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NBA mock draft 2019: Zion Williamson establishes himself as No. 1 to the Cavs

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A lot has changed in our mock draft since the start of the college season.

College basketball is in full swing and with it comes a crop of players to evaluate for NBA teams. The draft isn’t until, June but it’s never too early to start tracking the top prospects. With that comes our first full mock draft since June.

While many of the top prospects remain the same since our initial projection in the day after the 2018 draft, the hierarchy has started to change. Duke players now occupy the first three picks in the draft, with Zion Williamson rising to No. 1. Meanwhile, knee surgery has pushed Missouri center Jontay Porter down to the 20s after being projected as No. 11 in June.

Team needs were not fully taken into account for this mock draft. The NBA has changed the lottery odds heading into the draft, flattening the percentages in an attempt to curb shameless tanking. That means this order is very much subject to change. For now, here’s how we see the first round picture shaping up almost one month into the college season.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers - Zion Williamson, F, Duke

Williamson was No. 5 on our initial board in June because of concerns over his outside shot, his best positional fit, and the long-term viability of his 285-pound frame. It became clear almost immediately that none of it should stand in the way of making him the first pick in this draft.

Williamson is a special talent, the type this game has never really seen before. His appeal starts with his unparalleled combination of strength and explosiveness, but don’t be fooled into thinking he’s just a dunker. This is a player with an advanced feel for the game, flashing the vision, selflessness, and creativity required to act as a de facto point guard while carrying the weight of a center. The body control he shows on his drives to the rim is astounding, as his ability to be disruptive defensively by stripping the ball, blocking shots and soaring for rebounds. Williamson isn’t a perfect prospect, but his natural talent level, charisma, and the seriousness with which he approaches the game is simply too exceptional to pass up.

2. Atlanta Hawks - Cameron Reddish, G, Duke

Army v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Reddish is the least heralded of Duke’s trio of superstar freshmen, but he might be the most natural fit in today’s NBA. At 6’8 with a 7’1 wingspan, Reddish has a guard’s game. He has a natural jump shot with deep range, starting the year by hitting 44 percent of his threes and 94 percent of his free throws. His length makes him a factor in the passing lanes and an ideal candidate for the switch-heavy defenses of the modern era.

There are concerns. Reddish has not flashed much craft as a finisher on drives, hitting only 40 percent of his two-point shots so far. He’s been underwhelming as a creator, though it’s possible he just hasn’t gotten the opportunities playing next to Williamson and R.J. Barrett. Scouts have also questioned whether he shows up to play every night, which became a talking point after an uninspiring game against Gonzaga in Duke’s only loss. Reddish is so naturally talented that sometimes his game leaves you wanting more. For now, bet on his talent and worry about maximizing it later.

3. Phoenix Suns - R.J. Barrett, G, Duke

Army v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Barrett began the year as the presumptive No. 1, but his overall inefficiency mixed with the rise of Williamson has started to push him down the board. Make no mistake, this is still a terrific pro prospect, a 6’6 slashing guard with advanced capability to finish at the rim and get to the foul line. His driving ability is his calling card at the moment, but for all his talent, Barrett has left scouts with more questions than answers at the start of his Duke career.

Right now, Barrett just isn’t playing a team-first game. He has a sky-high usage rate mixed with a poor 48 percent true shooting percentage. His lack of shooting ability is an issue for such a willing gunner, both from three (31 percent) and the foul line (62 percent). More than anything, Barrett hasn’t shown the ability to make his teammates better offensively or make plays defensively. It’s been a rough start, but he has enough talent to turn it around quickly with a more measured approach.

4. Chicago Bulls - Nassir Little, F, North Carolina

NCAA Basketball: Texas at North Carolina Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Little was a late-blooming recruit who is trying to make the transition from energy guy to legitimate star. He has his work cut out for him on a loaded North Carolina team, where he’s coming off the bench and being used as a wing as opposed to his best role as a small-ball four.

Even as Little continues searching for his place on the Tar Heels, you can see what makes him a top draft prospect. He’s a strong and long (7’2 wingspan) forward who plays hard every possession, hitting the glass, contesting shots, and cutting to the rim with purpose. His three-point shot (29 percent) needs to come along, and he has a long way to go as a ball handler. Still, Little has the physical profile teams look for. If his skill starts to match his physicality, this will be the type of forward every pro team would love to have. In that way, he’s a bit reminiscent of Celtics forward Jaylen Brown.

5. New York Knicks - Bol Bol, C, Oregon

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Bol Bol is the son of Manute Bol, but that’s far from the only reason he’s one of the draft’s most fascinating prospects. Bol projects as a three-point shooting, rim protecting center, a player who is posting a top-10 block rate while hitting 43 percent of his threes on a low volume so far. If anything, Bol needs to shoot more threes, which is flies in the face of how college coaches like to use their big men.

Bol doesn’t look like a great prospect at first glance. There are real concerns with his frame because of his skinny legs, narrow hips, and high center of gravity. He rarely embraces contact, isn’t a tenacious rebounder, and prefers to face-up rather than attack with his back to the basket. Still, a player with a 7’8 wingspan who can hit threes is a great fit for this era. As long as Bol keeps working on his frame and continues to play hard, he’s going to have a long and successful NBA career.

6. Miami Heat - Kevin Porter Jr., G, USC

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Classic-Southern California at Texas Tech Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Porter Jr. makes it look easy. The USC freshman wing has an advanced scoring arsenal, using step-back jumpers, acrobatic finishes, and hesitation crossovers to stockpile buckets in a hurry. The only question is if his game is as functional as it is flashy.

Porter will need to prove he’s more than just a highlight machine. Right now, he has nearly as many turnovers as assists. He needs to prove his shot is for real, both from three (35 percent) and the foul line (53 percent). He has the 220-pound frame to make plays defensively, and needs to continue to leverage it to turn into a two-way player. Porter’s natural talent level is so high. NBA scouts just want to see him continue to prove himself on an every night basis.

7. Washington Wizards - Romeo Langford, G, Indiana

NCAA Basketball: Montana State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Langford feels like the swing guy in this draft, the prodigious high school scorer who is still learning how to pick his spots at the college level. Langford’s shooting (26 percent from three) hasn’t been as impressive as advertised, but he’s been tremendous finishing inside the arc because of his array of pivots, mid-range pull-ups, and layups around the rim.

Langford’s defense rarely received publicity as a recruit, but he has potential on that side, too. The 6’6 shooting guard has long arms and can pressure opposing ball handlers with his length. Ultimately, his shooting ability will go a long way towards deciding how good of a prospect he is.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves - Quentin Grimes, G, Kansas

NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Kansas at Michigan State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Grimes’ game is solid if unspectacular, a well-rounded guard prospect at 6’5 who can shoot a little, pass a little, and play a poised game devoid of any major holes. At least that’s the scouting report. Lately Grimes has been failing to make an impact for Kansas, averaging only six points per game since his breakout 21-point performance in the season opener vs. Michigan State.

Kansas is so stacked that it doesn’t need Grimes to carry the load, but he still needs to find a way to make an impact. As his offense stays under the spotlight, his defense also deserves a closer look. Grimes has looked lost as an off-ball defender at times this year, another thing he’ll have to prove he can correct if he wants to finish the year as a top-10 pick.

9. Brooklyn Nets - De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis Championship-Wisconsin vs Virginia Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Hunter emerged as a redshirt freshman last year as a key piece to a top-ranked Virginia team before breaking his hand days before its historic loss to 16th seeded UMBC. He’s back this season in a more featured role, raising his numbers across the board and garnering hype as a potential lottery pick.

Hunter has a great physical profile for today’s game as a 6’7 wing with long arms, sound shooting mechanics, and impressive poise. He has the defensive versatility teams covet and is learning how to pick his spots on offense. Mikal Bridges is the only upperclassman to go in the top-10 of the last two drafts, but Hunter has the body and the skill set to join the club.

10. Utah Jazz - Sekou Doumbouya, PF/C, France

Doumbouya is a 6’9 forward with long arms, wide shoulders, and impressive defensive instincts. Still only 17 years old, his offense remains very much a work in progress, both in terms of creating for himself and learning how to make his teammates better. His frame and athleticism alone makes him an intriguing fit for today’s game, where he could hypothetically earn minutes as a small ball five who is too quick for traditional centers to handle. He is nowhere near a finished product, but he stands out as the best international prospect in this draft because of his frame, youth, and upside.

11. San Antonio Spurs - Jarrett Culver, G, Texas Tech

Culver was Texas Tech’s other freshman last season, establishing himself as an offensive complement to future first round pick Zhaire Smith. Culver doesn’t have Smith’s nuclear athleticism or playmaking defensive potential, but he is a superior offensive talent, one that’s coming into his own in a bigger role this season as a sopomore.

Culver has been tasked with creating much of the Red Raiders’ half-court offense this year, and he’s been impressive in that capacity. He’s more than doubled his assist rate and cut back on his turnovers, while getting off to a hot start from three-point range (10-of-20 to begin the year) and picking up some tricks to score from mid-range. Culver is hardly a consensus lottery pick at this point, but he’s making major strides as a sophomore and demands your attention as the season goes on.

12. Atlanta Hawks - Keldon Johnson, G, Kentucky

Johnson is a hard-charging 6’6 wing who can get to the foul line, finish in the paint, and put up points in a hurry. He hasn’t shot the ball great from three-point range yet (26 percent) and is a tad undersized for a modern wing, but he’s a high energy player who avoids mistakes and can fit into most lineups. His production could ultimately decide how far Kentucky goes this year.

13. New Orleans Pelicans - Ja Morant, PG, Murray State

Morant is a 6’3 point guard who packed box scores every night as a freshman for Murray State a season ago. He’s taking another step forward as a sophomore, leading the country in assist rate in the early part of the season while also hitting 44 percent of his threes. At only 175 lbs., he badly needs to add strength and explosiveness, which should ideally help him play with a high motor every possession. Even at the mid-major level, his production is incredible and it looks like he has the natural talent level to be a top-20 pick.

Morant had 38 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and 10 turnovers in a marquee game against Alabama on Monday.

14. Boston Celtics - Tre Jones, PG, Duke

It would be easy for Jones to get lost in the shuffle playing next to Williamson, Barrett and Reddish, but Duke’s freshman point guard is a legit NBA prospect in his own right. More athletic and better defensively than his older brother Tyus Jones, Tre Jones is a steady offensive guard who can set the table and hit shots. That this draft is light on traditional point guards could help him rise up the board.

15. Boston Celtics - Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas

Gafford could have been a first round pick in the last draft as a lob catching, shot-blocking center who made a two-way impact for Arkansas. He’s raised his numbers across the board as a sophomore, putting together a signature performance against Indiana where he finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks on 12-of-15 shooting. Expect him to be the second traditional center off the board because of Jontay Porter’s injured knee.

16. Orlando Magic - Jalen McDaniels, F, San Diego State

McDaniels isn’t the best prospect in his own family, as his younger brother Jaden is one of the top recruits in high school basketball. McDaniels is impressive in his own right as a skinny 6’10 wing who thrives scoring from mid-range and has improved his efficiency as a sophomore. He has shown improvement as a shooter (42 percent from three) and passer this season. Teams love tall, long wings and McDaniels certainly fits the profile.

17. Charlotte Hornets - Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Duke at Gonzaga Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Hachimura is the Japanese big man generating a groundswell of media hype for Gonzaga at the start of the season. The 6’8, 230-pound junior is averaging 22 points per game with a usage rate over 30 percent and a true shooting percentage of 63 percent, impressive scoring efficiency for someone playing in a featured role for the first time in his career. He still has a ways to go with his instincts on both ends of the court, often showing he’s still learning how to play the sport. Still, his frame and upside as a small ball five is going to be intriguing for teams hoping to hit a home run after the lottery.

18. Detroit Pistons - Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt

Garland might have been the top freshman point guard in college basketball this season before tearing his meniscus last week. Garland isn’t the biggest or fastest lead guard prospect, but he’s a skilled pull-up shooter with deep range. Scouts wanted to see him show better playmaking instincts before the injury.

19. Houston Rockets - Luka Šamanić, F, Croatia

A 6’10 forward with a compact shooting stroke and the ability to put the ball on the floor, Samanic needs to continue to get stronger to prove he can survive in an NBA front court. Read The Stepian for a complete scouting report.

20. Los Angeles Lakers - Charles Bassey, C, Western Kentucky

Bassey is a big, powerful center playing out his freshman season for Western Kentucky as a five-star recruit. He’s posting impressive scoring and rebounding numbers, and already has the type of mature 245-pound frame that should be able to withstand NBA physicality from an early age.

21. Indiana Pacers - Jalen Smith, F, Maryland

Smith is a pogo-stick big man for Maryland who is making a name for himself with his length, athleticism, and soft touch around the basket.

22. Brooklyn Nets - Simi Shittu, F, Vanderbilt

Shittu has an advanced feel for the game at both ends of the floor as a 6’9 forward. He rotates well on defense and has been cleaning the glass early in his career for Vanderbilt. He also never seems rushed offensively, knowing when to hit an open teammate or go up for the shot attempt. NBA teams will hope he can be a versatile defender who can guard both bigs and oversized wings.

23. Golden State Warriors - Jontay Porter, C, Missouri

Porter could have been a top-10 pick if not for knee surgery that will cost him his entire sophomore season. It’s a worrisome injury for a player who posted the highest body fat percentage at the combine last year. He wasn’t an above the rim player before the injury — can he still survive after it? If you’ve watched Porter play, it’s easy to bet on his talent. He’s a skilled shooter, passer, and shot blocker who has tremendous instincts on both ends. His skill set fits today’s league perfectly and should make him worth the risk at some point in the first round.

24. Boston Celtics - P.J. Washington, C, Kentucky

Washington is a 250-pound big man with a 7’3 wingspan who can rebound, score inside, and is starting the show the makings of a face-up game with three-point range. He’ll have every opportunity to show he belongs in the first round picture for a Kentucky team that lacks the elite freshmen talent it usually has.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder - Brandon Clarke, C, Gonzaga

A transfer from San Jose State, Clarke proved his credentials as a legitimate NBA prospect by getting the best of Duke’s star freshmen in a shocking upset win for the ‘Zags in the title game of the Maui Invitational. At 6’8 and 230 pounds, he’s an instinctual shot blocker who knows every rotation and how to time his attempts. He’s also an efficient scorer with a developing face-up game. The fact that he’s top-three in the country in BPM shows his immense impact for Gonzaga.

26. Philadelphia 76ers - Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech

NCAA Basketball: Gardner-Webb at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Alexander-Walker is a 6’5 combo guard who is improving across the board as a sophomore for Virginia Tech. He’s upped his volume and his proficiency from three-point range, has showed more burst on his drives to the rim, and continues to make progress as a passer.

27. Portland Trail Blazers - Killian Tillie, PF, Gonzaga

Tillie is out until January for Gonzaga after ankle surgery. Before the injury, he was thought to be the best player on one of the best teams in the country. He’s a hard-working 6’9 forward with a great feel for the game on both ends while developing into a knockdown shooter in the front court.

28. Boston Celtics - Naz Reid, C, LSU

Reid thinks of himself as a guard in a center’s body, showing legit shooting range and the propensity to hit you with a step-back when the defense is least expecting it. The bigger issue for the 6’10, 240-pound big man is how he’ll hold up defensively in this era with a lack of natural quickness and foot speed.

29. Milwaukee Bucks - Jaylen Hoard, F, Wake Forest

Hoard is a 6’8 forward from France with quick feet and impressive defensively versatility. He’s been putting up big scoring and rebounding numbers on a lowly Wake Forest team while showing some comfort handling and passing the ball.

30. San Antonio Spurs - Kris Wilkes, G, UCLA

Wilkes is an explosive athlete as a 6’8 wing who can shoot the ball is learning how to make a more all-around impact. The sophomore and former McDonald’s All-American dropped 22 points against North Carolina on Friday.