NBA

Does Kentucky Have Three Freshman Lottery Picks?

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Will Kentucky freshmen Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo become John Calipari’s third trio of Wildcats to become NBA lottery picks in the same draft?

Kentucky had Karl-Anthony Towns (1), Willie Cauley-Stein (6), Trey Lyles (12) and Devin Booker (13) selected in the lottery last season. Kentucky had John Wall (1), DeMarcus Cousins (5) and Patrick Patterson (14) selected in the lottery in 2010.

As of today, Monk and Fox are considered top 10 projected picks while Adebayo falls between the late lottery and late teens range according to numerous league executives.

Kentucky beat Hofstra in the second game of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center. After the game, coach John Calipari was asked what progress he’s seen from his freshman trio.

“Malik is playing and trying to do the things we’re asking him to do, only thing is he’s got to get fouled more,” Calipari replied. “Don’t go to the basket trying to avoid everybody and flip the ball, get fouled. De’Aaron Fox, way better, yet, didn’t play with the speed that we want him to all the time and some dumb fouls. Bam, you’re seeing him come into his own, you just see it game to game. I think they’re doing fine.”

Monk leads the team in scoring (19.4) and has proven to be a knockdown shooter from the field overall (.477), beyond the arc (.385) and at the foul line (.870).

One general manager agreed with Calipari’s assessment.

“[Monk] is a shooter and very athletic,” an Eastern Conference general manager told Basketball Insiders. “He’s an undersized two-guard. Can he make plays off the dribble to excel in the role as an undersized two?”

According to Monk, there’s one specific part of his game that’s grown the most since his first day at Kentucky.

“Probably just consistency,” Monk said. “That’s what coach Cal talks about all the time. He talks about that every day in practice.”

Consistency isn’t the only thing Calipari is preaching in practice to help his freshman trio grow and prepare the Wildcats for a run at the NCAA championship down the road.

“Coming in here, there’s a couple things you know,” Calipari said. “You better bring it every day in practice because there are other guys who can play. This isn’t just about you shooting balls, this is about getting better and that’s why you come here. You challenge yourself to see, ‘How good could I be as a player?’ Then, the second thing is, the other team, they’re coming at you every game. If you’re cool, like ‘I’m cool, I run with my thumbs up,’ and stuff, you can’t come to Kentucky. You’d get killed.”

Thus far, Kentucky has only faced two teams ranked in the top 25. In an early mid-November test against Michigan State, Kentucky prevailed easily. However, a loss to UCLA earlier this month proved Kentucky isn’t unstoppable.

“We’re going to be every team’s Super Bowl,” Monk said. “Coach Cal said that from the jump. If we don’t bring it, we’re going to get beat. Every game we’ve got to bring it and be focused from the jump.”

This year’s potential draft class is loaded with freshman point guards led by Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, N.C. State’s Dennis Smith and Fox.

Fultz is considered the top prospect in the draft. Fultz is 12th in the country in points per game (22.8) while shooting efficiently from the field (.497) and beyond the arc (.487). He also fills the stat sheet on a nightly basis with rebounding (6.9), assists (6.1), steals (2.1) and blocks (1.2).

Ball ranks second in the country in assists per game (8.8) and has four double-doubles. Despite receiving criticism for his shooting form, reminiscent of Kevin Martin, Ball has shot well from the field (.560) and downtown (.453). He’s a major reason why UCLA is 10-0 and leading the Pac-12 Conference.

Smith may be the most explosive athlete of the freshman point guards and is the leading scorer for the Wolfpack (18.3).

Fox is a blur in the open court and a hounding defender on the ball. Much of Kentucky’s offensive success begins with Fox, who sets the tone from the opening tip as a playmaker. Fox ranks ninth in the country in assists per game (6.9). However, he has one glaring weakness in his game.

“Shooting is so important in today’s game, especially for point guards,” one Eastern Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “Look at Michael Carter-Williams or Elfrid Payton. Fox needs to improve in that area. Monk has the shot already.”

Fox needs to adjust his elbow positioning and release point. These are correctable habits with instruction, repetition and confidence. Defenders go under ball screens and leave Fox open knowing he’s hesitant to shoot. If Fox can force defenders to respect his jumper and go over ball screens, he can use his explosiveness to attack the paint more easily.

“He has good positional size for a point guard,” an Eastern Conference general manager told Basketball Insiders. “He’s got a good motor, is very athletic and is a good passer. He’s developing as a shooter and needs to develop his body.”

“Fox is a jet with pretty good size for a point guard,” one Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “He doesn’t shoot the ball well, which is an issue, but he’s got a chance to be pretty good.”

Similar to Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, Fox and Adebayo have become a dangerous lob combination on the break and in pick-and-roll sets.

At first glance, Adebayo is reminiscent of a young Dwight Howard thanks to his broad shoulders and physical physique.

“He’s the readiest (of the trio) athletically and physically,” an Eastern Conference general manager told Basketball Insiders. “His offensive skill set is still very much in the development stage.”

That same general manager compared Adebayo to a young Shawn Kemp physically.

“Adebayo has a great body, but is just so raw,” one Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “I question his basketball IQ and instincts a bit. He’s an athlete with an NBA body. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses as the year goes on.”

Adebayo’s post game is a work in progress as he continues developing his up-and-under and jump hook moves around the restricted area.

While most of the executives polled for this story currently have Adebayo on the fringe lottery to late teens range, Calipari has developed other big men over the years who have saved their best as March approaches.

“I told them twenty times in this game ‘I’m not coaching you for this game,’ we’re up twenty-five, what do you want me to do, sit and cross my legs?” Coach Calipari said. “I’m not coaching you for this game, this is for the next two, the next three, the next five. And what we’re doing right now, we can’t win playing this way.”

Now the real challenges for Kentucky begin with upcoming matchups against North Carolina and Louisville.

“This team has a long way to go,” Calipari said. “We’re young, we show it. We’re talented. We do some good things in stretches and then we do some bad things in stretches. We need to get in a gym and we need to get to the camp part of our season, which is two and three-a-days. They get time to sleep, to eat; we give them video time, the phone time. They’ve got to have that or they’ll climb walls, so you’ve got to let them do some of that. But, the reality of it is, let’s get down to getting better. These guys, every one of them, they’ve gotten better.”

With the fall semester wrapping up, Calipari is as excited for the winter as he was the first day of practice.

“I am so happy because Wednesday will be our last finals,” Calipari said. “I don’t have to worry about anything academically, nothing. We’ll go 29 straight days, four-a-days. I’ve got nothing to worry about except basketball.”

While finals signal the end of classes, for now, the education on the court for Kentucky’s freshman trio is only going to intensify as they attempt to lead the Wildcats to a national championship and hit the jackpot in the draft as Calipari’s third trio to be selected in the lottery.

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About Michael Scotto

Michael Scotto

Michael Scotto is a Senior NBA Writer for Basketball Insiders in his sixth season covering the league. He also works for The Associated Press focusing on Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks game coverage.

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