The calendar turns to March in just five weeks, but the college basketball season has provided more questions than answers so far with regards to the 2019 NBA Draft. Just about the only thing everyone can agree on is that Zion Williamson should be the first pick.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess.
This is our first mock since late November. So much has changed since then. Murray State point guard Ja Morant has shot into the top five and established himself as a legitimate contender to go No. 2 overall. Texas center Jaxson Hayes has burst onto the scene and positioned himself as a possible lottery pick. Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver has arguably helped himself as much as any player in the country.
A lot can change before June, but this is what the NBA Draft picture looks like right now. You already know who’s going No. 1.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers - Zion Williamson, F, Duke
Williamson will be the first pick in the draft. At this point, the only debate lies in how he measures up against the other No. 1 overall picks this decade like Ben Simmons, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Anthony Davis.
For my money, Williamson has the potential to be as good as any of them depending how a team builds around him. He simply has a massive influence on winning — not just because of his unprecedented combination of strength, agility, and athleticism, but also because he’s a smart, versatile forward who always seems to make the right play when the ball is in his hands. That doesn’t even mention his defensive impact, where he’s been a wrecking ball all season, stockpiling blocks and steals and turning takeaways into transition points one highlight-reel play at a time. Even as his jumper remains a work in progress, this is a franchise player by any definition.
2. Chicago Bulls - R.J. Barrett, G, Duke
Barrett has been as productive as any player in college basketball this season, he just hasn’t always been efficient in doing it. Duke’s showcase game against Virginia last weekend was Barrett at his best, finishing with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field against an elite defense. He was less impressive against Syracuse a game before, jacking up 30 shots and only scoring 23 points against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.
Of course, Barrett won’t be seeing a straight zone at the NBA level, but his lack of pull-up shooting and three-point range continues to be an issue when projecting him as a pro. Right now, Barrett is a relentless volume scorer who is wired to get buckets no matter how the opposing defense is stacked against him. He should be using the rest of this season at Duke learning how to leverage that scoring ability to make life easier for his immensely talented teammates. Even as Barrett has been a bit underwhelming when compared to his preseason hype, no one else in this class has done enough to surpass him outside of Williamson.
3. New York Knicks - Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech
Culver was considered a fringe first-round prospect in the preseason, but has shot up draft boards during a breakout sophomore campaign by improving his scoring efficiency while significantly raising his usage rate. A 6’6 guard who may still be growing, Culver is thriving as an offensive initiator this season, proving he can stockpile buckets (18.8 points per game) and still get his teammates involved by more than doubling his assist rate. He also plays an integral role defensively for the country’s No. 1 defense.
Culver might lack the ideal athletic pop for a top-three draft pick, but he makes up for it with versatility and smarts. This is a big guard who can play on or off the ball. He’s a reliable catch-and-shoot threat from three-point range (37 percent) and also a master at moving around screens without the ball to put himself in position to score. He may not have the star upside of a player like Barrett, but he almost feels like a safer bet to contribute to winning within a team construct.
4. Phoenix Suns - Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
Morant started to put himself on NBA radars last season by filling box scores with impressive per-minute production as a freshman for Murray State. A year later, he’s become arguably the most exciting player in the country this side of Williamson, matching incredibly athletic highlight-reel plays with impossible production in a do-everything role for the Racers.
The sales pitch on Morant looks something like this: he’s an elite athlete who attacks the basket with rare fury while also leading the country in assist rate. In many ways, his lines this season resemble the recent work of Russell Westbrook: a sky-high usage rate, impressive rebounding numbers for a point guard, and a handful of above-the-rim plays each game that make you get out of your seat.
It’s worth noting he is doing this against low- and mid-major competition, and there remain some real holes in his game. Can be become a reliable outside shooter? How long will it take to add strength to his ultra-skinny 175 lb. frame? Can he curtail the turnovers? Will his defense improve? In a draft light on point guards, a GM might be willing to bet on his athleticism and production and let him figure the rest out later.
5. Atlanta Hawks - Cameron Reddish, SG, Duke
Reddish passes the eye-test at first glance as a sweet-shooting wing with 7’1 wingspan who feels like a perfect fit in today’s NBA. While that still may be true, his struggles at Duke this season have been undeniable. Playing third fiddle to Williamson and Barrett, Reddish has had a difficult time finding his place in the offense, going cold for long stretches with his shot and simply having too many games where he fails to make an impact. He lacks explosiveness around the basket and is only shooting 41 percent on two-pointers. NBA teams will wonder if he has the mentality and feel for the game to be a consistent difference-maker.
At the same time, his combination of size, shooting, and length gives him plenty of margin for error. He’s one of the best three-point shooters in this class and has been using those long arms to get into passing lanes and rack up steals all season. If he puts it all together during the stretch run, his ceiling is as high as No. 2 in this draft.
6. Memphis Grizzlies - Nassir Little, F, North Carolina
Little ended with his high school career with more momentum than any incoming freshman, winning MVP at the McDonald’s All-American Game and drawing early buzz as a possible top-three draft pick. The start to his North Carolina career was a major reality check. Coming off the bench, Little didn’t show much in the way of NBA skill and his shooting stroke (20 percent from three) was far less developed than teams hoped.
He has started to come on lately. Little played the best game of his career on Monday against No. 10 Virginia Tech, scoring 23 points on 12 shots, draining 2-of-3 three-pointers and 7-of-7 free throws. Even as his skill develops, this is a young combo forward with a 7’1 wingspan, strong 220-pound frame and a relentless motor. If he keeps playing well, North Carolina is going to be on the short list of national title favorites, and he could make his way back into the top-three of this draft.
7. Orlando Magic - Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
Garland tore his meniscus in his fifth college game, ending his season and leaving NBA evaluators in a precarious position when it comes to his draft stock. He has a skill set that should work will in today’s game, with advanced pull-up shooting ability serving as the basis of his offensive value. He’s also a speedy ball handler who should making his living playing in the pick-and-roll game.
There are obvious questions about his size (6’2) and lack of high-end explosiveness. Can he make an impact defensively? Will he be able to score at the basket against NBA defenses? In a sense, not playing much this season could only help his stock. While the rest of this draft continues to underwhelm, Garland can let his jump shot do the talking once he gets to pre-draft workouts.
8. Washington Wizards - Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
Hayes is the epitome of a late bloomer. He started high school at 6’1 before a massive growth spurt made him nearly 7-feet while allowing him to maintain the agility and coordination he had growing up. Now he’s a long, active center who protects the rim on defense and moves like a wing on offense, opening the eyes of NBA evaluators everywhere.
How many centers can windmill from the free-throw line?
Hayes’ nimbleness in tight space is truly rare for someone with his size. It’s the backbone of his offensive game, where he gets so many easy baskets (76 percent field goal percentage) by knowing where to be and having a size and athleticism advantage on anyone he’s playing. Defensively, he’s already top-10 in the country in block rate. He’s raw in terms of his skill level and badly needs to add strength, but the tools are here for a Clint Capela-like center who can run and jump for days. That might be worth a top-10 pick in this draft.
9. Atlanta Hawks - Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
Langford was a prodigious high school scorer in Indiana who chose to stay home and play for the Hoosiers. He’s lived up the hype for the most part, averaging 18 points per game and showcasing some truly crafty scoring moves inside the arc. He’s also had an impact defensively, where has the length (6’11 wingspan) and the frame to eventually grow into the type of switchable perimeter defender the NBA covets.
There’s only one major problem: Langford is shooting just 22 percent from three-point range. If an NBA team thinks it can fix his shot with an easy mechanical change, he should end up going much higher than this. If the shot doesn’t come around, he may ultimately need to hone his playmaking chops and start being used more on-the-ball.
10. Detroit Pistons - Bol Bol, C, Oregon
Bol is one of the most unique prospects in this draft, and he’ll be one of the most polarizing, too. His strengths and weaknesses are both equally obvious. At 7’3 with a 7’8 wingspan, he is a truly gifted shot-maker with three-point range (52 percent) on his jumper. When he’s going, he can splash shots all the court no other player would think about. He puts that length to use on the defensive end, too, where his block rate would have been top-15 in the country.
His body will be a problem. Bol remains rail thin, with skinny legs and narrow hips and a high center of gravity. He doesn’t move well laterally and will likely be a target in switches on defense. The concerns over his long-term durability were already real even before the season-ending foot injury that sidelined him after Dec. 12. He’ll be viewed as one of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects in this draft.
11. New Orleans Pelicans - De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia
Hunter is a huge —standing 6’7, weighing at least 225 pounds, and blessed with a 7’2 wingspan — combo forward who should be versatile on both ends of the court. His offense has taken a step up for Virginia in his third college season (he redshirted as a freshman), seeing bumps in scoring average (14.6 PPG), true shooting percentage (62 percent), and assist rate (14 percent). He’s been a 44 percent three-point shooter this year, but he’s only taking two attempts per game.
Defensively, Hunter puts up curious low block and steal rate numbers while playing a key role in Virginia’s traditionally conservative No. 2 ranked packline defense. He might not have huge offensive upside unless he progresses as a playmaker, but if his jumper is for real from the NBA line, he feels like one of the safest choices in this draft.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves - Kevin Porter Jr., SG, USC
Kevin Porter Jr. has seen his stock fluctuate wildly in mid-season mock drafts like this one. When he was cooking early in the season, there was buzz he could go in the top five. Lately, he just hasn’t been playing, first because of a thigh injury, then because of a team suspension. Porter has only seen real minutes in one game since Nov. 20.
When he’s on, Porter can be a mesmerizing offensive player as a 6’6 wing with an advanced offensive repertoire. You’ll find step-back jumpers, dazzling finishes at the rim, and three-point range in his scoring package. NBA teams will wonder if he’s functional or just flashy. As an upside play, Porter would offer big value at this point in the lottery. He could go much higher.
13. Boston Celtics - Keldon Johnson, SG, Kentucky
Johnson doesn’t really stand out in any particular area, but he’s a well-rounded prospect who should go in the lottery. He has only average size for a wing at 6’6, 210-pounds and good-not-great explosiveness, but he’s been able to get to the basket and to the foul line consistently at the college level for Kentucky. He’s shooting well from three point-range (39 percent), but currently has more turnovers (34) than assists (27).
This is another player who may get drafted higher than this if he’s consistently productive to close the season through March. This Kentucky team needs his perimeter scoring punch in the worst way.
14. Los Angeles Lakers - Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Basketball fans got to see how valuable Jones is during Duke’s loss to Syracuse last week. Jones had four steals in the first six minutes before suffering a shoulder injury that has kept him out since. The younger brother of Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones is one of the toughest on-ball defenders in the country despite only standing 6’2, while also offering a high-IQ floor game at point guard.
He needs to improve as a shooter (28.6 percent from deep), but has the mentality and intangibles NBA teams should love. Whether the Lakers want to take another point guard or not, this feels like the right spot in the draft for him.
15. Charlotte Hornets - Sekou Doumbouya, F, France
Doumbouya is strong 6’9 forward who will intrigue NBA teams with his frame and quickness. His skill level remains a work in progress, but it’s worth noting he’s one of the youngest players in this draft — born Dec. 23, 2000 if you want to feel old. He was starting to come into his own for his pro team before suffering a thumb injury:
Terrific 3 game, 8 day stretch for Sekou Doumbouya with 36 points on just 17 field goal attempts in 58 minutes (all wins). Just turned 18 years old this week and playing the best basketball of the season. Unfortunately tore a ligament in his thumb and will miss the next 5-7 weeks— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) December 27, 2018
16. Miami Heat - Jontay Porter, C, Missouri
Porter is a skilled big man who can shoot threes, pass, and block shots. The younger brother of Michael Porter Jr. won’t play this season after knee surgery. NBA teams will want to see if he can get in shape even with the knee injury — he had the highest percentage of body fat last year at the NBA Draft combine. To some, extra weight is just potential in disguise.
17. Brooklyn Nets - KZ Okpala, F, Stanford
Okpala is a 6’9 combo forward who has made serious strides as a sophomore for Stanford. He’s hitting 45 percent of his threes on three attempts per game, improved his rebounding, and lowered his turnovers while raising his usage rate. If you’re looking for a small ball big man who can shoot after the lottery, Okpala is a good bet to make.
18. Boston Celtics - Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech
Alexander-Walker is a 6’5 guard who is putting up impressive box score numbers this year: 18.3 points per game, 3.5 assists, 2.1 steals, and 44 percent shooting from three-point range. He’s not exactly a pure point guard and isn’t the most explosive athlete going to the basket, but his combination of positional size and a well-rounded game will make him appealing in the first round.
19. Utah Jazz - Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga
Hachimura is a 6’8, 230-pound forward who arrived at Gonzaga by way of Japan. After three years in school, he’s become one of the most productive players in college basketball, averaging 20 points and six rebounds per game for a powerhouse Gonzaga team. Hachimura often looks lost on defense despite impressive tools and doesn’t seem to have a great feel for the game just yet. Still, he’s shown soft touch as a shooter and his theoretical versatility should make him a first-rounder.
20. San Antonio Spurs - Brandon Clarke, C, Gonzaga
A monster defensively and an efficient scorer on offense, Clarke is the rated as the second most valuable player in the sport behind Williamson by metrics like win shares per-40 and box score plus-minus. He doesn’t have great size at 6’8, but he’s a quick, smart player who has been deployed to devastating effect in the Gonzaga front court.
21. Houston Rockets - Jordan Poole, SG, Michigan
Poole is a walking bucket for Michigan. A year after saving the Wolverines’ national title game run with a brilliant buzzer-beater early in the NCAA tournament, the 6’5 guard is taking another step up in his sophomore season. Poole — who is shooting 43.5 percent on five three-point attempts per game — has so many moves with the ball in his hands. Watch out: you might get your ankles broken.
OH MY JORDAN POOLE. JP has the whole Indiana team on skates 〽️ pic.twitter.com/TDaHac9vmz— Wolverine Corner (@WolverineCorner) January 6, 2019
22. Portland Trail Blazers - Grant Williams, F, Tennessee
Williams would have a case to be college basketball’s national player of the year were it not for Zion Williamson. He’s lifted Tennessee to its first No. 1 ranking in more than a decade by taking his game to new heights as a junior, eclipsing his numbers across the board from an SEC Player of the Year-winning season last year. At 6’7, 240 pounds, Williams looks more like a traditional power forward than a new-age NBA one. But his combination of quickness, strength, and feel for the game can’t be discounted.
23. Oklahoma City Thunder - Ignas Brazdeikis, G, Michigan
Iggy Brazdeikis is the freshman sensation whose breakout season has helped propel Michigan near the top of the polls. The 20-year-old from Canada is a cocksure scorer, firing from three (36 percent), attacking the basket in straight line drives, and putting up points in a hurry. Teams will wonder about his playmaking ability and defense.
24. Boston Celtics - Quentin Grimes, G, Kansas
Grimes was thought to be a top 10 pick coming into the season. After a great debut against Michigan State, he’s barely made an impact for the Jayhawks. His lack of production mixed with his preseason hype makes the 6’5 combo guard one of the hardest players to place in this mock. Without a strong close to the season, he might be best served coming back for his sophomore year.
25. Philadelphia 76ers - Coby White, G, North Carolina
A 6’5 guard freshman guard who loves to score the basketball, White has played point guard admirably this season for UNC even if he’s not a natural distributor. Carolina’s offense tends to go as he goes. He’ll have plenty to opportunities to establish himself as a first-round pick during the stretch run.
26. Indiana Pacers - Talen Horton-Tucker, G, Iowa State
The Chicago native is a unique prospect at 6’4, 230 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan. He’s at his best as a playmaker in the open court, and always finds a way to stuff the stat sheet. Horton-Tucker splashed 4-of-8 threes in a tight loss to Kansas this week — if he keeps shooting like that, there’s so much to like about his game.
27. Brooklyn Nets - P.J. Washington, F, Kentucky
Washington has been Kentucky’s best big man this season, giving the Wildcats inside scoring punch and rebounding while also showing off a new-and-improved three-point shot (37 percent from deep). The 6’8, 230-pound big man plays even bigger because of his 7’3 wingspan.
28. Golden State Warriors - Isaiah Roby, C, Nebraska
Roby doesn’t look like a traditional center, but he’s an example of what the NBA looks for out of its centers in the modern era. At 6’8, 230 pounds with a 7’3 wingspan, Roby can handle and pass the ball like a wing and is starting to develop a jump shot. He’s also showing off solid shot blocking instincts, ranking No. 152 in the country in block rate.
29. San Antonio Spurs - Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas
Gafford could have been a first-rounder last year but chose to come back to Arkansas for his sophomore season. His per-game numbers have improved considerably despite the Razorbacks struggling all season. He’s another rim-runner, rim protector type who rebounds on both ends, dunks everything and can block shots.
30. Milwaukee Bucks - Luguentz Dort, G, Arizona State
A big, strong freshman guard who arrived at ASU by way of Canada, Dort has been a volume scorer and primary offensive option for the Sun Devils all season. He offers the type of threes-and-free-throws offense teams are looking for. His shooting percentages — 40 percent from the field, 30 percent from three, 63 percent from the foul line — will need to come up in the second half of the season if he wants to be a first-rounder.