No, Duke didn’t make the Final Four. Yes, Zion Williamson is still going to be the first pick in the NBA Draft.
Williamson officially ended his college career and entered the draft Monday after turning into a national sensation during his five months at Duke. Nothing is conventional about his game, but his impact is monstrous on both ends of the floor. That makes the No. 2 pick the true starting point of the draft.
It’s either going to be Murray State sophomore point guard Ja Morant or Williamson’s Duke teammate R.J. Barrett. Right now, it feels like Morant has the upper-hand after a brilliant two-game stint at the NCAA tournament that saw him amass 35 points, 20 assists, and 16 rebounds, while shooting 7-of-8 on three-pointers. The take here is Phoenix, Chicago, Memphis, and New Orleans would take him at No. 2. The Knicks, Cavs, and Hawks each already have young point guard prospects who could potentially push them towards Barrett.
With the college season over and the lottery still a month away, here is our best projection of the draft right now.
1. New York Knicks - Zion Williamson, F, Duke
Williamson will change the fate of whatever franchise is lucky enough to land him. While there are longterm questions about durability at his playing weight and the development of his jump shot, there’s no denying the instant star-power he’s going to bring with him from Day 1 in the NBA.
Williamson is positionless star in an increasingly positionless league. He’s comfortable initiating the pick-and-roll and attacking from the perimeter, yet has the strength and explosiveness to compete defensively down low. He’s going to make game-changing plays defensively with the ability to guard almost anyone on the floor. He’s going to score efficiently on offense with an enormous amount of versatility. With a nonstop motor and a striking ability to finish with touch, Williamson may not be a perfect prospect, but he’s still a home run with the first pick.
2. Phoenix Suns - Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
Morant is a one-man offensive engine at point guard. The Murray State sophomore is a blinding athlete with tremendous court vision who excels both in transition and while operating within a spread floor out of the pick-and-roll. He led all of college basketball in assist rate this season (51.0) while also averaging 24.5 points per game. His three-point shot will be his swing skill. His release don’t always look fluid, but he hit nearly 37 percent of his attempts this season and also made 81 percent of his free throws.
Scouts will question his ability to defend and add muscle. Still only 175 pounds, Morant’s thin frame may take a pounding initially as he enters the NBA from the mid-major Ohio Valley Conference. In a draft without much star-power after Williamson, Morant’s tantalizing offensive upside makes him a worthy pick at No. 2.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers - R.J. Barrett, G, Duke
Barrett entered the season as the consensus favorite to go No. 1 in this draft, but he was quickly surpassed by the brilliance of Williamson. The college season exposed some holes in Barrett’s game, namely a shaky perimeter shot jump (30.8 percent from three) and a lack of elite explosiveness when attacking the basket. Despite all that, Barrett was still one of the most productive freshmen in college basketball history, averaging 23 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists.
Barrett earned a reputation for playing with tunnel vision at times. While occasionally showing potential as a passer, he was always raised to be a volume scorer. The Cavs need someone to eat up possessions and develop into a primary option on the perimeter, so this looks like the perfect marriage of team and player.
4. Chicago Bulls - Jarrett Culver, G, Texas Tech
Culver was the leading man on a Texas Tech team that went on a shocking run to the national championship game in the NCAA tournament. He’s a long and strong guard who plays who plays a high-IQ game on both ends of the floor. Culver lacks takeover scoring ability and elite athletic pop, but offers a well-rounded and versatile skillset on the wing. He should influence winning even if his stats don’t jump off the page.
The biggest question for Culver is his outside shooting ability after hitting only 30 percent of his threes and 70 percent of his free throws. His ball handling, passing ability, and efficient finishing at the rim should allow him to have success offensively even as his jump shot develops.
5. Atlanta Hawks - Bol Bol, C, Oregon
Bol might be the draft’s most interesting player after Williamson. It’s easy to forget about him after he was limited to only nine games at Oregon following foot surgery, but his combination of size and shooting is virtually unprecedented. Bol might be the best shooter in the draft regardless of position. He’s also the biggest player in this draft at around 7’3 with a 7’8 wingspan.
Bol’s lack of lateral mobility is an issue, but he still has the length and timing to impact the game defensively as a shot blocker. His skinny, awkward body will be under scrutiny for its longterm durability. But if Atlanta wants to swing for the fences at No. 5, Bol’s elite size and shooting ability offers the team an entirely new dimension in the front court next to Trae Young.
6. Washington Wizards - De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia
Hunter fits the mold of the 3-and-D wing NBA teams covet. He has a big, strong frame at 225 pounds with a wingspan over 7-feet. He might be the best point of attack defender in the draft. He’s also a plus three-point shooter if he has time to get off his release, hitting 43.8 percent of his triples this year on relatively low volume.
Hunter has a high floor, but it’s fair to question his upside. He’s not exceptionally quick laterally or explosive vertically. He struggles to create offense off the dribble. The release on his shot will need to become faster. There will also be questions on how his impressive man defense will translate to league that places more emphasis on helping off the ball and recovering. This is a safe pick, but not the most exciting one.
7. New Orleans Pelicans - Darius Garland, G, Vanderbilt
Garland enters the draft as something of a mystery man after playing only four games at Vanderbilt following a torn meniscus. Garland is valuable because he projects as the best off-the-dribble shooter in the draft. He’s a tight ball handler with a quick trigger who can put pressure on an opposing defense out of the pick-and-roll. Never go under a screen against Garland.
Scouts will question his ability to defend and finish at the rim given his lack of size (6’2) and athletic explosiveness.
8. Memphis Grizzlies - Cam Reddish, G, Duke
A vote for Reddish is a vote for tools and potential over production. Reddish failed to live up to his hype as a recruit playing next to Williamson and Barrett, showing an inability to attack the basket or score from mid-range efficiently. His 49.9 true shooting percentage could be the lowest of any first-round draft pick.
What Reddish does have is length (7’1 wingspan), an ability to force steals (2.9 steal rate), and potential as a shooter. While Reddish’s shot was hit-or-miss at Duke (33 percent), he can make himself into a valuable wing for any rebuild if he becomes consistent from deep.
9. Atlanta Hawks - Coby White, G, North Carolina
White is more of a scorer than a facilitator, but he still filled the role of starting point guard at North Carolina admirably as a freshman. He has a bag full of tricks attacking off the dribble, using a variety of step backs and a quick release to bomb away on the perimeter.
White isn’t an elite passer and he could have trouble defensively, but he has a little bit of everything offensively to project as a capable combo guard. He’s not a perfect fit next to Trae Young in Atlanta, but he would give the Hawks another shooter and ball handler to jump start the offense.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves - Brandon Clarke, F, Gonzaga
Clarke was hyper-productive on both ends of the court as he transferred from San Jose State to Gonzaga in his fourth college season. He an incredible quick-twitch athlete with great focus who can impact the game as a shot blocker, rebounder, help defender, and man defender. He also placed in the 98th percentile as a finisher at the basket.
Clarke doesn’t really have a position, struggles to shoot from the perimeter, and will be 23 years old as a rookie. But next to the dynamic all-around offense of Karl-Anthony Towns, Clarke would be a dynamic role player who does the little things to help the Wolves win.
11. Los Angeles Lakers - Romeo Langford, G, Indiana
Langford was a touted recruit who put up impressive numbers with middling efficiency during his freshman year at Indiana. Langford has good size (6’6, 6’10 wingspan) and scoring instincts for a shooting guard, showing soft touch on floaters and versatility attacking the basket. The development of his jump shot could determine his career. Langford hit only 27.2 percent of his 125 three-point attempts this season. Can a mechanical change fix his jumper and unlock his potential?
12. Charlotte Hornets - Sekou Doumbouya, F, France
Doumbouya might be one of the youngest players in the draft, but he’s already putting together productive minutes in France’s top league. At 6’9 with wide shoulders and strong frame, Doumbouya has the tools to be a lockdown defender and open-floor terror. His offensive skill set is raw, but developing with his jump shot and handle. He has the potential to be a versatile two-way forward.
Potential lottery pick Sekou Doumbouya with a huge coast-to-coast dunk tonight in France. The 6-foot-9 18-year-old has had an up and down season, but he's improving and I fully expect him to crush workout season when it comes around pic.twitter.com/A4YKinEpYD— Austin Green (@LosCrossovers) April 10, 2019
13. Miami Heat - Kevin Porter Jr., G, USC
Porter feels like a boom-or-bust pick with enough upside to gamble on at the end of the lottery. He’s a big wing at 6’6 and over 220 pounds with an advanced scoring package that includes step backs, slippery drives to the rim, and floor stretching ability. He’s one of the few players available who can create his own offense with plus positional size.
Porter had a wildly inconsistent season at USC with whispers that he was hard to play with. There is no better team than the Heat when it comes to helping a player improve his approach to the game.
14. Boston Celtics - Goga Bitadze, C, Georgia
Bitadze is quickly emerging as one of the most polished and promising prospects in this draft. The 6’11 center was named MVP of the ABA Liga at only 19 years old after showcasing an impressive skill set and advanced feel for the game despite a lack of elite athleticism. Bitadze hit 38 percent of his three-pointers, passed the ball at a high level, competed on the glass, and always seemed to be in the right spot.
15. Detroit Pistons - Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
Hayes could go much higher than this. The young center blew up onto NBA radars as a freshman at Texas, projecting as a rim protector and lob finisher who is still growing into his body and athleticism. Hayes is a blur running in the open floor. He showed skill around the rim as a finisher and made strides from the foul line (74 percent), He needs to get stronger and improve as a rebounder.
16. Brooklyn Nets - Nassir Little, F, North Carolina
Little was projected as a top-five pick in the preseason but failed to find his role on a North Carolina team with veterans in the front court ahead of him. The physicality that made him originally intriguing remains, entering the draft as a 6’7 combo forward with strength, length, and a nonstop motor. Little needs to improve his feel for the game and game-to-game consistently, but has the natural talent to still carve out a long career in the league.
17. Orlando Magic - Talen Horton-Tucker, G, Iowa State
No team covets length more than John Hammond’s Magic and no player has greater length than Iowa State freshman Talen Horton-Tucker. Despite standing only 6’4, Horton-Tucker has a 7’ wingspan within a strong 240-pound frame. He doesn’t have a signature skill offensively, but he does bring a lot of versatility and can impact the game in a number of areas. He’s also being one of the youngest players in the draft.
18. Indiana Pacers - Tyler Herro, G, Kentucky
Every team needs shooting, and Herro is a shooter. He can get himself open by running around screens and finding creases in the defense, using a quick trigger to hit 35.5 percent of his triples. As long as Herro continues to improve his body and functional athleticism, he should be able to attack closeouts offensively and compete defensively.
19. San Antonio Spurs - Grant Williams, F, Tennessee
Williams won SEC Player of the Year as a sophomore and then improved his numbers drastically across the board as a junior. The 6’7, 240-pound forward is a strong rebounder, versatile defender, and high-IQ offensive player who can move the ball and finish efficiently. He projects as a rugged role-player who feels like a perfect fit on the Spurs.
20. Boston Celtics - P.J. Washington, F, Kentucky
Washington is a 6’8, 230-pound forward with a 7’3 wingspan who made major strides as a shooter during his sophomore year as Kentucky. After entering school as an interior scorer and rebounder, Washington improved to a 40 percent three-point shooter and primary offensive option for the Wildcats. If he can continue to improve as a ball handler and passer, he could offer rare inside-out versatility in the front court.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder - Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech
Alexander-Walker is a combo guard with good size at 6’5 who brings an all-around skill set without dynamic athleticism. The sophomore hit over 40 percent of his threes, makes floaters, and can run pick-and-rolls in a pinch. Teams will wonder if he can finish at the basket and hold up defensively against stronger, faster opponents.
22. Boston Celtics - Matisse Thybulle, G, Washington
Thybulle blossomed into the best perimeter defender in the country as a senior at Washington, averaging 4.5 steals and 2.8 blocks per-40 minutes. At 6’5, 200 pounds, with a 7-foot wingspan, Thybulle has the potential to be a four-position defender. His offensive skill set is fairly rudimentary at this point, but he did make 85 percent of his free throws this season — a promising sign for his continued development as a shooter.
23. Utah Jazz- Keldon Johnson, G, Kentucky
Johnson does a little bit of everything as a 6’6 wing who put up solid scoring numbers as a freshman at Kentucky. He had 38 percent of his threes and showed some capability attacking in transition. Scouts will want to see if he can make an impact defensively and what happens when defenses run him off the three-point line.
24. Philadelphia 76ers - Ty Jerome, G, Virginia
Jerome will be considered slow footed as an NBA guard, but he makes up for his lack of quickness with size and skill. The 6’5 guard can play either backcourt spot because of his strengths as a passer and shooter. There aren’t many catch-and-shoot threats in this draft better than Jerome.
25. Portland Trail Blazers - Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga
Hachimura became one of the biggest names in college basketball this season as a junior at Gonzaga, averaging 20 points and six rebounds per game while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. He has soft touch on his mid-range shots and a solid blend of size and athleticism at 6’8, 230 pounds. Hachimura’s feel for the game remains a major question, both as an offensive decision-maker and defensively.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers - Chuma Okeke, F, Auburn
Okeke suffered a heartbreaking ACL tear during the game of his life against North Carolina in the Sweet 16, turning in 20 points, 11 rebounds, and numerous big plays on the defensive end. At 6’8, 230 pounds, he’s the ideal 3-and-D forward for the modern NBA, offering versatile defense, spot-up shooting ability, and the athleticism to attack in transition. It remains to be seen whether he’ll declare for the draft, but it feels like he’s worth a gamble even with the injury if he does.
27. Brooklyn Nets - Cameron Johnson, SF, North Carolina
Johnson is a brilliant shooter at 6’8. That’s the type of player every team could use. Scouts will question his ability to stay on the floor defensively and how much he can do offensively off the dribble.
28. Golden State Warriors - Mfiondu Kabengele, C, Florida State
The nephew of Dikembe Mutombo, Kabengele led Florida State in scoring as a junior despite coming off the bench. He’s an athletic and physical front court player at 6’10, 250 pounds with developing shooting range and impressive shot blocking skills. He’ll need to figure out how to score efficiently in the half court.
29. San Antonio Spurs - Luka Samanic, F, Croatia
A pure shooter at 6’11 who will need to prove he can handle the physicality of a front court position in the NBA.
30. Milwaukee Bucks - KZ Okpala, F, Stanford
Okpala put himself on NBA radars during his sophomore season by turning into a 37.5 percent three-point shooter. He has great size and athleticism at 6’9 but will need to prove himself defensively.