NBA Mock Draft 2019: Zion Williamson to the Pelicans at No. 1, but the drama starts with Lakers' pick at No. 4
The top three picks are easy, but then some hard choices will need to be made
CHICAGO -- The NBA Draft Lottery . The flattened lottery odds, plus selecting four teams in the lottery instead of three, turned this lottery into a doozy.
The Los Angeles Lakers, who had the 11th-best odds (2% chance at the No. 1 overall pick), jumped all the way to fourth. The New York Knicks, who shared the best odds (14% chance at the No. 1 overall pick) fell to third. And two teams with the seventh-best odds – 6% chances apiece at the No. 1 overall pick – jumped the crowd and will select No. 1 and No. 2. The Memphis Grizzlies have the second pick, and the New Orleans Pelicans have Zion Williamson.
The top three picks ought to be obvious. Zion to the Pelicans: Duh. (Dear God: Please have Anthony Davis rescind that trade request.) The Grizzlies taking Ja Morant feels like the easy move, then the Knicks taking R.J. Barrett.
After that is where things get interesting. The Lakers, if they choose to keep the No. 4 pick, may have the most difficult position in the entire draft. Do you pick a high-upside player who could take some time to develop – time that would put him outside LeBron's window? Or do you take a lower-ceiling player who is ready to contribute to winning now? Or do you just use it as a trade chip?
Reid Forgrave's latest NBA Mock Draft
Zion Williamson | Duke | Fr | PF | 6-7
A one-word explanation of Williamson going No. 1 would read like this: "Duh." Zion is a prospect like nobody we've ever seen: A supreme NBA athlete, with a developed skill set, in the body of a defensive lineman, and filled with all the intangibles like charisma, work ethic and character. He's already not just a household name but a household first name – do you know how rare that is for a guy just entering the NBA? If there's one question about Zion, it's what kind of player he'll end up as in the NBA. His talents are so rare and varied that he could become a version of LeBron James, or a version of Draymond Green, or something else entirely. (There are other questions, too: How will his football player body hold up over an 82-game NBA season? Can his outside shot improve?) In the lottery room on Tuesday night in Chicago, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry was positively giddy. He has every right to be.
Ja Morant | Murray St. | Soph | PG | 6-3
I'm here for Morant throwing lobs to Jaren Jackson, and for Jackson's floor-spacing opening things up for Morant's electric playmaking. This is the sort of hyper-athletic point guard – the type who could win the NBA dunk contest – who scouts also praise for his excellent feel for the game. That's so, so rare. Morant was the first Division I player to average more than 20 points and 10 assists in a season since the assist statistic became official in 1983. Mike Conley now becomes a very good trade piece for a franchise whose rebuild suddenly accelerated.
RJ Barrett | Duke | Fr | SF | 6-7
This is the last pick in the draft that feels like you're getting someone with superstar potential. Executives are somewhat divided on Barrett. Some worry about his tunnel vision; when he gets going toward the rim, he'll often see none of the rest of the floor. When one assistant general manager for a Western Conference team compared him to a Shabazz Muhammad, that caused me to take a step back. But let the record show that I think he's closer to another player that executives and scouts have said they see shades of: James Harden, a slithery and creative scorer. Barrett has told me that he studies Harden's game as much as any player in the NBA, and models himself after him. There's risk that Barrett might turn into a volume scorer in a league that's obsessed with efficient scorers. But Barrett has that star potential. If Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant come to New York, though, the fit certainly isn't optimal. The dude doesn't defer particularly well.
De'Andre Hunter | Virginia | Soph | SF | 6-7
Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka has the toughest pick in this entire draft. We'll see if he decides to make that pick, or use this pick as trade bait. But the problem is, this draft is so shallow, I'm not sure if any pick outside the top two would really be game-changers as trade bait. If he makes the pick, will he take Darius Garland and hope Garland's shot-making works well alongside Lonzo Ball's distributing? Honestly, I have no idea. I'm going with Hunter – even though there's some positional overlap with LeBron James – if only because Hunter seems ready to contribute to a winning team immediately. Hunter may be the best perimeter defender in this draft. He's got a Paul George-like ceiling; he could become an excellent 3-and-D player, but if you look at the progress he made in his time at Virginia, he could become much more than that, too. Hunter helped himself with his best-player-on-the-floor performance over Texas Tech in the national title game. He was aggressive on both ends, he made shots from 3-point range and at the rim, and he played with a confidence that he didn't always have. Two things NBA teams love about him: He's got multi-positional versatility that's so important in today's NBA, and he's a product of the high-character Tony Bennett system that's produced many surprisingly good NBA players (Malcolm Brogdon, Joe Harris, Mike Scott).
Cam Reddish | Duke | Fr | SF | 6-8
Tough spot for the Cavaliers, who need a superstar. Do they try to pair Darius Garland in the backcourt with Collin Sexton and hope it works? Reddish would be the risky, swing-for-the-fences pick. The theory of Reddish makes NBA executives drool: He's basically Paul George, an elite NBA body who plays the most in-demand position of wing, who can handle it and shoot it. The reality of Reddish has at times been very different: Is he basically Andrew Wiggins, a tantalizing talent who lacks the motor and the killer instinct to become a star? Here's how one scout put it to me: "Is he going to be a 'sometime' player or a 'full-time' player?" His ceiling is clear: "He's the picture of the small forward in today's NBA," another scout told me. There's a belief out there that Reddish could be a better NBA player than he was a college player. The fit was never great for Reddish at Duke, as the clear No. 3 option who almost exclusively played off the ball. Remember: Reddish played point guard up until this season, and plenty of people believed not too long ago that he would be the top talent in this draft.
Darius Garland | Vanderbilt | Fr | PG | 6-2
Garland is small but mighty (think Steph Curry size-wise). Scouts have said to me that Garland, a better shooter than Morant, has a really, really good shot at becoming the better NBA point guard between the two of them. He can score from everywhere. He's got a great handle and good vision. A meniscus injury he suffered in his knee ended his collegiate season early, but people close to Garland say he's 100% (of course they say that). Medicals will be important here; if Garland passes with flying colors, he ought to be a top-five pick. Garland next to Booker is intriguing; both are score-first guards. I don't know if it would work, but I know this much: I'd watch.
Coby White | N. Carolina | Fr | PG | 6-5
The Bulls need a star point guard, badly. And White certainly showed flashes of stardom in his one-and-done season at North Carolina. Can he play point guard in the NBA? Maybe. Think of him more as a lead guard than a point guard. The dude is a natural scorer who can make buckets all over the floor. He gets to the rim, and he makes shots from really deep. Scouts love that he's both fast and he's quick, with that wiggle that helps him get to the rim. He was the leading scorer – and possibly the most talented player – on the U18 team that won the FIBA Americas championship last summer in Canada.
Jarrett Culver | Texas Tech | Soph | SG | 6-6
Jack of all trades, master of none? That's the top concern for Culver, that he doesn't have a single elite skill, though he's pretty good at pretty much everything. He's skinny now, but he comes from a highly athletic family – one of his brothers is training for the 2020 Olympics in the high jump – and can certainly blossom with an NBA strength program. Culver is divisive; some I've spoken with put him as a top-five player in this draft, some believe he'll turn into a talent that didn't deserve to be selected in the lottery. I'm in the former group. He'll be one more big young talent for the Hawks.
Jaxson Hayes | Texas | Fr | PF | 6-11
Hayes is huge (6-foot-11 with a 7-3 wingspan) and a very good athlete whose basketball skills will take a while to develop. There aren't many college basketball players this season who have been better around the rim – on both ends of the court – than Hayes has been for Texas. The knee injury that ended his season will get lots of scrutiny from NBA teams. Said one scout: "Once he matures, that's Capela Junior right there." He runs, sets screens, dives, and accepts his role. The Wizards have a need at big man. But Hayes is quite raw; picking Hayes here could signal a potential rebuild. Atlanta Hawks (from Dallas Mavericks): Nassir Little, SF/PF, freshman, North Carolina. Little was a bit overhyped coming into his season at UNC, and he certainly did not live up to that hype. But he certainly has all the tools to become something special in time: He's big, long and strong, a two-way player with explosive athleticism. But he'll need time. That's something the Hawks have. Explosive wings are the most valued commodity in the NBA. You can't get enough of them.
Pick acquired via trade with Dallas
Nassir Little | N. Carolina | Fr | SF | 6-6
Little was a bit overhyped coming into his season at UNC, and he certainly did not live up to that hype. But he certainly has all the tools to become something special in time: He's big, long and strong, a two-way player with explosive athleticism. But he'll need time. That's something the Hawks have. Explosive wings are the most valued commodity in the NBA. You can't get enough of them.
Brandon Clarke | Gonzaga | Jr | PF | 6-8
Clarke has the potential to become a modern small-ball NBA big man – an elite shot blocker who can guard on the perimeter as well. He's an incredible, springy athlete who simply doesn't miss shots close to the rim; Clarke shot 70.5% from 2-point territory this season, ninth in college basketball. While he may not yet be a 3-point shooter, it may not matter next to Timberwolves' franchise centerpiece Karl-Anthony Towns. I love the fit of these two next to each other. The defensive mindset Clarke would bring to the Wolves is huge.
PJ Washington | Kentucky | Soph | PF | 6-8
Washington improved everything about his game since deciding to return to Kentucky for a sophomore season – none more important than his shooting. Washington was suspect at best from 3-point range last season, hitting only 24% of his 3-pointers and seeming like a reluctant shooter. He turned that into a strength, making 3-pointers at a 42% rate and forcing teams to respect him from distance. His versatility is huge, he does a little bit of everything, and he plays really hard.
Rui Hachimura | Gonzaga | Jr | PF | 6-8
Hachimura is not considered an elite shooter, but he did make 41.7% of his 3-point attempts last season on a limited number of attempts. The more important thing he brings to the Heat is energy and toughness: He's a high energy, athletic four who can defend at a high level. Erik Spoelstra will love him. Also, remember: Hachimura, who will become the first Japanese lottery pick, is relatively new to basketball. He's still got tons of upside. He also has upside in the marketing world. The Heat could see the enormous marketing opportunities with Hachimura in terms of the Japanese market, and him being the star player for the Japanese team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Pick acquired via trade with Sacramento
Sekou Doumbouya | France | SF | 6-9
If the Celtics do keep this pick, one would assume they go with a low-risk talent who can contribute immediately, and be paired with their established stars. Doumbouya is a big, big fella who has already been playing regularly against grown men in Europe. He's still learning the nuances of basketball, but the optimized version of him looks a lot like O.G. Anunoby.
Romeo Langford | Indiana | Fr | SG | 6-6
Langford disappointed in his one-and-done season, but he still has one of the the highest ceilings at this part of the draft. This could be a boom-or-bust type of pick. If you're confident he can become a passable 3-point shooter (like former Piston Khris Middleton, a player he's often compared to, has), Langford can reach that ceiling. There are concerns about his body language; he's utterly emotionless on the court – but he could also be the type of player who kills it at the combine in Chicago. "Somebody's going to take a chance on him," one scout told me.
Tyler Herro | Kentucky | Fr | SG | 6-5
Like plenty of teams, the Magic could use more consistent shooting. Herro is one of the best pure shooters in this draft – 35.5% from 3-point range and 93.5% from the free-throw line. Their front line is pretty full, especially if they re-sign Nikola Vucevic and especially if Mohamed Bamba takes steps in the right direction. One would assume this pick goes to the backcourt.
Bol Bol | Oregon | Fr | C | 7-2
Would this be a reckless pick? Perhaps. Bol is one of the most volatile, boom-or-bust players in this draft. But the Nets need more help down low apart from Jarrett Allen. There is the possibility, however slight, that Bol could become a star, or something like it; that's not something that's true of many (if any) players by this point of the draft. By drafting Bol, the Nets would take a home-run swing on a divisive, high-upside player. He's 7-2 with a 7-7 wingspan who can really shoot it from deep as well as block shots. One scout I spoke with said there's plenty not to like about Bol: "If you had to pick somebody at the top who has the best chance to have a bust, it could be him." But that same scout said he has him as a top-10 pick because the reward would be so great. The best version of Bol looks like Kristaps Porzingis, a big man who can make shots from all over the floor and dominate on defense.
Goga Bitadze | Rep. of Georgia | C | 6-11
As much as any prospect over the past couple months, I've heard scouts and executives speak about Bitadze as someone who is shooting up their boards. I would imagine that the Pacers will move away from Domantas Sabonis for salary reasons and for fit reasons alongside Myles Turner. The teenage Bitadze could give the Pacers the best shot-blocking duo in the NBA. Plus, he can make 3-pointers.
Kevin Porter Jr. | USC | Fr | SG | 6-6
The main concern about Porter is the dreaded "character issues." I've heard that from every insider I've spoken with about Porter. What isn't a question is his basketball potential. Porter has the look of an NBA player, a six-foot-six dynamic athlete with the body of a Jimmy Butler. Pay attention at the combine this week; Porter could be one of those players who stands out. His interviews with front offices may be even more important, as his midseason suspension for "conduct issues" only furthered those concerns. The nurturing environment of the Spurs and the nurturing environment of San Antonio could put Porter on a positive path.
Pick acquired via trade with Los Angeles Clippers
Jontay Porter | Missouri | Soph | C | 6-11
Who knows what the Celtics will do with their bevy of picks? Perhaps they are all packaged in a deal for Anthony Davis. If the Celtics keep them, they'll have to balance those picks among win-now players and long-term projects. Porter fits the latter mold because of his health. He tore his ACL before this season, and then he re-tore it when he rushed back into training. That'll be the primary question around Porter, who if healthy could have become a lottery pick. He's a high-IQ big man with soft hands, who can shoot from deep and pass the ball. He's not going to become the next Nikola Jokic – nobody will – but he a big (and sometimes slow) body whose basketball is in that mold.
Grant Williams | Tennessee | Jr | PF | 6-7 | 236
Williams is not the most physically gifted player, standing at 6-7 without elite athleticism, which explains why he was barely a top-200 recruit coming into college. But what he lacks in physical gifts he makes up for in effort, toughness and smarts. His shooting has progressed. He's the type of guy you want in a locker room – a winner. For a smart, defense-minded team like the Thunder, it's a good fit.
Keldon Johnson | Kentucky | Fr | SG | 6-6 | 211
Johnson can do a lot of things on the court, including shooting 3-pointers, which he hit at 38.1% at Kentucky. And he is someone who, crucially, could contribute immediately to a winning team. He doesn't really do anything at an elite level, but he does a lot of things well.
Cameron Johnson | N. Carolina | Sr | SF | 6-9 | 210
The perfect fit for a team that really, really needs shooting. Maybe the best 3-point shooter in this draft, making shots on high volume – nearly 50% on nearly six 3-pointers a game – and with a quick release, Johnson is a player scouts fell in love with more and more throughout this collegiate season. No, he's not an elite athlete, and he needs to add strength, but Johnson has things valued in today's NBA: size, versatility, shooting. What more do you need? Said one scout: "He's 6-9 and shoots the heck out of it."
Dylan Windler | Belmont | Sr | SG | 6-8 | 200
The 76ers are badly in need of more shooting, and Windler could be the Kyle Korver of this draft. There's not star potential here, but Windler could immediately fall into a role. (The Sixers drafted Landry Shamet for this type of role a year ago, and he filled it admirably, then they traded him away to get Tobias Harris.) Windler is a high-IQ player who can do more than just shoot it, but make no mistake: It'll be with shooting where Windler can make an impact in the NBA.
Talen Horton-Tucker | Iowa St. | Fr | SF | 6-4 | 233
Small for his position – whatever position that is – but it ought not matter in the increasingly positionless NBA. Horton-Tucker can do a little bit of everything on the court, a Swiss Army knife that's filled with toughness, and is one of the most switchy, versatile players in this draft. Horton-Tucker, who attended the same Chicago high school as Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker, is a winner. He could have a P.J. Tucker-like impact on a team.
Pick acquired via trade with Houston
Nickeil Alexander-Walker | Va. Tech | Soph | SG | 6-5 | 205
An absolute steal this late, as Alexander-Walker could go as early as late lottery. Alexander-Walker is a versatile two-guard who can shoot it from 3-point range (38.1% this season). This is a big-time talent for the Cavaliers to get this late in the draft.
Pick acquired via trade with Denver
KZ Okpala | Stanford | Soph | SF | 6-9 | 215
It's easy to see how Okpala could excel in the NBA: A 6-9 wing who can put it on the floor, get to the hoop and finish. His shot has progressed nicely, from shooting only 22.6% on limited attempts from 3-point range as a freshman to shooting 36.8% on more than twice the attempts from 3-point range as a sophomore.
Bruno Fernando | Maryland | Soph | C | 6-10 | 240
Fernando does all of his damage around the rim. The Warriors don't exactly have depth down low, and might have even less depth next season, depending on what happens with DeMarcus Cousins. Fernando could become a great lob-catcher and shot-blocker – if he accepts his role. Nobody questions his body and his athleticism, his shot-blocking capabilities and his love for the game. Scouts do, however, question his hands and his feel for the game. He does have a nice shooting touch; shooting nearly 78% from the free-throw line could portend growth as a shooter.
Pick acquired via trade with Toronto
Matisse Thybulle | Washington | Sr | SG | 6-5 | 200
An elite and versatile defender who Gregg Popovich ought to love. The new Pac-12 career record holder for steals, Thybulle averaged 3.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per game this season in Washington's zone defense. He can shoot it from deep, too, shooting 36% from 3-point range in his career.
Strong, versatile and a fantastic 3-point shooter, Schofield has a lot of the attributes today's NBA teams are looking for. He's tough and physical with a 7-1 wingspan, and he can score the ball in a multitude of ways. Schofield would be ready to contribute to a winning team immediately. A shooter who plays defense: Feels like the perfect fit for the Bucks.
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