NBA, NBA Draft

The Step Back 2019 NBA Draft Big Board: March Update

With March Madness rolling around, it’s time to take stock of which 2019 NBA Draft prospects to watch as we head into the NCAA Tournament.

Tier 1 – Potential Franchise-Changer

Zion Williamson

PF, Duke

Williamson is an athletic freak with a rare combination of ball-handling skill and size. He’s a little short to play the four, but he should be a comfortable driving scorer at the NBA level. For more on Williamson, click here.

Duke’s struggles to field a competent offense sans Zion with two other top-3 recruits is yet another bullet point in the long list of reasons there shouldn’t be debate about the top overall pick. Injury shouldn’t be a factor, both because it’s not severe or risk-causing, and because injury in this drat should not be a disqualifier, as you’ll see below.

 

Tier 2 – Solid franchise building blocks with slim star potential

R.J. Barrett

SF, Duke

Barrett hasn’t looked the best at Duke, but it’s hard to ignore how easily scoring comes to him. When paired with his high school tape, it paints the picture of a future star. For more on Barrett, click here.

Barrett has moved into his own tier, not because of his own superiority to Jarrett Culver, but due to Culver’s struggles in conference play. Culver is still a much safer bet as a defensive prospect, and likely as a cutter and decision-maker; but if he doesn’t shoot, he’s not a creation prospect, and conference play has cast doubt on that upside being there. He has shot just 21.7 percent from three, and his two-point field goal percentage has also dipped to 51.8 percent, a poor indicator of shooting given he’s still  finishing at a strong rate. In a vacuum, I still would probably be more comfortable with projecting Culver as a positive rotation player in three years – but Barrett is probably still the only other guy with the traditional upside you want in a top-three pick besides Zion.

Tier 3 – Home run swings and likely solid role players

Jarrett Culver

SG, Texas Tech

Culver has some exciting playmaking skills and is having a breakout year. His finishing ability and defensive utility should earn him an easy rotation spot, giving him one of the highest floors in the class.

Jontay Porter

C, Missouri

Porter will miss the year with an ACL tear, but he should be ready for the start of next season and his value wasn’t predicated on athleticism anyway. He has the best feel for the game in the class and seems like a lock to become a solid pick-and-pop big. For more on Porter, click here.

Coby White

PG, UNC

A great open-court scorer with high level shooting potential, White can be erratic, but has star potential if he can reign his high-octane game in. For more on White, click here.

One of the features of this draft is the wide array of interpretations of draft stock outside of the top two or three players. Analytics guys have their favorites, like Jontay Porter; Eye Testers have their set of favorites, like Ja Morant; and NBA teams are all over the map in between. So seeing the guys that our Brendon Kleen has going 18th and 16th, respectively, in his latest mock draft up this high on our big board shouldn’t be a huge shock, and the disparity shouldn’t delegitimize either exercise. We are going to see huge differences in where players are drafted relative to where scouts rate them in a vacuum, far bigger than in previous years.

So why put Porter and White this high, over more palatable top-10 prospects at their positions in Bol Bol and Ja Morant? For Porter, I trust that his injury will be less likely to have long-term impact on his health than Bol’s. While ACLs are scary, players return from them more reliably than from stress injuries in the feet, especially when long-term durability was already a question for Bol. I also see Porter’s game translating to a more traditional NBA role – smart team defenders at the five that can finish, shoot, and pass don’t come along very often, and despite Porter’s lack of athleticism, he fills almost every box you want from a modern center outside of rim-running and quick-twitch shot blocking. White, meanwhile, isn’t the athlete or finisher Morant is at the college level, but he should be better at both early on in the NBA thanks to his size and ability to control his momentum. White’s also a criminally underrated defender, allowing him to potentially play the two to a degree that isn’t likely from the rest of the lottery-level point guards. I feel most confident about White and Porter being the rotations players at their positions in the class, and that confidence is what I value in this class.

Bol Bol

C, Oregon

On some possessions, Bol looks like the best player in the draft. On others, he looks like he doesn’t belong on the floor in a Power 5 conference. With Bol out for the year with a foot injury, the Combine is very important for him. For more on Bol, click here.

Darius Garland

PG, Vanderbilt

Garland will miss the rest of the year with a meniscus injury, but he could be the best point guard in the class despite his size. For more on Garland, click here.

Ja Morant

PG, Murray State

Morant has an interesting profile as an offensive player, and he appears to be taking the next step as a decision-maker. He’s getting hyped as a top-3 pick, but he needs significant development.

I ranked Dennis Smith Jr. third on my final 2017 Big Board, and while I don’t think that he’s cooked by any means as an NBA prospect, he’s been a foundational player for my draft philosophy, which is why I hesitate to value Morant highly. Explosive point guards that are low on functional skill, are iffy shooters, and who struggle with control of the situation are guys who have much longer development curves than players like Lonzo Ball or Trae Young whose games are predicated on handle, shooting, and feel. It takes longer to become Russell Westbrook than it does to become Kyrie Irving, and it certainly takes more patience to do so. The floor is also lower — a guy like Ball can still be a potentially valuable rotation player even if he can’t shoot at all, while a guy in Morant’s mold that doesn’t click as an NBA decision-maker becomes Brandon Jennings.

Morant is getting all of the love right now, very likely only because Garland is not playing. Garland’s skill set is going to have a much easier time translating into probable value on a rookie deal, though, and that’s why I have him higher.

Jaxson Hayes

C, Texas

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. For more on Hayes, click here.

Cameron Reddish

SG, Duke

Reddish has the tools to potentially be elite on high volume from three, but his finishing and shot selection are extremely worrying. His defensive progression shown at Duke is the most promising aspect of his play at Duke. For more on Reddish, click here.

The list of players who have been drafted since 2011 that shot under 41 percent on two-point field goals with a BPM over 2.0 at any point in college, as Reddish has this year:

Jerian Grant, Isaiah Cousins, Michael Gbinije, Devon Hall, Russ Smith, Isaiah Whitehead, Tony Carr, Devonte’ Graham, Tyler Ulis, Spencer Dinwiddie, Andrew Harrison, P.J. Hairston, Sindarius Thornwell, Malachi Richardson, Xavier Thames, Marcus Paige, Aaron Holiday, Kim English

The best player on this list is Dinwiddie, who made monumental improvement after doing this in his freshman year; the second-best is Seth Curry, who went undrafted; the third is probably Thornwell, who is probably the closest player to Reddish in terms of skill set and frame. Reddish’s defense and spot-up shooting from three are good enough to have him up here, but this is not very inspiring.

DeAndre Hunter

PF, Virginia

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. For more on Hunter, click here.

Nassir Little

SF, UNC

Little’s defense and creation ability have been disappointing, but it’s tough to ignore how strong of a scorer he is, even in limited minutes. For more on Little, click here.

Brandon Clarke

PF, Gonzaga

Clarke has proved himself early as a scorer and rim protector, and is another member of what looks like an incredibly deep wing class.

Tier 4 – Players who are justifiably lottery options

Romeo Langford

SG, Indiana

Langford’s shooting has been a nightmare, but he’s been solid everywhere else. If the jumper gets going, he can definitely be a lottery pick. For more on Langford, click here.

Another player I’m outside the consensus on. Langford has talent, but he’s far too passive for me to buy that he’s a true threat to turn into a creation option in the NBA, and the shooting question looms.

Grant Williams

SF, Tennessee

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.

P.J. Washington

SF/PF, Kentucky

It’s easy to get distracted by Washington’s post touches and defensive shortcomings, but he has the skills to be a solid complimentary wing at the NBA level. For more on Washington, click here.

Washington’s nuclear February helped to redefine who he can be as a player at the NBA level. Both he and Williams are NBA wing/four hybrids masquerading as college big men.

Tre Jones

PG, Duke

Jones is getting overshadowed at Duke, but he’s the best passer in the freshman class and has similar defensive skill to his brother, current Timberwolf Tyus. For more on Jones, click here.

Kevin Porter Jr

SG, USC

Porter’s athleticism and isolation scoring have intrigued many draft scouts, but his lack of production as an initiator is concerning.

Sekou Doumbouya

PF, Limoges

Doumbouya is an athletic energy big who is showing development as a ball-handler for Limoges in Eurocup. Since coming back from injury, he has been more aggressive, which is good to see.

Back from injury, Doumbouya has shown positive strides in terms of aggression and shooting mechanics. He could really be a riser late in the process if he continues to put things together.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker

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.

Goga Bitadze

C, Buducnost

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. For more on Bitadze, click here.

Keldon Johnson

SF, Kentucky

Johnson has shown flashes of a variety of offensive skills, and has the size and athleticism to be a strong two-way complimentary wing. He needs to improve his consistency to truly belong in the elite of the class, however. For more on Johnson, click here.

It’s hard to see how anonymous Johnson is on both ends for the Wildcats and envision him as a real lottery prospect. He disappears from games for long stretches, and has minimal creation responsibility. He, like Reddish, is almost purely theoretical as a prospect, and those players are incredibly dangerous.

Matisse Thybulle

SG, Washington

Another member of the deep role-playing wing class, Thybulle is a havoc play machine that’s a major disruptor despite playing 2-3 zone. Everything points to him being a solid defensive wing in the NBA.

Tier 5 – First round level prospects

Shamorie Ponds

PG, St. Johns

Ponds has established himself as an elite shooter, but questions about his finishing ability linger over his draft stock.

Neemias Queta

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.

Hopefully Queta’s 13-point, 11-rebound effort in Utah State’s upset of Nevada was a coming out party for his NBA stock. He’s improved throughout the season and might have one of the higher defensive ceilings of any big in the class. I’m mentally prepared for him to not even test the waters, but he absolutely should.

Ignas Brazdeikis

SF, Michigan

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.

Josh Reaves

SG, Penn State

A pit bull defender who continues to progress as a three-point shooter, Reaves has a lot of potential value as a floor spacer that can defend at the point of attack. For more on Reaves, click here.

Yovel Zoosman

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.

Naz Reid

PF, LSU

An athletic four with ball-handling skill and great footwork, Reid needs to prove defensive viability to survive at the next level.

There are several players in this class with one glaring weakness that annoys me. I wish Darius Garland was 6-foot-4. I wish Cam Reddish could finish. I wish Romeo Langford could shoot. And I really, really wish Naz Reid wasn’t incredibly stiff, because he plays like a smooth, fluid face-up four, but just doesn’t have the quickness to reliably project to the next level.

Deivydas Sirvidis

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.

Devon Dotson

PG, Kansas

Dotson’s playmaking in the open court is excellent, and he has potential as a defender despite his size. For more on Dotson, click here..

Daniel Gafford

C, Arkansas

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. However, his effort level this year has been dismal.

K.Z. Okpala

SF, Stanford

Okpala has good athleticism and is scoring with good numbers. He’s not quick, but could be a strong bench four in the NBA..

Okpala gets a lot of buzz because of his offensive upside and size, but doesn’t have the quickness or shake to have his driving game translate. That’s why I have him and Washington flipped compared to the consensus. Athletically, I just don’t buy Okpala=in the same way I do Washington.

Nick Claxton

PF, Georgia

Claxton has an impressive package of raw traits: Length, agility, passing vision, finishing, and shooting. With development he has a shot to be a steal in this area of the draft.

Terence Davis

SF, Ole Miss

Davis is a solid off-movement shooter and on-ball defender at the three. Improved off-ball defense will be his ticket to sticking at the NBA level.

Davis has flown under the radar as a toolsy wing with some shot-creation and on-ball defensive equity. There are plenty of guys like that in this draft, but few have the flexibility and strength combination he does.

Charles Bassey

C, Western Kentucky

Bassey is essentially mini-Bol: He wows with his rebounding and efficiency at times, but most of the time looks extremely raw.

Bassey has looked like a real prospect in recent weeks. Given that he’s absolutely declaring for the draft after this year, that seems ideal.

Dean Wade

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.

Another foot injury drives Wade down a bit here, even though he’s looked decent when he has played this season.

Talen Horton-Tucker

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.

Jon Teske

C, Michigan

Teske is one of the best defenders in college basketball. It may not translate, but he has good hands on offense and has proven to be switchable.

Tier 6 – The rest

Ayo Dosunmo

PG, Illinois

Dosunmo has been promising on defense, but his raw offensive performance likely indicates he’s not ready yet.

Aric Holman

PF, Mississippi State

Holman’s rebounding makes him a nice prospect by itself, and he shows enough versatility to hint at becoming more.

Rui Hachimura

PF, Gonzaga

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.

Holman approximates much of the value Hachimura will provide on offense in the NBA, and actually provides real rim protection strength and the potential to guard pick-and-rolls competently. Yet Hachimura is getting lottery hype, while Holman barely scratches the top of the second round on mainstream boards.

Isaiah Roby

PF, Nebraska

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.

Jordan Poole

SG, Michigan

Poole is a creative guard with a strong reputation as a shooter. He needs to improve consistency and decision making to stick.

Louis King

PF, Oregon

King doesn’t look healthy yet, but he looks like a solid shooter, and should be able to become a decent defender at the four eventually.

Killian Tillie

PF, Gonzaga

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?

The stress injury penalty strikes again. Tillie’s game is fantastic, but he probably needs to get healthy and might even need another year at Gonzaga to prove himself draftable.

D’Marcus Simonds

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.

Luguentz Dort

SG, Arizona State

Dort’s cooled off after a hot start to the year. His fluidity around the rim and raw decision-making prowess are nice, but he needs a complete overhaul on his shot to survive.

Simonds and Dort, the “Athletic wing with creation upside that absolutely cannot shoot or care consistently” tier.

James Dickey

PF, UNC Greensboro

Dickey is the lynchpin to one of the midmajor world’s best defenses, and is a threat to be an NBA switch defender. He’s a complete zero on offense, though.

Ty Jerome

SG, Virginia

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.

Fletcher Magee

SG, Wofford

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.

Admiral Schofield

PF, Tennessee

Schofield’s combination of physicality and agility make him a very strong defensive prospect, and his passing improvement makes him an enticing development project.

A small part of ranking Magee and Schofield together is just to put the two polar opposites of the NBA body type spectrum next to each other.

Bruno Fernando

C, Maryland

Fernando has a great NBA body, flashes as a passer, and presence as a shot-blocker. But he’s older and still raw as a decision-maker, which is a tough sell.

Darius Bazley

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.

We’re only two months out from actually getting a chance to see the NBA’s favorite social media intern on a basketball court.

Xavier Johnson

PG, Pittsburgh

Johnson is a tall point guard with a lot of enticing potential, but he’s incredibly raw.

Nikola Rackocevic

C, USC

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.

Miye Oni

PF, Yale

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.

Mfiondu Kabengele

PF, Florida State

Kabengele is raw like many in this second round, but his energy and strength set his baseline as a bench energy guy with the potential for skill development.

Jeremiah Martin

SG, Memphis

Martin registers high on several statistical indicators of draft success. He’s an undersized scorer, but his combination of defensive impact and volume scoring makes him an interesting project.

Players with a 59 percent true shooting rate, 2.0 steal rate, six free throw attempts per game, and a defensive box plus/minus over 2.0: Zion Williamson, Grant Williams, Noah Dickerson of Washington, and Jeremiah Martin of Memphis. Those are some simple statistical benchmarks of success, and areas Williams and Williamson dominate Dickerson fails the eye test, and then there’s Martin, who is notable as a 6-foot-3 guard among a bunch of bigs. Why not take a flier on this athletic scoring guard who makes a ton of impact on the floor?

Luka Samanic

PF, Olimpija Ljubljana

Samanic has re-emerged as a viable draft-and-stash option with improved passing decision-making. He’s thin for a stretch four, but is a nice long-term project.

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