NCAA Basketball

2011 NBA Mock Draft: What Will Happen to Kentucky's Players?

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With last night’s NBA Draft Lottery complete and the draft order set, it is time to start speculating and projecting where the draft eligible Wildcats may be playing next year.

Kentucky is losing three players to the Draft; four if you count big man Enes Kanter. Kanter, as everyone knows, was ruled ineligible for UK last season and never suited up for the Cats. Josh Harrelson leaves via graduation after a monster senior year. DeAndre Liggins and Brandon Knight have declared early for the NBA Draft and signed with agents.

DeAndre Liggins decided that it would be best for him to capitalize on his best season as a Wildcat and declare for the Draft after his junior season. Kentucky’s lockdown defensive specialist opted for the NBA rather than taking the advice of Calipari and returning for his senior year.

However, there are some external factors that may have played into Liggins decision. Liggins has a child, and playing basketball professionally, whether it is in the NBA, NBDL, or another professional league, would allow for him to better provide for his family. Also, returning for his senior season, with perhaps one of the best recruiting classes of all time coming in, would not guarantee him a chance to improve his draft stock.

Liggins is a guy who is known for his toughness and defensive prowess. He is also a guy who has vastly improved his range and jump shot, and he is certainly capable of getting to the basket. If he is lucky, he will get picked up by a playoff team that needs help on the perimeter and on the defensive end. Liggins was great as a role player for the Cats, and that is what he projects as at the next level. If a team is looking for a lock down defender who can spot up and make a big shot, do not be surprised to see them take DeAndre Liggins. The Lakers had trouble defending in the playoffs and could use a guy like Liggins in certain spots to D-up on certain players. If Liggins were to go undrafted, a team like the Knicks, who struggled mightily on defense all season, could sign Liggins as a free agent and could use Liggins as their lock down defender down the road. Projections have Liggins going anywhere from the late first round all the way to undrafted. But as everyone knows, it just takes one team to like you to get drafted.

Harrelson’s coming out party came in a 78-63 victory over cross state rival Louisville. The man they call “Jorts” scored 23 points on 10-12 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds. Harrelson had a solid SEC season, ranking near the top in rebounds throughout conference play. But Harrelson really made a name for himself during UK’s Final Four run and became one of college basketball’s top centers.

After the NBA’s first round, Harrelson may be trading in his jorts for a juit (a denim suit if you will). Once “Jorts” signs his first-round deal, he will have plenty of cashola to by some denim swag. Harrelson’s rise to fame and his run of dominance in the NCAA Tournament put him pretty firmly at the backend of the first round. That is potentially a great situation for a guy like Harrelson who can give some minutes, grab some rebounds, but still develop for a likely contender.

A couple of playoff teams that could use a guy like Harrelson are Boston and San Antonio. The Celtics hold the 25th pick in the first round and have aging veterans at the power forward and center positions. With Shaquille O’Neal’s injury and likely retirement along with Jermaine O’Neal’s age, Harrelson could be a good fit for the C’s. San Antonio has an aging Hall of Famer also in the post in Tim Duncan. They also did not get the desired production they sought from DeJuan Blair. With the 29th pick in the first round, San Antonio could pull the trigger on Harrelson to backup Duncan and push DeJuan Blair for playing time. Houston at 23 may also be a player for a center, but other needs may take them in another direction.

However, some projections do not even list Harrelson in the first or second round. Maybe they just forgot how he dominated Ohio State’s Jarred Sullinger and North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller in consecutive rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Harrelson will be a steal for an NBA team, because where he lacks in skill, he makes up for in effort and toughness.

Now for the lottery picks.

Kentucky is now known for their “one and done” players. But what about UK’s first “none and done” Enes Kanter? Kanter, who was ruled by the NCAA as a professional and no longer a player with amateur status, is about to get PAID for real. Kanter is a virtual lock for one of the top three picks and if Kanter fell to the Cavaliers at four, it would be a steal. That would signify a first round of Kyrie Irving and Enes Kanter. That would be quite a haul. Most mock drafts have Kanter going to the Minnesota Timberwolves who hold the second pick overall. Kanter is a guy who can come in right away and play. Many NBA officials said that Kanter would have been one of the top picks had he gone to the draft last season, but he wanted to play college basketball.

Kanter would be a dream pick for Minnesota and makes all the sense in the world for them. With Darko Milicic, Anthony Tolliver, and Nikola Pekovic at the center position, Kanter would start almost immediately and be an impact player along side of Kevin Love and Michael Beasley in the post. The Timberwolves just have to hope that Kanter does not pull a Ricky Rubio and decide to play ball back over in Europe. But if Minnesota screws up their pick or goes with a Derrick Williams, Utah might be there to clean up Kanter to replace an aging Mehmet Okur and give newly acquired Derrick Favors a running mate down in the post.

After a strong rookie season and a phenomenal run through the NCAA Tournament, perhaps nobody improved their NBA stock quite like Brandon Knight did. Knight hit clutch shot after clutch shot for the Cats on their run to the University’s first Final Four since 1998. When Knight initially put his name into the Draft, he must have received some strong feedback. If that feedback is that he would be a lottery pick and potentially top-5, it is a no-brainer for him to go pro.

Knight is a tough guy to project because he could go anywhere. He will more than likely be a top-10 pick, and could sneak into the top five. He gets out in transition, he has in-the-gym range, gets to the basket at will, and handles the ball like a true point guard. In a point guard league, Knight should fit in well and flourish in the right situation. He is more versatile than Kemba Walker from Connecticut, who may be a better scorer, and should have no problem playing big minutes in his first season in the NBA.

There are a handful of teams that could use a point guard in the first 15 picks. Knight’s destination will likely be determined by the drafting of Kyrie Irving. Irving is projected by most to go number one overall to Cleveland. But if Cleveland goes another direction, it could directly affect Knight’s selection. Irving will likely be the first point guard off the board and it is likely that Knight will be the second.

Cleveland, Utah, Toronto, and Sacramento could all be in play for the services of Brandon Knight.

Cleveland would be off the board for Knight with the fourth pick if they take Irving number one. But if they went with Kanter or Arizona’s Derrick Williams at the top, Knight could be an option at number four.

Utah is definitely a player for Knight, who lost their franchise point guard when they traded Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets. Yes, the Jazz now have Devin Harris, but he has never won anything with the Nets and he is not a franchise point guard like Knight can be.

Toronto has an aging and overpaid Jose Calderon along with Jerryd Bayless out of Arizona, but Brandon Knight would be an improvement over both of those players. The Raptors, however, may see they have more pressing needs and opt to go another route.

Sacramento would be an intriguing place for Brandon Knight. With a young roster full of budding stars, the Kings (for at least one more year) could take Brandon Knight and move Tyreke Evans off the ball to the two guard. The combination of Knight and Evans along with fellow Calipari disciple Demarcus Cousins in the post could be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Now the Wildcats certainly won’t have five players drafted in the first round unless Mark Krebs has declared for the draft and shoots up the projection boards, but this year will continue the trend of John Calipari getting his players to the NBA. With four more players heading to the league, it is just further evidence that Calipari is a master at his craft and will continue to recruit and land the top talent in each recruiting class for the duration of his time at Kentucky. Good luck to this year’s “Draft Cats” in the 2011 NBA Draft and to long, prosperous careers in the league.