This year’s NBA Draft has been dubbed the weakest since the Cleveland Cavaliers wasted the first overall pick on Anthony Bennett. There’s no consensus prize, or catchy tank phrase. Just the Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards, and Portland Trail Blazers vying to see who can most egregiously throw away a season. However, there is one storyline that’s gone overlooked, something that hasn’t happened in 50 years.

According to NBADraft.net, the best source for non-paywalled mock drafts, Knecht and Sheppard are the fourth- and fifth-best prospects in this player pool. The former just led Tennessee to its first outright SEC title in the regular season since 2008, and the latter stole the hearts of Kentucky fans everywhere like he does from so many unassuming ball handlers. (Why certain Wildcat faithful have hopped on Sheppard’s jock is not up to me, because you know there are a ton of people in the Bluegrass State who’ve done so for reasons that are, shall we say, white supremacist.)

Knecht is a fifth-year guy who spent two years at Northeastern Junior College in Colorado, transferred to Northern Colorado for another two seasons, and ended up playing for Rick Barnes at UT in his final season. (Long live the transfer portal!) He’s a 6-foot-6 guard out of Fargo, North Dakota whose stock rose following a late growth spurt.

Now he’s getting 20 per game on the No. 4-ranked team in the country, and could lead the Volunteers to a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance with a solid conference tournament showing. I don’t want to go white-on-white for player comparison, so think of the poorest man’s Glenn Robinson. Great shooter/scorer, athletic but won’t wow you, and isn’t going to stop too many people on the other side of the court.

Sheppard is the wildcard to me because he’s a true freshman, is from Kentucky, and appears to be living out his wildest dreams in Lexington despite coming off the bench. Given that he declares, which he should, because if you’re projected to go top 10 you have to — or else risk ending up like Tyler Hansborough and overstaying your welcome en route to the tail-end of the lottery.

If Sheppard ends up going the one-and-done route and forgoing the rest of his career in Big Blue, he’d be one of a few notable players selected in the lottery who didn’t start in college, joining the likes of Zach LaVine, Russell Westbrook, Devin Booker, and Marvin Williams. Though at 6-foot-3, he’d definitely be the shortest.

Sheppard has 53/51/83 shooting splits, averages two and a half steals per game, and does everything well. Coming into the season, guards DJ Wagner and Rob Dillingham received more hype, but Sheppard is leading the trio in minutes, assists, and rebounds per game. While Dillingham scores more per outing (15.1 points on 11 shots per night), he’s far less efficient than Sheppard (12 points on seven attempts).

The caveat to everything I’m saying is this draft sucks, the only outlet I could find that has the pair going top five is a website that ends in .net and, at best, Knecht and Sheppard are rotation players or maybe a Sixth Man of Year. Would I trust them over, say, anyone from this year’s G League Ignite? Yes. Do they have more upside? No, but the Ignite develops worse habits in players than John Calipari, and that’s concerning.

Regardless, it’s a fun story for people who ride with Kevin Love, Larry Bird, Tom Chambers, and the like for reasons that aren’t “Let’s restore the white man’s standing in basketball.” Who knows, maybe Cooper Flagg follows it up next year as the first white American No. 1 overall pick since Kent Benson in 1977, and ushers in a renaissance of stateside caucasian hoopers.

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