NBA Draft Preview: UK Edition

Guard Jamal Murray shoots the ball during the Wildcat’s game against the Stony Brook Seawolves during the first round of the NCCA tournament at Well’s Fargo Arena on March 16, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Taylor Pence

Anthony Crawford

Ever since John Calipari took over at UK, the college basketball season doesn’t officially end for Big Blue Nation until after the NBA Draft. While this year may not be as exciting as years past for fans, the Cats still have three solid prospects with at least two expected to go in the lottery. Here’s a look at the three UK prospects that are most likely to all be drafted.


Jamal Murray


6’5” 207 lbs

Season averages: 20 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, .454 FG%, .408 3P%

Expected Range: Top-Five selection, definitely won’t fall outside of Top-Ten


The guard from Kitchener, Ontario put up a freshman season that speaks for itself. In his only season for the Cats, Murray established quickly that he would be a guy that could put the ball in the bucket and he proved he was one of the best scorers the school has seen having the highest scoring average for any UK player under Calipari.

Concerns over Murray stem from whether he will be able to score in the same volume and efficiency at the next level. Murray has a proven skill when it comes to coming of screens and being a spot up shooter, so at worst he can be a guy that can provide spacing to teams with his outside shooting. Team are concerned, however, with his athleticism and wonder if he has the speed or quickness to work a pick-and-roll or beat his defender on drives. The same concern over athleticism has teams raising questions about what type of defender he will be as well.

Best Case Scenario: Taken No. 6 overall by the New Orleans Pelicans

This scenario is one that all of BBN would be in favor of, Murray joining former UK great Anthony Davis on the Pelicans. New Orleans are in win-now-mode and will be looking to get all the help they can to put beside Davis who has become a legitimate star in the NBA. While Murray seems young his shooting and scoring is something that could help the team immediately. He fits in well next to current point guard Jrue Holiday as both guys are capable of playing on or off ball and Holiday is more of a plus-defender and could help hide Murray’s deficiencies on that side of the ball.


Skal Labissiere


7’0” 216 lbs

Season Averages: 6.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 15.2 MPG, .516 FG%

Expected Range: Late Lottery to Mid-First Round


Throughout his only season at UK, Labissiere always had that feel that was in over his head when it came to the level of competition. He showed flashes of his potential, a seven-footer with a smooth outside shooting stroke and shot-blocking ability, but he was never able to sustain it. He would at times look like a guy that could be a legitimate rim-protector but the he would showcase either bad timing and rack up fouls or just get pushed around and give up points and rebounds inside.

Whatever team drafts him will likely be hoping they eventually get the guy that played against LSU in the season finale. He tallied 18 points, nine rebounds and six rebounds against the likely No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons. That is Labissiere’s ceiling and it is enough for teams to take him late in the lottery, even despite the risk of him never quite panning out.

Best Case Scenario: Taken No. 11 overall by the Orlando Magic

With spacing being valued so highly in today’s NBA, Labissiere eventually developing as a shot-blocking, floor-spacing center would fit almost any team, but the Magic are a team that won’t be expecting anything right away which is something that will benefit Skal Labissiere greatly. Orlando currently has more a traditional big-man in Nikola Vucevic and while he’s great at scoring in the post and rebounding, Orlando really lacks a rim-protector with him on the court. Insert Labissiere beside him and the combo would mesh great on both ends of the court.

Whatever team drafts him should expect Labissiere to spend a few years in the D-League, but if he does end up finding his footing in the NBA the Magic would be a great fit for his skills.


Tyler Ulis


5’10” 149 lbs

Season Averages: 17 PPG, 7 APG, 3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, .434 FG%, .344 3P%

Expected Range: Late-First Round


With Ulis, NBA teams know exactly what they are getting — a player that they can trust to run the offense and a guy that is going to give you great effort. Ulis has always had low expectations follow him because of his small stature but he broke all expectation of his college career as he looks to be a first-round prospect in the NBA Draft after just two seasons at UK. And there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue shattering expectations at the next level.

Teams should look at Ulis as a guy that they can trust to keep the offense going with the bench unit out on the floor. He has been the smartest player for the the Cats since he first stepped on the court last season as a freshman and got to a point this season where Calipari trusted him fully with the offense. He was able to handle a larger scoring role this year but will likely be more efficient when he has better options than he had at UK this season and doesn’t have to look for his own shot.

Defensively is where teams will have a problem with Ulis. Coming in not only short but also with very light, teams will have to worry heavily if he ever caught in a switch on a wing or post player. He was great on the perimeter, however, for the Cats and was able to use his smaller size to really get in tight and frustrate ball-handlers. If teams can work out a defensive scheme to prevent or help counter switches on Ulis, then he will have no problem succeeding in the back-up point guard role.

Best Case Scenario: Taken No. 29 overall by the San Antonio Spurs

Immediately following UK’s season, teams were high enough on Ulis to see him projected at the end of the lottery but since then concerns over his thin frame and an issue with his hip have seen him fall. It’s still possible to see him go earlier but with him expected to go in the 20’s, Ulis can be a great pickup for a team that is already contender. With that in mind, Ulis’s fit as a backup would probably be best utilized for the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs have a long history of taking foreign players with their late-first round picks, but it’s hard to imagine a player as smart as Ulis not fitting well with a team like the Spurs. His ability to facilitate an offense would be a great addition to the team and just imagining him in the pick-and-roll with big-man LaMarcus Aldridge would have any NBA fan drooling.