2019 NBA Draft prospect rankings: Zion Williamson leads and Ja Morant rockets up to No. 2 in big board update

Believe it or not, we've already hit the midway point of college basketball's regular season and flown right on past it. Seriously, where has the time gone?

By now most college teams have played roughly 20 games and are entering the heart of conference play. This has given us ample time to evaluate and scout the strengths and weaknesses for the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft class, to dissect and detect who is rising, who is falling, and where each prospect may slot in this summer's draft.

It's still fairly early in the evaluation process. Will Zion Williamson's remarkable leaping abilities require the NBA combine staff to buy a customized vertical jump kit? Is Ja Morant's goal to posterize the entire OVC before he turns pro? There is still plenty to learn!

But as we head towards the home stretch of regular season play and the draft picture begins to take a semblance of a shape, I'm here to serve as your translator to make out exactly what that shape is.

So today we're breaking out my 1-75 prospect rankings (which you can view here) for the upcoming draft, with descriptions on my current top-20. This is different from a mock draft, in that NBA teams are eliminated from the ranking and team needs are not included/considered. My 1-75 is a personal evaluation of how I see the class.

Without further ado, we begin with a Duke star whose rise has been as meteoric as it has been entertaining in freshman Zion Williamson.

1. Zion Williamson, Duke

PF | 6-7 | Fr

Zion Williamson has burst onto the college stage with rim-rocking dunks and stunning efficiency. He uses his 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame smartly to overpower defenders on offense and gets easy buckets at or around the rim with ease. His jump shot is still a work-in-progress -- he's shooting just 27.0 percent from 3-point range -- but his positional versatility, athleticism and upside have him on the inside track to go No. 1. When you're a spin move or a dribble away from dunking it virtually every time you touch the ball, the perimeter game is simply a bonus that will come with time.

2. Ja Morant, Murray State

PG | 6-3 | Soph

By now Ja Morant is no longer the mid-major sleeper draft prospect; Morant is the mid-major prospect threatening to make the biggest leap by any second-year prospect this season. What he's done this season for Murray State in leading the team in scoring and assists can't be overstated. He has an NCAA-leading assist rate of 56.0, a product of his elite passing, anticipation and vision, and possesses NBA-level athleticism that is second only to Zion Williamson in this draft. And oh, by the way, the two were once high school teammates.

3. RJ Barrett, Duke

SF | 6-7 | Fr

RJ Barrett is the most productive scorer for the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils, averaging 23.9 points per game, and he's shown no fear in shouldering the load as the go-to bucket-getter. His audition for the NBA is being played across social media and ESPN on a near-nightly basis. Barrett has ideal size for an NBA guard at 6-7, and a combination of power and strength that unleashes his ability to get to the basket amidst traffic at a regular rate. He's a long-strider who can breeze by defenders with the ball, and a fairly reliable catch-and-shoot scorer off the ball. Barrett sometimes puts his head down and tries to do too much, which has led to some questionable decision-making and inefficiencies in his scoring, but his upside as a two-way player in the NBA is undeniable. Finishing at the rim and in isolation situations are areas that, with little improvement, will elevate his game to the next level.

4. Cameron Reddish, Duke

SF | 6-8 | Fr

Considering the attention RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson attract on offense, Duke's Cameron Reddish should be thriving as an overqualified floor-spacer and 3-point shooter. But to this point, he's shot just 34.4 percent from 3-point range and 36.4 percent from the floor, numbers that don't scream top-5 pick as his talent and potential suggests. Still yet, Reddish is a phenomenal prospect. He's 6-8 with the handles of a guard, versatility of a forward, and the shot of a wing. He's going to put it all together at some point, but at Duke as a tertiary option, he's struggling to find success in his role. Reddish is plenty capable of getting to the rim and finishing, going James Harden with a dribble and stepback, and driving and dishing to create for others. Tapping into a more aggressive version of Reddish, which creeps its way onto the court from time to time, will be key to unlocking his All-Star level potential.

5. Romeo Langford, Indiana

SG | 6-6 | Fr

Three-level scorers who fit Romeo Langford's physical profile are a dime-a-dozen in the NBA, so Langford -- who is only shooting 21.7 percent from 3-point range on the season -- is likely a top-5 pick on pure upside. He's a prolific scorer, leading Indiana with 17.6 points per game, but he has a tendency to be streaky overall. His most consistent buckets come via isolation, as he jab-steps his way to free up space in pull-ups, or off the dribble as he uses his 6-6, 215-pound frame to slice his way to the rack. He's a really smooth finisher around the rim off the bounce or as a slasher, and has super potential as a defender he hasn't yet fully realized.

6. Nassir Little, North Carolina

SF | 6-6 | Fr

Nassir Little came into his freshman season at UNC with high acclaim, expected to be a game-changer for the Tar Heels. But his lack of feel for the game, lack of confidence and general lack of awareness defensively -- coupled with UNC's deep frontcourt rotation -- has him playing fewer than 20 minutes per game on the season. Little is still producing at a respectable clip given his role, however, and his game is tailor-made for the NBA. At 6-6, 215 pounds, Little can play either forward spot in the NBA, a trait scouts find valuable. And while he's been somewhat of a defensive liability and his best offensive traits haven't been able to show through in college, he still has potential to be a solid scoring forward given his sheer talent and sturdy mechanics.

7. Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

SG | 6-6 | Soph

There was healthy skepticism as to whether or not Jarrett Culver could acclimate himself into the No. 1 option for Texas Tech after showing himself a valuable third option as a freshman, but he's more than proven capable. Culver is averaging 18.7 points, 3.8 assists and 7.1 rebounds per game on the season, but it's beyond the numbers that explains why he's a future pro. Culver, at 6-5, 195 pounds, is an above average defender who has improved his shot mechanics and sped up his release in his second season with Tech, and projects as a multi-positional defender at the next level. All his skills project with grace to the next level.

8. Sekou Doumbouya, France

SF | 6-9

Sekou Doumbouya projects to be the first international prospect taken in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Limoges CSP standout is a solid 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, and has the physical traits of an ideal stretch-four at the NBA level. He has a great motor, can capably defend every position, and has a smooth stroke that will allow the team he plays for to space the floor; he's going to be a consistent threat to knock down 3-pointers if teams choose to leave him open. Doumbouya just turned 18 at the end of 2018, too, and he is still growing/developing. But many who have followed him are confident he has a chance to be one of the next great French players to make it big.

9. Jaxson Hayes, Texas

PF | 6-11 | Fr

Texas just has a way of recruiting and producing NBA-quality big men. Jaxson Hayes is next in line to join the likes of Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Allen and Mo Bamba, with his rare combination of agility, defensive instincts and shot-blocking. And he's just scratching the surface: Hayes was a 6-foot, 125-pound freshman before shooting up to 6-10, 200 pounds as a senior. A late bloomer, indeed. And yet per-40, Hayes rates favorably with 7-foot big Mo Bamba, UT's one-and-done star who was drafted No. 6 overall last season.

  • Hayes (per 40 minutes): 18.8 ppg, 4.7 bpg, 9.3 rpg, 76.0 eFG%, 28.9 PER
  • Bamba (per 40 minutes): 17.1 ppg, 4.9 bpg, 14.0 rpg, 56.7 eFG%, 28.3 PER

Hayes may not possess the same upside as Bamba overall, but his rim protection, finishing around the rim and feel for the game defensively is already advanced at a level that could qualify him as a lottery pick this summer.

deandre-hunter.jpg
Virginia's De'Andre Hunter has raised his NBA Draft stock with his play this season. USATSI

10. De'Andre Hunter, Virginia

SF | 6-7 | Soph

De'Andre Hunter is climbing -- and maybe among those in the lottery most likely to rise as we near the draft. He's almost certainly going to wow at the combine and test off the charts. He's improved as a 3-point scorer, finisher, rebounder and assist man in his second season with Virginia, all quality traits that serve as supplements to his lockdown-level defense. At 6-7, 225 pounds, Hunter is a physical freak who can make a profound impact immediately for an NBA team.

11. Keldon Johnson, Kentucky

SG | 6-6 | Fr

The latest, but certainly not the last, one-and-done prospect from Kentucky is a name most are familiar with by now in Keldon Johnson. Johnson leads UK in scoring at 14.6 points per game, and is a high floor player who could contribute immediately with his always-hot motor and relentless energy. Johnson's is athletic and skilled with good shooting touch overall -- he's hitting 38.3 percent from 3-point range and 50.0 percent from 2-point range -- which complements his slashing style that comes natural for his athletic profile.

12. Bol Bol, Oregon

C | 7-2 | Fr

Oregon star Bol Bol stands at 7-2, but you wouldn't know it by the way he gracefully gets up and down the court. He's a small forward in a center's body. He made 52.0 percent of his 3-pointers with the Ducks before a season-ending injury, and proved to be dynamic not only as a shot-creator, but as a rim-protector. Still, his slender frame is a concern that makes him injury prone; he's already out for the season with a foot injury. And his defensive prowess doesn't extend past the paint, as teams will target him in pick-and-rolls. He'll be drafted on offensive upside alone.

13. Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga

PF | 6-8 | Jr

After picking up basketball at age 14, Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura has quickly developed into one of the best forwards in the 2019 NBA Draft. At age 20, he's 6-8, 235 pounds, and uses his physical tools to his advantage by playing with power, force and strength. When he's aggressive on offense, he's a load to stop on straight-line drives to the hoop. He's improved his 3-point stroke dramatically this season, but for his career is just 30.2 percent from distance.

14. Darius Garland, Vanderbilt

PG | 6-2 | Fr

Despite a season-ending injury to his left knee in late November, Darius Garland, a freshman from Vanderbilt, is still the clear-cut No. 2 point guard in the 2019 draft class. Garland is a score-first guard with elite shot-making ability, with a dynamic pull-up game to boot. His playmaking and overall vision comes natural for him, too, a product of his high-level dribbling skills. His off-ball skills in catch-and-shoot situations may allow him to play the shooting guard in the NBA in some instances or even operate as the second ball-handler in guard-heavy lineups.

15. Kevin Porter Jr., Southern California

SG | 6-6 | Fr

Physically, Kevin Porter Jr. is gifted. He can play the point guard or small forward in the NBA, and at 6-6, he's capable of defending small forwards, too. He's also a natural-born scorer with the ability to score in a variety of ways. The question with Porter Jr. largely centers around consistency. At USC, he's been more hit than miss as a player, though injury could play a role in that. If he puts it all together, he can be a multi-time All-Star with his skill set and talent. If he continues to be as enigmatic an NBA player as he is as a prospect, his floor is fairly low. A true boom-or-bust prospect that likely won't slip past the teens.

16. Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

PF | 6-8 | Jr

No, that's not Brandon Clarke wearing moon shoes for Gonzaga. That's Brandon Clarke, a San Jose State transfer, naturally loading up his athleticism to consistently live above the rim for the Bulldogs. He's a super leaper who is third in the NCAA in blocks per game (3.2). Clarke naturally finishes anything in his space when the ball is around the rim. He rates top 10 in offensive rating, eFG% and true shooting percentage at KenPom, and third in the country in total PER. Translated: He does a lot of things at a really, really high level. Some team is going to see that and get a steal in the late-first or early second-round.

17. Jontay Porter, Missouri

C | 6-11 | Soph

Coming back for a sophomore season to improve his draft stock was ultimately a wash, as he tore his ACL and MCL prior to the season. But Porter's stock is still hovering around the lottery because of his projected fit in the NBA. He's a 6-11 big man who can stretch the floor with a solid outside shot. There's a place for players like him to thrive given the direction of the league and its value on floor-spacing. He made 36.4 percent of his 3-pointers as an 18-year-old freshman at Mizzou last season. He's still really young with a ton of upside after reclassifying and moving up in 2017 to join his older brother, Michael Porter Jr.,at Mizzou.

18. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech

SG | 6-5 | Soph

In his second season with the Hokies, Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been assigned a bigger role as both a scorer and distributor -- and he's delivered on all fronts.  He's averaging 18.3 points and 3.5 assists per game for Virginia Tech on the season, displaying exactly the skill set the NBA can put to use in a guard like him with his frame. He can guard 1-3 with his length and should be, at the very least, an overqualified 3-and-D player early on in his career, with an opportunity to develop into a legitimate on-ball shot creator and scorer.

19. Luguentz Dort, Arizona State

SG | 6-4 | Fr

Luguentz Dort is a bowling ball of a guard who is barreling his way to baskets and into first-round consideration for his hot start to the season at Arizona State. He's a strong, physical player who, at 6-4, 215 pounds, plays above his size and consistently out-physicals and out-toughs other teams. Dort can impact the game on defense -- he averages 1.44 steals per game, seventh in the Pac-12 -- as well as on offense, where his havoc-wreaking style translates via straight-line drives and in drive-and-kick situations. He's shooting 30.7 percent from 3-point range on the season, which needs to improve for him to maximize his potential in the NBA, but his hustle and impact on both ends of the floor may reminds folks of a young Marcus Smart. Consistent energy booster on both ends of the court.

20. KZ Okpala, Stanford

SF | 6-9 | Soph

 After a mostly unspectacular freshman season at Stanford, sophomore KZ Okpala is quickly becoming one of the most buzzed-about prospects in the Pac-12 because of his improved jump shot accuracy and versatility. The 6-9 forward is averaging 17.9 points, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks and 6.5 rebounds per game for the Cardinal.

[Check out the full list of Boone's top 75 NBA Draft prospects]

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