NBA Draft: “Cats may be the best guards available”

Kentucky became a breeding ground for NBA talent under John Calipari, as seen by the 28 one-and-done players who were selected in the first round.

Now at Arkansas, Calipari’s final class with the Wildcats includes Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard, two of the top guards in next week’s NBA Draft.

They are in the same elite as Nikola Topic, an international talent, Dalton Knecht of Tennessee, and Stephon Castle of UConn.

UConn’s Stephon Castle
SUMMARY: The two-time defending national champion UConn team benefited greatly from the top-10 national recruit’s success as a large combo guard. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound rookie had promising defensive and passing skills that might one day enable him to play. Despite that high recruiting ranking, he can dominate smaller guards and is a proven winner. He is happy to play as a complementary fit, scoring 11.1 points per game and requiring the fewest shots (fifth-most for the Huskies) to have an impact.

Before the championship game, head coach Dan Hurley remarked, “It’s just been the perfect situation for him because his draft stock is right where they want it to be right now and he’s won big.” “Everyone can still win if you do both.”

WORRIES: The jumper need repair. To force defenders outside, he needs to extend his range, since he only made 20 of 75 3-pointers (.267).

Kentucky’s Sheppard and Dillingham
STRENGTHS: Sheppard’s shooting stroke is particularly good. Almost half of his 263 shots came from behind the arc, and he made 52.1 percent of them from 3-point range. With the capacity to play at both guard positions, he averaged 4.5 assists and made 83 percent of his free throws. His exceptional ability to shoot from outside the field complements the modern game that emphasizes 3-point shooting accuracy and floor spacing.

With his quick first step and deft ball handling, Dillingham can create for himself or for others. He is a good scorer (15.2) and shooter (44.4 percent) from 3-point range.

Concerns: Dillingham, who turns 20 in January, and the other player are both tiny; at the combine, Dillingham weighed 164 pounds and stood 6 feet 1 inch.

Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht
SUMMARY: At Tennessee, the first-team Associated Press All-American scored 21.7 points, which was eighth in Division I. He also shot 45.8 percent, showing himself to be dependable off the bounce, in transition, and from behind the arc (39.7 percent). He tested well at the combine in the shuttle run (No. 1 at 2.79 seconds) and lane agility (No. 2, 10.56), reaching the line (5.7 per game).

Coach Rick Barnes referred to the 6-5, 212-pound fifth-year player as “a flamethrower” after he scored 37 points in an NCAA Elite Eight defeat to eventual finalists Purdue. The athlete excelled in big games.

“He adores the game.” He puts effort into it “explained Barnes. “Watching how much he improves going forward will be fun.”

QUESTIONS: It’s not obvious if the season he spent working on defense with Barnes provided the necessary answers regarding his mobility and athleticism. He is old by NBA rookie standards at 23 years old.

Serbia’s Nikola Topic

STRENGTHS: The 18-year-old’s stature (6-6, 203) and ability to create opportunities for teammates and himself make him a playmaker. He is capable of finishing at the rim, pushing the ball in transition, and attacking paint off the dribble. He can locate teammates in difficult situations and is a fantastic passer as well.

WORRIES: One concern is the shooting range. The topic is shooting about thirty percent from three point range while playing for two teams in the Adriatic League in 2023–2024. His left knee injuries are also a health worry; ESPN revealed earlier this month that he has a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament.

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