The 2019 NBA Draft is three weeks away, and things are starting to heat up. The top three prospects are generally agreed upon, but after that, it’s more contentious. This draft is top-heavy, with a lot of variation in the middle. Here are the ten prospects who rise above the crowd as we get closer to the night of the NBA Draft.
10. Sekou Doumbouya, F, France
Doumboya is this year’s physical specimen from overseas. Standing at 6’9”, the Frenchman has a sturdy frame and a 6’11” wingspan that would theoretically grant nearly unlimited defensive versatility from the get-go. He’s an outstanding athlete with his fair share of highlight blocks and dunks. He also has little to no offensive game otherwise, and while he has all the traits to be an impact defender, his fundamentals are a mess. His jump shot has good mechanics, yet still has a long way to go, like most aspects of his game.
His physical traits are worth a mid-lottery selection, and if he pans out, there won’t be many multi positional defenders like him. But his limited offensive potential presents a defined ceiling. If he can’t develop a shot, he’ll be limited as a player, and will probably get played off the floor in the playoffs. But a forward-facing team may take note of the trends of today’s game, look at Doumboya, and see a future small-ball center. His impact over the next few years will be defined by his landing spot as much as any other factor.
9. Coby White, PG, UNC
White is a slim point guard with blazing speed and the first step to get by most defenders. He was inconsistent in his one season at UNC, but that’s to be expected for freshman prospects handed the keys to the offense. He shot well from deep, hitting 35% on six attempts per game, and showed a lot of potential shooting coming off pin-down screens and handoffs. He is more of a scorer than a true point guard, though, and his skinny frame led to some difficulties scoring in the paint.
While he’s a smart and willing defender, that same stature and short wingspan will prevent him from becoming a lockdown defender. HIs turnover ratio was very poor, something that probably won’t improve for a few years as a result of the steep learning curve at the point guard position. White will need to improve his consistency in every part of his game, and that may take a while, but if he can put it together, he has the skills to run a lethal NBA offense. In the meantime, whatever team scoops him up knows they’re getting a bucket-getter who can push the pace at all times.
8. Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
Hayes is a similar prospect to his fellow Longhorn, Jarrett Allen, with higher offensive upside. He exhibited excellent hands at Texas, and looks like he could become a dangerous rim-running center sooner rather than later. Defensively, there’s never a doubt that he’s giving maximum effort, a quality that will appeal to many teams. But his relative inexperience on that end of the floor is also never in doubt, as he’ll catapult into the air on pump-fakes aplenty and is often a step or three late on his rotations. He has long enough arms (7’3.5” wingspan) that his lack of positioning won’t matter too much when he’s playing against the benchwarmers.
But his skinny frame will be an issue until he gets into the weight room. For the time being, he’ll be manhandled on the boards and smart veterans will simply push him out of position to provide easy buckets for your teammates. Offensively, he could become the ideal rim-running five who has the smarts and hands to kick out to shooters. Defensively, he just needs time to put on weight and understand where he needs to be, and from that point it’s easy to envision him developing into one of the more dangerous rim protectors in the league. Hayes is a project, perhaps too long-term for some teams in the lottery, but he could pan out to be a very valuable player.
7. De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia
Hunter may have one of the biggest impacts out of the gate for his new team, which plays both in his favor and against him. He’s a hand-made prospect for this era of basketball, the ideal 3-and-D player that every great team has at least one of. He’s a strong defender who knows how to use his positioning well and shot 40% from three this past season at Virginia.
The flip side is that he’s already a pretty polished product and doesn’t have to go far to reach his ceiling. He must improve on that positioning to make up for his lack of lateral quickness, though, and he has yet to show any sign he can be more than a catch-and-shoot threat at the highest level. Hunter is steady if anything, but the draft is about potential and big swings. Hunter may be one of the best players in the draft right now, but he has the lowest ceiling out of any top-ten prospect by far.
6. Cam Reddish, F, Duke
Reddish is very similar to Hunter in some respects as a prospect. He’s a worse player than Hunter at the moment, but his ceiling is significantly higher. Reddish has the tools to become a lockdown defender who is as dangerous from deep as any of the other offensive threats on his team. He has the talent to be a foundational player, rather than a high-end complemental one like Hunter. Reddish also shot poorly during his time at Duke, which was supposed to be his calling card. He doesn’t use his size to his advantage when attacking off the dribble, and seems hesitant to go inside at times.
But the way he adopted a significantly smaller role than he was used to without complaint at Duke, a role that proved detrimental to what he does best, bodes well for him as a professional. The fact remains, however, that Reddish is all potential right now. If he can find his shooting stroke and tighten his handle, he could become a dangerous offensive weapon who can more than hold his own on the defensive end with size, length, and skill. It will just take a big investment, one that will be worth making to teams in the mid-lottery.
5. Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
Garland’s torn meniscus that caused him to miss nearly all of his only year in college is obviously a big concern. That said, his potential is as high as nearly any other prospect in this class. He’s a spark plug on offense who demonstrated an unusual feel for the game when he was playing, and could score from all over. Most importantly, he thrives in the pick-and-roll, the bread and butter of every NBA offense and the sets that are run when the stakes are highest.
He will never be a force on the defensive side of the ball, and will be a liability on that end of the floor early on in his career. He has the potential to be an offensive superstar, though, and that’s a chance worth taking. With the best handles and some of the best passing in the class already, Garland won’t have too much trouble adjusting offensively, and should start his rookie year as a solid scorer if he’s healthy.
4. Jarrett Culver, F, Texas Tech
Culver is widely considered the best of the third tier of prospects, and for good reason. He has great size and length to become a versatile defender in today’s game, while he showed enough flashes in every area offensively that his potential appears to be sky-high. His shooting stroke is pure, and while his shot selection needs work, the fact that Texas Tech felt comfortable running their offense through him despite his lack of elite qualities (and nearly won a title as a result) is a big plus.
His handle is sloppy and his passing needs improvement before he can become a primary creator, but he appears to still be growing, in both the basketball and physical sense of things. It remains to be seen if Culver possesses true superstar potential, but his game is already well-rounded enough that he can help his team win from the get-go, and projects to possess rare versatility in an NBA obsessed with it.
3. Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
Morant is an extremely athletic point who has some of the best passing for any prospect in the draft from the last few seasons. He led a lower-tier school in Murray State to the NCAA Tournament and put on a show while his team lasted. He can blow by defenders in transition and the half court, and get to the bucket with ease. His jumper is a little wonky, and he can’t shoot very well off the dribble, which will be a big detriment until he can fix his mechanics. He has the tools to be a solid defender, but he never really committed on that end in college, either due to lack of interest or a reflection of the offensive load he was asked to carry every night.
He’ll be inconsistent early on, and will struggle with turnovers and poor shooting nights while he adjusts to the NBA. But the skills are there for an all-around star guard who puts on a show every single night. Morant will rack up a highlight reel, even if it takes him a bit to become a complete threat on the floor.
2. R.J. Barret, G, Duke
Barrett is widely accepted as one of the three best prospects in the class, but opinion on how he will develop as a player is more split. The tools are there for the young guard to become a two-way force up there with the best in the league. He has the athleticism and size to be a multi positional defender, as well as the attitude required to shut down the best on a nightly basis. Offensively, he’s crafty and skilled, getting to his spots at his disclosure and opening up the floor for all of his teammates. His list of negatives runs longer than many are comfortable with, though: he checks out off the ball on both sides of the floor, has a big turnover problem, and shot poorly enough at Duke that his jumper is being raised as a legitimate concern.
At worst, Barrett will be a solid player capable of the occasional offensive explosion and a reliable, if unspectacular, defender. At best, he can channel fellow left-handed stars of the past and become an offensive system of his own while locking up the opposing team’s best player. That potential is tantalizing enough that Barrett, considered the best prospect in the draft before the season, will be a top-three pick.
1. Zion Williamson, F, Duke
Obviously. Williamson is a star in the making, an unthinkable combination of size, speed, and athleticism. You all know he can dunk. But Williamson is also a solid defender already who could become invaluable in today’s game, possessing the lateral quickness to stay with just about anyone and the size to lock up anyone from 1-5. His jumper is a work in progress, to be sure, but he shot a preposterous 68% from the field last year. When you have a guy who can score at will, with the size Williamson offers, outside shooting isn’t your biggest concern.
Injuries are the only thing standing between Williamson and a lengthy career as a top player in the league. Developing a jump shot will make him ascendant, but he’s already coming in as a bonafide stud. The best prospect in this draft, and the best to come around since Anthony Davis in 2012. New Orleans will not be overthinking this, and Williamson will be a name known far and wide before it’s all said and done.