- While Duke's superstar freshmen are the headliners, two lesser-known freshmen guards are poised to take the 2019 NBA draft by storm. The Front Office projects the first 30 picks.
It feels cliché at this point to label the NBA draft as unpredictable—by nature, it obviously is from the outside looking it, and it’s not exactly a scalding stance to have on the matter. That being said, the 2019 draft, which many scouts still find a bit underwhelming (in concert with preseason opinion), seems to be a little harder to sus out than usual. While a range of players have started to set themselves apart as probable first-rounders, the talent gap, if you were to eliminate the top handful of prospects, is in many instances simply not that wide. The Front Office has spent the past six weeks attending college games across the country, reviewing game film on prospects, and picking the brains of scouts and executives around the NBA. Without treating anything too conclusively, a lot has changed in a month.
As always, our mock draft projects what the draft might look like if it took place on a given day. For our rankings of the top available prospects and more thorough breakdowns of their skills, check out our most recent big board. Non-conference play offers a whole lot for NBA teams to chew on, and a lot of opportunity for players to be seen and establish their potential value. Given it’s still December, guessing which teams will do what is more of a thought exercise than anything else. Here’s how the first round is shaping up at the moment.
The sequence of teams in this version of the mock draft factors in previously-traded draft picks, and is based off of Basketball Reference’s playoff projections, which can be found here.
1. Hawks: Zion Williamson, F, Duke
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 285 | Freshman
Williamson was ranked No. 1 on SI’s Big Board before the season started, and the general consensus has gradually moved away from R.J. Barrett to reflect his status as the top prospect in this draft. If you insist on using the term ‘unicorn’ to describe basketball players, here is one. From day one, Williamson will be among the most athletic players in the league, and his strength and explosiveness makes him a deadly efficient shot-creator in space, and difficult to stop from getting downhill. Williamson is a terrific rebounder who can initiate transition looks in seconds, all by himself, and his unselfishness and ability to impact the game without being fed touches has allowed his Duke teammates to thrive at the same time. Even though he isn’t a great shooter, the whole thing smells like a player who can help shift the arc of whichever franchise drafts him (in this scenario, Atlanta). It will be worth finding out, and even harder to be the team that passes on that opportunity.
2. Bulls: R.J. Barrett, G/F, Duke
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 200 | Freshman
Barrett’s national perception hit bottom after his trigger-happy showing in a loss to Gonzaga, but he’s been excellent ever since, although Duke has played a very easy December slate going into Thursday’s game against Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden. He has shown progress with his jumper, begun to take better shots, and it’s encouraging that he has looked willing to play a more efficient game and responded well to the criticism. It would be surprising if Barrett is not among the first two players selected, and with Williamson’s fast ascent as the favorite for No. 1, he will make for a strong choice after that. The Bulls are a total mess right now, but getting one of those two guys out of this lost season would be worthy consolation. Probably.
3. Suns: Cam Reddish, G/F, Duke
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 220 | Freshman
It was easy to foresee Reddish’s current situation, in which he has taken a backseat to Williamson and Reddish and become the most talented third wheel in college basketball. That being said, he has not always played especially well, with his three-point shooting running hot and cold and his finishing around the rim essentially being average. Because of the personnel at Duke, there will not be as much opportunity to see him function as a playmaker, which is where a lot of his high-end potential lies. Until Reddish begins to string together more consistent production, it will be hard to fully sell yourself here, but the season is far from over, and he will benefit from a somewhat unconvincing group of players making up the lottery range. Phoenix could take him and try to develop him as a lead ball-handler next to Devin Booker.
4. Cavaliers: Kevin Porter, SG, USC
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 210 | Freshman
Porter continues to miss time with a quad injury, which has abetted a frustrating start for the Trojans, who have not lived up to expectations. The potential caveat there is that upon his return, USC might be too desperate to continue bringing him off the bench, and will be best served removing his training wheels. Say what you want about his lack of overall polish, but there are not many draft-eligible players as naturally talented as Porter. This situation needs time to shake out, and by the spring teams will have a better picture of the risks and rewards associated here, but his scoring ability at all three levels, handle and plus athleticism make Porter a worthy upside pick near the top of the draft. In this situation, the Cavaliers would have to consider taking the dive.
5. Knicks: Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 215 | Freshman
Although the Knicks have done well getting production out of their young talent this season, New York isn’t winning much and don’t appear fully committed to anyone long-term besides Kristaps Porzingis and Kevin Knox. They’ll want to try and be players in free agency, as well. In this scenario, based on the presence of those two guys, it would make sense to address the backcourt with a bigger guard like Langford, whose physical frame and overall offensive feel help him stand out in the framework of a somewhat thin crop of top talent. His three-point shooting is an area of concern and work in progress. Langford requires some projection as a pro, but his early-season play (apart from the jumper) has been encouraging.
6. Wizards: Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 220 | Freshman
Little has underwhelmed with his early play relative to preseason expectations, but at times it simply looks like his issues are mental, and that he’s overthinking things (particularly shooting the ball from outside). His strength, frame and two-way potential are still endearing long-term, even though his ballhandling needs some development. There’s still time for him to find his rhythm. Barring a major trade, the Wizards are going to be financially strapped, and adding a wing like Little, who will be able to keep up from a physical standpoint as his game rounds out, would make sense.
7. Nets: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 175 | Sophomore
Although Morant’s numbers are gaudy and his athleticism and smooth movement off the dribble are enticing, it’s fair to say that Murray State really hasn’t played anyone of substance yet. He posted massive numbers in a loss to Alabama, but the Crimson Tide aren’t exactly elite competition, either. Morant’s only other high-major test of the season (barring a run to the NCAA tournament) comes Saturday at Auburn, where he will face his toughest test of the season. His passing vision and long-term potential are evident, but his jumper and turnover-prone style of play give some scouts pause. Taking Morant this high would be a total upside swing for Brooklyn, and give them another intriguing piece to develop.
8. Heat: Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 170 | Freshman
Set to miss the rest of the season after tearing his meniscus, Garland should be on track for the pre-draft process, where his stock shouldn’t slip much. He only played four full college games, but teams have gotten a taste of what he can do, and Garland’s three-point shooting and offensive savvy give him a chance to be the first point guard drafted. His average physical tools, thin build and athletic capabilities may be a detriment, but his talent level holds up in this top group. The Heat are financially strapped for the next couple seasons, and looking to develop their next point guard on a rookie deal might make sense long-term. Goran Dragic going down to injury (and approaching his 33rd birthday) points to Miami’s eventual need to address the position.
9. Hawks (via Mavericks): Bol Bol, C, Oregon
Height: 7'2" | Weight: 235 | Freshman
The Hawks will get the Mavericks’ pick unless it falls in the top five, which is some level of consolation despite Luka Doncic being an immediate lift for Dallas. The best case for Atlanta is Dallas falling behind the pack, creating an opportunity for the Hawks to take a huge swing. Drafting Bol would be a significant gamble, as there are doubts about what elements of his game will translate and how, but he possesses a great deal of natural talent that he has begun to piece together consistently. His college production had been stellar prior to a recent foot injury that has him sidelined at the moment, If that injury is serious, it will no doubt give teams pause, factoring in his size, build and long-term health. All things considered, Bol’s draft range is rather wide, and hinges on which teams can inherit his risk (and where they end up drafting). Atlanta could be one of them.
10. Spurs: Sekou Doumbouya, PF, Limoges
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 230 | Age: 17
Doumbouya is still adjusting to a higher level of competition and remains an intriguing prospect with good traits for a modern power forward, the position where his game best translates for now. He’s still tracking toward the lottery, but will be a project for whoever drafts him—he may not be ready to contribute until hitting the back end of his rookie deal, which could put a team in a difficult spot financially as far as investing in a second contract. Still he turns 18 just next week and will be among the youngest draft-eligible prospects. Doumbouya has some touch as a shooter and potential as a versatile offensive piece, but interested teams will have to understand how steep his learning curve might be. A team like San Antonio, with a strong history of player development and success with international prospects, could be a fit.
11. Timberwolves: Keldon Johnson, G/F, Kentucky
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 210 | Freshman
Kentucky has been underwhelming, as have most of its players, in turn, but Johnson remains a solid long-term prospect, despite having taken a slight backseat as a scorer. Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves covet toughness, and Johnson supplies that—he has potential to defend multiple positions, hit spot-up jumpers and attack closeouts, and you’re rarely left worrying about his effort. Johnson lacks elite upside, but teams can do much worse than a tone-setting, well-rounded wing player.
12. Rockets: De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 225 | Sophomore
Although Hunter is completely unflashy, his consistency and combination of strength and agility help him fit an in-demand template for NBA forwards. Hunter is not an exceptional shot-creator off the dribble, but he defends multiple positions, rebounds and can shoot from outside. His versatility would be of use to the Rockets, who don’t ask much else of their forwards and would likely be able to get real contributions out of Hunter on his rookie deal. If Houston were to miss the playoffs, netting him at this spot would be ideal.
13. Celtics (via Kings): Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga
Height: 6'8" | Weight: 230 | Junior
In midst of a big season for Gonzaga, Hachimura’s college production has caught up to his talent level, but there are still some legitimate questions at the NBA level, and a team will have to put a lot resources into helping him reach his potential. The Celtics, who may well end up with four first-round picks, can give him time, and Hachimura’s athleticism, fluid movement and development as a jump shooter are all positive traits. One concern is he may be unable to create a consistent mismatch, as he’s not high-end explosive or skilled off the dribble. But his potential as a modern four-man is evident, and the factor of language adjustment as a native Japanese speaker leaves hope that he can accelerate his learning curve with additional help on the team side.
14. Celtics (via Grizzlies): Luguentz Dort, G, Arizona State
Height: 6'4" | Weight: 215 | Freshman
Although the Dort hype may have reached an untenable level over the past month, he is playing his way into this range of the draft with his strong build and high-scoring ability. NBA evaluators are beginning to wonder about his overall offensive feel (he’s good going downhill, but is limited to straight-line drives and is sort of a bull in a China shop searching for contact) and how advanced a scorer he’ll actually be at the next level. Dort is not a finished product, as he needs to be a more committed off-ball defender, like many freshmen, and continue to refine his jumper. But he does fit many criteria the Celtics have favored in recent drafts—he’s an above-average athlete, plays hard and could help bolster someone’s rotation early in his career.
15. Magic: Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 195 | Sophomore
Culver continues to exceed expectations for the Red Raiders, functioning impressively as their lead playmaker and showing a level of comfort in a breadth of offensive situations. What he lacks in explosiveness and quick-twitch game, he’s been able to compensate for using his size, craft and feel as a passer and scorer. He holds up his end of the bargain defensively, as well. Whether he can stay as efficient in conference play may determine whether he sneaks into the lottery, and he’s primarily a set shooter, but Culver has done a lot for himself in the first chunk of the college season. He may not have star upside, but he would help address Orlando’s need for perimeter scoring and creation.
16. Pistons: KZ Okpala, F, Stanford
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 195 | Sophomore
As he’s gotten accustomed to his size and gangly limbs, Okpala has started to put his game together and continues trending toward the first round with his play. He has the potential to defend four positions, is a terrific passer and has improved as a catch-and-shoot threat, three critical traits for perimeter prospects that every team could find ways to incorporate. Okpala is not an especially creative ball-handler and doesn’t have much of a pull-up game , but his strengths should make him a viable rotation player at minimum. Detroit could beef up its wing rotation at this juncture of the draft.
17. Hornets: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 205 | Sophomore
It will be in Charlotte’s best interest to pay to keep Kemba Walker this summer, but whether or not he sticks around, adding a bigger combo guard like Alexander-Walker would make a lot of sense with what the Hornets have in place. They’ve had success moving Walker off the ball next to Tony Parker in smaller backcourt looks. Mixing in Alexander-Walker, who can make plays for teammates and also space the floor would benefit Kemba and Malik Monk, adding another ball-handler to the mix without sacrificing size on the defensive end. He’s taken a big step forward for Virginia Tech, and his play has caught up to expectations.
18. Pelicans: Coby White, G, North Carolina
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 185 | Freshman
New Orleans’ agenda for the year to come consists of two primary items that go hand-in-hand. 1) Keep Anthony Davis, and 2) win as many games as possible. At present, neither task looks like it will be a smooth ride. But if the Pelicans keep their draft pick, trying to find perimeter help will be paramount. Adding White wouldn’t fix their issues at small forward, but his size and scoring ability might be a nice complement to Jrue Holiday, and adds another scoring element to the team.
19. Jazz: Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas
Height: 6'11" | Weight: 235 | Sophomore
If Gafford were to slip to this point in the draft, it would be more a referendum on the baseline value of centers (and the needs of the previous handful of teams, in this scenario) than any indictment of his talent. He’s a long, fluid athlete and provides a nice vertical spacing element at center, able to run the floor, finish above the rim and block shots. His upside isn’t massive, but as long as he continues to get stronger, he should be able to impact the game on both ends and as a rebounder. He would be a nice coup for Utah, who could use a better backup option for Rudy Gobert.
20. Celtics (via Clippers): Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
Height: 6’11” | Weight: 220 | Freshman
It seems more likely the Celtics move a pick or two than actually draft four times in the first round. Regardless, taking the opportunity to develop someone like Hayes here would be prudent. The unheralded freshman is still making his case as a first-rounder, but he’s flashed substantial athletic ability and defensive instincts, coupled with a 7’4” wingspan. Hayes does not have much of an offensive skill set, nor has he been a consistent presence on the glass, but he does have loads of natural talent and will be able to turn pro if he feels he’s ready. His situation is airing toward the side of one-and-done at the moment.
21. Lakers: Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 185 | Freshman
This might be a bit high for Jones under most circumstances, but would constitute a need pick for the Lakers, who could address their backup point guard spot on a team-friendly contract as they eye star free agents. As expected, Duke has proven a positive situation for him as a pass-first player, able to pick his spots to score and focus on setting up his gifted teammates. Jones is not physically overwhelming, but he is crafty, a strong decision-maker, and arguably a more appealing prospect than his brother Tyus at the same stage. He can score more effectively than he’s shown for the Blue Devils, but his bread and butter as a pro will be unselfish play.
22. Blazers: PJ Washington, PF, Kentucky
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 230 | Sophomore
Provided his motor is running, Washington’s low-maintenance rebounding and scoring should translate better to the NBA game than college, when paired with better guards and given additional space to operate. He’s athletic enough to compensate for some of his lack of size defensively, and continues to show improvement as a jump shooter to help solidify his utility the other way. After the Blazers drafted two guards last season, they could turn to the frontcourt with this pick. As long as their team is driven by the backcourt, guys like Washington who don’t need heavy touches to be effective will be useful.
23. 76ers: Jontay Porter, C, Missouri
Height: 6'11" | Weight: 235 | Sophomore
Most NBA teams were convinced Porter was staying in the draft last season before a late change of heart. After sitting out his sophomore year with injury, it would seem wise for him to enter his name for real this time around, riding the strength of last season. Porter needs to get into better physical shape, but he’s young for his class, and has an innate sense of where to be on the floor that would fit nicely with the stars Philly has in place. He won’t overwhelm anyone physically, but he’s skilled with the ball, a strong shooter and passer for his size, and has the kind of game that should easily mesh alongside other good players. The Sixers need to shore up their frontline behind Joel Embiid, and Porter would make a great deal of sense.
24. Pacers: Talen Horton-Tucker, SG, Iowa State
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 240 | Freshman
Horton-Tucker, who just turned 18 in November, has emerged early in his college career as a crafty, stat-stuffing offensive contributor for the Cyclones. Given the NBA’s current stylistic trends, he’s the type of talent many teams will be willing to take a chance on—there is a premium on finding players who can create shots for themselves and their teammates, and Horton-Tucker has shown he can do that. He’s a strong passer and rebounder, aided by his long arms, and uses a good deal of skill attacking the basket and finishing. He needs to continue working on his jumper, but he’s far from a non-shooter. As he matures and he can spend time getting his body right, Horton-Tucker could be a very useful component for the right team.
25. Jalen McDaniels, PF, San Diego State
Height: 6'10" | Weight: 195 | Sophomore
Although McDaniels is built unnervingly thin for a big, he has shown some all-around improvement, and if he can transition to playing as a stretch-four he might have a place in the league with his size and skill. He looks more comfortable as a jump shooter this season and is taking threes at a higher volume. McDaniels has also been a productive rebounder, although there is some reason to doubt how much of it will translate. Getting stronger and filling out his body is still pivotal, as not many bigs with his particular body type are hanging around right now. But he has the mobility, size and offensive upside to warrant development, and few organizations have as much long-term patience as the Thunder.
26. Warriors: Jaylen Hoard, F, Wake Forest
Height: 6'8" | Weight: 215 | Freshman
Neither Hoard nor his team have given anyone much to get excited about, but his physical tools are still impressive and his struggles have to be contextualized with his situation. Hoard will be a project regardless, but some of his ability to pass and score has been masked a little bit by Wake Forest’s generally uninspired guard play. The key thing to remember with Hoard is that as long as he can improve his outside shooting, his build and defensive potential give him a clear pathway to some type of NBA role. In the middle of the draft, that’s the type of flier teams will willingly take. The Warriors would be in position to develop him without demanding much out of the gate.
27. Celtics: Luka Samanic, F, Olimpija
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 210 | 18 years old
Like Sekou Doumbouya, Samanic has gone through an adjustment to a higher level of play at a young age, and there are growing pains associated with that. He remains a major talent, with ability to handle, pass and spot up, combined with legitimate size. Samanic has to get stronger to play on an NBA frontline, but given how skill-oriented his position has become, he will be an appealing flier in this draft, with the ability to go much higher than this. In this scenario where Boston uses four draft picks, he’d be a great stash play.
28. Nets (via Nuggets): Goga Bitadze, C, Mega Bemax
Height: 6'11" | Weight: 245 | Age: 19
Bitadze is in midst of a great year for Mega Bemax, and as long as he continues to put up big numbers it will help assuage concerns about his defensive mobility. He’s a talented interior scorer and rebounder, and there’s still a place for bigger-bodied centers in the league provided they can keep up athletically. A native of Georgia, Bitadze’s history of production at a young age is promising, and he will again draw interest from teams in this range of the draft. The Nets are unafraid to bring international players over and develop them on their roster, and Bitadze would be a good candidate and fit with their roster.
29. Spurs (via Raptors): Brandon Clarke, F/C, Gonzaga
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 215 | Junior
San Antonio stands to get more athletic up front, and while Clarke is not a traditional big in any sense, his impressive play for Gonzaga should put him in the mix late in the first round. He’s already 22, and has some limitations in terms of size, but he’s an explosive leaper and prolific shot-blocker capable of making plays above the rim. His defensive productivity is hard to ignore. He has struggled somewhat as a defensive rebounder against better competition, the value of which will be easier to sus out when Killian Tillie returns to give Gonzaga more of a size advantage. Clarke’s jump shooting is not totally convincing. But his toughness and switchability on defense give him a chance to stick within the right lineup framework.
30. Bucks: Ignas Brazdeikis, F, Michigan
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 215 | Freshman
Granted, Brazdeikis is in a near-perfect situation at Michigan, where their defensive scheme helps mask his deficiencies, and he benefits from unselfish teammates and freedom to hunt for open space on the baseline and perimeter. That said, his natural ability to score at a high level and create shots efficiently demands NBA attention. Brazdeikis is highly competitive and will be able to space the floor, attack closeouts and fit with other good players as a pro. It’s a good role-player profile for a team like the Bucks, who need complementary scorers with his sort of skill set to maximize Giannis Antetokounmpo’s skills.