I'm not sure very many people, and it actually might be a list of zero, had Zion Williamson atop their NBA Draft boards a month ago. But, at this point, how could you not?
How could somebody pass on him?
It is not hyperbolic to suggest we've never seen anything like Williamson at any level of basketball -- because he's a 6-foot-7, 285-pounder who can handle the ball, pass it, overwhelm in transition and put his chin on the rim. He's averaging 25.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.7 steals in 25.3 minutes per game for the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils. He's taken 39 shots and made 32 of them -- which means he's actually blocked more shots (nine) than he's missed (seven).
Just an absolute phenom.
Williamson is doing to college players exactly what he did to high school players -- i.e., physically dominate them while making them look like children. It's mesmerizing and hilarious. And though I can acknowledge there are still concerns about his shooting, and about how all of this will actually translate to the NBA where everybody is bigger, stronger and faster, I'd be hesitant, if I were picking at the top of 2019 NBA Draft, to pass on what appears to be a generational athlete and talent.
Zion Williamson | Duke | Fr | PF | 6-7
To be clear, there are other reasonable options for the top spot -- and I think any of the four players I have going one through four are worthy candidates to be selected first in June. But Williamson is obviously the most interesting and unique prospect of the bunch. Presumably, he'll hit a rough patch at some point when ACC coaches throw things at him that he's never seen -- and it'll be fascinating to see how he responds to adversity. But, to date, he's been a superman among boys, and his games are likely to look that way more often than not.
RJ Barrett | Duke | Fr | SG | 6-7
Barrett is a wing with size who gets to the rim so often, against basically anybody, that it's hard to imagine him being anything other than a top-shelf scorer in the NBA. There are questions about his upside, sure. But his floor is super-high. He scored a total of 86 points in his first three games as a Blue Devil -- including 33 in that season-opening blowout of Kentucky. No Duke freshman in history had ever scored that many points in his first three games.
Little was the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 McDonald's All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic -- which is among the reasons he might be too low at No. 3. The 6-6 wing is oozing with potential and can be overwhelming on both sides of the court. He projects as an elite combo-forward in the modern-NBA.
Cam Reddish | Duke | Fr | SF | 6-8
Can you imagine being the fourth pick in the NBA Draft -- and just the third-best player on your college team? That might actually be Reddish's reality, crazy as it sounds. The 6-9 wing made 11 of his 25 3-point attempts in Duke's first three games. He has the tools to be great on both ends, if he commits to it.
Langford is one of the most decorated players in the history of high school basketball in Indiana. The 6-6 wing scored more than 3,000 points as a prep star, then enrolled at IU. He finished with 22 points in an early win over Marquette and is averaging 17.7 points through three games with the Hoosiers.
The best guard prospect in the SEC usually plays at Kentucky. But not this season. And that's because Garland enrolled at Vanderbilt, his hometown school, and provided Bryce Drew with the type of lead guard who can carry a team to the NCAA Tournament. The 6-3 freshman is terrific with the ball and a deadly shooter beyond the 3-point line. A long NBA career seems likely.
Keldon Johnson | Kentucky | Fr | SF | 6-6
Johnson wasn't the highest-rated prospect in Kentucky's most recent recruiting class, but he's quickly established himself as the best NBA prospect. The 6-6 wing is the only Wildcat who played well in that season-opening loss to Duke -- and he's averaging 16.7 points and 6.0 rebounds through three games. John Calipari has had at least one player selected in the lottery of 11 consecutive drafts. Johnson will extend that streak to 12 come June.
Pick via Kings: Dedric Lawson is expected to be Kansas' best player this season, but Grimes is clearly the top NBA prospect on Bill Self's roster. The 6-5 combo guard finished with 21 points, thanks to six 3-pointers, in that season-opening win over Michigan State. He's great in pick-and-roll situations, which should allow him to flourish at the next level.
Kevin Porter Jr. | USC | Fr | SG | 6-6
Pick via Grizzlies: Porter was labeled as a bottom-tier five-star prospect coming out of high school, but he certainly seems better than that now. The 6-6 guard is a great athlete and creative scorer who has already shown glimpses of stardom early in this season -- especially on the offensive end of the court. He might develop into USC's best player by the time the calendar flips to 2019.
Bol is arguably the most intriguing prospect in this class because his skillset is so unique for somebody his size. He's a 7-2 center with crazy-long legs who moves well and is comfortable shooting 3-pointers. It's fair to wonder whether he'll struggle switching ball screens in the NBA, which is a huge issue given the way the game is now played. But there's so much interesting stuff here that Bol should still go in the lottery.
Sekou Doumbouya | France | - | SF | 6-9
Doumbouya is likely to be the first international prospect selected in the 2019 NBA Draft. The 6-9 forward was born in Guinea but raised in France -- where he's currently playing professionally at the age of 17. He's already developed nicely, and looks like a future physical forward, even though he didn't start playing basketball until he was 13.
Hunter broke his wrist late last season, which helped set the stage for Virginia becoming the first No. 1 seed in history to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the 6-7 forward returned to school for his sophomore year and has already reestablished himself as one of college basketball's most versatile defenders. The fact that he shot 38.2 percent from 3-point range last season is another positive with NBA scouts.
Hachimura is a Japanese-import whose breakthrough season at Gonzaga is well underway. The 6-9 forward finished with 33 points on 18 shots in a season-opening win over Idaho State and is among the reasons the Zags have a real chance to make the Final Four. At only 20 years old, Hachimura already possesses an NBA-ready body. A reliable jumper is the only thing keeping him out of the top 10 of the draft.
PJ Washington | Kentucky | Soph | PF | 6-8
Pick via Nuggets: Washington spent the first few games of this season showing he's drastically improved as a perimeter shooter -- evidence being how he made 5-of-7 3-point attempts in Kentucky's first three contests (after only taking 21 3-pointers all of last season). That alone should help the 6-8 forward with NBA front-offices. He's the Wildcat most likely to join Johnson in the lottery and give UK multiple lottery picks for the third consecutive year.
Gafford lives above the rim and could've probably been a first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. But the 6-11 center instead opted to return to Arkansas -- where he got 20 points and 12 rebounds in the season-opener against Texas. He projects as a high-level rim-protector in the NBA who will make a living dunking everything.
Jarrett Culver | Texas Tech | Soph | SG | 6-5
Culver should be the second straight sub-100 high school prospect to be selected in the first round of the draft after spending time at Texas Tech, which is a testament to Chris Beard's ability to evaluate and develop. The 6-5 guard is an accomplished shot-maker and good-enough athlete. How he handles being the go-to guy this season will play a role in determining where he's picked in June.
Ja Morant | Murray St. | Soph | PG | 6-3
Pro guards can come from anywhere -- like Weber State or Davidson. And Morant should be the next unheralded high school prospect to bounce from a so-called mid-major to the first round of the NBA Draft. The 6-3 sophomore scored 26 points and dished 11 assists in Murray State's season-opener. He'll be a major problem for everybody in the OVC in January, February and March.
Charles Bassey | W. Kentucky | Fr | C | 6-11
Bassey is the highest-rated prospect to play in C-USA since Tyreke Evans in the 2008-09 season -- and his freshman year is off to a nice start. The 6-11 center scored 11 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the season-opener against Pac-12 competition. The only possible issue is that Bassey is more of a traditional big as opposed to a step-away-from-the-basket center so many NBA franchises now prefer. But, regardless, he's too naturally gifted to drop too far.
Pick via Clippers: Assuming Porter enters the 2019 NBA Draft, he'll do so while coming off of an injury that costs him spots the same way an injury cost his brother, Michael Porter, spots in the 2018 NBA Draft. That's the result of a torn ACL suffered in the preseason. Just terrible luck. But the 6-11 forward is still worth a flyer somewhere outside of the lottery.
McDaniels was a sub-100 prospect coming out of high school who red-shirted his first season at San Diego State. But something clicked for him last season -- and the 6-10 forward was one of only four freshmen in the nation to average 10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and shoot at least 58 percent from the field. The early returns from this season suggest he might have an improved jumper. He really gets up and down the floor well for a player his size.
Reid is lower than this in most mock drafts. But the 6-9 forward is averaging 19.0 points and 6.0 rebounds through three games at LSU -- and he looks very much like a good pick-and-pop option in the NBA. He's shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. He made four long jumpers against UNC Greensboro.
Smith was a consensus five-star prospect coming out of high school who has made an immediate impact at Maryland. He finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds in the season-opener and is a big reason why Mark Turgeon should coach in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive year. Obviously, Smith needs to get stronger to avoid getting pushed around in the NBA because, right now, the 6-10 forward is only 215 pounds. But that can and will come in time.
Darius Bazley | No school | SF | 6-9
Bazley is the Syracuse signee who decided to skip college and is now interning with New Balance at the rate of $1 million -- so his story has received lots of attention. This path ensures the 6-9 forward is at no risk of being exposed in the ACC but also takes him away from organized basketball for a year. In other words, there are pros and cons. But Bazley is still likely to be a first-round pick thanks to his undeniable potential.
Louis King | Oregon | Fr | SF | 6-9
King has yet to make his college debut because of a torn meniscus. But he's expected to be healthy enough to play in late November/early December -- at which point King should help solidify Oregon as the Pac-12 favorite. The 6-9 small forward has great size for his position. He can attack the rim from the wing or comfortably launch jumpers.
Herb Jones | Alabama | Soph | SG | 6-7
Jones was a sub-125 prospect coming out of high school who only scored 4.2 points per game as a freshman at Alabama. But he seems capable of developing into a nice two-way player who can, at 6-7, use his athleticism to cause problems -- especially on the defensive end of the court. That said, Jones' jumper definitely needs to improve to make him worthy of a first-round pick. He only shot 26.9 percent from 3-point range last season.
Wilkes finished with 27 points in UCLA's season-opener and is already proving to be a more capable scorer, and player in general, than he was a year ago. The 6-8 wing still needs to improve his perimeter jumper. But there's really no obvious reason he can't be a nice combo forward in the modern-NBA.
Villanova lost the top four scorers from last season's title-winning team, which has thrust Paschall into a starring role. So far, it's been mostly good; he scored 26 points in the season-opener. The 6-8 senior will likely be best as a small-ball 4 in the NBA. He'll be the fifth member of the 2018 national champions to play in that league.
Bruno Fernando | Maryland | Soph | PF | 6-10
Fernando is an impressive physical specimen who stands 6-10, weighs 240 pounds and has a 7-4 wingspan. Combine all that with a motor that runs well, and he has a chance to be a nice face-up big in the NBA who can use a good first step to get by opposing defenders and finish at the rim.
Tyus Battle | Syracuse | Jr | SG | 6-6
Pick via Raptors: Battle returned to Syracuse for his junior season after contemplating remaining in the 2018 NBA Draft -- and the Orange should be Final Four contenders because of it. The 6-6 guard still isn't a competent 3-point threat, which isn't ideal. But he does enough other things well to make going in the 20s of this draft very possible.
Matthews entered the 2018 NBA Draft before withdrawing and returning to Michigan -- where he led the Wolverines to an early-season win at Villanova. The 6-6 guard still isn't a great (or even good) shooter. But he's flourished, as both a player and prospect, since leaving Kentucky similar to the way Kyle Wiltjer once did.