, assuming Knight comes in, and Bledsoe stays at the two, all of the sudden he’s got the same issues facing his draft stock as he had as a freshman. Combine that with the fact this year’s crop of point guards is considered extremely weak (a large part of the reason Bledsoe is becoming so highly regarded), and all of the sudden Bledsoe is facing a decision not unlike the one Jodie Meeks faced last season. Do you come out now, even though you’re not ready, but the talent at your position is low? Or do you stay another year, improve, but risk getting lost in the shuffle of a stronger class?
That will likely be the decision Bledsoe has to make at the end of the season. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t at least declare, if for no other reason than to attend the draft camps and see how his game stacks up against other prospects (Sherron Collins, Kalin Lucas, Kemba Walker, etc.) and figure out what he needs to work on for next year, assuming he returns (which I believe he will).