Zion Williamson brought the sports world to a halt when he busted out of his Nike shoe and sprained his right knee, but it won’t impact his NBA Draft position. Williamson is the only apparent franchise-changing talent in this draft, and will send one lucky fanbase into delirium when the lottery goes down on May 14.
Duke teammate R.J. Barrett and relentless Murray State point guard Ja Morant appear to have the inside track to round out the top three right now. It’s wide open after that, with the rest of the lottery teams looking at a fluid group of prospects who will be trying to separate themselves during the stretch run of the college season, and then in private workouts.
While the 2017 draft was defined by point guards and last year’s draft was loaded with big men, the 2019 edition largely features who slot in between shooting guard and small forward. What this draft lacks in star-power behind Williamson it can make up for with versatility and fit into wider league trends.
1. Phoenix Suns - Zion Williamson, F, Duke
A knee sprain doesn’t change the fact that there’s a cavernous amount of distance between Williamson and the next best player in this draft. He’s the perfect prospect for an increasingly positionless league, an athletic freak with the strength of a center, the quickness of a guard, and a soft finishing touch that makes him automatic when he’s near the basket. He could theoretically play or defend all five positions. In addition to being the most talented player in this draft, he also plays the hardest.
One thing Williamson doesn’t get enough credit for? Being a great teammate. He’s third on his own team in field-goal attempts per game despite being by far the best player in the country. You’d never know it from the way he carries himself.
2. New York Knicks - R.J. Barrett, G, Duke
As Barrett continues to be incredibly productive while struggling at times with efficiency, it’s important to remember how young he is. He doesn’t turn 19 years old until a week before the draft, and would still be a high school senior had he not reclassified to join Duke this season.
Barrett’s score-at-all-costs mentality is both a gift and a curse. He’s prone to tunnel vision with the ball and often bypasses open teammates for contested shots. Given that his three-point stroke is shaky (33 percent), NBA teams will have to decide if he’s better on or off the ball. Barrett’s ceiling could ultimately come down to whether he’s able to improve his vision and become more selfless as a teammate.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers - Ja Morant, G, Murray State
Morant is the mid-major star whose stats are just as impressive as his highlights. Arguably the country’s most explosive athlete this side of Williamson, Morant is an attacking point guard who is also blessed with tremendous passing vision. He’s currently No. 1 in the country in assist rate at an outrageous 52 percent.
While his numbers are great, there are some holes in his skill set. His three-point stroke remains a question mark (34 percent), as does his on-ball defense. He also badly needs to add strength at just 175 pounds. Going from the Ohio Valley to the NBA is a massive jump, but Morant has the talent to deserve consideration this high in the draft.
4. Chicago Bulls - Jarrett Culver, G, Texas Tech
At 6’6, and maybe still growing, Culver is a do-it-all prospect who brings so much to the table without taking anything off of it. He’s gone from a wing to a lead offensive initiator for Texas Tech in his sophomore season, showing a rare ability to thrive both on and off the ball. He’s also a key cog in the Red Raiders’ No. 1-ranked defense.
Culver is a versatile scorer, a willing passer, and a capable defender. He might not put up gaudy stats like the three players ahead of him, but he projects as a player who should have a positive influence on winning. Shooting is his swing skill, as his struggles in conference play have pushed his three-point shot down to 33 percent entering the week.
5. Atlanta Hawks - Cameron Reddish, G, Duke
Reddish’s freshman year has been a major reality check from his preseason hype as he’s struggled to make a consistent name for himself playing next to Williamson and Barrett. He still has obvious strengths as a shooter and impact defender with a 7’1 wingspan. NBA teams will question his athleticism, motor, and feel for the game in part because he’s badly struggled to score inside the arc all season.
Even if Reddish likely won’t live up to the Paul George comparisons he was getting in high school, he can still be an impactful 3-and-D wing in the mold of Otto Porter Jr. or Robert Covington. His effectiveness might ultimately come down to whether he can continuously stay engaged mentally.
6. Memphis Grizzlies - Romeo Langford, G, Indiana
Langford’s freshman season at Indiana has been full of contradictions. He’s lived up to the hype as a scorer in a lot of ways, but his broken three-point shot (26 percent) subverts much of his value. At the same time, he’s shown incredible touch on floaters around the basket. Could a change in mechanics turn him into a viable shooter long-term?
Picking Langford at this point in the lottery is a bet on his tools, scoring instincts, and youth outweighing more polished but older prospects. His failure to fully emerge this season has aided the perception that this is a weak draft.
7. Washington Wizards - Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
Garland only played four games as a freshman before tearing his meniscus and shutting it down for the season. That could be a good thing for his stock in a draft that’s light on both point guards and high-end talent. His skill as a pull-up shooter will intrigue teams and potentially shine in private work outs. His issues as a point-of-attack defender and interior finisher won’t be under as harsh of a spotlight because of the injury.
Garland is a floor general in a classic sense with advanced shooting ability. If he impresses in work outs, he’s likely going to be a top-10 pick even without much tape on him.
8. New Orleans Pelicans - De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia
Hunter offers tremendous role player potential as a physical forward with length, strength, shooting touch, and defensive versatility. As a third year college player, the question will be how high his ceiling is.
If Hunter can turn into a knockdown shooter or lockdown defender, he may have some untapped upside left. Regardless, he’ll be viewed as one of the safest picks in this draft, a high-floor prospect with enough polish to handle rotation minutes early in his career.
9. Miami Heat - Nassir Little, F, North Carolina
Little was being hyped as a potential top-three pick in the preseason before embarking on an underwhelming freshman year at North Carolina. He’s been a complete zero for the Tar Heels most of the season, failing to contribute amid dwindling playing time. The question is if he’d have a bigger impact in a more defined role.
Little remains strong and long with a non-stop motor. His free-throw stroke (75 percent) could be an indicator that he has potential as a shooter. The physical tools are there, but the production isn’t. Little’s best role in the NBA may be as a small ball big man and energy guy who can crash the class, provide versatile defense, and ideally develop into a catch-and-shoot threat. His feel for the game will continue to be a big question.
10. Atlanta Hawks - Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
Hayes is a freshman big man who was built to run the floor. With long limbs and blazing speed, he’s developed into one of the breakout freshmen in the country by providing efficient inside finishing and burgeoning skill as a rim protector. He feels full of untapped upside.
Hayes struggles to rebound and his feel for the game remains a work in progress. Still, his potential is intriguing enough to go in the top 10.
11. Charlotte Hornets - Kevin Porter Jr., G, USC
Porter shot up early season draft boards with his impressive isolation scoring ability as a 6’6 wing. A slow return to the lineup following a midseason thigh injury and subsequent team suspension cooled the hype, but he’s returned to his old self lately, scoring in double-figures in four of his last five games entering the week.
Porter’s flashy game mixed with his shot-making ability and finishing craft has drawn some comparisons to Zach LaVine, another slept-on recruit who spent his freshman season in the Pac-12 sporadically flashing pro talent. He’s something of a boom-or-bust prospect, but that’s worth a lottery pick in this draft.
Kevin Porter looking nice right now pic.twitter.com/wEkkkVarqF— Steven Savvinidis (@NBADraftSteve) February 24, 2019
12. Wolves - Bol Bol, C, Oregon
There has never been an NBA draft prospect with Bol’s combination of outlier size and shooting touch. A 7’3 center with a 7’8 wingspan, Bol hit 52 percent of his three-pointers (2.8 attempts per game) while also finishing top 10 in the country in block rate. Bol suffered a foot injury in early Dec. and subsequently shut it down to enter the draft.
The injury will be a concern for teams who wonder if Bol’s frame — with skinny legs and narrow hips — will hold up in the NBA. Teams will also question his lateral quickness and target him in pick-and-rolls defensively. Still, that size and shooting ability is so rare that some team will gamble on him.
13. Lakers - Brandon Clarke, C, Gonzaga
Clarke is a 6’8, 215-pound big man who has solidified Gonzaga’s place as one of the best teams in the country after transferring in from San Jose State. Clarke was nowhere near draft boards in the preseason, but has put himself on the map by being an advanced stats monster who might be the second most productive player in the country behind Williamson.
Case in point: Clarke is No. 2 (behind Williamson in box score plus-minus. He has a 70 percent true shooting percentage offensively and is an even bigger force on defense. His role in the NBA might be as an energy guy, but his defensive aptitude and versatility combined with his efficient scoring ability will make him a commodity.
14. Celtics - P.J. Washington, F, Kentucky
Washington decided to go back to Kentucky for his sophomore season after earning second-round projections at last year’s draft combine. A breakout season has now put him in contention to be a lottery pick. Washington has made major strides as a three-point shooter, which has unlocked the rest of his game. A 6’8 forward with a 7’3 wingspan, Washington now has the skill to match his size, giving him enticing versatility on both ends of the court.
15. Orlando - Talen Horton-Tucker, G, Iowa State
Horton-Tucker is an odd ball prospect in every sense. He’s a 6’4, 240-pound guard with a 7-foot wingspan who has a penchant for filling up box scores. Per-40 minutes, he’s averaging 17.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, two steals and 0.9 blocks per game on 48 percent shooting from the floor. His three-point shot hasn’t been falling (30 percent) but the volume with which he gets them up (6.7 three-point attempts, per-40) is impressive.
16. Pistons - Coby White, G, North Carolina
White is a 6’5 freshman who has shined taking over point guard duties for UNC. More of a scorer than a traditional floor general, White has been splashing threes (38 percent) and stockpiling buckets while also impressing with his facilitating ability with a 26 percent assist rate. Teams will want him to prove his defense. With UNC in position to make a deep NCAA tournament run, he should get plenty of chances to impress people in March.
17. Nets - Jontay Porter, C, Missouri
Porter tore his ACL and MCL over the summer and missed this season entirely. Before the injury, there was talk that he could be the first center drafted. As many of the top freshmen in this class have disappointed, Porter’s advanced skill set looks even more intriguing.
Porter is a 6’11 big man who can shoot, pass, and block shots. His per-game numbers were modest (9.9 points, 6.8 rebounds. 2.2 assists, 1.7 blocks per game) for the Tigers as a freshman, but his impact wasn’t. It’s worth noting he had the highest body fat percentage of any player at the combine last year. If he can get in better shape, Porter can be one of the draft’s biggest sleepers.
18. Celtics - Sekou Doumbouya, F, France
Doumbouya is a 6’9, 220-pound French forward who turned 18 years old in December. He’s earned comparisons to Al-Farouq Aminu for his ability to run the floor and his versatility on defense. He’s expected to get looks in the top 10, but NBA teams will question his skill level with the ball and his feel for the game. This feels like his floor in the first round. Read ESPN’s Mike Schmitz for more on Doumbouya.
19. Spurs - Keldon Johnson, F, Kentucky
Johnson is a 6’6 freshman wing who has been a productive and efficient scorer for Kentucky all season. He’s averaging 13.4 points and 5.8 rebonds per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from three. Teams will wonder if he can make a defensive impact (he only has three blocks all year) and if he can finish inside against NBA length.
20. Utah - Goga Bitadze, C, Georgia
Bitadze is a seasoned 19-year-old international center who lacks ideal NBA athleticism but makes up for it with advanced skill. He’s made himself a productive offensive player by being physical inside as a finisher and a rebounder. He also has potential as a shooter. Read Schmitz for more on Bitadze.
21. Boston - Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Duke’s fourth freshman star, Jones is a fierce on-ball defender and a skilled facilitator who plays with an edge. He struggles to shoot the ball from three-point range (24 percent) and could have trouble finishing over NBA length. For as much as there is to like about his game, his 47.1 true shooting percentage won’t impress NBA teams.
22. Cleveland - KZ Okpala, F, Stanford
The 6’9 forward has made the sophomore leap for Stanford, raising his scoring average from 10 to 17 points per game while turning into an impressive shooter —38 percent from three on three attempts per game. His offensive efficiency remains average (54.5 true shooting percentage) and his block and steal rates are paltry (1.5 and 1.7 respectively) but his size and shooting should make him a first rounder.
23. Thunder - Grant Williams, F, Tennessee
Williams has established himself as one of the top players in the country for a Tennessee team fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. He’s a physical 6’7, 240-pound forward with a sterling 65 percent true shooting percentage who has built an efficient two-way game by being a smart and competitive player. NBA teams will hope his perimeter jump shot (34 percent on 35 attempts) can continue to grow.
24. Blazers - Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech
Alexander-Walker is a 6’6 guard who has scored efficiently and racked up steals for an upstart Virginia Tech team as a sophomore. He’s put together an impressive three-point shooting season (38 percent) for the second straight year while improving his defense. What he lacks in elite athleticism and true point guard skills he can make up for with versatility and touch.
25. 76ers - Tyler Herro, G, Kentucky
Herro has caught fire over the last month for Kentucky to put him on NBA radars as a potential one-and-done. Herro’s main selling point is his versatile shooting ability, where he can run off screens and hit three-pointers. He has flashed some in between game when getting run off the line, and hasn’t looked overwhelmed defensively.
26. Pacers - Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga
A 6’9, 230-pound forward with scoring craft, Hachimura has been one of the most talked about players in college basketball this season in part because of his Japanese heritage. His feel for the game remains a work in progress, but his numbers — 20.6 points, 6.7 rebounds — are undeniable.
27. Nets - Ty Jerome, G, Virginia
A tough 6’5 guard who can shoot, attack off the dribble, and set up teammates, Jerome has been a two-way star on a powerhouse Virginia team. He has potential as a bench guard who has the size to play either backcourt spot with high IQ play and shooting touch.
28. Warriors - Cameron Johnson, F, North Carolina
Johnson is a senior star for North Carolina who will be enticing to pro teams because of his size (6’9) and knockdown shooting ability. Johnson is currently hitting 48 percent of his threes on 5.6 attempts per game. Scouts will question his defense and his ability to attack when run off the line.
29. Spurs - Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland
Fernando is a physical specimen at 6’10, 240 pounds. He’s a run-and-jump center who has scored efficiently (67 percent true shooting percentage) and crashed the glass on both ends of the floor while also developing a bit as a passer and free throw shooter (77 percent from the line). His rim protection and defensive instincts remain a question mark.
30. Bucks - Luka Samanic, F, Croatia
Samanic is a 6’11 forward with scoring instincts who has improved as a shooter. He’s been inconsistent as a young pro but will intrigue NBA teams with his size and shooting.