29 Apr

Kentucky star Rob Dillingham turning pro after shining in freshman season with Wildcats

Kentucky star Rob Dillingham is entering the 2024 NBA Draft after winning SEC Sixth Man of the Year as a freshman, he told ESPN. The 6-foot-2 guard sparked the Wildcats off the bench, helping UK finish with the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense at 89 points per game.

Though Dillingham has a long way to go defensively, the flashes of NBA-caliber offensive acumen came early and often at UK for the Hickory, North Carolina, native. Dillingham averaged 15.2 points in just 23.3 minutes per game and also dished out 3.9 assists per game as he and fellow freshman guard Reed Sheppard brought offensive firepower from outside the starting lineup in coach John Calipari’s 15th and final season at Kentucky.

As a 44.4% 3-point shooter in his lone college season, Dillingham is a long-range threat who also has the quickness and ball-handling ability to break defenders down off the dribble to find his spots inside the arc. Dillingham reached double figures in 27 of 32 games and reached 20 points on eight occasions for the Wildcats and surpassed some of his own teammates in NBA Draft projections during the process.

“It doesn’t matter what pick I am, if I get picked 60th,” Dillingham told ESPN. “I want to go to a team that trusts me and can help me build, and I can build with them, and make me better. I just want to help my team win, and they can develop me and teach me things.”

Robert Dillingham’s NBA Draft projection
Given Dillingham’s offensive upside and the relatively weak nature of the top of the 2024 NBA Draft class, Dillingham will have a chance to rise up the board. Dillingham is slotted at No. 1 in the 2024 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings from CBS Sports, and he landed at No. 2 in a recent mock draft from Kyle Boone.

“Despite coming off the bench the majority of the season for Kentucky, Dillingham flashed shades of Kyrie Irving with his twitchy ability and brilliant ball-handling skills,” Boone wrote. “He can take over games when he’s hot and has the athletic pop to grow into a potent two-way player.”

Defense will be the biggest issue for Dillingham early in his career until he adds strength. But as a natural scorer with a deep bag of tricks on the offensive end, it’s easy to envision Dillingham blooming into an All-Star caliber guard.

Impact on Kentucky
Even if Calipari had remained at Kentucky for the 2024-25 season, the likelihood of getting Dillingham back was virtually nonexistent. With a chance to be one of the first players selected in the NBA Draft, Dillingham is making the correct and long-expected decision to turn pro. Whoever winds up replacing Calipari will likely be building a roster from scratch as the transfer portal and draft lure most of the program’s 2023-24 roster away. Kentucky’s highly touted recruiting class is also at risk of disintegrating, which means UK’s next team is likely to be a transfer-heavy group.

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