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Draft Preview

2019 NBA Mock Draft, Volume One

by Raphielle Johnson

With the NBA Draft Lottery being held Tuesday night, the official order for the 2019 NBA Draft is now known. New Orleans has the first overall pick, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks it possible that GM David Griffin will take someone not named Zion Williamson. Memphis, New York, the Lakers and Cleveland complete the top five, and things could get interesting when the Lakers are on the clock. 

Below is our first two-round mock draft, with write-ups for each of the first round selections. The 2019 draft class may not boast a lot of players capable of making immediate fantasy impacts, but this is a good class when it comes to depth on the wings. 

1. New Orleans: PF Zion Williamson, Duke 

Unless the Pelicans have plans for this pick that would not line up with what the rest of the basketball world expects to happen, Williamson will be the first player to hear his name called on draft night. The 6-foot-7, 285-pound phenom arrived on the Duke campus as a projected lottery pick, but it was teammate RJ Barrett who was viewed as the best draft prospect. Then the season began, and Williamson took college basketball by storm. An incredibly powerful athlete, he moves well for his size and any health concerns that some had as a result of Williamson’s build were dispelled throughout the season. 

The lone injury he suffered came as a result of a worn-down sneaker, which broke 30 seconds into Duke’s first game against North Carolina. Williamson would miss three games as a result of the knee injury he suffered, but returned to lead the Blue Devils to the ACC tournament crown and the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. If there’s a concern for Zion at the next level it would be his perimeter shot, as he made just under 34% of his three-point attempts while also shooting just 64.0% from the foul line. Is the perimeter shooting a product of his mechanics, or a product of his size/strength? That’s what the Pelicans coaching staff will need to figure out, but it’s a safe be that they (and the fan base) will have some fun watching Williamson develop. 

2. Memphis: PG Ja Morant, Murray State

At the trade deadline the Grizzlies officially ended the “Grit-N-Grind” era with the trading of Marc Gasol to Toronto. His longtime sidekick Mike Conley, whose name was also the subject of trade rumors, ultimately stayed put. But with one year remaining on his contract and a stated desire to not be part of a long-term rebuild, this summer could be the time when Memphis finds a way to send its starting point guard to a team where he can contend for a title. With that being the case, and the Grizzlies getting the second pick in this draft, picking Murray State’s Ja Morant makes sense here. 

This past season Morant became the first player to average at least 20 points and ten assists per game since the NCAA began recording assists, and he’s an electric lead guard who can score on all three levels. Morant can finish above the rim, and he’s very good when it comes to distributing the ball in the pick and roll game. More than half of his assists came on shots converted around the basket, and he finished the year with shooting splits of 49.9/36.3/81.3. If there are concerns regarding Morant it’s that he can be a bit of a gambler from a passing standpoint, going for the “home run” when a “single” would work just fine, and he wasn’t a high-level defender either. But he wasn’t a sieve on that end of the floor, and when it comes to the passing the spacing of the NBA game should help with that. 

3. New York: SF RJ Barrett, Duke 

This spot is where the draft could get interesting. While the chances of the Knicks including the top overall pick in a trade were shot down prior to the lottery, the third pick is one that the team’s brain trust could potentially be willing to part with. We’re not projecting trades in this mock draft, so the pick here is Barrett even though he plays the same position as last year’s lottery pick (Kevin Knox). The 6-foot-7 Canadian entered college basketball last season as the top NBA draft prospect in the eyes of many, and while that’s no longer the case it isn’t as if Barrett dropped off of a cliff either. In 38 games he averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, shooting the ball at a 45.4% clip from the field, 30.8% from three and 66.5% from the foul line. 

Based upon those numbers it’s easy to see where Barrett will need to improve if he’s to stand out at the next level. Barrett wasn’t a great perimeter shooter at Duke and his usage (32.2%) is likely to decrease, especially if the Knicks have a significant amount of success in free agency. But he’s a tough competitor who doesn’t shy away from competition or the bright lights. This is a spot in the lottery where wings will be the best prospects on the board, so it makes sense for Barrett to be the top option. 

4. LA Lakers: SG Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

After a tumultuous start to the month of May the Lakers may have found some stability, with the team hiring a head coach (Frank Vogel, with Jason Kidd on staff as an assistant). And Los Angeles was also able to move into the top four, an asset that could help the team acquire the star sidekick needed to help LeBron James and company rebound from a disappointing 2018-19 season. General manager Rob Pelinka said on Tuesday that he will canvass the league to see how much value this pick has, so there’s a chance that the player the Lakers take on draft night never suits up for the team. But if they do hold onto the pick, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver wouldn’t be a bad option. 

As a sophomore the 6-foot-6 Culver posted averages of 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 three-pointers per game, shooting 46.1% from the field, 30.4% from three and 70.7% from the foul line. While the three-point percentage may be a concern for some, it’s important to note that he went from being a supplementary scorer as a freshman to the main option on a team that reached the national title game. Playing alongside Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith in 2017-18, Culver shot 38.2% from three on 3.9 attempts per game (he averaged 4.2 three-point attempts per game this past season). The improvement in his free throw percentage (up from 64.8% as a freshman) could be another sign that Culver’s perimeter shooting issues this past season aren’t as alarming as they would seem at first glance. He can be used on or off the ball, and Culver is also a solid perimeter defender.  

5. Cleveland: SF De’Andre Hunter, Virginia

One year after taking Alabama’s Collin Sexton in the draft lottery, the Cavaliers are in search of another piece that can help the team rebuild in the post-LeBron era. Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter may not have the flashy stats that some of the other top wings in this draft have, but he’s a surefire lottery talent capable of helping a team immediately. The 6-foot-7 wing averaged 15.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game for the national champions, shooting 52.0% from the field, 43.8% from three on 2.8 attempts per game, and 78.3% from the foul line. Hunter was comfortable playing on the perimeter or inside offensively, posting solid percentages at all three levels. 

Defensively he’s capable of guarding multiple positions, and that versatility can be helpful in systems in which a lot of switching is required. This isn’t an “exciting” pick by any means, as has generally be the case during the Tony Bennett era at Virginia. But the program produces solid pros, with Malcolm Brogdon being the most recent example, and Hunter could be next in line. 

6. Phoenix: PG Coby White, North Carolina 

Entering the lottery the Suns and Murray State’s Ja Morant appeared to be the “perfect match,” a team in desperate need of a point guard landing the best possible option. But the lottery had other ideas, and if the Suns want to address this need in the draft their choices likely boil down to North Carolina’s Coby White and Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland. In the case of White, the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina high school history proved to be better than many expected him to be when the season began. The 6-foot-5 point guard averaged 16.1 points, 4.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.3 three-pointers per game, shooting 42.3% from the field, 35.3% from three and 80.0% from the foul line. 

White may be the fastest guard in this year’s draft, and he can be used either on or off the ball. That will be key, as Devin Booker spent a decent amount of time on the ball this season due to the combination of injuries and the general ineffectiveness of the point guards on the Suns roster. The North Carolina freshman does have some strides to make defensively, and a combo of he and Booker could have problems in that regard. 

7. Chicago: PG Darius Garland, Vanderbilt 

For the third consecutive year the Bulls will have the seventh pick in the draft, and given the available options the team could look to the perimeter after drafting bigs (Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.) the two years prior. Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland, who played in just five games last season due to a knee injury, would be a really good fit for a team that needs to make some strides at the point guard position (Kris Dunn has a team option, and Ryan Arcidiacono will be a restricted free agent). Garland shoots the ball well from the perimeter, a good trait to have if he’s to play alongside another ball-dominant guard in Zach LaVine, and he’s a solid distributor of the basketball as well. 

At 6-foot-3 Garland has good size for an NBA point guard, and he can play with pace. The question here will be his health given the fact that the freshman missed much of last season with the torn meniscus, but if everything checks out medically he has the potential to develop into the steal of this draft. If Garland is on the board for the Bulls, they may not even need the full allotment of time to get the card to Adam Silver. 

8. Atlanta: SF Cam Reddish, Duke

Duke’s Cam Reddish is the third projected lottery pick out of that program, but this past season was more of a struggle for him than it was either Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett. The 6-foot-9 wing appeared to struggle at times playing off the ball, which can happen to some players when they go from being the top option in high school to a supplementary piece in college. Reddish averaged 13.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.4 three-pointers per game, but he did so with shooting splits of 35.6/33.3/77.2. 

He has the potential to be a solid wing playmaker, working off of Trae Young in this case, as the spacing at the pro level should benefit him. This season wasn’t a great one for Reddish by any stretch, but he has the potential to be a solid pro playing alongside the right set-up man. 

9. Washington: PF/SF Sekou Doumbouya, Limoges (France) 

The 6-foot-9 Doumbouya is one of the best defenders in this draft class, as he has the size and athleticism needed to defend multiple front court positions. There’s still some work to be done on the offensive end of the floor, but he’s been playing against grown men at the professional level for a couple years now. With John Wall (ruptured Achilles) set to miss a decent chuck of next season as he recovers, the rebuild in Washington isn’t going to be a fast one. Adding a young, promising wing talent like Doumbouya would not be a bad move for the Wizards, especially with Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green and Sam Dekker (restricted) all set to be free agents this summer. 

10. Atlanta (via Dallas): C Jaxson Hayes, Texas 

Hayes is one of the youngest prospects in this year’s draft, as he won’t turn 19 until later this month, and there’s intrigue given his path to the draft. The 6-foot-11 center wasn’t in lottery conversations before the season began, but he made strides throughout the year (10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.2 bpg) and is now considered by many to be the top center in the draft class. Hayes, who came off the bench to start the season, was limited down the stretch by a knee injury and did not play in the Postseason NIT but the injury was not a particularly serious one. He’s a bit of a project at this point given how raw he is offensively, but the athleticism, build and defensive abilities are selling points for Hayes. 

11. Minnesota: PF Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

After two productive seasons at San Jose State, not getting much publicity nationally given how bad the program was, Clarke transferred to Gonzaga and was a standout on a team that reached the Elite Eight. Clarke’s athleticism and defensive versatility are major positives, as Gonzaga was able to use him in a variety of matchups throughout the course of the season. Strong enough to hold his own in the paint, Clarke also moved his feet well on the perimeter as the help defender in ball-screen situations and switches. 

Offensively he isn’t the best perimeter shooter, doing the majority of his work around the basket (79.7% shooter at the rim per hoop-math) and in the mid-range. With the Timberwolves having Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, grabbing a player who doesn’t require a lot of touches offensively and is a plus defender would not be a bad idea as new team president Gersson Rosas looks to rebuild the roster. 

12. Charlotte: SF PJ Washington, Kentucky

The Hornets have gone the wing route in recent drafts, picking Malik Monk in 2017 and acquiring Miles Bridges (for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) last June. Given those moves it could be difficult to see Charlotte going in that direction again this June, but if Kentucky’s PJ Washington is the best available player on their board he wouldn’t be a bad option. Washington made noticeable strides as a sophomore, averaging 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 blocks per game with shooting splits of 52.2% from the field, 42.3% from three and 66.3% from the foul line. 

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged just 2.2 three-point attempts per game, but he was more comfortable with the shot after attempting just 0.6 three-pointers per game as a freshman. Returning to school for another season isn’t guaranteed to boost a player’s draft prospects, but Washington has managed to do just that. While he doesn’t have the height that most teams look for in a power forward Washington can be used at either forward spot, a positive for a Hornets franchise that needs more consistent production from its front court. 

13. Miami: SG Romeo Langford, Indiana

The Dwyane Wade era has come to an end in Miami, and given the team’s salary cap situation there isn’t a whole lot that Pat Riley can do on the free agency front this summer to improve the roster. What he can do is add a talented prospect on a rookie contract, and even with his occasional struggles at Indiana Romeo Langford fits the bill. Playing with a torn ligament in his right (shooting) thumb for much of the season, the 6-foot-6 guard averaged 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 three-pointers per game. 

He shot 44.8% from the field, 27.2% from three and 72.2% from the foul line, numbers that don’t exactly jump off the page. But it’s fair to question how much of a fact the thumb injury was when it comes to Langford’s percentages. Langford can create shot opportunities off the dribble, and he has the size needed to fit in at multiple positions on the perimeter. That versatility could be key for a franchise that (on paper) can’t make a plethora of moves this offseason due the financials. 

14. Boston (via Sacramento): PF Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga 

The Celtics have a total of three first-round picks, and that combined with free agency could lead to this roster looking a lot different come opening night in October. Among the free agents is power forward Marcus Morris (unrestricted), and centers Al Horford and Aron Baynes both have player options for 2019-20. With that being the case Danny Ainge and the Celtics brain trust could look to add a front court player who’s ready to contribute now with one of their first-round picks, and Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura fits the bill. 

As a junior the 6-foot-8 forward averaged 19.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, shooting 59.1% from the field and 73.9% from the foul line. Hachimura wasn’t much of a three-point shooter, attempting just 36 on the season (making 15), but he’s a solid mid-range shooter and also converts well around the basket. He isn’t the defender that teammate Brandon Clarke is, but the All-American isn’t a liability either. 

15. Detroit: SG Kevin Porter Jr., USC  

After being swept out of the playoffs by Milwaukee, Detroit is in need of perimeter talent to help out the front court tandem of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. USC freshman Kevin Porter Jr. has lottery-level talent, but the lack of consistency will likely push him down some draft boards. In 21 games he averaged 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.3 three-pointers per outing, shooting 47.1% from the field, 41.2% from three and 52.2% from the foul line. He’s got good size for an off-guard and is capable of getting shots at all three levels, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he performed well in pre-draft workouts. But he’ll likely have some questions to answer with regards to why the physical tools didn’t exactly translate at USC.

 

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.