2019 NBA Mock Draft: An Unpredictable First Round Outside the Top Three Leads to Some Surprises

Liam McKeone
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The NBA Draft is a few weeks away. As the NBA Finals comes to what will hopefully be an exciting conclusion, every other team in the league is looking towards the draft and who can help them win. Let’s do the same. Here’s my 2019 NBA mock draft.

1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, F, Duke

Duh. There’s nothing I can say that you haven’t already heard about Williamson. He’ll either lead this franchise into a new age of Pelicans basketball, or he’ll be the catalyst for Anthony Davis to change his mind and become the most explosive one-two punch in the league. New Orleans would be pretty damn happy with either outcome. The Pelicans have their pick, and the most exciting player to enter the draft in half a decade will have a new home.

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, G, Murray State

The rumor mill indicates the Grizzlies are very interested in Morant, and it’s one of the few rumors that makes complete sense. Jaren Jackson Jr. looks like a prototypical stretch five and a perfect fit for this era of basketball, but he needs a star guard to flourish. A guard like Morant, the best passer in this year’s draft and an athletic whirlwind of a prospect who showcased all the tools needed to succeed in today’s game.

He increased his three-point percentage up to 36 percent on three more attempts per game in his sophomore season. Morant did generally play against lesser competition and — like most young point guards — will probably have an ugly assist to turnover ratio as he adjusts to NBA speed. But it’s hard to find a more tantalizing young duo than JJJ and Morant going into next season.

3. New York Knicks: R.J. Barrett, G, Duke

Whether or not the Knicks keep this pick will probably be up in the air until they make the selection. If they do keep it, Barrett has the highest star potential out of the remaining prospects. His poor shooting from outside and from the charity stripe will raise questions, but he’s a gifted scorer with a feel for the floor and the athleticism and size to get to his spots whenever he’d like.

If things pan out for Barrett, he’ll be the focal point of the offense from the James Harden school of scoring, capable of taking on any defender for a bucket or a kick-out. That alone is worth a high pick. Barrett has a lot to work on — namely, his defensive effort, tunnel vision, and turnovers. But the ceiling is absolutely there for a star-caliber player. The question lies more with the Knicks than Barrett.

4. Los Angeles Lakers: Darius Garland, G, Vanderstrongilt

Similar to the Knicks, the Lakers may or may not be on the clock when the time comes. If they do end up using the pick, I don’t think anyone can even pretend to have a clue about what they’re going to do. While LeBron James needs more 3-and-D guys around him, the wings available either have a low ceiling or will need an adjustment period, and the Lakers seem dedicated to taking the less-beaten path.

That would make Garland as likely a pick as any. His injury questions loom, but if he’s healthy, he’s an electric offensive force who would provide a great complement to Lonzo Ball in the backcourt, and eventually take the load off LeBron on offense with his skills in running the pick-and-roll. Garland may not be the best pick, but he’s the flashiest for a franchise that’s always valued the aesthetic aspect of a player’s game. He’s also a Klutch client. Take that as you will. 

5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jarrett Culver, F, Texas Tech

The Cavs are turning towards the far future, and continue to do so by picking Culver, a prospect with loads of long-term potential. Culver can do a little bit of everything, and at times showed he could do everything very well. He appears to be still be growing and already possesses the requisite size and length to make for a solid and versatile defender. Offensively, he can do it all as a passer, shooter, and scorer within the paint.

He needs to work on his decision-making, both in regards to passing and shot selection, and his array of dribble-moves must be diversified to effectively drive to the bucket in the NBA. But all the tools are there for a well-rounded wing, the glue that brings the whole team together, even if the system doesn’t revolve around him. Paired with another exciting young gun in Collin Sexton, and the Cavs have the making of an exciting future.

6. Phoenix Suns: De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia

Do the Suns need a point guard more than Robert Sarver likes goats? Yes. But without Garland, there isn’t an ideal fit, and Phoenix has lots of cap space (again) to try to fix that position. Sarver seems dead set on making this team competitive as soon as possible, and Hunter is the prospect most suited to step in and contribute immediately for this tier of draftees.

 The position is definitely oversaturated for the Suns at this point, but most of the wings Phoenix has at its disposal can either shoot or defend, but not both. Hunter can indeed do both as a 40% shooter from deep and a tough defender who has all the traits of a potential lockdown player in the future. They go with the most NBA-ready player and figure out the rest later, for better or worse.

7. Chicago Bulls: Costrongy White, PG, North Carolina

Things fall the right way for the Bulls here, as they desperately need a point guard, and White is the best of those remaining. While he and Zach LaVine will struggle mightily on the defensive end, White is a pace-pusher who will be at the rim in a flash, and is perfect for an offense that loves to run. He showed flashes of elite shooting, including the ability to shoot off the ball, which will help Jim Boylen design his offense with the versatility of two primary ball-handlers in mind.

 White will never be a two-way force, but he fits right into the team’s timeline and will make for an exciting and quite dangerous pick-and-roll tandem with Lauri Markkannen or Wendell Carter Jr. The Bulls have a handful of good players, but don’t seem to have found that star to lead them into a new era of success, and White is an electric force who could very well develop into that player.

8. Atlanta Hawks: Cam Reddish, F, Duke

Reddish struggled during his first season at Duke, but the potential is still there, clear as day. He’s proven to be a smart and versatile defender when he’s engaged, capable of holding his own and playing good team defense. His shooting wasn’t what anyone thought it would be this past season, but no one else at Duke could hit threes, so he didn’t have a lot of space to operate. That won’t be the case in Atlanta, where Trae Young has the green light from anywhere past half-court and Kevin “Ronald Threesley” Huerter shot 38% on nearly five attempts per game from beyond the arc.

With more room to operate, it’s reasonable to think Reddish’s percentage from deep will improve and make it easier to develop his handle and drive-and-kick game, a step he needs to take to become a legitimate offensive threat. With an undersized point guard like Young, the Hawks need to have a bevy of defensively versatile wigs surrounding him to stay above water on defense, and Reddish would round out their young core.

9. Washington Wizards: Sekou Doumstrongouya, F, France

What direction the Wizards choose to go in will likely be determined by who they hire to lead their front office after firing the long-incumbent Ernie Grunfeld. That may or may not happen before the draft, so they swing for the fences with this year’s foreign big man with tons of upside. Doumbouya is an athletic freak who can get up and dunk or block just about anything. He’s also raw in every aspect of the game. His jumper is suspect, his defensive fundamentals are all over the map, and he overall needs a lot of work to become an impactful NBA player. But these kinds of cases are exactly what the late lottery, and these top-heavy drafts, are filled with.

If Doumbouya pans out, he will be able to defend every position with his length and size, potentially projecting as a small-ball five as the NBA continues to go small. Should the Wizards choose to offload everyone they can and begin the rebuild, Doumbouya is a worthwhile long-term project. Should they decide to keep Bradley Beal and try to win, Doumbouya has enough pure athleticism to help early in his career.

10. Atlanta Hawks: Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas

Hayes is a long, athletic, and skinny center who could become a force after he fills out. At 6’11” but with a 7’3” wingspan, the former Longhorn is a threat to block anything and everything in his general vicinity. Offensively, he exhibited quality hands for a big man diving into the paint, and there’s a lot of potential for Hayes to elevate his game to the point where he can either finish or kick out to a shooter while rolling to the rim. His slender frame and inexperience will play against him early on, and he’ll get schooled on more than a few occasions by vets who have a deeper understanding of positioning and how to use their body to their advantage. 

He may not be a perfect fit with John Collins, but he provides bigger upside, and is useful insurance in case Collins never develops past where he’s at.

11. Minnesota Timstrongerwolves: Brandon Clarke, F, Gonzaga

Clarke has been a late riser in this class, mostly due to his age and defensive versatility. At 22, he’s “old” for a lottery pick, but his game fits well with the Wolves. He’s a powerfully-built player who can switch between defending centers and forwards with ease and somehow managed to block as many shots as he missed while at Gonzaga.

He’s a good athlete and has generally exhibited high basketball IQ, making the right pass at the right time whenever he did have the ball in his hands. The Wolves already have their superstar. Clarke is the kind of guy who holds everything together around that star.

12. Charlotte Hornets: Bol Bol, C, Oregon

What the Hornets do here rides almost entirely upon how they feel the Kemba Walker situation will pan out. Whether he stays or goes doesn’t affect the fact that the Hornets need both a quality big man and another player with star potential on the roster, and Bol Bol is just that. He looked like a stretch five made in a basketball laboratory in his short stint at Oregon, shooting a ridiculous 52% from deep while averaging over two blocks a game. It’s hard to imagine him keeping that pace to any degree, but if he can even shoot in the high 30s from three he’ll be a player every team wished they had.

Yes, foot injuries on a guy like this is a gigantic, flashing red flag. But it’s a bet the Hornets must make. He could become a star unlike any other in the league, a unicorn in the truest sense of the word. That’s worth the risk for a franchise on the brink of losing their only homegrown star and facing a dark future without him.

13. Miami Heat: Romeo Langford, F, Indiana  

The Heat’s cap situation is so drastically terrible that they’re now in a situation where their only chance of competing in the next five years is if they nail their draft picks. Langford is an athletic wing who can get to the bucket as well as anyone else at this point in the draft, but his poor outside shooting raised question marks about how effective he could be in the NBA. The hope for Miami is that Langford’s poor shooting stemmed from an early finger injury, rather than it being indicative of a larger issue. 

It’s obvious watching him that Langford is a born scorer, and can be effective on defense if he tries. The Heat lack a true star, and Langford has a long way to go before he could even sniff that category. But there’s a chance he does, and that’s what you’re looking for in the lottery.

14. Boston Celtics: Nickeil Walker-Alexander, PG, Virginia Tech

Regardless of Kyrie Irving’s free agency decision, the Celtics will need a point guard. Walker-Alexander, cousin of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, is the best point guard left at this point and a good fit for how Brad Stevens likes his offense. He’s among the top distributors in this point guard class, and would thrive in an equal-opportunity offense similar to the one in Boston.

He’s an average athlete, but possesses above average size and length for a point guard, which will be huge as he progresses on the defensive end. He  plays with a steady hand and ranks up with the best passers of this class, and can shoot. The Celtics need an immediate contributor in this draft class, not a long-term potential bet. Walker-Alexander gives a little bit of both. 

15. Detroit Pistons: Kevin Porter, G, USC

The Pistons will need a point guard of the future, but they’re still on the hook for Reggie Jackson’s contract through this season, and there aren’t any prospects worth taking at this point. So they go with Porter, who was hyped for his scoring ability coming into USC, and he did prove he can score at the rim. As pretty as some of his dribble moves looked, he’ll get his lunch money stolen before he can blink if he tries any of them on pro defenders. There are also questions about Porter’s maturity and dedication after a midseason suspension.

He has the frame and scoring punch to be an asset. The question is if he can put it together. Dwane Casey has his flaws as a coach, but his tenure in Toronto proved he knew how to handle young players and can help elevate their game while ruling with a firm hand. His upside is higher than just about anyone else at this point in the draft, and at the very least should provide enough scoring output to take the burden off Blake Griffin.

16. Orlando Magic: Tyler Herro, G, Kentucky

The Magic surprised everyone by making the playoffs this year, and the pressure is on to build on that success. But they need to start building their backcourt of the future. Herro would provide quality shooting and spacing early on, and demonstrated the tools needed to potentially develop into an upper-echelon scoring threat.

He needs to improve on the defensive end, but he has a strong argument for best shooter in this draft, and the Magic need that more than anything. Even if Herro never develops into more than a spot-up shooter, every team needs shooting to operate in today’s league, and Herro will give you that.

17. Brooklyn Nets: Grant Williams, F, Tennessee

The Nets have high hopes for the summer, but are surely glad to simply have their own draft pick for the first time since Billy King sold his soul to Danny Ainge. With it, they’ll take Williams, a do-it-all forward who would improve the Nets’ paltry front-court depth. He’s a high-tier glue guy who can do a lot of things well. Williams will face a steep learning curve as an average athlete even in college, but most of his production comes in the form of 

If the Nets do land a high-priced free agent in the next few years, guys like Williams are all the more crucial to keeping the team together and operating like a well-oiled machine. He won’t ever be a star, but he can provide the value in the margins all great teams have.

18. Indiana Pacers: Luguentz Dort, G, Arizona State

Indiana prides themselves on their fierce defensive identity, particularly after the team stayed the course and made the playoffs after Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury. The one thing they don’t have is a bulldog, a defender that will get after and stay after an opposing team’s star player. Enter Dort, the personification of that kind of bulldog who is simply relentless.

His offensive game needs work in literally every area, but a defensive specialist is always useful, and from what Dort showed as a Sun Devil, he’s a difference-maker on that end of the floor who will create opportunities through turnovers. With a solid frontcourt and an established star, Dort would help the Pacers double down on their defensive identity and keep winning the same way they did last year. If it ain’t broke… 

19. San Antonio Spurs: Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga

Similar to the Pacers, the Spurs will double down what they do best with another international player with Hachimura. He’s a great scorer in the paint and in the mid-range, and is also a quality athlete with good size and length, which bodes well for his defensive potential. The Spurs need someone to fill that forward spot next to LaMarcus Aldridge, and Hachimura’s defensive versatility will come in handy in that regard. Learning from the game’s premiere mid-range scorers isn’t too bad, either. 

Hachimura’s ceiling is dependent on the development of his shot, but he’d prove to be a good complement to the current roster and gives a similar infusion of youthful talent the backcourt already has.

20. Boston Celtics: Nassir Little, F, UNC

Like Langford, Little was considered a high lottery pick prior to an underwhelming season at North Carolina, and the Celtics buy low here. He’s shown flashes in the past of a nightmarish defender who could wreak havoc on opposing offenses. He’s an elite athlete who’s good enough to survive off smart cuts and dribble drives as the defense collapses. His potential hinges entirely upon his shooting right now, though. 

Little is an enticing trade piece if they do decide to ship off half their team for AD, and a potential building block to round out their core of wings if Ainge neglects to mortgage their future to New Orleans. A good fit and good value at this point in the draft.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Dylan Windler, F, Belmont

The Thunder are in desperate need of shooting, and they get it in the form of Windler, a sweet-shooting forward from Belmont who has the size and athleticism to hold his own on the wing in the NBA. He shot 42% from three on seven shots per game his senior year, and showed off his vertical on more than a few occasions with some thunderous dunks.

The Thunder don’t need a playmaker or an elite-level defender right now. They just need someone who can hit his open shots and hold his own on defense, and Windler should stronge astrongle to do that after some seasoning. His athleticism provides upside that, paired with his shooting prowess, few other prospects availastrongle can match.

22. Boston Celtics: Jalen McDaniels, F, San Diego State

With the last of their trio of first-rounders this year, the Celtics grab a unique and versatile player in McDaniels. At 6’9” and a 7’0” wingspan, he has the length and size to defend 1-4 adequately. Offensively, he brings a wide skillset to the table, able to attack off the bounce and create for others, finish at the rim, and isn’t far off from having a decent three-point shot. He needs to fill out his frame to be able to hold his own down low in the post and rebounding, and some of his turnovers were downright ugly at San Diego State. But his skillset is unique enough that he’s worth a pick in the 20s. 

In the future, he could play as a small-ball center, and right now can provide enough shooting that Boston could play him at the four without compromising their spacing. 

23. Utah Jazz: Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State

The Jazz are looking for some offensive relief for Donovan Mitchell, so they turn to Horton-Tucker, an athletic wing who showed flashes of an offensive game that would complement Mitchell’s. He can get to the bucket at will with some truly wild offensive moves, but struggled to finish. He also needs massive improvement on the defensive side of the ball, and Utah is as good a place as any to get those issues straightened out.

The best case for Horton-Tucker is a legitimate No. 2 scoring threat with the athleticism to at least hold his own on the wing. Even if he doesn’t reach those heights, having a consistent creator other than Mitchell would pay immense dividends for the Jazz. 

24. Philadelphia 76ers: Matisse Thystrongulle, G, Washington

The Sixers may need wing depth badly with both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris set to hit free agency. They decide to help alleviate that problem by taking a chance on Thybulle, who posted absurd defensive numbers while at Washington with 3.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per game. He’s a very talented defender with a nose for big plays on that end of the floor. He can’t do much on his own offensively, but did shoot 35% on four attempts per game last year.

 The franchise has their stars. They don’t need another world-beater. Thybulle should be the first of many players brought to the City of Brotherly Love to complement the studs in place.

25. Portland Trail Blazers: P.J. Washington, F, Kentucky

The biggest weakness exposed by the Blazers’ playoff sweep at the hands of the Warriors was the lack of a playmaking big man who could threaten a defense if Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum were trapped in the pick and roll. They bet that Washington can become that guy here. His passing was in the realm of good to great this past season at Kentucky and his role as a facilitator off the pick and roll seems likely as he develops

He’s able to hold his own defensively, but his downsides include an inability to finish at the basket, a three point shot that’s a work in progress, and inconsistent effort. It will be a while before Washington can become the fully realized version of what Portland needs, but he’ll walk into the building a better passer than all of Portland’s big men. He’s a good fit with intriguing upside.

26. Cleveland Cavaliers: Keldon Johnson, F, Kentucky

A pair of Wildcats go one after the other as the Cavs pounce on a falling prospect in Johnson. He’s a high-energy player whose passion and willingness to sacrifice everything for a win is invaluable in a rebuilding situation like Cleveland’s. Johnson could pan out as a great sidekick for Sexton, taking on the main defensive assignments and diving all over the floor to inspire the team while doing enough on offense to keep everything going.

Many thought he could play his way into being a lottery pick before the year, and the Cavs bet on his potential ceiling. At the very least, high-effort players like him will come in and make an immediate impression with fans and teammates alike.

27. Brooklyn Nets: Jontay Porter, C, Missouri

The late first round is usually a toss-up, so the Nets bet big on Porter, the younger brother of Michael Porter Jr., and another Missouri prospect with injury concerns. Jontay is a skilled big who can pick apart defenses with his passing, can handle the ball, and has a sweet shooting stroke. He’ll struggle defensively due to his lack of athleticism and experience. Unfortunately, the reason such a player is available this late is related to his medical record. He tore his ACL twice in six months, and is still recovering from the second. 

For the first time in a long time, the Nets don’t have much to lose with this draft pick, and if Porter pans out, he could become one of the more skilled bigs in the league. The talent is there, and you bet on talent when you can in the late twenties of the draft.

28. Golden State Warriors: Carsen Edwards, PG, Purdue

Whether or not Kevin Durant actually leaves, the Warriors need to replenish their bench depth through the draft in a bad way. They’ve spent their picks on bigs and wings over the last few seasons, but they decide to go with Edwards here, a steady starter out of Purdue who will come in as ready as one can expect. His ceiling is low; his short stature and average athleticism means he can only go so far as an offensive threat and will always be a level of defenisve liability. But the Warriors will need guys who can run their offense next season when they can’t have one of their All-Stars on the floor.

Edwards can force his shot, but he’s a good shooter who generated momentum and big plays at Purdue without necessarily scoring. He can play off ball as well, and would be a really good fit as the head of the second unit in Golden State.

29. San Antonio Spurs: Cameron Johnson, North Carolina

The Spurs need shooters in some way, shape, or form, and Johnson fits the bill. He shot 45% from beyond the arc on nearly six attempts a game, and his height and length means he can shoot over just about everybody. While he’s on the older side for the draft at 23, his seasons at UNC showed he was willing to come into a situation, play a side part for the main act, and do so happily, which will obviously fit with the culture in San Antonio. His hip procedure last year is concerning, and so is his lack of fluidity on defense as a result of that procedure.

But the Spurs need a guy who can step in, provide spacing, and stay within the system otherwise, and Johnson will do that. He’s a natural fit in San Antonio, and if he can become an elite shooter, it’ll be a boon for Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, and makes him a good partner for Hachimura.

30. Milwaukee Bucks: Chuma Okeke, F, Austrongurn

The Bucks will likely have to play Giannis Antetokounmpo more at center than they did last season with the departure of Brook Lopez looming. They decide to help their forward depth with Okeke, a versatile defender who showed the shooting chops to stay on the floor before suffering a torn ACL in the NCAA Tournament. He’d bring immense versatility once he gets healthy to a Bucks team that thrived off of versatility this last year, and could provide shooting without giving up a ton on defense.

Once he bulks up, he could be an effective defender who serves as a good complementary piece on offense. The Bucks are in the endgame now; they have an otherworldly superstar who will be looking to get paid very soon, and have to hit their draft picks to keep their cap sheet balanced while staying competitive. Okeke fell because of his injury, but if he pans out, he’d be a valuable cog for a championship team.

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