NBA fans rejoice: one of the NBA’s marquee off-season events is almost here.
As we get set for the 2019 NBA Draft at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Thursday, there’s plenty to watch out for between now and when the first-overall pick — presumably Zion Williamson — hears his name called.
From draft-night trades turning teams’ draft boards upside down, to teams taking a leap of faith by selecting off-the-board prospects (see: Bruno Caboclo), Thursday night truly has the potential to be as unpredictable as any night on the NBA calendar.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at the potential landing spots for the game’s top prospects based on the current draft order:
|1||Zion Williamson, PF, Duke|
|Following the Anthony Davis blockbuster deal, Williamson is now positioned to be the lone franchise star playing in New Orleans next season. He’ll likely be running the fastbreak with one of the game’s best passers in Lonzo Ball at point, which should lead to plenty of gravity-defying slams in The Big Easy. On top of having the No. 1 and No. 4 selections in the ’19 draft, the Pelicans are set up to have one of the brightest futures in the entire league with Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and a sizeable chunk of the Lakers former future under their control. Oh, and don’t forget about Jrue Holiday, one of the league’s premier two-way guards when healthy. At six-foot-six and 285 pounds, Williamson has the sheer size, tremendous athleticism and defensive prowess to thrive from Day 1 at the next level.|
|2||Ja Morant, PG, Murray State|
|Since our last mock draft just over a month ago, not much has changed with regards to Morant’s status as the projected No. 2 pick. The successor to recently traded point guard Mike Conley, Morant’s gifted vision and playmaking should be on full display as soon as he arrives at the next level. The 19-year-old has room for improvement defensively, and luckily for him he’ll have the time to address that deficiency on a rebuilding Grizzlies squad.|
|3||RJ Barrett, SG/SF, Duke|
|The first two picks of this draft are essentially set in stone. Once we get to No. 3, though, the speculation begins to ramp up. In the days leading up to the draft, rumours have emerged that in addition to Barrett the Knicks are seriously considering Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland with the third overall selection. We think the Knicks ultimately stand pat on Barrett, though, considering the Mississauga, Ont., native projects as more of a primary scorer from the get-go, which New York desperately needs.|
|4||De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia|
|Now this is where the draft gets interesting. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express reported that the Pelicans — the team choosing in this draft slot following the Anthony Davis blockbuster — are considering trading down in the draft by moving their No. 4 selection for the Hawks’ No. 8 and No. 10 picks. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said during a recent episode of The Woj Pod that he believes the Pelicans’ priority is using the pick to acquire an established, young all-star calibre player. Depending on which team actually winds up trading for this pick, we could see either Hunter, Garland or even Coby White come off the board at No. 4 given said team’s needs. For a team looking to draft a three-and-D player capable of switching onto and guarding multiple positions, look no further than Hunter. The reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year showed glimpses of his potential in the National title game, scoring a career-high 27 points on 8-for-16 shooting (4-for-5 from three-point range) and projects as one of the draft’s strongest two-way players.|
|5||Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech|
|Culver has a nice all-around game that should translate well to the NBA. Culver did it all for Texas Tech on the offensive end last season, averaging team-highs in points (18.5) and assists (3.7) while leading a group of overachievers all the way to the national title game. Regression in his jumper is somewhat concerning, but shouldn’t prevent teams from viewing him as a strong two-guard or small-ball forward at the next level. Culver is a defensively versatile player with nice size at shooting guard (six-foot-six) too, which bodes well for a Cleveland team that could use all the help it can get on that end of the floor.|
|6||Coby White, PG/SG, North Carolina|
|Considering the void of a traditional point guard in Phoenix, we see White coming off the board at No. 6. White uses his tremendous speed to create transition opportunities for both himself and teammates, and in half-court sets, has proven he’s capable of playing both on and off the ball. If left open from outside, White has proven he can make a team pay with his 35.3 per cent shooting from distance. Devin Booker became the Suns’ de facto point guard last season, but struggled at times with his ball control (4.1 turnovers per game). Bringing White in would allow Booker to return to playing primarily as a two-guard again, which he appears to be far more comfortable doing. It’s also worth mentioning that at six-foot-four, pairing White alongside Booker would make for one of the league’s larger backcourts.|
|7||Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt|
|Recognized as one of highest-upside players in this draft, Garland has been climbing up boards following strong workouts. Givony reports that Garland is 100 per cent healthy after having knee surgery in November, and considering his health was the only factor keeping him out of the top five, the 19-year-old could wind up as a steal at this spot. In his four full games at Vanderbilt prior to undergoing meniscus surgery, Garland scored double-figures in three of those contests while shooting 47.8 per cent from long range (an encouraging, but unsustainable percentage). The Bulls have some uncertainty at point with Kris Dunn failing to live up to expectations, so targeting Garland or White if they’re available feels like the logical choice.|
|8||Cam Reddish, SG/SF, Duke|
|As previously mentioned, reports indicate the Hawks are looking to move up to No. 4 by shopping their 8th and 10th picks, so don’t be too surprised if this selection winds up with the Pelicans on draft night. Reddish came into college as one of the nation’s top prospects, but faded somewhat at Duke due to inconsistent performances and playing in the shadow of Williamson and Barrett. Reddish is a gifted player with all the physical tools necessary to succeed in the NBA, but his desire to put in the work needed to become great has been questioned by some. Regardless of where he ends up — be it New Orleans or Atlanta — adding Reddish gives an up-and-coming team another promising piece to build around in the years to come.|
|9||Sekou Doumbouya, SF/PF, France|
|Doumbouya’s the youngest player in the draft, meaning the Wizards will have to exercise patience. He already has the defensive versatility to guard multiple positions, but stands to benefit from improving his fundamentals at the next level, especially since he’s typically relied on an athletic advantage over defenders while playing with CSP Limoges in France. On a non-competitive Washington roster that lacks depth at either forward positions, Doumbouya figures to help fill that void as he matures over time.|
|10||Jaxson Hayes, C/PF, Texas|
|An athletic centre that averaged 2.2 blocks in only 23.3 minutes per game seems like a good place to start if you’re looking to draft a defensive anchor of the future to pair alongside budding stars John Collins and Trae Young. Again, it’s worth mentioning Atlanta could wind up moving up in this draft by packaging picks No. 8 and No. 10, but if they do ultimately stand pat, taking Hayes makes the most sense for the Hawks.|
|11||Brandon Clarke, PF/C, Gonzaga|
|Minnesota is already set at centre with Karl Anthony-Towns, but concerns over the former No. 1 overall pick’s defence haven’t subsided. Drafting Clarke to play power forward alongside Towns should help mask some of his defensive issues given the former’s versatility and motor on D. The former Bulldog led the NCAA in blocks last season, so attacking driving lanes with him roaming in the paint should give opponents fits on a regular basis. Clarke lacks the typical length of an NBA rim protector, but we feel his high-energy style of play will successfully mask his size disadvantage.|
|12||Rui Hachimura, SF/PF, Gonzaga|
|Hachimura emerged as Gonzaga’s top scorer in his junior season, dropping in 19.7 points per game. Projected as Japan’s top prospect to date, Hachimura relies on a strong mid-range jumper to score, but has also shown he’s able to maximize his six-foot-eight frame when attacking the rim. The 21-year-old has to improve defensively in order to stay on the floor against NBA competition, and with a seven-foot-two wingspan, has the necessary physical attributes to evolve into a plus-defender. It’s worth noting that Hachimura doesn’t have as much experience playing professionally as some other top prospects in this class, which could be viewed as a positive since he hasn’t developed many bad habits.|
|13||PJ Washington, PF/SF, Kentucky|
|Washington’s decision to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season improved his draft stock in a big way, as the forward showcased a refined offensive game with improved numbers across the board. In particular, Washington went from being someone you didn’t have to pay much attention to beyond the arc to a knockdown three-point shooter (42.3 per cent on threes with 2.2 attempts per game) as a sophomore. He’s versatile and has the strength to defend multiple positions, which should help him develop into a nice rotation piece for Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.|
|14||Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG/PG, Virginia Tech|
|The anticipated departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have placed doubts on the Celtics’ ability to remain a legitimate Eastern Conference contender going forward. And with the team presumably preparing to rely on Terry Rozier as it’s starting point guard entering next season — assuming Irving departs, which at this point seems quite likely — Alexander-Walker provides the Celtics terrific value at No. 14. The Canadian proved himself as a strong perimeter shooter in college with an ability to score both on and off the ball. He also showcased an improved playmaking ability in his second season with the Hokies, an area of his game that should continue to improve in Brad Stevens’ pass-heavy offensive system.|
• Bol Bol, C, Oregon — If he can stay healthy, Bol will wind up being one of the biggest steals of the draft. But given the historical precedent of his injury, a navicular fracture in his left foot, teams are likely going to hesitate to select the towering, seven-foot-two centre with a lottery pick. If he didn’t have injury concerns, Bol would have been a top-five pick.
• Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky — Arguably the best perimeter shooter in this class, Herro has the necessary size of an NBA shooting guard as well. His dynamic shot-making ability should translate well to the pros.
• Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana — Langford should be able to regularly use his size advantage (six-foot-six) to get his shot off overtop of defenders, although scoring efficiency will be a concern when Langford enters the league.
• Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina — Little failed to live up to expectations as a freshman with the Tar Heels, but did show periodic flashes of brilliance. He was initially projected as a top-five pick, which speaks to his potential ceiling. If he develops more consistency, the 19-year-old could emerge as one of the top offensive players to come out of this draft a few seasons from now.