The 2019 NBA Draft is finally here, which means it’s time for entirely-too-premature overreactions to every pick in the form of letter grades you received in middle school.
Outside of Zion Williamson, this has not been considered a strong draft throughout most of the process. But there are a number of intriguing players who can maximize their potential if they find the right fit. We saw multiple trades in the top 10, starting with the No. 4 pick that has changed hands from the Los Angeles Lakers, to the New Orleans Pelicans, to the Atlanta Hawks. The Minnesota Timberwolves also jumped to pick No. 6, trading Dario Saric and the No. 11 pick to the Phoenix Suns to move up.
We had a strong sense for how the top three picks of the draft are going to play out, but everything else after that felt up in the air. We graded each pick based on the prospect’s long-term projection and how they fit the team that drafted them.
1. New Orleans Pelicans - Zion Williamson, F, Duke
The Pelicans won the draft the moment they won the lottery. Zion Williamson isn’t just the best prospect in this draft by a massive margin. He’s also already one of the most marketable players in the NBA, and one of its best values given that he’ll spend four years on a rookie contract. Every move the Pelicans make after this one will be about building around Williamson properly to cultivate his rare talent.
Simply put, Williamson is one of the best prospects to enter the league since the turn of the millennium. He’s a positionless superstar in an increasingly positionless league, giving New Orleans a two-way wrecking ball with tremendous versatility. He’s going to be a brilliant finisher at the rim, a supernova in transition, and a playmaker on defense. Williamson isn’t a perfect prospect, but he’s damn close.
2. Memphis Grizzlies - Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
There’s an argument to be made that Morant has the most star potential of any player in the draft after Williamson. He’s a tremendous run-and-jump athlete with an attacking mindset who consistently puts pressure on the rim as an isolation and pick-and-roll scorer. Morant’s incredible dunking ability fueled his rise up draft boards during his sophomore season at Murray State, but his best skill his vision. He gives Memphis an elite passer to pair with Jaren Jackson Jr., last year’s No. 4 overall pick who has superstar upside.
Morant fills the sizable shoes of Mike Conley, who was traded to the Utah Jazz this week. For all of Morant’s talent, Memphis fans shouldn’t expect too much too soon. The jump from the Ohio Valley Conference to the NBA is going to be massive. Morant’s deficiencies in terms of strength and three-point shooting won’t make the transition any easier.
It might be a rough rookie season for Morant, but the future in Memphis is bright with him and Jackson.
3. New York Knicks - R.J. Barrett, G, Duke
New York’s delusions of pairing Zion Williamson and Kevin Durant next season have already gone up in smoke. That makes R.J. Barrett a consolation prize with the third pick, but one that still offers value.
Barrett is the rare 19-year-old who will be able to handle NBA physicality from day one. He’s a big, powerful wing who thrives attacking downhill and has showed upside, if not polish, as a pick-and-roll playmaker. He gives the Knicks a young guard to initiate the offense and grow alongside Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier, and Kevin Knox.
For all of Barrett’s production at Duke, he did show tunnel vision as a scorer and poor shot selection with the ball in his hands. The key for Barrett is slowing down, reading the floor, and not forcing his own office. It’s important to remember he is one of the youngest players in this draft, so he has plenty of time to improve. He also has impressive physical traits to fall back on.
Even if he never lives up to his high school hype, Barrett should still have a long and productive career.
4. Atlanta Hawks - De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia
Hunter is a solid fit for the Hawks in a vacuum, but giving up picks No. 8, No. 17, No. 35, and a protected 2020 first-rounder to move up four spots is a ton to surrender. This pick gets graded on a curve for that reason.
Hunter is a big, strong defender who excels at the point of attack and can hit an open three on offense. In that regard, he complements Atlanta’s young core of Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, and John Collins well. The problem is that he doesn’t have the raw upside to provide value for this draft slot when it costs this much to get him.
Hunter struggles to create off the dribble. His shot is accurate, but it takes him so long to get it off that he won’t have as much gravity against faster NBA closeouts. While his defensive reputation is excellent, he didn’t force many blocks and steals at Virginia. He’s also one of the oldest prospects in the lottery at 21 years old.
This is certainly a bold move for the Hawks, but they still have another opportunity to add a quality player at No. 10.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers - Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
Darius Garland is the riskiest pick in the draft. The 6’2 point guard was ranked outside of the top 10 in the recruiting class rankings before skyrocketing up draft boards after only playing five games at Vanderbilt. Does his rise say more about his ability or just how underwhelming so many of his peers were?
Garland’s calling card is pull-up shooting, which he can do with deep range and a quick release. He’s going to have to be special as a shooter to provide proper value with this pick. Garland’s size and playmaking deficiencies makes him a tough fit next to Cleveland’s last lottery pick, fellow point guard Collin Sexton. That backcourt is going to be overmatched physically almost every night.
Garland may end up making this grade look foolish if he’s incredible as a pull-up shooter and can improve his facilitating ability after finishing with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in college before a torn meniscus ended his season. For now, we’ll believe it when we see it.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves - Jarrett Culver, G, Texas Tech
Culver is the second-best player in this draft on my personal board. A 6’7 combo guard who can initiate the offense, Culver scored efficiently on every type of play during his sophomore year at Texas Tech. He also played a pivotal role in college basketball’s greatest defense of the modern era, showing great ability to make plays as a help defender while also being able to guard three or four positions.
The Wolves made a bold trade up from No. 11 to No. 6 and found a young guard who can complement Karl-Anthony Towns well. Culver is the draft’s second most versatile player after Williamson and projects as one of the few players in the draft to be a positive on both ends of the floor. This is a strong start for Minnesota’s new front office.
7. Chicago Bulls - Coby White, PG, North Carolina
At 6’5, White is more of a scorer than a facilitator at this stage. He showed an elite ability to play fast and hit spot-up three-pointers during his freshman season at North Carolina. He’ll need to improve his facilitating ability and his accuracy on pull-up jumpers to reach his ceiling.
This pick fills a big need for the Bulls and also gives them flexibility moving forward. White has the size and skill set to play on- or off-the-ball. If he doesn’t grow into the Bulls’ point guard of the future, he should be a quality sixth man. This is a pick that offers both a high ceiling and a high floor for Chicago.
8. New Orleans Pelicans - Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
Hayes is an incredibly fluid athlete running the floor. He moves like a wing and will eventually form the most athletic front court in the league with Williamson. Pelicans fans are going to have to be patient, though, because Hayes will need to add strength before he can make an impact. He’s skilled as a shot blocker and finisher but needs to get stronger before he can rebound at an NBA level.
Hayes’ unique athleticism gives him enough upside to make this a worthwhile pick.
9. Washington Wizards - Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga
Hachimura put up huge scoring and rebounding numbers during his junior year at Gonzaga. He became one of the most talked about players in the country, in part because of his amazing backstory as the best Japanese basketball player ever. Hachimura has soft touch from mid-range, the speed to score in transition, and the physicality to finish through contact and rebound.
For all his talent, Hachimura still struggles to play team defense and rarely makes plays for others. He finished with 12 more turnovers than assists and often failed to grasp rotations on defense. He was a 41 percent three-point shooter this season, but only attempted 36 shots behind the arc all year.
Hachimura could make this grade look foolish if he improves defensively, makes strides as a passer, and learns to shoot from three at a greater volume. Untili then, he projects as a player who likely puts up empty stats.
10. Atlanta Hawks - Cam Reddish, F, Duke
Reddish was No. 1 overall on our early draft board one year ago to the day. His stock plummeted at Duke while playing alongside Williamson and Barrett. Reddish finished with the lowest effective field goal percentage of any projected first rounder, showing a total inability to score efficiently inside the arc and leading to concerns that he lacks high-level athleticism and feel for the game.
At the same time, getting a long 6’8 wing who can shoot and disrupt sets defensively with his 7’1 wingspan is a good value with the No. 10 pick. Reddish will never deliver on the Paul George comparisons he was getting in high school, but he can still have a long career. Pairing him with De’Andre Hunter gives the Hawks a lot of versatility and length around Trae Young.
11. Phoenix Suns - Cameron Johnson, F, North Carolina
Johnson is the oldest player expected to go in the first round and simply doesn’t have enough upside to warrant a pick this high. He’s arguably the best shooter in this draft class, as a 6’8 forward who shot 46 percent on threes in his fourth year of college ball. He doesn’t offer much else outside of his shooting, though. Johnson lacks the physicality to make an impact defensively and will also struggle to finish through contact in the NBA. He also doesn’t create much off the dribble.
The Suns still don’t have a point guard, though it’s possible they target someone like D’Angelo Russell in free agency. Paired with Mikal Bridges, the Suns now have some shooters on the wing to surround Devin Booker. It might sound good on paper, but Johnson is simply too one dimensional to get picked this high.
12. Charlotte Hornets - P.J. Washington, F, Kentucky
Washington isn’t a perfect fit in a deep Charlotte frontcourt, but he is one of my favorite prospects in this draft. A long-and-strong forward, Washington has always been able to finish through contact in the paint. As a sophomore at Kentucky, he became a 42 percent three-point shooter. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor a bit and also showed some skill passing on the move.
Washington’s diverse skill set makes him one of the most versatile players in this draft.
13. Miami Heat - Tyler Herro, G, Kentucky
Herro is one of the best shooters in this draft. As a 6’5 freshman at Kentucky, he showcased soft touch on a variety of shots with deep range. Herro lacks great foot speed and also has a negative wingspan, which will limit how good he can be on defense. As long as he’s able to attack closeouts off the dribble, he should be a valuable offensive weapon. The ideal version of Herro’s pro career would model J.J. Redick’s.
14. Boston Celtics - Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
Langford was a consensus top-five recruit in high school after rewriting the record books as a prep scorer in the state of Indiana. He chose to play for the hometown Hoosiers, where he had a good season as a scorer, but struggled badly to shoot the ball from the outside. Langford’s 27 percent mark from three-point range is a giant red flag. It’s hard to imagine him having a successful pro career if he can’t fix his jumper.
If there is a mechanical change Langford can make as a shooter, he could look like a steal. He has a strong frame and long arms while being blessed with soft touch on pull-up jumpers and floaters around the rim. He’s an upside play with the last pick in the lottery. It all comes back to his jumper.
15. Detroit Pistons - Sekou Doumbouya, F, France
Doumbouya looks like an NBA combo forward physicality at just 18 years old. He has multiple years of professional experience already in France, showing potential as a long, strong 6’8 forward who can make plays in transition and finish through contact. He is also extremely raw right now, making this more of a developmental pick than one that will impact the Pistons next season.
The Pistons have to be patient. If they are, this pick might just pay off.
16. Orlando Magic - Chuma Okeke, F, Auburn
Okeke tore his ACL during the signature performance of his career in Auburn’s upset win over North Carolina in the Sweet 16. While the Magic will have to be patient as he recovers, he offers a rare combination of size, skill, and smarts to project as a perfect fit in the modern NBA. Okeke doesn’t have takeover scoring ability, but he makes shots, can attack a defense off the dribble, and put up monster block and steal rates this season as a sophomore.
Okeke was my pick for the draft’s biggest sleeper. The ideal comparison here is a player like Robert Covington. The Magic just got another long, athletic forward to pair with Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac.
17. New Orleans Pelicans - Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech
Alexander-Walker, the cousin of Clippers guard Shai Gigeous-Alexander, is a sophomore guard can pass, shoot, and dribble with enough size at 6’5 to play either backcourt spot. Alexander-Walker lacks great foot speed, which will lead to questions about his ability to create off the dribble and defend at a high level. For a Pelicans team building around Zion Williamson, it makes some sense to add a shooter with personal versatility despite the fact that he lacks the explosiveness to have great upside.
18. Indiana Pacers - Goga Bitadze, C, Georgia
Bitadze is one of the most polished players in this class. The 6’11 center won the prestigious Rising Star Award as the best young player in Euroleague this season. He is a developing shooter, a smart passer, and a strong rebounder who makes up for a lack of elite athleticism with sharp defensive instincts and an impressive competitive edge.
He is an odd fit in a Pacers front court that already has Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Still, Indiana earns an A because Bitadze was one of the best players available.
19. San Antonio Spurs - Luka Samanic, F, Croatia
A 6’11 big from Croatia, Samanic impressed at the NBA draft combine with his improved frame and dynamic shooting ability. He will make his living in the NBA as a catch-and-shoot threat that can attack a closeout. He will need to prove himself as a rebound and playmaker for others.
The Spurs should probably get the benefit of the doubt on international players, but they left a lot of good college options on the board.
20. Philadelphia 76ers - Matisse Thybulle, F, Washington
Thybulle might be the best perimeter defender in the draft. The senior from Washington put up humongous block and steal rates within the Huskies’ zone defense this year. He’s unpolished offensively, but did show ability as a transition scorer and has started to make strides as a spot-up shooter. Thybulle is long and strong, and projects as a lockdown defender.
21. Memphis Grizzlies - Brandon Clarke, F, Gonzaga
What a brilliant trade for Memphis to acquire this pick from the Thunder and snag one of the very best talents in the draft. Clarke was college basketball’s second most effective player this year behind only Zion Williamson, establishing himself as a hyper-athletic forward who wrecks havoc on defense and finishes efficiently on offense. He’s limited as a shooter and lacks the length and bulk to play center, but his combination of explosiveness and smarts makes him an incredible value in this range.
Clarke is also a perfect complement to Jaren Jackson Jr. in the front court. While Jackson offers shooting and space, Clarke will be a monster on the glass, in transition, and as a weak side shot blocker. He’ll also thrive running with Ja Morant in the open court and catching alley-oops near the rim. Despite the fact that he’ll be a 23-year-old rookie, Clarke is the best pick of the draft after Williamson.
22. Boston Celtics - Grant Williams, F, Tennessee
Williams was a two-time SEC Player of the Year at Tennessee as a bruising inside scorer with an impossible combination of strength and quickness. At the NBA level, he should be able to transition seamlessly into a role player. Williams is a highly-intelligent forward who can pass on the move, make plays as a help defender, and develop as an outside shooter.
Williams has been compared to P.J. Tucker by Rick Barnes, who coached both at the college level. That would be a great outcome for the No. 22 pick in the draft.
23. Oklahoma City Thunder - Darius Bazley, F
Bazley is a former McDonald’s All-American who skipped out on his commitment to Syracuse to instead train full-time for the NBA draft. At 6’9 with a 7-foot wingspan and intriguing shooting ability, there’s upside for Bazley to be a stretch forward. Because there is so little information on him, this is a risky pick for the Thunder. Sometimes the best thing a player can do is not play. The Thunder need shooters with size, so this is a move that makes sense.
24. Phoenix Suns - Ty Jerome, G, Virginia
Jerome is a 6’5 guard who lacks quickness, but is a high-IQ passer, an elite catch-and-shoot three-point threat, and a feisty defender. He has the size to play either backcourt spot but should be groomed as a point guard in Phoenix. Jerome may not be able to run with Deandre Ayton in transition but he gives Phoenix another shooter in this draft when added with Cam Johnson. The Suns are going all-in on players with great positional size and shooting ability who lack NBA athleticism.
Phoenix loses major points for trading a 2020 first rounder that is only top-7 protected. In a vacuum, Jerome would earn a B grade. This is simply too much to give up for a player of his caliber at this spot in an underwhelming draft.
25. Portland Trail Blazers - Nassir Little, F, North Carolina
Little was projected to get drafted ahead of Zion Williamson in the preseason. While Williamson soared at Duke, Little got lost in a deep frontcourt rotation at North Carolina. He struggled to find a consistent role all season, underwhelming as a shooter and showing an inability to make quick decisions with the ball.
Still, Little has a great frame for a combo forward and could fulfill some of his promise as a recruit if his shooting ability comes around. Little will need time to mature, but this pick could pay off down the line for a Portland team that badly needs a talent infusion at the forward spots.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers - Dylan Windler, F, Belmont
Windler, a 6’7 forward who can shoot with range, was a senior star for Belmont this season. He was efficient from all three levels, showing a sharp ability to move without the ball and score as a cutter. The lefty is also a competitive rebounder, finishing No. 10 in all of Division I in rebounds per game.
He should fit John Beilein’s spread offense in Cleveland, giving the new coach a combo forward who can provide shooting from any spot on the floor. Teams will likely target Windler defensively and make him prove he can beat them off the dribble as an attacker.
27. Los Angeles Clippers - Mfiondu Kabengele, C, Florida State
Dikembe Mutombo’s nephew made a name for himself this season as Florida State’s leading scorer despite coming off the bench. The 6’10 big man has great leaping ability and potential as a shooter after knocking down 37 percent of his threes this year. He has yet to show an ability to make plays for teammates, finishing with only 21 total assists across two college seasons.
Kabengele has the physicality to survive in the NBA if he can improve his feel for the game. The Clippers paid a future first-round pick for this selection, which knocks down their grade a notch.
28. Golden State Warriors - Jordan Poole, SG, Michigan
Poole is a certified bucket-getter who had an up-and-down sophomore season at Michigan. When he was cooking, Poole had deep range on his jumper and a bag of tricks to create separation both off the dribble. He struggled with consistency in part because he’s prone to taking (and occasionally making) tough shots. Poole will need to learn to impact the game as a playmaker and defender. Otherwise, he’s merely a one-dimensional scorer off difficult looks.
29. San Antonio Spurs - Keldon Johnson, G, Kentucky
Johnson has no signature skill, but he’s solid across the board. The 6’6 wing was a solid scorer for Kentucky as a freshman, flashing a competent three-point shot, good athleticism, and the ability to score in transition. Johnson’s lack of eye-popping stats and highlights could mean we’re sleeping on his well-rounded talent level. It’s worth it to take a solid wing at this point in the draft, even if Johnson lacks ideal upside.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers - Kevin Porter Jr., G, USC
Porter was getting top-five hype before his freshman season at USC unraveled amid inconsistency, injury, and a team suspension. At his best, Porter is a 6’6 wing scorer with impressive athleticism who can effortlessly create space off the dribble. He also has upside as a switch defender, with a strong frame and quick feet. He must learn to play within himself and not go 1-on-5 when he gets the ball.
At this point in the draft, Porter is a worthy gamble and someone who could give the Cavs plus value.