- With March Madness on the horizon, The Front Office projects the first 30 picks in the 2019 NBA draft. Can anyone surpass Zion Williamson after his injury?
With March right around the corner, the NBA playoffs on the horizon and the trade deadline long gone, draft season is fast approaching, and the only thing we can do is prepare for it. The picture is far from complete, but we have Zion Williamson at the top, Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish behind him, and a rather large mess after that. One thing it’s fair to say right now: it’s not a great year to be drafting in the middle of the lottery, and parsing through that group of players is going to be an ongoing challenge for everyone. A month from now, there should be a much clearer picture, but here’s how things are shaking out at the moment.
As always, our mock draft projects what the draft might look like if it took place on a given day. For our own evaluation of the available players, check out our most recent big board, which is a fluid list of this year’s top 80 prospects. As the draft gets closer, the two lists might diverge a bit further, with this one focusing on creating an accurate picture of how teams might behave on draft night.
The sequence of teams in this version of the mock draft is based off of Basketball Reference’s playoff projections as of Feb. 26, which can be found here.
1. Suns: Zion Williamson, F, Duke
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 285 | Freshman } Last Mock: 1
Williamson’s minor injury hiccup does nothing to impact his status atop the draft, and at this point, it would be stunning if anyone else was selected first. Watching Duke play without him should help quantify his direct impact on their success. Not only is he a prolific offensive engine who facilitates transition play, but he’s provided a ton of cover defensively, and the overall breadth of his ability should render strict positional concerns irrelevant. He will be one of the NBA’s best athletes from day one. And when looking at the pieces the Suns already have in place—a potentially elite perimeter scorer (Devin Booker), a physically dominant center (Deandre Ayton) and a slew of young wings, it’s easy to see Williamson slotting in and helping trigger a substantial turnaround. Adding him to the mix could make Phoenix one of the league’s most dangerous young teams.
2. R.J. Barrett, G/F, Duke
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 200 | Freshman | Last: 4
Give Barrett real credit for adapting his game in a tangible way over the course of the season: he has taken a big step forward with his willingness to make plays for teammates, and has made Duke even more dangerous. While at his core, he remains a shoot-first, ball-dominant player, it’s at least easier to envision Barrett as an effective part-time playmaker at the NBA level. That multi-dimensionality helps strengthen his already-firm case as a top-three selection. His lack of a creative handle and an inconsistent jump shot are reasons for concern, but the Cavaliers can afford him freedom to develop and make mistakes, and he would become the most substantial building block on that roster as their rebuild continues.
3. Knicks: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 175 | Sophomore | Last: 2
Although Dennis Smith Jr. seems to be benefitting from his change of scenery, the Knicks will need to go best available at this position in the draft. This underscores the fact that the gap between Morant and the rest of the lottery is rather wide. As New York prepares to court big-name free agents and potentially revamp their roster, asset value should be paramount, and so Morant becomes an obvious choice, no matter what they end up doing with him. His historic season isn’t a simple case of mid-major dominance—watch him play for 10 minutes, and it’s readily apparent that Morant wins games with his brain as much as with his athleticism. Noting his court vision and strong handle that facilitates quick changes of speed and direction, Morant has a chance to be a special player. Expect his jump shot to improve in consistency as he gets stronger, and expect him to put the work in to maximize his ability.
4. Bulls: Cam Reddish, SF, Duke
Height: 6'8" | Weight: 220 | Freshman | Last: 3
While Reddish’s performances continue to aggressively vacillate between promising and lackluster, his skill set does create a relatively clean pathway to a useful NBA role, even if the overall perception of where his ceiling lies has flatlined a bit. His positional size, potential to become a plus jump shooter, room to grow as a playmaker and chance at defensive versatility are all still attractive. The biggest concern NBA evaluators have expressed with Reddish is consistency, and whether he is wired for high-level contributions on a nightly basis. Based on his talent and what he could bring to the table, he will at least be afforded ample opportunity to figure it out. For now, Reddish still feels like the answer at No. 4, and the Bulls have enough young talent that he’d be allowed to develop without a ton of immediate pressure.
5. Hawks: Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 195 | Sophomore | Last: 7
Picking fifth is probably the most difficult juncture in this draft, based on the way the talent curve begins to flatten out, and there’s not a correct answer or a consensus right now. Using the state of Atlanta to inform this decision—armed with (likely) two top-10 picks, a potential franchise guard (Trae Young) a high-level young shooter (Kevin Huerter) and a dynamic athlete up front (John Collins)—it’s okay for the Hawks to focus on hitting a double or triple with this first selection. In a deeper draft, it would be hard to justify Culver this high, but with the understanding he could become a valuable role player and be able to play off of good passers, his well-rounded skill set makes sense for Atlanta. He is not an elite athlete or jump shooter, both of which ostensibly limit his upside, but what he’s done for Texas Tech hasn’t gone unnoticed by teams. In a situation like this where he’ll have less offensive responsibility, he could flourish.
6. Grizzlies: Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 170 | Freshman | Last: 9
That Garland, who has been out since November with a torn meniscus, might climb this high is partially due to need—the Grizzlies will eventually move on from Mike Conley—but also a reflection of how fickle this range of the draft appears at a glance. Garland’s deep shooting and potential to playmake and initiate in a ball-screen focused offense makes him an intriguing target here. He relies on change of pace to compensate for lack of explosion, and his lack of physicality may hamper his upside, but he has the overall chops to become a useful NBA guard. The adjustment may be steep, but the Grizzlies would probably do well to take a chance here. If Memphis can play its way out of the top eight, this pick will go to the Celtics, but it’s looking likely they end up having to keep it.
7. Wizards: De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 225 | Sophomore | Last: 13
While Washington is dealing with John Wall’s long-term absence (and longer-term contract), it seems unlikely the Wizards will blow everything up. All things considered situationally, using this pick to add a readymade role player in Hunter feels like a safe move. While he’s unlikely to be a star and needs to be able to play off of his guards, Hunter would give the Wizards some much-needed immediate defensive flexibility. Provided his jumper develops and he can become a bit more dynamic scoring the ball, he has a chance to stick around in the league for a long time. There’s a chance he benefits from playing outside Virginia’s more rigid offensive system, as well. The overall fit here makes sense, and Washington can play it safe while also getting some immediate value as they try and return to the postseason.
8. Heat: Nassir Little, F, North Carolina
Height: 6’6” | Weight: 220 | Freshman | Last: 5
Little has become one of the more polarizing players in the draft, and while there’s still a good chance he’s a top-ten pick, it’s become less clear how strong a bet he is to actually return that type of value. He has terrific physical tools, enough touch to think his shot improves, and as a late-blooming prospect with a good work ethic, he’s the type of person teams will feel okay gambling on. Critics have justifiably harped on his demonstrable lack of feel and struggles acclimating to the college game. A team like the Heat with a positive player development record would be a nice fit for him long-term—get him into peak shape, and the hope is he becomes a dynamic transition player and eventually adds something on defense. But right now, his lack of a quantifiable NBA-ready skill raises real concerns. He should be seen as more of a project.
9. Hawks (via Mavericks): Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
Height: 6’11” | Weight: 220 | Freshman | Last: 10
After using their first lottery pick in responsible fashion, the Hawks would be in position to take a bigger swing here, with Hayes making sense as a developmental big who can finish and protect the basket. He’s still sort of a rough outline, but compares favorably in some ways to Jarrett Allen, who also came out of Texas with questions attached and has exceeded expectations early on with the Nets. While Hayes is not a dynamic scorer and has a long way to go in that regard, his natural ability as a defender and overall profile is plenty attractive as a development project. The Hawks wouldn’t ask too much of him right away, and should be able to create the right type of perimeter spacing to maximize Hayes up front.
10. Hornets: Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 215 | Freshman | Last: 6
Langford has fallen into a similar boat with Nassir Little relative to preseason expectations, and while his counting stats are passable at face value, his impact (or lack thereof) has to be considered within the context of Indiana’s ongoing struggles. He brings solid athletic tools and a pedigree to the table that will likely keep him in the lottery mix, but it’s fair right now to question whether that’s been fully earned. If Langford can get his jump shot to a workable place, commit to playing defense and tighten his handle, he has a chance to become a starting-caliber wing, but there’s reason to doubt whether he can score efficiently enough to cut it long-term. Regardless, it won’t be surprising to see a team take the leap, and the Hornets could gamble on his upside here.
11. Pelicans: Sekou Doumbouya, PF, Limoges
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 230 | Age: 18 | Last: 12
In this later part of the lottery, Doumbouya remains an intriguing long-term play, particularly as so many hyped-up college players have struggled. There’s some hope that he’s starting to turn a corner with his adjustment playing Pro A in France, and from a talent perspective he will certainly warrant looks here. He’s still learning to bring consistent effort, but his upside is legitimate as a player who could space the floor, rebound and defend multiple positions. Doumbouya isn’t necessarily going to be a star, but it’s not hard to see him developing into a useful player. New Orleans will be in position to select for upside in the lottery as they prepare for life without Anthony Davis.
12. Lakers: Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga
Height: 6'8" | Weight: 230 | Junior | Last: 11
It’s not a shock that Hachimura and Gonzaga continue slicing up conference competition, and at this point, it’s no secret what he is. He will be physically ready for the NBA, his likely role will be as a faceup four, and his upside is tied to consistently stretching the floor out to three-point range (which he has not done with any sort of volume to date). While it’s possible he ends up looking like just another guy in the pros, Hachimura’s ability to rebound and finish coupled with his potential to become a better shooter and defender make him a worthwhile lottery flier. His rate of improvement has to be factored in here. The Lakers may not end up actually making this pick, but if they do, finding someone with a chance to contribute early in their rookie deal makes sense.
13. Timberwolves: Kevin Porter, SG, USC
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 220 | Freshman | Last: 8
Porter is another player with a wide variety of draft outcomes—he’s arguably one of the five most talented players in the draft in terms of athleticism and skill, but his lack of polish and attached level of off-court concern may see him drop outside the top 10. It’s early to call, and teams will have different levels of comfort taking the risk, but his intuitive ability to play off the dribble and put the ball in the basket are tantalizing. Porter’s season has brought injury, suspension, and a lot of trepidation, but at some point, he’s absolutely going to be worth the risk. Will he ever care about defense or fit seamlessly into the flow of an offense? Maybe not. But is there a chance everything breaks correctly and he delivers value in this part of the draft? Absolutely. The Timberwolves could try and develop him into a playmaker off the bench as a starting point.
14. Celtics (via Kings): Keldon Johnson, G/F, Kentucky
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 210 | Freshman | Last: 14
Although Johnson’s ceiling isn’t expressly high, he’s been a useful jack-of-all-trades on the wing, consistently plays with energy, and has shown he can shoot it effectively this season. Teams are going to fall in love with his intangibles, and his overall makeup should help him carve a path to hanging around in the NBA. His defensive impact and scoring totals have waned in recent weeks, but Johnson will have a good platform come March and have a chance to keep winning teams over. He feels more likely to land toward the middle of the first round right now, but he should end up making someone happy. The Celtics might have three first-round selections and would add him into their mix on the wing.
15. Magic: Coby White, G, North Carolina
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 185 | Freshman | Last: 25
It’s not that far-fetched to make a case for White as North Carolina’s best pro prospect, and while that’s certainly not consensus, it does point to his case as someone who could rise into the back end of the lottery with a strong close to the season. For a player who’s still very much learning to run the point, White has done an awfully good job of winging it, and he may end up best suited as a ballhandling two-guard given he’s more of a natural scorer. His deep shooting range, positional size and defensive potential are all intriguing. A guard-needy team like Orlando could prioritize him as a partner for Markelle Fultz.
16. Pistons: KZ Okpala, SF, Stanford
Height: 6’9” | Weight: 215 | Sophomore | Last: 15
Okpala is an upside play who very much passes the eye test, with a plus basketball build, the makings of a solid perimeter game, and theoretical 3-and-D ability. He’s rangy and long, has some feel for scoring, and has the type of all-around profile that will be attractive in this range of the first round. The Pistons remain needy for help on the wing, and Okpala would make for a nice fit here.
17. Nets: Goga Bitadze, C, KK Buducnost
Height: 6'11" | Weight: 245 | Age: 19 | Last: 22
Bitadze has a host of fans around the league and has enjoyed a very strong season in Europe, more or less solidifying himself as a first-round talent. He has a case to be the first international player drafted, with size and a ton of skill that he has begun to harness effectively at an early age. While some teams will shy away from investing in a slower-footed, more traditional center, Bitadze’s potential to space the floor at least helps add utility when it comes to his offensive role, and based on where he’s at developmentally, it seems likely he becomes useful in the NBA sooner than later. The Nets have not been shy drafting top European talent, and could follow suit here.
18. Spurs: Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland
Height: 6’10” | Weight: 235 | Sophomore | Last: 17
San Antonio’s frontline could certainly use an injection of youth and athleticism, and Fernando, who has become one of the most dynamic rim-runners in college hoops, might fit the bill. He’s taken a major step forward as a sophomore and has evolved from project to someone who might be able to contribute minutes early on based on his consistent effort level and high-end tools. Fernando’s feel and skill level are both still developing, but the Spurs could provide a strong situation for him to develop, and cultivate him as a potential replacement for Pau Gasol. They might be able to get more out of him as a shooter and ball-screen option, as well.
19. Celtics (via Clippers): PJ Washington, PF, Kentucky
Height: 6'7" | Weight: 230 | Sophomore | Last: 20
Washington has really stepped up during the second half of the season, and looks ready for the draft and a first-round ticket. The Celtics tend to favor bigs with his level of versatility, and he might slide in nicely to replace Marcus Morris if he departs in the summer. Washington’s rebounding ability coupled with improved energy and jump shooting make him a nice candidate in this range as a small-ball big who fits into the back end of a rotation. His height creates some limitations, but with the way he’s played of late, it’s hard not to like what he brings to the table.
20. Cavaliers (via Rockets): Bol Bol, C, Oregon
Height: 7'2" | Weight: 235 | Freshman | Last: 18
It’s unclear to what degree Bol’s foot injury will impact his standing in the draft, but from the outside looking in, it’s not promising. That, coupled with the considerable risk already associated with his fit in the NBA, positions him as more of a mid-to-late first-round flier right now, although it’s not inconceivable he ends up in the late lottery. A team with multiple first-rounders would be best positioned to find out what Bol can do at the NBA level, and after acquiring this pick from Houston, Cleveland would have a reasonable case to take the plunge. If Bol can stay on the floor, his jump shooting and size could make him a weapon, but there are a lot more ifs than that at this point.
21. Jazz: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, Virginia Tech
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 205 | Sophomore | Last: 16
Selecting Alexander-Walker in the lottery feels like a stretch, but he will appeal to teams who can pair him with a more dynamic shot-creator and allow him to sink threes and move the ball within the flow of an offense. His struggles with Justin Robinson sidelined point to the fact he is best suited as a two-guard—his composure on the ball and going into the paint leaves something to be desired. But with the way his body has improved, his consistency hitting open shots and ability to make nifty passes makes him a player teams will value in the 20s. He’d fit well next to Donovan Mitchell in Utah.
22. Blazers: Talen Horton-Tucker, G/F, Iowa State
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 240 | Freshman | Last: 28
Horton-Tucker remains an intriguing prospect with his ability to play off the dribble, finish creatively and shoot from outside. While his body has a ways to go and scouts have questioned his athleticism, his talent is hard to argue with, and at this stage of the draft should be worthy of a flier. The Trail Blazers could groom him for Evan Turner’s role long-term as someone who can help set up their other guards and lead the second unit. Horton-Tucker probably won’t be ready right away, but makes sense in this range as someone you can try and groom into a playmaker.
23. Celtics: Luguentz Dort, G, Arizona State
Height: 6'4" | Weight: 215 | Freshman | Last: 23
Though Dort has some noticeable holes in his skill set, his athleticism, energy and ability to get into the paint make him an intriguing first-round play. He moves exceptionally well for a guy with his heavy build, which translates when attacking downhill. He still has issues staying with smaller guards defensively. His touch around the basket could be better, and his jump shot has regressed to the mean. Still, Dort’s physical strengths make him an interesting role player who should be able to make positive contributions when less is asked of him. The Celtics have favored athletic, slashing guards like him in the past.
24. Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 190 | Freshman | Last: 29
Herro has proven something in the second half of the season, playing with more confidence, shooting the ball more consistently, and showing a nice level of toughness and effort on the defensive end. He profiles nicely as a shooting specialist, and for a team like the Thunder that could always use more spacing, he makes a good deal of sense. Herro likely won’t have to spend a second year at Kentucky at this point, and looks worthy of a late first-round selection with the way he’s playing at the moment.
25. 76ers: Jordan Nwora, F, Louisville
Height: 6’7” | Weight: 225 | Sophomore | Last: N/A
Quietly, Nwora has been a major riser in the eyes of some scouts during conference play, with Louisville enjoying unexpected success and his long-range shooting having proven bankable. There’s reason to believe he’ll be able to play the three in the NBA, and on a team like the Sixers, he won’t have to create nearly as many of his own shots. Nwora’s sweet stroke, improving ball skills and ability to rebound at his size give him a nice level of upside, and while he’s not a lock for the first round this year, a strong close to the season might get him there.
26. Pacers: Jontay Porter, C, Missouri
Height: 6'11" | Weight: 235 | Sophomore | Last: 24
Teams were somewhat split on Porter last year—his underwhelming athletic profile and body type make him hard to project defensively and detract from his appealing skill level. After sitting out the season with injury, it’s possible he slips closer to the back of the first round. Regardless, he’s still the same age as some freshmen, and remains an intriguing system fit, with a great feel, nice-looking jumper and good passing ability. The Pacers can roll the dice on his upside here.
27. Nets (via Nuggets): Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga
Height: 6’8” | Weight: 210 | Junior | Last: N/A
Clarke has been one of college basketball’s best players all season, but NBA types are more skeptical as to how his game will translate. The key for him will be knocking down enough outside shots to space the floor, as he’s likely too small to play center long-term and is best suited as a roving four-man who can alter shots and make plays on defense. Clarke has issues finishing on the inside against length and is already 22, so it could be that he essentially is what he is, but on the right team, he could certainly be an impactful role player. His energy and toughness will make someone roll the dice. The Nets will pick twice in the first round and would be in position to get creative.
28. Warriors: Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas
Height: 6'11" | Weight: 235 | Sophomore | Last: 19
While Gafford’s stock has fallen this season, it’s easy to see him having success in a limited offensive role where he can focus on playing hard, protecting the basket and finishing. His lack of skill has been exposed a bit, and he’s more fluid than he is truly explosive, but he’s long and brings enough size to the table that he should have a chance to be a useful backup center. Gafford may fall into the later first-round range, where he could be an impactful addition for a playoff-ready team like the Warriors, who could plug him into a small role right away.
29. Spurs (via Raptors): Tre Jones, PG, Duke
Height: 6’2” | Weight: 185 | Freshman | Last: 27
It’s clear now that most of Jones’ value is going to come on the defensive end, where he has been terrific. If you believe you can help fix his jump shot, then he’s worth a pick in this range. The Spurs could be a good landing spot here, with their emphasis on player development and history of helping players improve their shooting. Jones would give them a different, defensive-minded dimension off the bench, and if his shot comes around, he should be able to stick. But there’s risk involved here if he’s an offensive zero.
30. Bucks: Admiral Schofield, F, Tennessee
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 240 | Senior | Last: N/A
Schofield’s toughness and improved-looking pull-up game should endear him to playoff teams at the end of the first round at the earliest, and he offers a cleaner NBA fit than teammate Grant Williams due to a more legitimate perimeter skill set. Schofield profiles in the P.J. Tucker mold, as someone who can slide down and defend bigger forwards while still providing some spacing from the corners in a comfortable fashion. The Bucks have been willing to get creative around Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Schofield might fit what they’re looking for in a role player rather neatly.