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The Step Back 2019 NBA Draft Big Board: Pre-Combine Edition

With the 2019 NBA Draft Combine coming up, it’s time to recalibrate our big board once again now that we know the full draft entry list.

Figuring out what to value in the 2019 NBA Draft class has been more difficult than it has been in past years. Most years follow a pretty typical pattern — one or two possible franchise-changers at the top, then a group of likely quality starters, with some players perceived as “home run swings” that have a wide range of outcomes mixed in.

This year, however, is complicated. There’s a probable franchise-changer at the top in Zion Williamson, but it can be argued that the draft is missing the “likely quality starter” tier entirely, as the next group of prospects all feature obvious flaws that could keep them from being even passable NBA starters, much less being worth selection at the top of the draft. Couple that with there being a large divide on how some prospects are perceived — some draft analysts have Darius Garland and Cam Reddish in their top five, while others don’t even have them top-20, for example — and it makes for a very risky draft that is highly likely to turn out like 2013, where the best three players were all arguably selected outside of the top eight picks.

That makes the job of projecting which players will be those that are impact players at the next level difficult. This year feels like a class where the outcomes are going to be more dependent on situational fit than they usually are. If a player like De’Andre Hunter goes to a team that is going to value him in a complementary role, he’s much more likely to succeed than if he goes to a team that is going to expect immediate growth as an on-ball scorer and impact team defender. This is always the case for draft prospects, of course. But the degree to which this matters this year is going to be severe compared to a class like 2018, which featured several players who had a high likelihood of being good in most team contexts. Outside of Zion, that doesn’t exist this year.

Essentially, that means safety is a big factor for my projections of the 2019 draft class. Now, no prospect is safe, as we’ve seen over two years of Markelle Fultz’s career. But trying to play the odds and determine who are the most likely players to give a good return on investment at the top of the draft is what seems like the best strategy this year. Every prospect has their problems, but some problems matter less than others and are more likely to be overcome by development and the rest of a player’s skill set. That means valuing decision-making and consistency; forgiving shooting issues that seem correctable, and betting on the combination of athleticism and awareness above players who are only set up well in one regard or the other.

We’re heading straight into draft workout season, where players with athleticism, competitiveness, and elite one-on-one skill play show out. This is a dangerous time for NBA teams, who may miss the forest for the trees in these settings that completely strip out team skills that are arguably more important to winning at the NBA level. A player like Grant Williams will probably look unfavorable next to a player like Nassir Little, even though Williams probably has a much higher likelihood of being a valuable NBA player because of what he does in a five-on-five setting. With that in mind, here are our updated big board rankings, which value safety and team impact over the supposed “All-Star potential” of some of the names who will probably dominate th3 next few weeks.

Tier 1 — Potential franchise-changing talent

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.

The workout season is going to be really interesting for Williamson, who has almost been lost since Duke’s exit from the NCAA Tournament because he already comfortably has the number one crown. There have been rumors about teams potentially taking Ja Morant number one, which would be rather shocking, but if Zion participates at the Draft Combine, just getting his vertical leap numbers should be enough to remind everyone why he’s been in this spot since December.

Tier 2 — High likelihood starters

The goal posts have moved for this tier as the season has gone on, and now I’m ranking these three ahead of the pack due to my reasonable confidence that they are going to be rotation players at the next level.

R.J. Barrett

SF, Duke

Barrett didn’t look 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.

Jarrett Culver

SF, Texas Tech

Culver has some exciting playmaking skills and potential scoring upside. His finishing ability and defensive utility should earn him an easy rotation spot, giving him one of the highest floors in the class. For more on Culver, click here

Jackson Frank’s breakdown of Culver (linked above) is a strong argument for having Culver number two, but I’m still holding off due to Barrett having a much easier path to approximating a primary initiator. Culver’s defense has a chance to be special, but his offensive game is probably more scheme-dependent than it’s getting credit for. Barrett feels slightly safer at number two at this point with the expectation that he puts on more strength because there’s still a chance that Culver doesn’t produce enough offensively to earn heavy minutes.

Coby White


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.

The more I have watched White this year, the more sold I am that he’s a starter-level player. He has the best shot of being an acceptable to good scorer at all three levels, and his transition and pick-and-roll passing is very strong. He’s also by far the only good defensive prospect of the three point guards at the top of the draft. He’s not as sexy as Ja Morant or Darius Garland, but I’m far more confident in White growing into a starting guard role than I am about the other two. Even if he’s just a Darren Collison variant, that may be the best that you’re getting this year at the 1 (Get your primary initiators in 2020, because Cole Anthony, Anthony Edwards, R.J. Hampton, and Nico Mannion would all probably be the top guard in this class).

Tier 3 — High-variance prospects with upside

This is a huge tier, and it spans a lot of different definitions of the tier title — from star potential home run swings like Bol Bol and Ja Morant to guys with thin slivers of potential and large red flags like Cam Reddish and Jontay Porter. This group of prospects will define the strength of the class — how many of these poor college performers and atypical skill sets will pan out? A few will, but not all of them.

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.

Bol has a large margin for error based on his length and shooting. At a minimum, he should be a situational big that can pick and pop, and defensively he’s going to be able to block shots, even if he’s not an impactful rim protector overall. At his best, he’s probably going to need to be played as a wing on offense and as a 4 in a drop pick-and-roll scheme or zone coverage. His ceiling is largely situation-dependent, but he’ll at least hang around the league for a long time because of the enticing skill set and size. Health is probably the most concerning thing with Bol.

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. For more on Morant, click here.

De’Andre 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 one-on-one defender, and he’s developing as an off-ball scorer as well. For more on Hunter, click here.

Hunter would rank fifth if I wasn’t concerned that a team might overdraft him and pin outlandish offensive expectations on him. He’s a player where I’m almost more comfortable ranking him higher on my board if he gets picked later in the draft.

Jaxson Hayes

C, Texas

A high energy big with good rim protection skills and vertical spacing on offense, Hayes looks promising even if he didn’t earn big minutes. For more on Hayes, 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. For more on Clarke, click here.

Clarke is the more likely player to have an impact right away thanks to his rim protection and finishing, but Hayes is one of the youngest players in the class and can already approximate much of what Clarke is good at. While Clarke himself does have some latent upside because of his shooting rebuild, it’s reasonable to assume that Hayes is going to be the better prospect in the long term.

Darius Garland

PG, Vanderbilt

Garland missed all but 5 games with a meniscus injury, but he could be the best point guard in the class despite his size. For more on Garland, click here.

Watching more Garland lately, it’s striking how little impact his scoring had on Vanderbilt’s overall performance. An undersized scoring guard who isn’t an elite passer like Morant is a tough proposition, and Garland is probably going to need to be a good defender to survive. We just don’t know if his positive splashes were real and can be consistent at the next level.

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.

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.

Even though Reddish looks like a complete offensive zero if he can’t dribble, his defensive potential is much better than he gets credit for. I’m not completely giving up on him because he could reinvent himself into a hard-nosed defensive wing if he buys in at the NBA level.

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.

Nassir Little


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.

Washington and Little look like they’ll be most successful if they swap their college positions in the NBA. Put Little at the 4 and Washington at the 3 and their skill sets might fit better. Again, team development fit is going to be huge for these two.

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.

Jontay Porter

C, Missouri

Porter’s skill set is incredibly valuable for the NBA, but a retear of his ACL reconstruction throws everything into doubt. He’s still a firm first round prospect if he can get healthy. For more on Porter, click here.

Healthy Jontay is a Tier 2 player. If he can get back, he’s going to make someone very happy. But that’s a big if.

Tier 4 — Low-ceiling prospects with projectable skill sets

This group is probably headed for bench roles or part-time starting jobs, but it’s easy to see how they could translate into those positions.

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.

Alexander-Walker should reliably become a secondary pick-and-roll scorer that can run bench unit offense. That’s a valuable position to be able to play.

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.

A pick-and-pop big who can defend in space and pass. He’s probably too slow to ever get starter-level minutes on a good team, but he’s probably the best center option in the class outside of Clarke and Hayes.

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.

I have no concerns about Thybulle’s man-to-man defense, mostly because expected growth is a thing and assessing where a player was as a sophomore versus where they are as a senior is pretty unhelpful. Thybulle may thrive best in a zone, but his skills certainly lend to being a good help defender at the NBA level. If he can do anything on offense, he’s a lock to be a rotation player that helps a team’s defense.

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.

Doumbouya may look out of place in this group, but I’m reasonably confident he’s going to be a useful defender and cutter, and if his shot mechanics can become at least passable, he’s a 3-and-D wing in a few years.

Tier 5 — Complete wild cards

Tier 3 will make this draft. How many of those players with question marks but a lot of talent end up hitting will be the difference between this being the 2016 draft, and the 2013 draft. Tier 5, however, will be the one that breaks the draft. Every player in this tier has major question marks that could knock them out of the league before their rookie contracts are up, and certain members here might be in the conversation for lottery picks. While there are players who figure to be valuable role players based on their archetype — Cam Johnson and Yovel Zoosman, for instance – it’s hard to really feel confident in how any of these players will project to the next level.

Kevin Porter Jr


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

Porter Jr. and Johnson are two of the three biggest red flag players in this draft for me. I have them up here because they do have talent, and there’s a chance that their situations were bad fits in college like appears to be the case with Nassir Little. But Porter showed minimal value outside of a good step back jumper and transition offense at USC, and Johnson arguably showed even less. It’s likely going to take time and a very good culture fit to get value out of either of these guys.

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. For more on Davis, click here.

Davis looked like the best player at the Portsmouth Invitational, and is the right mix of skilled, athletic, and intensely competitive to bet on at the next level. The question for him is if that competitiveness will help him or limit his chances to fit into a cohesive team construct at the NBA level.

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.

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.

One of the biggest risers on this update thanks to a realization that I shouldn’t penalize Horton-Tucker for having a high ceiling but low likelihood of reaching it when players like Porter and Reddish are around my top 20. I’m still not buying Horton-Tucker offensively despite his flashes of playmaking brilliance, but I think that with time he looks like he will be a very good NBA defender in the right situation.

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.

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.

Zoosman has the more practical NBA skill set, but Brazdeikis is slightly more fluid and has better touch. Neither player has much upside beyond being a situational wing, but both players should be among the safer options at this point in the draft.

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.

Would be in Tier 4 if he hadn’t spent most of the year on autopilot. The pre-draft process will likely be massive for him to recuperate some stock.

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.

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.

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.

Cam Johnson


A solid shooter and off-ball defender, Johnson looks like a rotation player if his athleticism can translate to the NBA level.

Johnson’s shooting gets a lot of credit for his late-first round stock, but he’s still not a very impressive athlete, and that may limit him from a defensive perspective. The combine is going to be big for him.

Tier 6 — Everyone else

Names are mostly interchangeable here after about 35 or so.

Shamorie Ponds

PG, St. Johns

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

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..

Chuma Okeke

PF, Auburn

Okeke had a massive end to the season before tearing his ACL in the NCAA tournament. He’s a terrific defender and athlete, and even with the ACL tear, should be in the mix for a first round pick.

K.Z. Okpala

PF, 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 will benefit from being 6-foot-9 and moving like a perimeter player, but he probably will not end up being worth the first-round pick he’s probably going to get because he doesn’t exactly have a functional skill set.

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.

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.

Naz Reid


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

Eric Paschall

PF, Villanova

Paschall’s three-point shooting is a genuine plus, and he does a lot of things well, but the question is if he does anything else at an NBA level.

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.

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.

The second round is full of big men who have theoretically good skill sets or athleticism but are missing the other part of the equation. Reid can’t really move, Paschall doesn’t have any ball skills, Hachimura ia a sieve on defense, and Roby is plagued with inconsistency. Give me Reid of this crop because he has the best offensive skill set and anticipation, but no one here is particularly enticing.

Dylan Windler

SF, Belmont

A terrific shooter who plays bigger than his size, Windler is a nice upside play for a team looking for a bench shooting wing.

Dean Wade

PF, 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.

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?

Tillie got hurt in his first workout of the year with Atlanta. His medical file comes with its own alarm bells, which is sad because he’s a first-round level prospect.

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. For more on Magee, click here.

Myles Powell

PG, Seton Hall

Powell’s shooting sets the table, but he’s a surprisingly good passer and finisher at the one as well. He is an interesting upside play late in the draft if he can hone his decision-making.

Powell gives you everything Carsen Edwards does — off-the-dribble shooting, solid to good creation, and he’s a better finisher and on-ball defender than Edwards — but Edwards is probably going in the first round while Powell might go undrafted. Powell is a great potential positive value late in the draft.

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.

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.

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.

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.

DaQuan Jeffries

SF, Tulsa

A future dunk contest participant and athletic freak, Jeffries plays hard and has enough ball skills to bet on. His touch needs to improve, but he likely earned a draft spot with his Portsmouth Invitational performance. For more on Jeffries, click here.

I’m not as high on Jeffries as many are after his Portsmouth break out, but he’s definitely worth a draft pick, even if that just gets him into the 2020 NBA Dunk Contest. Which he should enter, and will probably win.

Amir Hinton

SG, Shaw

Hinton played in Division II and was phenomenal, so much that he’s on draft radars. His finishing and athletic scoring prowess make him a huge wild card.

I’m in on Hinton being worth a draft pick, even if he just ends up being a high-level G-League scorer. He has real NBA finishing skill and is worth a deeper look as he transitions into being a bit 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.

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.

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.

Chris Clemons

PG, Campbell

Clemons, like Isaiah Thomas and Kay Felder before him, makes up for his 5-foot-9 frame with incredible scoring ability. The difference is that Clemons is probably the best shooter of the three.

Tyler Herro

SG, Kentucky

Herro can shoot it and improved drastically as a defender this year, but it’s worrisome how rarely he got to the rim.

Herro’s inability to get to the rim is a massive problem, and he’s not the level of shooter that guys like Kevin Huerter and even Cam Johnson this year are. I do not understand the love for him in the slightest.

Desmond Bane


A strong defensive wing, Bane has enough raw skills to get noticed. If he can develop any offensive skills, he has a shot.

William McDowell-White

SG, Baunach

An Australian combo guard, McDowell-White has flashy ball skills and athleticism, and should draw eyes in the pre-draft process thanks to his advancements as a playmaker.

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