The NBA Draft kicks off with Zion Williamson going first to the New Orleans Pelicans, but where do the rest land?
At long last, after what feels like an eternity, the 2019 NBA Draft is here!
Welcome, fans, to the NBA’s Black Friday. This is when teams line up to select strong and, hopefully, All-Star-caliber talent at a major discount. This year’s class has a plethora of solid young players, starting with former Duke superstar Zion Williamson. Barring a major twist, he is expected to be picked first overall by the New Orleans Pelicans.
But Williamson is just one man, and one man doesn’t make an entire NBA draft class. Behind him lies a wide range of young potential stars who could help take certain teams to the next level.
Sure, Williamson is probably going first, but who follows him? Let’s predict the first round and find out.
1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson (PF, Duke)
Anthony Davis has been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Pelicans need a big name to fill his shoes. Enter Williamson who, despite being just 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, plays with the determination of a seven-footer.
The former Blue Devil brings back memories of Charles Barkley with his dominance in the paint. If he develops a mid-range jumper, he could move from potentially great to potentially elite.
2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant (G, Murray State)
Given how the Grizzlies just traded longtime point man Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz, Ja Morant coming to Memphis is all but certain. The Grizzlies could certainly do worse. Morant averaged 24.5 points and 10 assists per game for the Racers last season and plays with swagger comparable to Russell Westbrook.
Thus, with Memphis having ranked last in scoring last season, Morant is just the spark plug the Grizzlies need.
3. New York Knicks: R.J. Barrett (G/F, Duke)
This might be the most obvious pick in the draft besides Williamson going No. 1 overall. RJ Barrett has made it very clear he wants to be a Knick and the team would be cheating itself by not picking the ultimate swingman. Barrett can do everything from shoot to defend to rebound, and his versatility will be a boon in coach David Fizdale‘s system. Barring a major 180 from management, expect him to wear the orange and blue next season.
4. New Orleans Pelicans (via LA Lakers): De’Andre Hunter (G/F, Virginia)
The Pelicans have their next franchise cornerstone in Zion Williamson, but now they need someone who can establish a winning culture. De’Andre Hunter just led Virginia to a national championship and is a bit of a swingman himself.
Not only that, but newly-acquired forward Brandon Ingram is currently recovering from blood clot issues in his shoulder. He’s expected to be back on the court next month, but these things have a habit of coming back. Thus, best to draft Hunter not only to establish a new winning culture in the locker room but also for insurance.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jarrett Culver (G/F, Texas Tech)
The Cavaliers will take the next step into the post-LeBron James era in drafting Jarrett Culver, whose motor can be eye-popping. This will only help him playing under new coach John Beilein, who famously ran a fast system at Michigan. Culver will need to improve his three-point shooting but in the meantime, he should serve as a solid go-to guy for second-year guard Collin Sexton.
6. Phoenix Suns: Darius Garland (PG, Vanderbilt)
Darius Garland didn’t have a long collegiate career. He appeared in just five games for the Commodores before injuring his knee but has still turned quite a few heads. Even the Knicks, despite their interest in Barrett, are rumored to have him in mind for the third pick.
Still, the Suns really need a point guard. Garland can step right in and become a solid distributor who can also create off the dribble. Playing under a known players’ coach in Monty Williams would also help his development, so the desert just makes sense for him.
7. Chicago Bulls: Coby White (G, UNC)
The Kris Dunn experiment has not worked in Chicago. He’s been in the league three years and hasn’t yet established himself as a point man to watch.
Coby White, on the other hand, plays at an electrifying pace and will make Chicago basketball fun again. I mean, come on. The man’s hair alone is a marketing opportunity. So long as he works on his shooting, count on him to be the next cog in restarting the Bulls machine.
8. Atlanta Hawks: Cam Reddish (G/F, Duke)
Cam Reddish is an interesting prospect. He’s a former McDonald’s All-American but also lived in the shadows of Williamson and Barrett at Duke. On the eye-test alone, he comes off more as a three-and-D than he does a star in the making.
Which is why Atlanta is the perfect spot for him. The Hawks appear committed to rebuilding through the draft and developing young talent, so they would be more than patient with him. By slotting him in at either small forward or shooting guard, and with Trae Young feeding him the ball, he’ll have every opportunity to reach his star potential.
9. Washington Wizards: Sekou Doumbouya (F, Limoges Cercie Saint-Pierre, France)
Sekou Doumbouya is only 18-years-old and rawer than an uncooked Whopper. The Guinea native has played in France since 2016 and, for all his athleticism, needs to develop a more consistent jump shot.
Enter the Wizards, who might not have star point guard John Wall next year as he recovers from an Achilles injury. Better for them to draft someone who can develop behind the aging Trevor Ariza and not be rushed.
10. Atlanta Hawks (via Dallas Mavericks): Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
Strong young centers are hard to come by, which is why the Hawks must use their second pick in the draft on Jaxson Hayes. He has the size at 6-foot-11 and 220 pounds and shot an eye-popping 72.8% from the field last year.
Hayes will need to beef up and get stronger before he can reach his potential, but he’s already a solid rim protector. A 7-foot-3 wingspan also allows for him to block shots with ease. As Atlanta rebuilds through the draft, he is just who the Hawks need to man the paint.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves: Keldon Johnson (SG, Kentucky)
The ‘Wolves are set to turn over a new leaf under coach Ryan Saunders and adding a guard who can be a spark is the next step. No disrespect to Derrick Rose or Jeff Teague, but both are past their prime.
Enter Keldon Johnson, who can provide some friendly competition at the two alongside Josh Okogie. He is very much a Kentucky guard in that he can score in multiple ways, but also isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the paint. Be it sinking a jumper or driving to draw a foul, he can serve Minnesota well either as a starter or a spark off the bench.
12. Charlotte Hornets: Rui Hachimura (F, Gonzaga)
Nicolas Batum is coming off a career-worst year and, per Brendan Marks of The Charlotte Observer, doesn’t know how he’ll fit into the Hornets’ future plans. To this writer, this sounds like the beginning of an eventual divorce between both parties.
This means veteran general manager Mitch Kupchak needs to find the same electricity Batum used to have, and he will find it in Rui Hachimura. The former Gonzaga star proved inconsistent towards the end of the season, but he can still score from multiple spots on the floor, and consistently. He shot 59.1% from the field last season and on a Charlotte team which could bring back Kemba Walker in free agency, having a solid scoring wing is only going to help.
13. Miami Heat: PJ Washington (PF, Kentucky)
PJ Washington, in all his Kentucky Wildcat glory, is the perfect man for the position. His fast-paced approach and length on defense fit in perfectly with what Heat basketball is all about. He needs to develop a jump shot, but Miami could be headed for a rebuild soon. So long as coach Erik Spoelstra is patient, Washington’s development will pay off in spades.
14. Boston Celtics (via Sacramento Kings): Goga Bitadze (C, Mega Bemax, Serbia)
Goga Bitadze is raw at just 19 years old but has proven to be a solid scorer and rebounder in Europe. He’s played professionally since he was 16 and has starred not only in Serbia, but in his native Georgia and also Montenegro. His defense needs work and he also must develop a low post game to keep up in the NBA, but the ceiling is there. In terms of finding a strong young center, the Celtics would be smart to give Bitadze a shot.
15. Detroit Pistons: Nassir Little (SF, UNC)
I’m going to go out on a limb and say this. Nassir Little might be one of the draft’s biggest sleepers. He’s not the biggest at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, but plays with such a natural toughness and plays defense aided by a 7-foot-1 wingspan.
He’s very raw on offense and needs to prove he can do more than be a strong dunker, but he’d have a great coach in Dwane Casey if the Pistons drafted him. His scoring game will develop in time and even if it doesn’t, he can find his niche as a tough wing defender.
16. Orlando Magic: Bol Bol (C, Oregon)
The son of former NBA center Manute Bol, the younger Bol truly could be a diamond in the rough. The 7-foot-2 center only appeared in nine games for the Ducks before a foot injury ended his season, but still impressed in a short amount of time. He averaged 21 points, 9.6 boards, and 2.7 blocks per game.
Bol will need to add some weight to a spindly 235-pound frame and will need at least two years to fully blossom in the NBA. Still, his face-up game is stronger than most young centers and, like his dad, he has a knack for the three-ball. With Orlando likely waving good-bye to Nikola Vucevic in free agency, adding Bol would be a smart move.
17. Atlanta Hawks (via Brooklyn Nets): Tyler Herro (SG, Kentucky)
Tyler Herro looks very much like a college player. He isn’t overly athletic and plays little to no defense. He’s very much a scorer and doesn’t really offer much else.
But even on a rebuilding team like the Hawks, folk heroes are important. These are guys who won’t do much on the court, but the fans will get behind them when they’re having a strong night. Seeing as how Herro’s NBA future is probably as a three-point specialist, spending extended time at shooting guard for Atlanta is the perfect way to start his pro career.
18. Indiana Pacers: Romeo Langford (SG, Indiana)
The Indiana Pacers have a hole at shooting guard. Victor Oladipo is still rehabbing a knee injury and may not be ready until the new year. Romeo Langford, who’s already a household name in the Hoosier State, would be a great addition to a young and feisty Pacers team.
He needs to improve his three-point shot, especially in today’s NBA. However, his slashing abilities mesh well with coach Nate McMillan‘s offense. Thus, this lifelong Hoosier will hopefully continue his career in the state where it all started.
19. San Antonio Spurs: Bruno Fernando (C, Maryland)
The Spurs love international players and the Angolan-native Bruno Fernando is perfect for their system. He’s only 20 but has great size at a large 6-foot-10, 233 pounds.
Fernando is a little slow on his feet, but his low post game is impressive for someone his age. There’s room for improvement, but a great teacher in Gregg Popovich could be just what the doctor ordered for his next stage of development. So long as he keeps up his competitive nature, San Antonio is a great landing spot for him.
20. Boston Celtics (via LA Clippers): Brandon Clarke (F/C, Gonzaga)
Brandon Clarke is only 6-foot-8, 215 pounds, but plays with the tenacity of a young big man. He averaged 16.9 points per game his junior year and shot an incredible 68.7% from the field.
Those numbers won’t follow him to the NBA, but his tenacity in the paint is a great fit in Boston. He’ll need some time to adjust and slow the game down for himself, but the motor is already there. In a hard-working city like Boston, he’ll only be rewarded for that.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Eric Paschall (F, Villanova)
Eric Paschall is from New York and, by nature, a streetballer. He loves driving the lane and reads the court well. An above-average three-point shot doesn’t hurt his professional prospects either.
As for his role in the NBA, Paschall is more of a ‘tweener.’ His role on a team will be unclear at first, but he’ll come to work every day and give his all without fail. The Thunder could use his skill set well, especially with former Florida head coach Billy Donovan in charge. His presence alone should help ease Paschall’s transition to the pros. And with his ceiling as a three-and-D, Oklahoma City will find a way to get the best out of him.
22. Boston Celtics: Nickeil Alexander-Walker (G, Virginia Tech)
The Celtics are all about defense and Nickeil Alexander-Walker has plenty of it. He posted 2.5 defensive win shares last year and isn’t bad at scoring either. He averaged 16.2 points per game for the Hokies last season and shot 37.4% from long range.
He’ll come off the bench in Boston to start and needs to improve his overall toughness. Still, his determination on defense alone should be enough to crack the rotation.
23. Memphis Grizzlies (via Utah Jazz): Matisse Thybulle (G/F, Washington)
Matisse Thybulle is not an elite scorer, nor can he shoot the ball well. He seems on the smaller side at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds. However, he does one thing well: defense.
The former Huskie averaged 3.5 steals and 2.5 blocks as a senior. That’s right, a 6-foot-5 wing averaged 2.5 blocks per game. Given how Memphis has always been a defense-oriented team, he should slide right into their rotation as a pest off the bench who gives opposing players fits.
24. Philadelphia 76ers: Ty Jerome (G, Virginia)
Just like his teammate De’Andre Hunter can do for New Orleans, Ty Jerome can bring a winning culture to the Sixers. He just won a national championship with Virginia and is a strong shooter who reads the court well.
Jerome lacks the quickness and athleticism expected of a top NBA point guard, but there’s still a role for him in Philly. Whether it’s as a shooter off the bench or a backup point guard, his scoring abilities alone will help him find a regular role in the NBA.
25. Portland Trail Blazers: Mfiondu Kabengele (F/C, Florida State)
Mfiondu Kabengele didn’t start a single game in his Seminoles career, but the 6-foot-10 swingman’s tape doesn’t suggest that. He can do everything from rebound to shoot threes to sink mid-range jumpers. Versatility is king in the NBA and on a Portland team needing frontcourt help, especially with Al-Farouq Aminu hitting the market, he would be a fine addition.
Granted, Kabengele won’t become a star in Portland overnight, but he’s a hard worker. On the Trail Blazers, his efforts will be rewarded accordingly.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Houston Rockets): Kevin Porter Jr. (G, USC)
We’re at the point in the NBA Draft where teams either take the best player available or draft for depth as opposed to need. Kevin Porter Jr. is a raw prospect who only averaged 9.5 points in 21 games for the Trojans last year, and still has a lot of work to do. He shot 47.1% from the field, but only 52.2% from the free-throw line. He needs to improve, and not just a little bit.
Thus, best for him to be drafted by Cleveland where he can learn under a former college coach in Beilein. He can keep playing at a fast pace but, more importantly, he’ll learn how to be a more complete player.
27. Brooklyn Nets (via Denver Nuggets): Chuma Okeke (PF, Auburn)
If Chuma Okeke sees an NBA court in the 2019-2020 season, it will be nothing short of a miracle. He tore his ACL in the Sweet Sixteen and didn’t get to join his teammates for their Final Four run.
Still, the Nets are a blue-collar team and Okeke has a blue-collar mentality on the court. He can be an explosive rebounder and has a nice touch from long range too. If Brooklyn is willing to give him the time he needs to rehab his knee, he should slot in nicely as the Nets’ power forward once he’s ready to play again.
28. Golden State Warriors: KZ Okpala (G/F, Stanford)
Oh, the Warriors. The poor, poor Warriors. Not only did they just lose the NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors, but two key players in Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson will miss extended time next year with devastating injuries. Even if they re-sign in free agency, the Dubs will be a shell of themselves.
Which is why GM Bob Myers needs to draft KZ Okpala from nearby Stanford. He can provide a much-needed boost on offense and can score in several different ways. He isn’t an elite scorer at all but on a Golden State team which will need a pick-me-up next year, playing alongside Steph Curry will help make him better.
29. San Antonio Spurs (via Toronto Raptors): Carsen Edwards (PG, Purdue)
Carsen Edwards averaged 24.3 points for the Boilermakers last season but shot just 39.4% from the field. That’s not a great number to have attached to him as he begins his NBA career, which is why the Spurs are the perfect match for him. Popovich will take him under his wing and teach him how to be more than just a scoring point guard.
Edwards, on top of his scoring, has room to become an above-average defender. He posted 1.6 defensive win shares last year and can probably become stronger in that area with proper coaching. Throw in his desire to win inside San Antonio’s locker room, and this pairing just makes sense.
30. Milwaukee Bucks: Cam Johnson (SF, UNC)
The Bucks keep their offense simple. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the star and shooters surround him. Cam Johnson proved to be a fine shooter last year for the Tar Heels, shooting 45.7% from beyond the arc. He also has solid size at 6-foot-9, 210 pounds.
Be it as a starter or a reserve, depending on how coach Mike Budenholzer decides to use him, Milwaukee is a fine place for him to start his professional career. If he becomes a star, all the better.