An update of our 2019 NBA Draft prospect rankings breaks down all of the movement from the month of December, including the rise of Jarrett Culver and the question of Nassir Little.
The 2019 NBA Draft was billed as terrible heading into the season, and two months into the season, it’s been difficult to shake that idea from some people. The struggles of perceived top picks like Nassir Little, Romeo Langford, and Quentin Grimes paint a bad situation because that means a good number of the few recognizable names from the preseason aren’t actually as good as we thought. Meanwhile, two possible top-ten picks, Darius Garland and Jontay Porter, are out for the year with significant knee injuries, and two others, Kevin Porter Jr. and Sekou Doumbouya, are currently out with injuries too. Throw in that the probable top pick, Zion Williamson, might have longevity issues due to his weight, and that paints a pretty bleak outlook.
However, that picture relies far too much on the preseason outlook for the draft class. While yes, several players have disappointed relative to expectations, several more have developed in ways we didn’t expect, and that group arguably outweighs the disappointments when you consider the class as a whole. Yes, Little probably isn’t a top-three prospect, but Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver has positioned himself to step into that void. Guys like Porter and Luguentz Dort have risen up the board from lowly recruiting rankings. Williamson has solidified himself as the top prospect by posting numbers that are an outlier in recent college basketball history. And the class has shown to have great depth in terms of the most coveted position in the league — big, skilled, two-way wings — with a pool of players like Porter, Culver, Reddish, Grant Williams, and Ignas Brazdeikis.
This class doesn’t have a deep pool of top-ten prospects like 2018, but we’ve seen this year that 2018 is probably an outlier in draft history. We have a potential franchise-changer at the top of the board; we have a big tier of possible-to-probable rotation players in the middle of the first-round; and yeah, the draft falls off a cliff in the early second round in terms of value, but that’s not that unique of a proposition, either. It’s also still early — players are still likely to show their worth as we head into conference play, and there’s plenty of time for some of those disappointing players to rebound, like Kevin Knox did in 2018 after a poor early start. The 2019 NBA Draft class isn’t like the last two, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.
With that in mind, let’s crack into an updated ranking of 2019’s top 60 prospects, featuring some new faces in the lottery, and some very tough decisions between similar players that teams will be faced with navigating in June.
It’s still just Zion at the top, as he’s established an awesome statistical battery not just compared to his peers, but compared to all prospects of the last decade. He’s nearly two-points ahead of Anthony Davis as the all-time Box Plus-Minus leader. He’s one of two players since 2010 to post over a 15 percent assist rate, a 7.0 percent block rate, a 28 percent usage rate, and a true shooting percentage over 67 percent. His net rating is in the same tier of Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. He shoots 75.5 percent at the rim, per The Stepien shot chart data, while actively avoiding scoring with his right hand. He’s not perfect; few prospects are. But there really isn’t a question of who is the best prospect in this draft right now.
SG, Texas Tech
Culver has some exciting playmaking skills and is having a breakout year. His shot diversity and defensive utility should earn him an easy rotation spot, giving him one of the highest floors in the class.
Barrett has staked a firm claim to the number two pick on most boards, and is so here as well, but I differ in that he doesn’t get his own tier yet. While Barrett’s scoring has continued to be excellent, and he has shown the potential to be a two-way playmaking wing, there are too many long-term potential pitfalls to really feel confident about him being the number two player in the class. Given how he often looks off teammates, struggles to finish at the rim, and has frame and discipline concerns on defense, he seems like he could be the “wrong” type of star, a guy who can be a number one scorer on a good team, but has fundamental flaws that will keep him from effectiveness in playoff basketball (Think DeMar DeRozan or Carmelo Anthony).
That brings up the question of value in the draft. Do you value Barrett’s scoring more? or do you value a guy who will probably have to be a second or third option at best, but probably contributes more to playoff success? That’s why, for me, the gap is closer between Barrett and the pack than most people have it. The three players below him — Culver, Reddish, and Bol — all look like they have skill sets that could translate into highly effective complimentary players.
Culver has the skill set of a true two-way wing, with the upside provided by growing two inches over the summer and the progression of his shot mechanics. He is still under the radar in the mainstream, but he’s an easy bet to be at least a player who complimentary piece on a contender. Reddish has the upside to become a Klay Thompson type volume three-point shooter, and his handle and defense do still have room to improve enough for him to become more as well. And Bol, for all of his defensive inconsistencies, is still a 7-foot-3 pull-up shooter, which has at least a shot to be a valuable playoff contender given that Playoff Thon Maker is sort of a thing.
I’m not comfortable taking any of those three over Barrett yet, especially when considering the stage of rebuild that the teams at the top will be in (Atlanta needs Barrett more to get to the next stage of rebuilding; Washington would probably be better off with Culver if picking second, hypothetically).
Little’s defense and creation ability have been disppointing, but it’s tough to ignore how strong of a scorer he is, even in limited minutes. For more on Little, click here.
A defense of Nassir Little, who has fallen off a cliff on many draft boards in the last month after being a darling in the summer: He still shows incredible shot diversity for a 6-foot-7 wing, and while it’s not falling for him at an acceptable rate, guys who can get off quality shots off the bounce in close quarters with consistent technique usually project well; He probably will benefit from the increased space of the NBA, given that it will open up wider passing lanes and allow him to use his particular brand of mid-level strength and coordination athleticism more effectively; His defense hasn’t been good, but many of the freshman wings have struggled, he shows flashes of good activity, and is 6-foot-7, sculpted, and has a good wingspan. I’d bet on him getting it eventually.
If anything, this year has done more to establish that Little’s floor is lower than initially thought. But his flashes that made everyone buy in are still there, and he should be considered more of a boom or bust prospect at this point. More tape will tell us a little more about where he’ll settle, but I still bank on that shot-making ending up being valuable.
Coming off an ACL tear, Shittu has seemed to regain his athleticism and has all of the offensive traits to make him a versatile small-ball five.
Hunter surprised by returning to school last year, and looks poised to benefit from it. He might be this draft’s best perimeter defender, and he’s developing as an off-ball scorer as well.
White vs Garland continues to be a difficult battle for me. White’s recent improvement as a passer has been promising, and that adds an interesting dynamic. Even though Garland has a better skill set at this point, I would bank more on White’s NBA potential due to his size and quickness, which create a margin for error that Garland doesn’t have.
SG, Arizona State
Dort’s torrid start to the season has been fun to watch. His fluidity around the rim and raw decision-making prowess could put him in the top 10 by the end of the season.
SG, Murray State
Morant has an interesting profile as an offensive player, and he appears to be taking the next step as a decision-maker.
Kevin Porter Jr
Porter’s athleticism and isolation scoring have intrigued many draft scouts, but his lack of production as an initiator is concerning. He’ll be very interesting to watch when he returns from his quad injury.
Porter’s been another high riser, going as a firm top ten pick in a lot of boards. I am not sold because while his scoring is interesting in isolation, there haven’t been many wow moments in terms of court vision and feel for the game that have to accompany transition and isolation scoring for them to be meaningful. Whenever Porter finally gets back from his injury, that’s perhaps the biggest skill I’ll be looking for in the next phase of scouting this tier.
It’s not a high ceiling, but Gafford appears ready to be an NBA-level rim runner and interior defender, and fortunately for him that should go far in this class.
SG, Virginia Tech
Alexander-Walker’s scoring explosion in his sophomore year has put him back on draft radars. He’s still probably too thin to translate as a scorer, but his off-movement shooting is promising.
SG, Penn State
Three 2018 NBA Draft prospects who returned to school and have clear, but unspectacular roles in the league: Gafford as an average-to-good rim protector and dive man, Alexander-Walker as a secondary playmaker and spot-up shooter, and Reaves as a true 3-and-D combo guard.
An athletic four with ball-handling skill and great footwork, Reid needs to prove defensive viability to survive at the next level.
Williams has impressed this year with one of the draft’s most versatile skills sets. He’s young for a junior and looks like he will fit in a lot of different NBA systems.
Doumbouya is an athletic energy big who is showing development as a ball-handler for Limoges in Eurocup. He’ll miss the next two months with a thumb injury.
Clarke has proved himself early as a scorer and rim protector, and is another member of what looks like an incredibly deep wing class.
I’ve said it before, but the number of really strong hybrid fours in this class is part of what makes it potentially special. Reid, Williams, Doumbouya, and Clarke all can provide value as fours or small-ball fives, with Reid’s post play, Williams’s passing, Doumbouya’s cutting and Clarke’s rim protection all providing good value off the bench or as complimentary starters. Reid has the most upside with his vision and the potential of tightening his shot mechanics, so he leads the pack, even though Williams is by far the best college player currently.
Another member of the deep role-playing wing class, McLemore has bounced back from a gruesome injury to even take a leap forward as a defender.
Brazdeikis has emerged as a killer scorer for Michigan as a freshman. The Canadian wiing doesn’t have great athleticism, but his two-way play should make him a good bet to be a rotation wing.
Two of the smartest team defenders in the class are here, but Brazdeikis and Dotson are this low because of real frame concerns and the potential that neither comes out in 2019.
A high energy big with good rim protection skills and vertical spacing on offense, Hayes looks promising even if he hasn’t earned big minutes yet.
It’s looking very likely that Hayes has the same meteoric rise up the board that Zach Collins had in 2017, even though neither played huge minutes. Their per-minute production and continual game-to-game improvement is too much to ignore.
A massive Georgian center, Bitadze has shown flashes as a shooter and is one of Europe’s better young defensive bigs. His production since joining Buducnost in Euroleague furthers the idea that he can be an NBA center eventually.
Bitadze left Mega Bemax to move to Buducnost since our last update and has been solidly productive in two Euroleague games. He rises 14 spots because of the value that productive Euroleague minutes have in my eyes, and his rim protection looks to be rapidly improving too.
SG, Lietuvos Rytas
He might weigh 170 pounds soaking wet, but his skill set is very advanced for being 18 years old. The Lithuanian shooter will definitely be in the sights of NBA teams wanting to draft-and-stash.
Tillie has lottery talent, but strength has always been an issue, and now there’s the potential for his foot injury to significantly bother him. Is he durable enough to play the five in the NBA?
Schofield’s combination of physicality and agility make him a very strong defensive prospect, and his passing improvement makes him an enticing development project.
C, West Virginia
Konate isn’t tall, but he has impressive length and makes even better use of it as a rim protector. He hasn’t had the same impact he did last year, but has progressed as a shooter, making him an intriguing two-way center.
With Matthews’ evolution into a capable isolation scorer this year, he now offers a small shot at creation ability and skilled defensive play, meaning he’s probably worth an early second-round pick at this point.
Matthews fell quite a few spots from the last board as his offensive efficiency cooled off. Hopefully conference play is a different story, because he seems like a plug-and-play bench wing.
C, Utah State
Queta’s incredibly raw, but his rim protection skills are surprising and he has the foundation of a strong face-up big. His athleticism almost guarantees that he’ll be an NBA player.
Queta probably won’t even think about coming out, but he should test the waters because he has the foundation of a very valuable NBA skill set.
SF, Kansas State
Wade’s perimeter defense is a rare find in this class, and he’s a decent shooter, too. With development, he could be a solid find later in the draft.
Hachimura is a skilled rebounder and wows with his athleticism, and is getting lottery hype. But he’s also perhaps the worst positional defender among this year’s upperclassmen prospects, which significantly hinders his upside.
Roby projects as a weakside rim protector and pick-and-pop big with some handling ability. He’s one of the few second round prospects with star upside this year if he can refine his game further.
Two players where reputation is preceding actual results in terms of defensive play. Hachimura and Roby don’t inspire a lot of confidence on that end, which is why they continue to be much lower on this board than on many others.
PG, St. Johns
Ponds has established himself as an elite shooter, but questions about his finishing ability linger over his draft stock.
SG, Iowa State
Horton-Tucker’s massive 7-foot wingspan makes him an intriguing defensive prospect, and his offensive game may eventually reach an NBA level as well.
SG, Georgia State
Simonds is one of the better athletes in college basketball, and shows some potential as a secondary creator. He’s a dark horse lottery talent if he improves as a shooter.
Unsustainable three point shooting aside, Washington’s profile hasn’t changed much from last year – a playmaking four who struggles with decision making and isn’t a quality defender.
PF, Wake Forest
Hoard is a difficult player to evaluate. On one hand, he has some strong switching potential on defense and is a solid passer. On the other, he fails in some fundamental skill assessments, particularly finishing.
Grimes has athletic talent, but doesn’t appear to have the foundation to put it to use. Can he show enough skill at Kansas, or will NBA teams be drafting more for potential?
Recruiting rankings aren’t always reliable. Both of Hoard and Grimes will likely declare, but it’s questionable whether either should.
SF, New Balance
Bazley wasn’t super promising before he decided to forego college and train for the draft. Now, he’s the draft’s biggest mystery, both in terms of development and how teams rate him.
Jerome has proven to be a great off-ball shooter and defender, but he needs more on ball skill to survive at his size in the NBA.
Rackocevic is a good finisher and rebounder, and probably has some value as a bench big if there’s a spot for him in the league.
SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Zoosman thrilled at the U20 European Championships, and has been strong for Maccabi Tel Aviv early on. He’s older, but could some day be an NBA level defender at the three.
Wilkes is interesting due to his scoring potential at the three, but needs significant athletic development to make the NBA.
Dosunmo has been promising on defense, but his raw offensive performance likely indicates he’s not ready yet.
SG, FMP Beograd
Paunovic shows some interesting playmaking talent from the two and is extremely young. How he develops as a secondary pick-and-roll threat will be interesting this season.
Just like Ponds, Edwards is a solid college scorer who doesn’t really feel like he will translate well to the NBA level without significant strength addition.
It’s cliche, but feel for the game is Oni’s avenue into the NBA Draft. Coupled with his frame, there’s a good case that he’s a bench four at the NBA level, or at least a dominant Euroleague four.
C, Western Kentucky
Bassey is essentially mini-Bol: He wows with his rim protection and efficiency at times, but most of the time looks extremely raw.
The best off-movement shooter in college basketball, Magee has flashed enough skill to make you believe that he can survive as an NBA rotation player.
Much like Paunovic, Pecarski has been impressive in youth competitions and shows an NBA skill set, but hasn’t been able to show it in limited minutes.
Martin is a skilled shooter despite a funky release, and he projects to be a strong slasher as well.
PF, Mississippi State
Holman’s rebounding makes him a nice prospect by itself, and he shows enough versatility to hint at becoming more.
Morgan’s efficiency as a scorer is exciting, and he shows good toughness on defense despite being undersized.