Team Context is incredibly important for the success or failure of draft prospects, so here is our re-ranked 2019 NBA Draft big board, accounting for who will have the best opportunities to maximize their potential.
Big boards are easy ways for draft scouts and writers to convey their thoughts on a draft class. It’s a summary of the author’s philosophy as well as a way to show comparisons between similar prospects and to present a variety of thoughts on prospects in an easily digestible manner. As reductive and over-simplified as some can be, they remain the most effective way to communicate a large amount of information about a draft class in a concise, easy-to-read format, if done correctly.
However, the biggest problem with a big board is that they are written without the context of the opportunities each player will get at the next level. The draft comes with an inherent range of outcomes for each player, and certain situations are more likely to get players to develop closer to their ceiling than others. Big boards can’t do that because they obviously come before the draft, and while ranking prospects in a vacuum can be useful for determining who is worth a certain draft slot, that context of how a player fits within their franchise’s roster and long-term plans, and the resources they can and will commit to them, ultimately is what determines what allows a player to succeed or fail.
For example, there may feel like there is a world of difference between Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker, picked one selection apart in the 2011 NBA Draft. But truthfully, a lot of the reasons Knight is on the edge of the league and Walker is one of this offseason’s most attractive free agents boils down to how the Pistons and Hornets, respectively, used their young point guards in their first few years in the league.
Since team context drives a lot of what will end up happening to the 2019 NBA Draft class, it’s important for us to consider that as well. We released our final big board prior to the draft, but since last Thursday, some of those rankings have changed as we start to consider team fit. For instance, Cameron Reddish of Duke might look a little better than we initially thought now that he’s playing in an ideal spacing situation in Atlanta, and he deserves to be ranked higher than 12th in the class. Meanwhile, Jontay Porter, who we ranked 16th, is still unsigned, likely meaning that he doesn’t have a realistic shot of ever playing a minute in the NBA. That definitely matters, given that 16th ranking was contingent on him getting an opportunity to rehab his injuries and attempt a comeback.
With these things in mind, we’re re-releasing our big board, adapted to consider team fit in addition to a player’s talent and expected outcomes. The rankings won’t change much, but certain situations are much better than others. This is also not an attempt to just hedge our bets against the actual draft results. Yes, we had Tyler Herro in the 50s, and he went in the lottery. But that does not mean that he is automatically going to be a top-15 prospect below, because there are still significant concerns about his ability to perform in any capacity at an NBA level, much less on a Heat team that will rely on him heavily as a shooter.
Instead, think of this as another data point on the path to projecting players forward, similar to everything we saw leading up to this point. Team context is just as important as combine measurements, any college statistic, or interviews and private workouts in the determination of a player’s ultimate outcome. It determines the chances that a player will get early on; it determines what a player’s development will focus on, and how much focus will be placed on that player’s development at all, and it likely sets the tone for how a player is likely to be perceived throughout their rookie contract. Two players may be in the same pre-draft tier, but their opportunities may be completely different.
When we did this exercise last year, for instance, Mitchell Robinson was ranked in our fifth tier – below players like Lonnie Walker, Jacob Evans, and Dzanan Musa — but has clearly been able to outclass those players so far. Could that have been entirely because of Robinson’s unique situation clouding our ability to better project him, causing us to miss on him? Perhaps. But is it likely that his opportunity to be a shot-blocking berserker on a bad team without a clear defensive ecosystem played to Robinson’s biggest strengths? Absolutely. Robinson probably doesn’t get that same opportunity on many other teams, just like Musa probably wouldn’t spend the entire year in the G-League in every situation. Robinson has proven to be the best player of his tier so far, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he would have done the same if he had been picked one pick earlier.
With that said, let’s re-assess where each drafted player ranks now that we know what team they will start their careers on.
Tier 1 — Star potential, high likelihood
One thing that didn’t change in the 2019 NBA Draft: Zion Williamson still being the clear number one prospect on the board. If anything, the distance between Williamson and the rest of the field extended on draft night, as the Pelicans turned the No. 4 overall pick into three later picks in the draft and surrounded him with what should be one of the league’s more fun fastbreak teams. Zion is the only definite franchise building block on the board.
Tier 2 — Probable starters, Low likelihood of star potential
SF Texas Tech
PG Murray State
Going off tier labels from last year, there is no second tier this year — even the supposed star potential of Barrett and Morant is not at the level that Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley appeared to be at last year. Instead, we have a four-man second tier that’s on a lower level, with Morant and White joining Barrett and Culver thanks to their situations. like Williamson, Morant was definitely helped by the moves made by Memphis this past week, even after losing a very obvious mentor in Mike Conley, because he now has two terrifying defensive bigs behind him that couple as excellent pic and roll partners. Nothing is better for a young point guard learning halfcourt game management than versatile, efficient big men, and Morant definitely has that now.
White, meanwhile, now gets to play as a fifth banana on a team with a good core of young talent, an optimal situation for his skill set. More than anything the Bulls need a competent ball-handler to initiate their offense and make good decisions, and White definitely appears to be just that. He definitely has lower potential for stardom than the rest of the tier, but his fit in Chicago lends to the idea that he’s going to comfortably settle in as a starter-level player of value for some time.
Tier 3 — Probably rotation players
SG Virginia Tech
This tier is guys I expect to be in an NBA rotation at the end of their rookie contract. They are ranked in terms of likelihood of that baseline being met.
Clarke drops a tier due to him falling to 21 and having to compete with Jaren Jackson Jr. for playing time, but he’s by far the best prospect in this tier, and is very likely to contribute in a meaningful way for Memphis over the next few years. Alexander-Walker, meanwhile, moves up a tier, thanks to what should be an ideal fit early on as the third guard in a backcourt with Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans aren’t going to ask Alexander-Walker to be a primary ball-handler, which is good, and they should have the defensive system necessary to make use of his length and potential switchability next to two other tall guards.
Cam Reddish moves up a few spots here due to his fit in Atlanta, where there is all of the spacing in the world to help him develop as a driver and shooter. It’s a lot easier to imagine him developing into something very useful on what looks like one of the NBA’s best young development situations. He basically flips spots with Hayes, who is going to have to overcome what could be a poor offensive fit with Williamson and gain significant strength to have a good shot to be more than a bit player.
Goga Bitadze demonstrates the limitations of this type of exercise, and how fluid these situations can be. Currently, he may not have much opportunity to play right away behind Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis at the 5, which could be beneficial but creates a limitation of what he’s going to be able to do in his first two years. But, the Pacers might now trade one of those two. Bitadze’s ranking may fluctuate greatly between now and August based on how free agency goes for the Pacers.
Tier 4 — Possible rotation players
SF Iowa State
These are players who have a decent chance at being rotation players, but have flaws or situational factors that could prevent them from getting there. Some, like Claxton and Little, are in good situations, but are limited by personal factors, like Claxton’s rim protection and Little’s off-ball instincts. Others, like Horton-Tucker in Los Angeles, are probably going to get limited opportunities due to their team’s current situation. For the most part, everyone here has a big question mark on the board that will likely prevent them from being a quality rotation player.
I don’t have high hopes for Cam Johnson in particular. In theory, he should be a useful shooter to place around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, but in practice, I’m not sure he’s ever a significant upgrade over Troy Daniels, and betting on anyone’s development in Phoenix is a bit of a risky proposition.
Tier 5 — Low-probability rotation pieces
PF Florida State
SF New Balance
PF Petrol Olimpija Ljubljana
These are players who have a small hope of being in the NBA past their rookie contracts.
Just because a player is a first round pick, doesn’t mean that player is going to make it. The first round picks in this tier will get plenty of opportunities based on their draft position, and their team contexts have varying levels of fits for them. In particular, I think Samanic has a better shot of being good in San Antonio than he would were he to have landed in, say, Cleveland. But I don’t trust any of them to develop into good enough pieces to stick. Hachimura, Herro, Samanic, Poole, and Bazley are here simply because they were first-rounders — it’s hard to buy any of them lasting to restricted free agency on their current teams, and there’s a high likelihood that several teams burned first-round picks with their selections of players in this tier. Even Ty Jerome, who is one of the players I’m most confident in translating in some way, factors into this discussion because the burning of a 2020 first-round pick that will likely be a great asset for Boston on him made him a terrible value.
Bol also settles here to end his free-fall from the No. 10 slot pre-draft. The ranking of Bol was predicated on the assumption that he would go in the first-round; that obviously did not happen, and that likely is because hiis medical situation is a lot less optimistic than we thought. If he gets back on the floor, he still deserves to be in this tier because he can still become a useful player. But “low likelihood” is the correct term for his prospects.
There are positives in this tier, though. Paschall in Golden State, Edwards in Boston, and Nowell in Minnesota are all very good fits from the second-round, and there’s reason for more optimism than initially thought given these landing spots. Paschall can fill the Jonas Jerebko role for Golden State, Edwards gets to develop in a situation with plenty of playmaking wings in a backup role, and Nowell can offer secondary playmaking skill to a team in desperate need of that. If you’re betting on a second-round pick to pan out very positively for someone (outside of Bol), these are your best bets.
Tier 6 – Warm bodies/G-League/Draft-and-stash types
This is everyone else, which is to say these are the guys I highly doubt become NBA players of consequence. Certain guys towards the top will have a better chance than others. Of note, this list only ranks the players that were actually drafted. I had 16 players on my big board go unselected, and they aren’t ranked officially here simply because it’s very difficult to project who can make it of that group prior to training camp. We will address them below.
SF Lietuvos Rytas
SG Mississippi State
C Santa Cruz Warriors
SF Florida State
SF Iowa State
SF College of Charleston
PF San Diego State
Tier 8 — Undrafted lightning round
Because of the weakness of this draft and the similar talent level of the top 15 or so undrafted players to the last 20 or so draft picks, we’ll quickly rank the top 11 best players that were on our final big board by their landing spots for Summer League and beyond.
SF Maccabi Tel Aviv
PG St. Johns
SG Penn State
SG Ole Miss
SG Brewster Academy
PF Kansas State
Porter’s medical information likely scared most teams off, and continues to do so, as he remains unsigned. We will have to see what comes of his career, given he’s not going to be able to come back and play at any capacity this season, but not even getting a flier of a contract is very disappointing. We had Porter ranked 16th, and like Bol that assumed that he would make ANY roster and get time to recover and try to come back. Now, he might not even get that chance, and that’s a shame for a player who was a clear top ten talent this year when healthy.