Kentucky Basketball: Predicting 2014-15 Rotation After Trey Lyles Commitment
Kentucky landed another five-star recruit on Tuesday—power forward Trey Lyles—leading us to start wondering whether the Wildcats could win back-to-back National Championships.
Lyles joins Devin Booker and Karl Towns Jr. on the list of five-star recruits that have already committed to joining Kentucky for the 2014-15 season. UK also has four-star point guard, Tyler Ulis, joining the squad next year.
With more than half of the 2013-14 roster either graduating or expected to depart for the NBA, John Calipari is proactively combating the likely attrition—as he seems to do every year.
So what exactly does it look like when a team has the top recruiting class in consecutive seasons?
Here's the early educated guess on what the rotation will be when Kentucky tips off the 2014-15 season.
Point Guard: Tyler Ulis
The chances of Andrew Harrison—the top-rated point guard in this year's incoming class—returning to Lexington next season are somewhere in the vicinity of "slim" and "none."
Unless Kentucky completely breaks the internet by also signing presumed-package deal Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, that leaves the point guard duties for the 2014-15 season in the incredibly capable hands of Tyler Ulis.
Ulis' scouting report on ESPN Insider (subscription required) identifies him as a "true point guard" with a high "basketball IQ." And as CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello writes, he's the perfect fit for Kentucky because he "doesn't need to score in order to make an impact."
If there are any negative concerns about the 2013-14 Kentucky team—aside from that NIT loss to Robert Morris after all of last year's preseason hype—it's a question of how the team can possibly be equal to or greater than the sum of its parts.
Having eight guys who could legitimately average 20 points per game together on one team at a level where even the highest scoring teams barely cracked 80 points per game last season could cause some serious ball-distribution issues.
Assuming that Kentucky is nearly as stacked next season as it is this year, a pass-first point guard could really help solve the bizarre problem of having too many scorers.
Shooting Guard: Devin Booker
No relation to Clemson's senior power forward of the same name, Devin Booker is the third-highest rated shooting guard in next year's recruiting class, according to ESPN.
With the assumption being that Aaron Harrison will join his brother in departing for the NBA after one season, Booker figures to be the primary deep threat for the Wildcats in 2014-15.
His high school coach calls him "the Peyton Manning of basketball" because of his high basketball IQ and apparent ability to see the game in slow motion, no matter how fast-paced it gets.
Scout.com has Booker pegged as a smart player with a ton a range who can play at either shooting guard or small forward. That versatility could go a long way if James Young leaves for the NBA after this season, leaving the Wildcats with no small forwards on next year's roster at this point in the recruiting process.
Booker committed to Kentucky less than one week ago.
Small Forward: James Young
With Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein somewhat surprisingly returning for their sophomore seasons at Kentucky, there will inevitably be a highly touted player from this year's team who comes back for another season. There simply aren't enough minutes in the season for seven or eight players on one team to demonstrate that they're worthy of being lottery picks in the NBA Draft.
In that vein of thought, the smart money is on seeing James Young come back for a sophomore season.
Between Poythress, Cauley-Stein, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, the Wildcats have five big men worthy of being the primary post presence on a lot of teams around the country. Unless Coach Cal can convince those five guys to share the 80 minutes per night allotted to the power forward and center positions, we're going to see a fair amount of Poythress and Randle at "small forward."
Thus, unless Kentucky is able to land undeclared five-star recruit, Stanley Johnson—who currently has Kentucky as one of the five schools left on his list of options and likely won't commit until early 2014—it wouldn't be a surprise if Young's collegiate breakout party is postponed 12 months.
He deserves better, though. He was rated the third-best small forward and the eighth-best overall recruit in this year's class.
If Young does depart for the NBA after this season, look for either Lee or Derek Willis to fill the role of 6'9" small forward next year.
Power Forward: Trey Lyles
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Trey Lyles immediately becomes the projected starting power forward for the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats.
At 6'10" and 255 pounds, it was a huge signing for Kentucky in more ways than one.
ESPN's scouting report on Lyles (insider required) states, "He is smooth and effortless. He reminds you of a young Tim Duncan offensively."
That might not have the hit-you-in-the-face firepower of the comparisons made between Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but that's hardly the type of praise to be flippantly thrown around. Duncan is one of the greatest power forwards in basketball history.
Yet, that connection makes perfect sense after watching his mix tape. His footwork and vision within five feet of the rim is incredible, and he has great touch with both hands. Lyles loves taking those 15-foot jumpers from the elbow that Duncan has nonchalantly been draining for more than 15 years.
Duncan stayed at Wake Forest for four years, though, so perhaps it isn't a perfect match.
Center: Karl Towns Jr.
One might expect a mix tape of a 7'1" phenom to consist mostly of alley-oop dunks and brutal rejections that send the ball flying into the fifth row along the sidelines.
However, Karl Towns Jr. has the look of a kid who played guard for his entire life, only to suddenly grow 10 inches one summer. He has incredible ball control and shooting range out to and beyond the three-point arc.
As with any big man, the hope is that he'll eventually get stronger and grow more comfortable in the paint on both ends of the floor. For now, Towns looks like he might play a similar game to Baylor's Isaiah Austin—who attempted 90 three-pointers last season and just barely out-rebounded teammate Cory Jefferson despite being four inches taller than him.
Towns is certainly one of the more athletic centers that we've seen in some time, but it'll be interesting to see whether he can develop a Shaquille O'Neal mentality to complement his Dirk Nowitzki tendencies.
And in case you insist on making connections between current and former Kentucky centers, Towns played against Anthony Davis in the summer of 2012 when the U.S. Olympic team faced the Dominican Republic national team. Even at 16 years of age, he looked pretty good.
Key Players off the Bench
Tough to imagine a walk-on stealing many points or minutes away from the heavily recruited Harrison brothers, but Floreal should be a key cog in the Calipari machine next season.
Marcus Lee, Forward
It doesn't seem likely that Lee will be able to get his foot into the starting roster any time soon. Julius Randle is the top-rated power forward in this year's class while Trey Lyles checks in as the second-best prospect at Lee's position in next year's class.
Moving to center wouldn't seem to make things any easier, with Dakari Johnson playing that role this year and Karl Towns Jr. occupying it in 2014-15.
Still, Lee was ranked the ninth-best incoming power forward, and should be able to do some serious damage off the bench both this year and next.
Derek Willis, Forward
Compared to an entire starting line-up of incoming five-star recruits, three-star Willis almost seems out of place. However, Jerry Tipton of the Kansas City Star thinks that Willis will actually contend for playing time this season—an implied vote of confidence for his potential playing time in 2014-15, as well, despite the aforementioned roadblocks for power forwards at Kentucky.
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