Grant Williams

How 2019 NBA Draft impacted what happens in free agency

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The NBA Draft already had a league-changing impact on free agency.

Or, to be more accurate, the NBA Draft Lottery did. When the Lakers moved up to get the No. 4 pick, it sweetened the offer enough to make the Anthony Davis trade happen. That changed the plans of the Lakers and Pelicans — and to a degree the Celtics, Knicks, and anyone else who thought they had a shot at Davis — heading into the draft and free agency.

That said, many of turning point moments coming this July were completely unaffected by what happened in the Draft. Let’s take a look.

WHAT CHANGED

• The Lakers traded for Davis and now it’s about rounding out the roster. Los Angeles might have landed Davis anyway — his agent, Rich Paul, could not have pulled more levers to try to make that happen (as an agent should for his client) — but the Lakers getting the No. 4 pick put the offer over the top. At the draft, the Lakers also picked up second-rounder Talen Horton-Tucker, who has potential but is not ready to contribute much in the coming season. Now for the Lakers it becomes about how to best build out the roster around Davis and LeBron James: Clear the cap space and chase one more star, such as Kemba Walker; or, use that money to land three players (give or take) in the $7 million to $10 million range to go around the three quality rotation players the Lakers already have (meaning chase players such as Trevor Ariza, Danny Green, J.J. Redick, and others in that range).

One thing on draft night made the timing of the Lakers’ moves clear: With the Pelicans trading the No. 4 pick to Atlanta, is Davis trade will be executed on July 6. The floated of pushing the trade itself back to July 30 to create more Lakers’ cap room to sign players will not happen with another trade now hinged on the Laker/Pelican deal going through. That was agreed to before the trade, if the Pelicans moved the No. 4 pick then the Davis deal got done the first chance it was allowed (July 6). That means the Lakers will have between $24 million and $32 million in cap space. One part of the equation is if Davis waives his $4 million trade bonus. For the Lakers to have the full $32 million in cap space, they need to trade Isaac Bonga, Mo Wagner, and Alex Caruso into cap space somewhere and get them off the L.A. books. Expect the Lakers to pull that off in the coming weeks.

• Boston made trades on draft night, but of the slow build, not grand, variety. Kyrie Irving‘s disenfranchisement with Boston — the city, his young teammates, Brad Stevens, clam chowder, pretty much everything — blew up Danny Ainge’s plans. Trading for Davis was off the table, Al Horford isn’t sticking around for this, and the Celtics aren’t quite back to square one there is a reset. Boston made a couple of trades on draft night and ended up with a nice haul of young players — Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters, and the Bucks’ 2020 first-round pick (protected). Danny Ainge will have a new plan, and he has some cap space this summer, but there will be no panic moves.

• The Knicks are on the Plan C. Or D. Or E. Maybe all the way to R at this point. The Knicks dream summer? Win the lottery and get Zion Williamson and pair him with Durant and Irving (or maybe Kemba Walker). Now? They will still chase Durant and remain the reported frontrunners, but there are more teams seriously in the mix, and Durant will not play next season as he rehabs anyway. The Knicks want a meeting with Kawhi Leonard, but they are a longshot to land him. Next season in New York may be about seeing how just drafted R.J. Barrett fits with Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. It’s not the summer Knicks fans dreamed about.

• What are the Pacers planning? No doubt center Goga Bitadze was the top player on the Pacers’ draft board when they took him No. 18, but it raises a question: What is the plan in Indiana? There have been rumors of them wanting to go with either Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis at center, not the platoon we saw last season, and Bitadze gives them some cover for it. The Pacers want to sign or trade for one more good playmaker to go next to Victor Olaidpo, and with Mike Conley now in Utah one target is off the board. Ricky Rubio at the point is a top target, but they have the room to be bolder. They are a team to watch.

WHAT DID NOT CHANGE

• Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power. No one decision this summer will change the landscape of the NBA like Leonard’s — whatever team he chooses instantly becomes a title contender. While the Lakers and Knicks want to get meetings (and may, nobody knows what Leonard’s process will be, exactly) I have heard from sources for almost a year now that those two teams were not mix in a meaningful way, and numerous others have reported that as well. This is a two-team race: Stay with the Raptors and be the favorites in the East, come back to Los Angeles and be a Clipper, turning a 48-win team into a contender. While speculation is rampant, nobody knows which way Leonard himself is leaning, and he has not tipped his (giant) hand. Whatever he chooses, it tips the balance of power between the conferences.

Kevin Durant has to decide where he wants to do his rehab, and eventually play. Durant is a kingmaker just like Leonard, but not in quite the same way because he will miss most or all of next season recovering from his torn Achilles. The Warriors are in the mix, but the Nets (theoretically with Kyrie Irving), Knicks (they also would like to play the Irving card), Clippers, Lakers, and others would like meetings and a chance to make their case. What does Durant want? Not to be recruited. After that, nobody knows because nobody knows how the injury changed his mindset.

• Kyrie Irving has to decide if he wants to go to Brooklyn, the Nets have to decide if they want Irving without Durant. Irving is not the same level of franchise player that Durant and Leonard are — his leadership reputation took a serious hit this past season — but he is still an All-NBA level guard who makes a team much better. The Celtics wanted him for his play and to help win Anthony Davis over after the trade but that plan blew up. The Nets remain the frontrunners to land him, but some in the organization wonder if they want him without Durant. They probably sign him either way — Irving is an elite player, not just bait — but the Nets aren’t the same with just him replacing D'Angelo Russell.

2019 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of selections, trades

Associated Press
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Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The NBA Draft saw the trade of the No. 4 pick — twice — plus the No. 6 and 11 picks before the New Orleans Pelicans were even on the clock for the No. 1 pick. Listening to the buzz around the league, expect a lot more first-round trades, especially when we get into the 20s. It’s going to be a crazy night.

We will be on top of it all night long.

Here is a breakdown of every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings.

 
Pelicans small icon No. 1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, 6’7” forward, Duke. The highest rated prospect out of college since Anthony Davis for many scouts, Williamson can be the cornerstone the Pelicans need to rebuild post-Davis. Williamson is a ridiculous athlete, strong, can leap out of the building, but also shows a point guard’s feel for the game and he defends very well. His shot is improved but he’s got to be more consistent and he needs to add range, however, with his work ethic it should come along. What some scouts like best: He plays hard, he doesn’t just coast on all that natural talent.

 
Grizzlies small icon No. 2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, 6’3” point guard, Murray State. The Grizzlies are banking on him to be their point guard of the future (especially with Mike Conley traded to Utah). He’s an explosive athlete, has a tremendous handle, impressive court vision and he knows how to make every pass you can think of. He’s got to improve his jump shot to avoid being another athletic point guard that defenders just go under the pick against. He was asked to score a lot in college, he needs to show a more rounded game at the next level.

 
Knicks small icon No. 3. New York Knicks: R.J. Barrett, 6’7” wing, Duke. With all the talent on the Blue Devils roster last season, Barrett was the guy Coach K ran the offense through, which says something. He had an incredibly efficient season: better than 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a game, and as Sam Vecenie of the Athletic said, the last guy with those numbers in college was Penny Hardaway. How his game fits in the NBA, where he will play more of a role, will be the test, but he has the potential to be a wing in New York for many years.

 
Hawks small icon No. 4. Atlanta Hawks (via Lakers and Pelicans): De’Andre Hunter, 6’8” wing, Virginia. This pick was traded twice, and while the Lakers are making it is ultimately being done for the Hawks so we will list it that way. One of the best defensive players in this draft, he’s got good athleticism, he’s physical and long at 6’8” with a 7’2” wingspan. He’s not going to be a future superstar, but what he can be is a quality starter/rotation player who is a defensive stopper and can knock down threes (better than 45 percent from deep this season). He is a willing role player who can help a team as a rookie.

 
Cavaliers small icon No. 5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland, 6’3” point guard, Vanderbilt. He only played in five games in college due to a knee injury, still teams love his potential as a shot creator and shooter. He’s got impressive handles, plays at different speeds to create space, has a good pull-up jumper, and has potential to effectively run an offense. He has got to limit the turnovers at the NBA level, and he’s a bit of a project, but there is a lot of potential here. Cleveland likes the idea of Garland and Collin Sexton as a backcourt with two ball handlers (in the Portland mold with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, although that is a lofty goal).

 
No. 6. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Suns): Jarrett Culver, 6’6” wing, Texas Tech. This pick was traded earlier in the day from Phoenix to Minnesota (even though Culver had to put on a Suns hat at the draft) A player that teams fell in love with after working him out. Culver certainly passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he has shown a nice jump shot, he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he plays a high IQ game. You’re not going to find a guy with a better feel for the game in this draft. The primary concern has been he’s not an explosive, elite athlete and on the wing in the NBA that’s what he’s going to be up against nightly. But he’s got the skills to make waves in the NBA.

 
Bulls small icon No. 7. Chicago Bulls: Coby White, 6’5” guard, North Carolina. Chicago wanted a young point guard and it got its man. A point guard who shot up draft boards this past season. White is lightning quick and used that and a good jumper to score, but he’s become an improved playmaker the more he played in college (his decision making still needs to improve, but he’s on the right track). He’s impressive in transition and loves to push the ball, but in any setting when he gets playing downhill he’s hard to stop. Can play the one or the two.

 
Pelicans small icon No. 8. New Orleans Pelicans (via Hawks): Jaxson Hayes, 7’0” center, Texas. A late bloomer who still needs a lot of polish, he has the tools and potential to be a prototypical defense-first, rim-running NBA center (think DeAndre Jordan style). Hayes is incredibly athletic, runs the floor well, and he has shown good instincts on both ends of the court. That said, he’s raw. This is a development project for the Pelicans and the team and fans need to be patient. That said, him at the five and Zion at the four would be a wildly athletic frontline.

 
Wizards small icon No. 9. Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimura, 6’8” forward, Gonzaga. He’s averaged 20.1 points a game on 62.1 percent shooting, and he’s the guy a very good Gonzaga team ran everything through. Hachimura overpowered players at the college level and went often to his spin move, but he’s got to grow his game at the next level. He doesn’t shoot the three with any confidence (he took just one a game), his handles need work, as does his defense. The talent is there, he needs to develop it.

 
Hawks small icon No. 10. Atlanta Hawks: Cam Reddish, 6’8” wing, Duke. One of the more divisive guys in the draft, he was all over different teams draft boards. He is an explosive and fluid athlete, he can space the floor as a shooter, he’s long and can defend, and he can create a little off the dribble (although his handle needs work). Yet in college, he was a bit passive and showed all that potential only in flashes. His backers believe he’ll be better in an NBA system where the spacing is better (not everyone believes that). He needs to get stronger.

 
Suns small icon No. 11. Phoenix Suns (via Timberwolves): Cameron Johnson 6’9” forward, North Carolina. Our first real surprise, this is higher than many expected him to be taken, but shooters have value. And Johnson is one of the best pure shooters in this draft (46.5 percent from three last season), and the Suns can certainly use that. He works off the ball and knows how to get in position for shots, and he didn’t flinch in big moments for the Tar Heels (23 against Duke in the ACC Tournament). There are questions about his defense and durability.

 
Hornets small icon No. 12. Charlotte Hornets: P.J. Washington, 6’8” forward, Kentucky. Not a guy that blows you away with elite athleticism (despite a reported 43-inch vertical), but has a 7’3” wingspan, is physical in the paint, can defend multiple positions, and plays a high IQ game that opposing coaches have said make him tough to go against. You can see a stretch four in his game, Washington shot 41.9 percent from three. A bit of a project but a guy who improved a lot last season, a good sign.

 
Heat small icon No. 13. Miami Heat: Tyler Herro, 6’6” shooting guard, Kentucky. He’s a very good shooter — both catch-and-shoot and coming off screens on the move — and that is a skill that will serve him well in Miami, where floor spacing matters. He has handles, can run some pick and roll, but he’s not a guy who blows you away with his length and athleticism. If he puts in the work to hone his skills he could have a long career in the NBA filling a floor-spacing role.

 
Celtics small icon No. 14. Boston Celtics (via Kings): Romeo Langford, 6’6” wing, Indiana. He didn’t live up to the (unreasonable) hype in Indiana, but he played this the season with a torn ligament in his shooting hand, a back issue, and some other assorted minor injuries. He still showed flashes as a playmaker, but he needs to show that his shooting woes in college (27.2 percent from three) was about the thumb and nothing else. He also needs to show a little more explosiveness to be a shot creator at the NBA level. Still, should become a solid rotation player at the very least.

Pistons small icon No. 15. Detroit Pistons: Sekou Doumbouya, 6’9” forward, France. He is built like an NBA forward (222 pounds) and has all the physical tools, but he’s going to be a project coming out of the top French league. He is active and physical on defense, and on offense he can play in transition but has work to do on his shot and fitting into the NBA game. A lot of potential here if Detroit can develop it.

 
Magic small icon No. 16. Orlando Magic: Chuma Okeke, 6’8” forward, Auburn. A surprise pick, this is much higher than most had him going (a late first/early second round kind of guy). He’s a good defender across multiple positions, and his shot has improved, making him a potential quality role player in the NBA. However, he comes with a massive question mark: He’s out right now with a torn ACL (and will miss part of the upcoming season), how will he bounce back from that? This is not an elite athlete already and he can’t afford to lose a step. A gamble taking him this high by Orlando.

 
Pelicans small icon No. 17. New Orleans Pelicans (via Nets, Hawks): Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 6’5” guard, Virginia Tech. He’s not an explosive athlete, but he’s a smart one who learned how to let the game come to him and manage it well. He can shoot the rock (nearly 40 percent from three), is an improved playmaker off the pick-and-roll, a good rebounder for a guard, and is steady. His defense at the NBA level is the big question. There is an NBA rotation swingman in his game if he works at it, and he fits with the young core being built in New Orleans.

 
Pacers small icon No. 18. Indiana Pacers: Goga Bitadze, 6’11” center, Georgia (the nation). He’s a very skilled big man who has shown that he can succeed at the highest levels of European basketball. He has an improving jump shot, can score around the rim, and in Europe was an impressive shot blocker. Also, he’s just 20 years old, so there is a lot of room to grow still.

 
Spurs small icon No. 19. San Antonio Spurs:Luka Samanic, 6’11” forward/center, Croatia. This is a very Spurs pick. Samanic helped himself with a very strong NBA Draft Combine and workouts since then. He has shown a lot of skill and a good basketball IQ, but he is also raw and a project big. He does not want to do that developing with another season in Europe, he wants to come to the NBA now. He landed with one of the best player development teams in the NBA.

WE HAVE A TRADE: Boston sends the No. 20 pick to in-division rival Philadelphia for the No. 24 and 33 picks.

 
Sixers small icon No. 20. Philadelphia 76ers: Matisse Thybulle, 6’5” wing, Washington. There was a trade just before the pick, Philly gets Thybulle for the No. 24 and 33 picks, which are now Boston’s. Maybe the best wing defender in this draft, Thybulle is a potential defensive stopper, the guy you throw on the best perimeter player of the other team and know the job will get done. The kind of player coaches love. Thybulle gets steals, he blocks shots well for a guard, and he’s not just good on ball he’s a smart help defender. On offense, he can shoot the ball but doesn’t really seek out his own shot. He needs to be more consistent on that end.

WE HAVE A TRADE: Oklahoma City sends the No. 21 pick to Memphis for the No. 23 pick and future second rounder.

 
Grizzlies small icon No. 21. Memphis Grizzlies: Brandon Clarke, 6’8” forward, Gonzaga. This pick was just traded before it was announced to Memphis, with OKC gets the No. 23 pick and a future second rounder. Scouts love Clarke’s defense, a forward who can guard both the three and the four, can switch onto guards, blocks shots, and plays with a high motor. He’s also scored 17 points a game very efficiently, which helped his draft status, although his handle and jumper still need work to be NBA ready.

 
Celtics small icon No. 22. Boston Celtics: Grant Williams, 6’7” power forward, Tennessee. A little higher than some expected him to go, but Celtics’ fans will love him. Williams is a physical, nasty player, something coach Brad Stevens will like. He is solid from the midrange and can hit the three well enough that defenders have to respect it (but that percentage needs to go up). That said, his game is really playing some bully ball around the rim. He is strong and plays smart angles down on the block. How he fits in the NBA game is a question worth asking, but he plays hard and those kinds of guys are the ones coaches love to have around for culture reasons, beyond just minutes played.

 
Thunder small icon No. 23. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Jazz, Grizzlies): Darius Bazley, 6’9” forward. He did not play anywhere last season (first he was going to Syracuse, then the G-League, then nada), he’s raw, and he needs to get a lot stronger. With those concerns, this is still a potential high upside pick at this spot, He has the potential to be a guy who can defend multiple positions, knock down shots, and even put the ball on the floor a little and create shots. However, he is very much a project and a long way from that, the Thunder need to be patient in developing him.

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Celtics are sending the pick they just traded for minutes ago from Philly to Phoenix, and the Suns are taking on big man Aron Baynes in that deal (a guy Boston wanted to move for salary reasons).

 
Suns small icon No. 24. Phoenix Suns (via 76ers, Celtics): Ty Jerome, 6’6” combo guard, Virginia. Front office sources I spoke with thought Jerome could be a great pick in the 20s, they all were high on him. Jerome is a good shooter who can walk on the court tomorrow and hit NBA threes, he has good size for his position, he plays smart and he plays hard. This is not a high upside pick, and he likely will struggle defensively, but at this point in the draft the Suns get a player who can help them right now with some spot minutes off the bench, and he could develop into a nice role player that sticks in the league for many years.

 
Blazers small icon No. 25. Portland Trail Blazers: Nasir Little, 6’6” wing, North Carolina. His stock dropped over the course of the college season and that was evident on draft night as a guy projected top 10 at the start of the season (top five on some boards) fell this far. He’s a polarizing player amongst scouts. His backers note his athleticism, his toughness, and the improved outside shooting he has shown in workouts. However, his shot was inconsistent during the season, his defense iffy, and he just struggled to fit in and show a feel for the game with the Tar Heels. Maybe the NBA game will fit him better.

 
Cavaliers small icon No. 26. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dylan Windler, 6’8” small forward, Belmont. He could develop into a good role player on the perimeter in the NBA. Windler shot 42 percent from three last year but also can score inside off drives. He’s got a 6’10” wingspan and moves well, which means he could become a solid defender. He rebounds well also. He needs to get stronger and tighten his game up, but there is potential here.

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Clippers wanted to move into the late first round and they have, picking up Brooklyn’s No. 27 pick. Brooklyn gets the 2020 first round pick belonging to Philadelphia (Los Angeles had it via the Tobias Harris trade) and the 56th pick in this draft. That clears more cap space for the Nets heading into free agency.

 
Clippers small icon No. 27. Los Angeles Clippers: Mfiondu Kabengele, 6’10” center, Florida State. He’s a late bloomer with an upward trajectory, both during his sophomore season and during workouts for teams after the Draft Combine. He is a project but one with great potential because of his athleticism and the feel he showed for the game (he was incredibly efficient as a Seminole). He can defend the rim on one end and score around it on the other, he could be a good small ball big in a few years.

 
Warriors small icon No. 28. Golden State Warriors: Jordan Poole, 6’6” combo guard, Michigan. While he has the size and athleticism to be an NBA guard, he’s a project. His handles show flashes but he gets sloppy, his shooting has range but is not consistent enough, he’s got to get a lot stronger, and some question his grit. He could develop into an NBA two guard. He’s very likely going to have to spend time in the G-League to develop, does he love the game enough to put in all the work it will take to get to the NBA? He couldn’t have landed in a better spot.

 
Spurs small icon No. 29. San Antonio Spurs: Keldon Johnson, 6’6” wing, Kentucky. A good athlete who is fantastic in transition, or any time he can get playing downhill because he is a classic slasher. He also has a solid jump shot, and he brings a lot of toughness and versatility to the court. He’s not a shot creator, however. He’s got to get better defensively, but there is a role for him in the NBA.

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Bucks are sending the final pick of the first round to the Cavaliers, reportedly for four second-round picks and cash.

 
Cavaliers small icon No. 30. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Bucks): Kevin Porter Jr., 6’6” guard, USC. He’s a gamble, but less of one at this point in the draft and is a good bet by the Cavs. The talent is not the question, he has the tools to be a shot creator at the NBA level with his handles and stepback jumper. He’s got the athleticism and the ability to finish around the rim. The questions are everything else: The suspension at USC when they went to Oregon, the mysterious leg ailment that sat him for two months, and a string of odd situations.

SECOND ROUND

 
Nets small icon No. 31. Brooklyn Nets (via Knicks): Nic Claxton, 7’0” center, Georgia (the university). A late bloomer and a bit of a project, but he has a lot of potential, especially defensively. He is a fluid athlete who has some versatility to his game, in part because he has legit handles (he could rebound the ball and bring it up himself). That said he is raw offensively and struggles to finish and score. He has got to get stronger and add muscle. A lot of upside with Claxton, but it will take work and time to bring that out.

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Pacers, who had the rights to the No. 32 pick after a trade today with the Suns, are trading that pick again on to Miami for three second rounders.

 
Heat small icon No. 32. Miami Heat: KZ Okpala, 6’10” forward, Stanford. A late bloomer with impressive physical tools, he improved enough over this time at Stanford to jump up draft boards. He’s can shoot from the perimeter, put the ball on the floor, has impressive body control when he goes to finish, and he has great defensive potential. The challenge becomes just how raw he is, this is a project for Miami but at this point in the draft it’s a good risk to take.

 
Celtics small icon No. 33. Boston Celtics: Carsen Edwards, 6’0” guard, Purdue. He’s going to have a role in the NBA because he can flat out shoot the rock. Just as importantly, he can knock it down off the bounce or off the catch. He has point guard size but Purdue used him mostly like a two-guard coming off a bunch of screens to get open and shoot (think J.J. Redick sets). He’s not a good playmaker, he can’t run an NBA team right now, and his size makes him a potential defensive liability, but he can shoot and plays hard. That will keep him in the NBA for years.

 
Hawks small icon No. 34. Atlanta Hawks (via 76ers: Bruno Fernando, 6’10” center, Maryland. This pick was traded from Philadelphia to Atlanta just before it was made for three future second rounders. Fernando is a big man who can sprint the floor and rim run, sets good picks, can roll to the basket, and defensively is a big body in the paint who can block a few shots and alter more. In the modern NBA there is a role for this kind of center, but it’s shrinking, he needs to develop a midrange jumper at the least to stay on the court and have real value at the next level. That said, he can play a role and quickly in the NBA off the bench as he develops.

 
Pelicans small icon No. 35. New Orleans Pelicans: Marco Louzada Silva, 6’6″ forward, Brazil. First big surprise of the second round, he was not on a lot of boards. Mike Schmidt of ESPN compared his hard-nosed style of game to Josh Hart, but it’s one thing to do that in the Brazilian league and another in the NBA. At age 19, this is likely a draft and stash in Europe.

 
Hornets small icon No. 36. Charlotte Hornets: Cody Martin, 6’6″ wing, Nevada. A good athlete, plays hard, can play at the two or three, the real concern has been his shot. While it has looked better of late — and apparently impressed the Hornets — there were real concerns about how sustainable his recent improvement has been. If he can shoot, this could be a good pick up.

Pistons small icon No. 37. Detroit Pistons: Deividas Sirvydis, 6’8” forward, Lithuania. Dallas traded this pick to the Pistons just before the selection was made. Sirvydis can shoot the rock, plays a smart game, just turned 19, and that potential has the Pistons willing to roll the dice on him. He’s played well in Europe and internationally, but he could be a draft-and-stash guy giving him more time to develop.

 
Bulls small icon No. 38. Chicago Bulls: Daniel Gafford, 6’11” center, Arkansas. He’s athletic but a bit of rim-running center because he does not have a jump shot but is a decent finisher around the rim. He blocks shots but was not the force on the boards he could be. He’s not a good low post player on offense. If he is mature and puts in the work on his game he can be a pick-and-roll center in the league, but he needs to get a lot stronger to do that.

 
Warriors small icon No. 39. Golden State Warriors: Alen Smailagic, 6’10” center, Serbia/Santa Cruz Warriors. The Pelicans traded this pick to the Warriors just before it was made, and Golden State wanted one of the guys it has groomed in the G-League. Smailagic entered the G-League at 18 and held his own, which is a good sign. He’s raw but shows potential on the defensive end that the Warriors want to continue to develop (maybe still in the G-League).

 
Kings small icon 40. Sacramento Kings: Justin James, 6’7″ wing, Wyoming. He was the offense for the Cowboys, and his ability to shoot on the move coming off picks could translate to the NBA, but he needs to be more consistent as a shooter. The biggest concern is he needs to get a lot stronger to play in the NBA, he’s not overpowering the Mountain West anymore.

 
Warriors small icon No. 41. Golden State Warriors: Eric Paschall, 6’7” forward, Villanova. A potential NBA role player: He’s athletic, already has an NBA body, he has good elevation on a jump shot that has come together, and he’s a switchable defender who can guard twos through fours. Also, he comes out of the Villanova system so coaches trust he’s learned how to play the right way. He is a guy who can contribute right away, something the Warriors could use.

 
Wizards small icon No. 42. Washington Wizards (via 76ers): Admiral Schofield, 6’5” small forward, Tennessee. He can space the floor, he shot 41.8 percent from three last season, plus he has an NBA-ready body and a tremendous work ethic. Those atributes could make him a solid NBA role player down the line. There are questions about his ability to defend at the NBA level, but the shooting makes him an interesting prospect.

 
No. 43. Minnesota Timberwolves: Jaylen Nowell, 6’4″ guard, Washington. A shoot-first guard (something the Kings already have on the roster) but he tends to make good decisions on which shots to take. He’s skilled. He’s also undersized for who he will be asked to guard in the NBA, and there are questions about his defense in general. A guy who could figure it out and become an NBA role player.

 
Nuggets small icon No. 44. Denver Nuggets: Bol Bol, 7’3” center, Oregon. Denver traded for this pick from Miami just before it was made. There was a lot of hype early on about the son of Manute Bol, but that turned into a lot of trepidation heading into the draft and is the reason he fell all the way to the middle of the second round. The potential is unquestioned — he is one of the better outside shooters in this class at any height, plus he moves well and is a good shot blocker. But he is coming off a broken foot, he’s got to get a lot stronger to play inside in the NBA, and most concerning of all are questions about his work ethic and love of the game. At this point, a good gamble by the Nuggets.

 
Mavericks small icon No. 45. Dallas Mavericks (via Pistons): Isaiah Roby, 6’9” power forward, Nebraska. A developmental project who could become a potential role player in the NBA. He passes the eye test for an NBA power forward and he’s solid at a lot of things — scoring, rebounding, he works hard off the ball — but he needs to be more consistent at all of it and make better decisions. He’s also got to get a lot stronger. That said, there’s an NBA player in there.

 
Lakers small icon No. 46. Los Angeles Lakers (via Magic). Talen Horton-Tucker, 6’4” guard, Iowa State. This pick was traded to the Lakers just before it was made. Horton-Tucker. climbed up draft boards during the season because of his versatility and potential. He’s got a good feel for the game, is physically strong, and can pass. The concern is his shot, he hit just 40.6 percent of his attempts overall and 30.8 percent from three. If his shot can come around, there is a role for him in the NBA.

 
Knicks small icon No. 47. New York Knicks (via Kings): Ignas Brazdeikis, 6’7” power forward, Michigan. He has the shooting touch to play in the NBA — he can hit threes, score inside and finish with either hand, plus he’s got a good midrange game — the question is will he be athletic enough to hang at the next level. There is potential as a stretch four, but the lack of athleticism leads to questions about his defense and who he would guard. Not a bad gamble at this point.

 
Clippers small icon No. 48. Los Angeles Clippers: Terence Mann, 6’6″ wing, Florida State. He’s a good defensive guard who has shown some ball handling and playmaking skills on the other end. He had a strong senior season but needs to be more aggressive on offense and disciplined on defense to stick at the next level.

 
Spurs small icon No. 49. San Antonio Spurs: Quinndary Weatherspoon, 6’4″ shooting guard, Misissippi State. A slashing combo guard who can take the contact and get to the free throw line, or can pull up and knock down the jumper. Just not consistently enough. Needs to limit his turnovers at the next level, but he plays hard and is a good gamble at this point in the draft.

 
Jazz small icon No. 50. Utah Jazz (via Pacers): Jarrell Brantley, 6’7″ forward, University of Charleston. He turned some heads at the Portsmouth Invitational, which helped him get drafted. He’s strong and plays a smart game, but he’s not an explosive athlete playing a position that is loaded with guys who are at the NBA level. Utah is one of the best development programs in the NBA, he will get the chance to prove he can play at the next level.

 
Celtics small icon No. 51. Boston Celtics: Tremont Waters, 5’11” point guard, LSU. He’s got all the skills teams want in a point guard, but he’s undersized (5’9.5” without shoes) and probably not athletic enough to make up for that. He’s got great handles, knows how to come off a high pick and either pull up and score or make a good decision, and he could just score. He’s likely a liability defensively, he has to prove he’s so important on the other end it does not matter. Still a good gamble at this point in the draft.

 
Hornets small icon No. 52. Charlotte Hornets: Jalen McDaniels, 6’10 forward, San Diego State. He’s long, athletic, plays hard, and has real potential as a guy who can defend multiple positions. He’s either going to have to learn to shoot a lot better to play the three or add a lot of muscle to play more in the paint in the NBA, right now he’s just not good enough at either.

 
Jazz small icon No. 53. Utah Jazz: Justin Wright-Foreman, 6’1″ guard, Hofstra. The man can get buckets. He had to do everything at Hofstra and he did — drive to the rim, hit stepbacks, knock down threes, come off screens, whatever it took. He can score. The question becomes, can he be a playmaker and defend will enough to play in the NBA. There are questions, but the Jazz know how to develop guys who he gets a real chance.

 
Sixers small icon No. 54. Philadelphia 76ers: Marial Shayok, 6’6″ wing, Iowa State. The man has shooting range, and he can do it off the bounce or on a catch-and-shoot. He’s a decent enough athlete and defender for the NBA level. He’s a senior who blossomed his last year, making teams wonder how much he will improve from here. That said, taking a shooter this deep in the draft is never a bad pick.

 
Kings small icon 55. Sacramento Kings (via Knicks): Kyle Guy, 6’2″ point guard, Virginia. One of the heros of Virginia’s run to a national title, but teams were surprised he stayed in the draft. He’s considered a little one note for the NBA, and his shooting is not consistent enough for the next level. However, he’s a feisty player and the Kings have the room on the roster to develop guys like this.

 
Nets small icon No. 56. Brooklyn Nets (via Clippers): Jaylen Hands, 6’3″ point guard, UCLA. He has good shooting range and he led the Pac-12 in assists last season. He was a top-20 recruit out of high school and has NBA-level athleticism. However, he’s got to learn to be a real floor general, be a more consistent shooter, and defend better than he showed as a Bruin to stick in the NBA.

Pistons small icon No. 57. Detroit Pistons (via Pelicans, Hawks): Jordan Bone, 6’3″ point guard, Tennessee. This is the kind of good gamble to take late in the NBA Draft. Bone has the physical tools of an NBA point guard and is plenty athletic. However, his decision making needs a lot of work, both in terms of shots taken and passes thrown. The Pistons can pick him here, guide him into the G-League, and see if they can improve that decision making and turn him into an NBA player.

 
Jazz small icon No. 58. Utah Jazz (via Warriors): Miye Oni, 6’6″ wing, Yale. He’s long, he has good shooting range, and he plays a gritty game. That sounds like a Jazz player. There’s a lot of development to do for Oni, but Utah is the perfect team for that and they can take their time to bring him along and see if they can turn him into an NBA role player.

 
Raptors small icon No. 59. Toronto Raptors: Dewan Hernandez, 6’10” center, University of Miami. Hernandez did not play last season due to travails ith the NCAA. He’s an athletic big man who plays hard and has shown a good scoring touch around the basket. He’s going to have to develop a jumper and some shooting range, and become a better rim/paint protector to stick in the NBA.

 
Kings small icon 60. Sacramento Kings (via Bucks): Vanja Marinkovic, 6’6″ wing, Serbia. He shot 41 percent from three last season in Europe playing for Partizan in Belgrade (the Adriatic League). If he can develop his defense and playmaking skills, maybe we will see him in the NBA someday, but most likely he is just a draft-and-stash.

Report: Thunder trading No. 21 pick (Brandon Clarke) to Grizzlies for No. 23 pick (Darius Bazley)

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The Thunder were reportedly looking into using the No. 21 pick as a sweetener to unload salary.

Instead, Oklahoma City will trade down a couple spots.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Grizzlies chose Brandon Clarke with the No. 21 pick. It was worth it to trade up for him.

Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. could form a nice big-man pairing offensively – Clarke inside, Jackson outside. Defensively, I’m not sure who can guard opposing centers. But the most important thing is adding a productive player. Memphis can figure out the rest, including how this affects Jonas Valanciunas, later.

After the Celtics took Grant Williams No. 22, Oklahoma City got Darius Bazley with the No. 23 pick. Bazley took an unconventional route to the draft, sitting out last season. With his athleticism and versatility, Bazley is a typical Thunder pick. I bet he would’ve been their choice at No. 21.

Now, Oklahoma City still gets him, an extra second-rounder and savings in the difference between the No. 21 picks’s and No. 23 pick’s salaries – no small consideration for a team facing the repeater luxury tax.

NBA Mock Draft 7.0: The final mock before the draft starts

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We’re now less than 48 hours removed from the start of the NBA draft, so here is the latest NBC Sports projections for who will be the best fit for the teams drafting them.

1. New Orleans — Zion Williamson, Duke

2. Memphis — Ja Morant, Murray State

3. New York — R.J. Barrett, Duke

I’m not really breaking new ground with any of these picks. Frankly, I would be shocked if this went any other way on Thursday night. We all know that Zion is the top prospect in this draft. We also all know that Morant and Barrett are, depending on who you ask, the second and third best prospects in this draft. They are closer than the consensus would have you believe, but Memphis looking to replace Mike Conley longterm with the impact that an all-NBA point guard can have on an organization makes Morant the obvious fit.

Either way, here is a full scouting report for each of those three players:

4. New Orleans — Darius Garland, Vanderbilt

This is the flash point for the 2019 NBA Draft, and it is the case for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which is the presence of Garland.

There are some teams out there that believe Garland is the player with the highest ceiling that is not among the top three picks. He’s a terrific shooter that can play on or off the ball, knows how to operate a ball-screen and has the ability to create shots for himself in isolation. It’s not a perfect comparison — comparisons never are and ignore anyone that tells you otherwise — but if Garland maxes out his ability, he’ll could end up being C.J. McCollum-esque. Garland also plays the point, and there are a number of teams that are looking to add a point guard in this draft, and with the point guard crop falling off after Coby White, there is an incentive for those teams to try and move up, especially if they are one of the teams that believes Garland will be the best of the rest.

And New Orleans has an incentive to move the pick, too. Not only do they already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday on the roster, but if they can drop down a few spots in the draft while adding picks — either later in this draft or in future drafts — it makes more sense. They’ll be able to draft in a position of need without really seeing the quality of the prospect they end up with being affected; the difference between whoever gets picked fourth and the players at the back end of the lottery is not all that great.

So I’m leaving Garland slotted as the No. 4 pick for now.

I just don’t know who is actually going to be drafting him.

5. Cleveland — Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

There are a couple of reasons why I think it makes the most sense for the Cavs to pick Culver. For starters, I think that he fits nicely alongside Collin Sexton, as I believe his future is as a secondary playmaker. Sexton is more of a scorer at heart, and adding the shot-creation and pick-and-roll ability of Culver would give John Beilein more options to initiate offense.

I also think that Culver fits in nicely with the kind of player that Beilein has had the most success with in recent years. Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, even a guy like Jordan Poole. They’re wings that were capable of creating in isolation while also thriving in ball-screens, which is where Culver does his best work. If Garland ends up going fourth, the smart play for the Cavs to make is to pick Culver.

(Here is the full scouting report on Culver.)

6. Phoenix — COBY WHITE, North Carolina

What Phoenix needs is obvious: A primary ball-handler that can be used alongside Devin Booker. The ideal pick, then, is probably Garland, but White wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. He’s lightening quick in transition, he has three-point range and he is deadly off of the dribble. His shooting ability would also allow him to play off the ball, which fits with Booker, who has developed into more of a lead guard than many expected him to be. The concern here is that White is not known for his playmaking ability and can, at times, be ball-dominant. That is not ideal, and it would make some sense for the Suns to trade down if they can find someone willing to part with a veteran guard that fills their needs.

7. Chicago — De'Andre Hunter, Virginia

Chicago, like Phoenix, needs a point guard, as neither Zach LaVine nor Kris Dunn appear to be the longterm answer at the position. With Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. already on the roster, they certainly don’t need to target big men in this draft. So Chicago will have some choices to make. They can trade up to get a guard they want to target. They can trade down to add assets if they believe they can land a free agent to bolster their backcourt. Or they can take the best available player, which, in this case, would be Hunter.

He’s the best two-way wing available, he will be able to contribute immediately and there’s a chance that his ceiling as a scorer is higher than some believe. I think that he’ll likely end up being somewhere between DeMarre Carroll and Trevor Ariza, with a real chance of developing into an all-star down the line.

(Here is the full scouting report on Hunter.)

8. Atlanta — Cam Reddish, Duke

This is yet another pick that could every well end up being involved in a trade, as the Hawks have three picks between 8-17 and six picks in the top 44. Packaging two of their first rounders to jump up into the top five to snag Culver or Hunter seems like a very real possibility. Whatever ends up happening, eight seems like the floor for Reddish, who has a world of potential but spent his one-and-done season at Duke finding myriad ways to make people question it.

(Here is the full scouting report on Reddish.)

9. Washington — Sekou Doumbouya, France

Who knows.

The Wizards still are in front office limbo, as interim GM Tommy Sheppard will be running the draft this year. They have a thin roster loaded with aging veterans, a star in Bradley Beal that could end up being shipped out and an ailing John Wall, who is recovering from a torn Achilles. The position of need for them is on the wing, and Doumbouya is probably the guy with the highest ceiling in that spot, but there are plenty of options for them in this range — Nassir Little, Rui Hachimura, P.J. Washington, etc.

10. Atlanta — Jaxson Hayes, Texas

Hayes is a project. He’s big, he’s athletic, he has great hands, he’s mobile and he’s in theory a guy that will be a terrific rim-running, lob-catching, rim-protecting five to pair with Trae Young. He fits alongside John Collins, too. But he’s raw, he’s super-young in basketball years (he didn’t even start in high school until his senior season) and he has yet to prove himself a quality rebounder. This also could end up being a pick that is traded by the Hawks, but for now, let’s send Hayes to the A.

11. Minnesota — Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

I understand why there will be some hesitancy when it comes to drafting Clarke. His jumper is not something that can be trusted. He’s 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds and more or less limited to playing the five in the NBA. He’s not a great passer. His efficiency, elite athleticism, shot-blocking feel and basketball savvy should make him a useful player in the NBA, but he needs the right fit.

Minnesota is that fit. He can be slotted alongside Karl Anthony-Towns, who will have the size to allow Clarke to guard opposing four and has the perimeter ability to keep the paint from getting too crowded. Clarke will also provide the Wolves with defensive cover, as KAT is not exactly known for his desire to play on that end of the floor. He can step into the league right away and contribute, and for a team that really isn’t that far away from being in the playoffs, there’s value there.

12. Charlotte — RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

Charlotte needs to fill a hole at the four, and there are plenty of options in this range. Clarke and Doumbouya could both drop while Nassir Little and P.J. Washington are still on our board. But Rui makes sense to me here. He fits the Charlotte profile of drafting players that have had a ton of success at the collegiate level — he was an All-American this past year — while also having A) elite physical tools and B) plenty of room to grow. Remember, he grew up in Japan playing against totally outmatched competition. His first year at Gonzaga was spent trying to learn to speak English. He needs to continue to develop his shooting, and learn how to play defense, but he has the stroke and the athleticism to, in theory, do both.

13. Miami — P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky

Washington makes sense in Miami. He can compliment Bam Adebayo in the frontcourt, and he has the length and defensive ability to guard multiple positions. He’s continued to develop as a shooter and he is more athletic than he looks at first glance. His ceiling is limited, but I do think that he is the kind of player that will be a solid rotation piece for a decade in the NBA. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic called him the next Patrick Patterson, and I’m going to steal that comparison because I love it. Getting P-Patt at 13 is solid value in this draft.

14. Boston — NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina

With the news that Al Horford is going to opt out of his contract, the Celtics will be in the market for bigs that can defend and space the floor. There are a number of them in this range — Mfiondu Kabengele, Goga Bitazde, Bol Bol, even someone like a Nic Claxton. But the Celtics also have picks at No. 20 and No. 22, and it’s likely that at least one of those four will still be on the board then. So I’m going with Little here, who is the kind of hard-nosed wing that Brad Stevens seems to love. He was a top three prospect in the class before an up-and-down season with North Carolina, but some of that was due to simply being a weird fit with Roy Williams’ system. He’s worth the risk.

15. Detroit — Tyler Herro, Kentucky

The Pistons have Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. They need a wing, and there are plenty to choose from in this range — Romeo Langford, Keldon Johnson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kevin Porter Jr. For my money, Herro is the best of the group. He’s a big-time shooter with a developing off-the-dribble game, he’s wired to be a shot-maker and he’s tougher defensively than he gets credit for. I also think he has a higher ceiling than the rest of that group, save Porter.

16. Orlando — NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

The Magic need shooting, they need backcourt help and they need someone that can help take some of the playmaking load off of Markelle Fultz, as the former No. 1 pick looks to restart his career in Orlando. Alexander-Walker makes perfect sense, as he has the size and length to defend multiple positions, thrived in ball-screens under Buzz Williams this past season and has proven to me as adept as a spot-up shooter as he is as a creator.

17. Atlanta — MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State

If Atlanta ends up making a trade in this trade, there’s a real chance that the No. 17 pick is the one they move. At that point, all bets are off, so I’ll slot Kabengele in here, because I think that he is underrated in terms of his longterm potential, he is developed enough that he can play a role immediately and he fits with the teams that the Hawks would likely be trading with to move up in the draft — New Orleans and Cleveland.

If Atlanta ends up shipping off the No. 10 pick and Minnesota picks someone other than Clarke at No. 11, then I can see the Hawks ending up with Clarke here. He’d fit well alongside John Collins, he’d boost their defense and he would be a terrific lob target for Trae Young.

18. Indiana — ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana

An Indiana schoolboy legend turned Hoosier that goes to play for the Pacers is just too good of a story, isn’t it? There are some very real reasons to be concerned about Langford’s upside — namely the poor perimeter shooting and the fact that he is right-hand dominant — but he spent the season playing through a thumb injury that required surgery. He’s a risk, but at No. 18, it’s a low-cost risk that could return value, both on the court and in ticket sales, if he maximizes his upside.

19. San Antonio — GOGA BITADZE, Georgia

The Spurs have some solid pieces on their perimeter, but with an again LaMarcus Aldridge anchoring their frontline, it’s time for a rebuild there. Enter Bitadze, who was impressively productive in the Euroleague and whose combination of shot-blocking and floor-spacing is intriguing.

20. Boston — BOL BOL, Oregon

I have my doubts about Bol’s future as a pro, but it’s not because I don’t see the potential there. He has a ton of red flags, as detailed in this scouting report, but he is also a 7-foot-2 center that is a lights-out three-point shooter and an elite rim-protector when he is engaged. This is also the kind of organization that will A) take a risk on a guy with red flags and B) has proven to be a place where players can develop. He needs their culture more than any other prospect in this draft.

21. Oklahoma City — Cam Johnson, North Carolina

Oklahoma City badly needs to add shooting, and Johnson may just be the best shooter in this draft. He’s a finished product, as he is already 23 years old, but he stands 6-foot-9 and can will immediately contribute to a team that needs all the floor-spacing they can get. This is also a pick that has been rumored to be on the market.

22. Boston — KEVIN PORTER JR., USC

Like Bol Bol, Porter is an extremely high-upside player that has myriad red flags. He missed six weeks with a mysterious thigh injury. He was suspended on a road trip due to what sources close to the program said was a long list of relatively small problems that kept building up. He’s immature, but that doesn’t mean that he is a bad person. With the right infrastructure and influence around him, he could thrive, and if that happens, his ceiling is as the best scorer in this draft. He is that talented.

I don’t expect Boston to end up with both Bol Bol and Porter, partly due to the fact that I can see the Celtics being active on the trade market, but both players would make perfect sense on that roster.

23. Memphis — KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky

Johnson doesn’t have one elite skill, but there are plenty of things that he does well: He’s a willing defender if not an elite athlete. He’s a good-not-great shooter. He’s a capable straight-line driver. He’s tough. He’s versatile. He may not be the kind of a player with a super-high ceiling, but he has a floor because of how well-rounded he is. He’s good value this late in the draft.

24. Philadelphia — Ty Jerome, Virginia

I love Jerome’s toughness, shot-making ability and savvy in running ball-screens. He’s not a great athlete, but he makes up for it because of how smart he is, and it’s hard to imagine a guy that spent three years playing under Tony Bennett being a liability defensively. More importantly, he’s excellent at running off of screens and knocking down jumpers. He can be everything that Landry Shamet was for the 76ers before getting traded.

25. Portland — K.Z. Okpala, Stanford

Okpala plays a position of need for the Blazers, and while he struggled late in the season, he’s has the size, length and fluidity to project as an effective big wing down the road. Drafting him here means that you trust in his jumper, which fell off of a cliff in the last six weeks of the college hoops season.

26. Cleveland — NIC CLAXTON, Georgia

Claxton has quite a bit of upside, as he’s something of a late-bloomer that has been the biggest riser throughout the draft process. Outside of SEC nerds, I’m not sure how many people actually knew about this guy before February. He’s going to need to add some weight and continue to develop his perimeter ability, but his athleticism and versatility makes him easily projectable as a forward down the road, not just a center. Drafting Claxton is like chasing the next Pascal Siakam, and if he pans out, he could end up being the best value pick in this draft.

27. Brooklyn — Grant Williams, Tennessee

I love Grant Williams. He’s only 6-foot-6, but he has the strength and the length to guard up. He’s a very good rebounder and a super-smart passer that allowed Tennessee to run their offense through him. He’s also effective in the post and the kind of guy that is going to step up and make big plays in big moments. But I think the most important thing to note here is that his role needs context: He was not really allowed or encouraged to shoot at Tennessee, and I do believe he is going to be better in that area at the next level. I think you’re getting a 10-year pro with the potential to be a starter in the mid-to-late first round, and that is great value in my mind.

He’s precisely the kind of player that would be ideal to get into this Brooklyn organization.

28. Golden State — Dylan Windler, Belmont

I think Windler is super-interesting as a role player in the modern NBA. He can really, really shoot it, and while that’s more or less where his bread is going to be buttered, I do believe that he is better at doing the little things that he gets credit for. He can rebound, he can jump passing lanes, he makes the right reads. He was a superstar for Belmont in the OVC, but at his heart he’s built to be a complimentary. I can see him latching on for a number of years as a role player coming off the bench for a playoff team, and the Warriors have had a lot of success finding college guys that can fill a specific role for them in the late-first and second round.

29. San Antonio — LUKE SAMANIC, Serbia

For all the reasons that Bitadze makes sense in San Antonio, Samanic does as well.

30. Milwaukee — Eric Paschall, Villanova

Like many Villanova products before him, Paschall seems like he’ll fit seamlessly onto the roster of a playoff and contribute. He’s spent the last four years in a system that preaches positionless offense and switchability on defense, and with his size, athleticism and ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, he’s exactly what NBA teams are currently looking for. He’s almost 23 years old, so he’s more or less a finished product, but he’s good enough right now to play in an NBA rotation.

2019 NBA draft tiers: Zion Williamson then Ja Morant then everyone else

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How this works:

Draft for need or take the best player available?

It’s the question as old as drafts themselves. Personally, I favor the middle-of-the-road approach – the tier system. I judge prospects on three attributes:

  • Current ability
  • Potential
  • Likelihood of meeting that potential

Obviously, assessing those attributes is not easy. It’s really hard.

That’s why I don’t like taking the best prospect – based on all three criteria – available. It’s just too difficult to split hairs between players with so many variables.

But overly considering fit is problematic for the same reason. Rosters churn, and it’s foolish to pass on a clearly better prospect – in the cases that becomes clear – just because he doesn’t fit the current version of the team.

So how does the tier system work?

Divide players into tiers based on their value regardless of fit. Don’t worry about differentiating prospects with nearly identical values. Find natural cutoffs.

Then, within each tier, rank the players based on fit for the specific drafting team.

Theoretically, a draft could have anywhere between 1 and 60 tiers. A 1-tier draft would mean every prospect – from the top pick to Mr. Irrelevant – holds the same value. A 60-tier draft would mean every prospect is clearly distinguishable based on value. Obviously, neither is likely.

The size of tiers should be organic, and therefore, the number of tiers is also organic. Naturally, tiers tend to be smaller near the top of the draft, where lines between players are sharper.

Within each tier, I rank players as if the drafting teams had empty rosters. Obviously, actual NBA teams would need to consider other information when assessing fit of players within a tier.

Here are the 11 tiers necessary to cover the first round of the 2019 NBA draft:

Tier 1

1. Zion Williamson, PF, Duke

Williamson is the best prospect since Anthony Davis. At 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds with jaw-dropping explosiveness, Williamson has a unique physical profile. He’s an amazing finisher, especially in transition. Williamson’s ability to create – for himself and others – off the dribble is stunning for a player his size. He’s so nimble. He can also post up smaller defenders. One way or another, he’s getting to the rim. And once he arrives, his dunks are thunderous. He applies all his incredible athleticism defensively, too. Williamson has excellent timing as a rim protector. He terrorizes passing lanes. He even moves well on the perimeter. His outside shooting and passing are still developing – which makes it scary a player so productive has such clear pathways to improvement.

Tier 2

2. Ja Morant, PG, Murray State

Morant took over games at Murray State. He’s a dynamic ball-handler and passer, skills he puts to great use while shifting speeds – including into an exceptionally quick turbo gear – and showing tremendous agility. Morant’s shooting has become solid, and it appears headed toward getting even better. I have some questions about the level of competition he faced, but he thoroughly dominated it as you’d hope a high-end prospect would. Morant needs work defensively. Reduced offensive responsibility would help on the other end, but it won’t solve everything.

Tier 3

3. Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt

Garland played just five games as a freshman before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He’s a smooth shooter from mid-range and beyond the arc – with the ball-handling, footwork and balance to get those shots off quickly. Beyond long-term health concerns, the big drawback of his injury is losing time to develop as a distributor. Garland has shown nice flashes, but his court vision needs work. As does his finishing. He’s not much of a defender, either. Point guards often need time to develop as facilitators. Young players – Garland is 19 – often need time to get stronger. As Garland naturally develops and fills out, he could become a better passer, finisher and defender.

4. R.J. Barrett, SF, Duke

Barrett profiles as a go-to offensive player. He’s an athletic driver who’s quite comfortable amid physicality. He can run pick-and-rolls, both for himself and to set up teammates. His playmaking is strong for his size. In so many ways, he’s advanced for his age. I’m just not sold – with his subpar shooting, uneven decision-making and left-handed dominance – he’ll handle a leading role on a good team. There are too many noteworthy flaws to expose. Barrett not capitalizing on his impressive defensive tools is also concerning. Barrett is younger and better than Garland right now. But, due to the nature of their shortcomings, it’s slightly easier to see Garland progressing into a top-level NBA player.

Tier 4

5. Coby White, PG, North Carolina

White’s speed shines in transition. He pushes the pace, compromises defenses and takes advantage. He can pass on the move. He can stop on a dime. He can pull up for jumpers. In the halfcourt, he doesn’t hold up as well. He dribbles into trouble and is still learning how to be a natural point guard after spending more time as a scoring guard. He struggles to shoot off the dribble. But he’s a knockdown spot-up shooter with off-ball skills, which lends itself to creative backcourt pairings. White can attack in transition then let someone else run the offense in halfcourt sets.

Tier 5

6. Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech

Culver’s teammates will love him. He flat-out competes. He’s unselfish. He has an all-around game that can bend to many settings. But is he talented and athletic enough to make a real difference in the pros? Culver is a nice scorer from multiple levels with and without the ball, nice distributor, nice defender. I’m not sure he has a standout skill. But there’s value in betting on his work ethic and attitude.

7. Sekou Doumbouya, PF/SF, Limoges (France)

At just 18, Doumbouya has already proven capable of contributing in high-level European leagues. That’s a real accomplishment. He’s physically advanced for his age. The 6-foot-9 forward covers a lot of ground quickly, and he can get off the ground, too. His shooting, ball-handling and feel are works in progress, but at least Doumbouya has shown he’s headed in the right direction. He flashes swarming defense and a soft touch. Maybe, in time, Doumbouya will round into a quality two-way player.

8. De'Andre Hunter, SF/PF, Virginia

There might not be a defensive matchup Hunter can’t handle. But he doesn’t project as shutdown defender. His strength comes from his defensive versatility. Hunter (6-foot-7, 225 pounds, 7-foot-2 wingspan, strong base) switches reasonably onto any position. The 21-year-old might have benefited from becoming more physically advanced than most of his college opponents. His offensive role projects to be a standstill 3-point shooter who can attack closeouts with either line drives to the rim or a hard dribble or two then pull-up jumper. A slow release reduces opportunities to shoot 3s. He’s not a creator.

Tier 6

9. Cam Reddish, SF, Duke

Reddish sometimes makes it look easy. But he made it look darned hard at Duke last year. At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Reddish has a smooth athleticism and shooting stroke. He could be the next Tracy McGrady. But if he were anywhere near that good, why did he struggle so much at Duke? Sure, he wasn’t placed into an ideal role. Reddish never looked comfortable as a spot-up shooter around Williamson and Barrett. Still, it seems most future NBA stars would have found a way to look better than he did. Reddish was far less productive in college/Europe than everyone ahead of him and several players behind him. But he’s too talented to slip further.

10. Brandon Clarke, PF/C, Gonzaga

Clarke is a quick leaper with soft hands and an attack mentality. That’s why he finishes so well, grabs so many offensive rebounds and blocks so many shots despite his underwhelming physical profile (6-foot-8, a 6-foot-8 wingspan, 207 pounds). With his energy and plus passing, he definitely lifts his team. But he might not shoot well enough from the perimeter to play power forward and his rebounding/ability to guard bigger players limits him at center. He’s also already 22.

Tier 7

11. Kevin Porter, SG, USC

Porter has star upside. At 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, his combination of shiftiness and power is jaw-dropping. He can attack the rim and finish above it. He can pull up for jumpers with a compact and smooth stroke. But there are also questions about his maturity and mentality. He missed games last season due to suspension. He also needs work in periphery skills – defense, passing, off-ball.

12. Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas

Hayes is an excellent rim runner. He can screen, roll hard, elevate in a hurry and finish above the rim. His hops make him a solid rim-protector, too. But how high should a player like that be drafted? The NBA is emphasizing skill at all positions, and Hayes is neither a shooter nor a passer. He’s also raw defensively. But there’s time for him to develop better awareness, and he could perform well enough in his offensive role to provide real value.

13. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, PG/SG, Virginia Tech

Alexander-Walker is a well-rounded prospect with one key flaw: He lacks burst and explosiveness. It’s tough for NBA point guards who don’t bend opposing defenses. Alexander-Walker might get by with his floor vision, crafty ball-handling and ability to pass on the move. If he winds up a combo guard, Alexander-Walker has the size (6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan) and standstill 3-point-shooting ability to play off the ball.

14. Bol Bol, C, Oregon

Bol has the highest spread between floor and ceiling in this draft. He comes with major red flags – foot injury, durability, intensity, work ethic, defense. But he’s so talented offensively. I’ll roll the dice on a 7-foot-2 center who can shoot and dribble like him. With a 7-foot-7 wingspan, he’ll block plenty of shots, too. It could go south at times – when the 208-pounder gets pushed around, when he gets hurt due to his thin frame, when it seems he just doesn’t care. Bol’s shortcomings are especially frustrating, which is why I think he’s undervalued. He’s competing with other flawed players in this range.

15. Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina

Little is 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and excellent athleticism. He looks like an archetypical wing in a league desperate for more players at that position. But Little needs major work as a shooter, dribbler and passer – just generally with his offensive feel. His defensive fundamentals must also improve. In the meantime, Little could still contribute by using his physicality and motor to run the floor, dive to the rim and crash the glass.

Tier 8

16. Romeo Langford, SF/SG, Indiana

Langford played through a hand injury last season, which skews evaluations. How much better would he have looked if healthy? Maybe negligibly, maybe significantly. Langford shot poorly from beyond the arc, and it’d be easy to see how that’d improve with a healthy hand. His ball-stopping offensive style is harder to justify. Still, at a certain point, it’s worth taking the wing with an NBA body and scoring skills. Maybe he’ll eventually read the game more quickly and/or shoot better.

17. Ty Jerome, SG, Virginia

Jerome has such an excellent feel for the game. He’s a good outside shooter. Not only does he pass well, he moves the ball decisively. He just boosts an offense. He’ll compete defensively, but his size (6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-4 wingspan) and athletic limitations will be difficult to overcome.

Tier 9

18. Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky

Herro is a shooter. He moves without the ball, pulls up off the dribble, shoots under duress, contorts to different angles to get his shot off. He’s going to get up his 3-pointers. Whether he does much else is questionable. At 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-3 wingspan and limited lateral quickness, he could be a defensive liability.

19. Grant Williams, PF, Tennessee

Williams possesses great basketball intelligence and feel. He won’t play in the NBA the same way he did at Tennessee, overpowering players in the post. His screening and passing should translate. For all his awareness and hustle, will Williams (6-foot-8, 6-foot-10 wingspan, 240 pounds, mediocre athleticism) have enough length, mobility and explosion to defend at the next level? His lackluster defensive rebounding provides reason for concern.

Tier 10

20. Darius Bazley, PF/SF

Bazley is a fluid athlete who shows plenty of skills as a scorer and distributor. He has the versatility to defend multiple positions. But his feel for the game is questionable, especially after sitting out last season.

21. P.J. Washington, PF, Kentucky

Washington improved impressively into his sophomore season, but he’ll also turn 21 before his rookie year. That raises questions about the tough, undersized power forward without ideal athleticism. Did he just become more physically advanced than his college peers, or did he actually improve in ways that will translate? Similarly, his improved outside shooting came on a small sample.

22. Goga Bitadze, C, Budocnost (Montenegro)

The 7-footer will be a threat in the pick-and-deep roll/short roll/pop. He combines his size and touch inside, shoots comfortably from mid-range and is developing a 3-pointer. He tries to block everything and often succeeds – but also fouls too much and stays near the basket rather than close out. He’s a massive defensive liability when forced onto the perimeter

23. Luka Samanic, PF, Union Olimpija (Slovenia)

The 6-foot-11 Samanic moves well, and that help him score in a variety of ways inside the arc. He’s skilled with a nice touch. His defense has improved, but not enough yet.

24. Luguentz Dort, SG, Arizona State

Dort plays aggressively, offensively and defensively. He’s inefficient, forcing too many bad shots. But I respect his effort and physicality.

Tier 11

25. Rui Hachimura, PF/SF, Gonzaga

Hachimura roasts bigger players on the perimeter and outmuscles smaller players inside. The solution: Send help. He doesn’t read the floor well, and he can be a ball hog. He also too rarely puts his quality defensive tools to good use.

26. Dylan Windler, SF, Belmont

Windler shoots well and has excellent spatial awareness. But questions about his size and quickness are punctuated by a significant drop in production against better competition.

27. Cameron Johnson, PF/SF, North Carolina

Johnson is a lights-out shooter with a quick release. His size (6-foot-9) allows him to shoot and pass over opponents. He lacks the athleticism and physicality to do much more. There are also questions about the 23-year-old’s long-term health after hip surgery.

28. Talen Horton-Tucker, ?, Iowa State

Horton-Tucker is such an unconventional prospect. He has a guard’s height (6-foot-4), power forward’s width (235 pounds) and a game with elements of both. Maybe his 7-foot-1 wingspan will allow him to bridge the gap. He’s a heck of a ball-handler who throws passes all over the court and scores craftily. But he’s an unreliable shooter and slow defensively. At just 18, he has time to develop his shortcomings. There’s also a chance he just never translates well to the NBA.

29. Nicolas Claxton, C, Georgia

Another weird player, Claxton is a 7-footer who sometimes looks like a point guard. He can put the ball on the floor and initiate the offense. His length (7-foot-2.5 wingspan) makes him a good shot-blocker, but he must get much stronger. He’s raw as a rebounder, interior defender, paint scorer. Maybe those traditional big-man responsibilities will come as Claxton develops his body.

30. Chuma Okeke, PF, Auburn

Okeke tore his ACL in the NCAA tournament, but prior to that, he showed a knack for making winning plays. He’s a hustle player who shoots reasonably well from outside and can also make plays with the ball. There were athleticism concerns even before the injury.

31. Shamorie Ponds, PG, St. John’s

Ponds can control an offense with his scoring and passing. He’s a good shooter and has plenty of moves and craft off the dribble. The big drawback: He’s 6-foot-1. His lack of size could undermine his whole game, especially defensively.

32. KZ Okpala, PF/SF, Stanford

Okpala (6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and good mobility) looks like a modern NBA combo forward. He even sometimes shows the requisite skills as a shooter, ball-handler, passer and defender. But he’s still quite inconsistent.

33. Carsen Edwards, SG, Purdue

Edwards is a classic undersized shooter without the facilitating ability to play point guard. He hoists 3s from deep range, on and off the ball. He should attract plenty of defensive attention, even without ability to score inside. Opposing offenses will notice him, too, as they can pick on the 6-footer.

34. Matisse Thybulle, SF, Washington

Thybulle is a standout defender. He possesses plenty of length, quickness, hops and maximizes those physical skills with activity and anticipation. His 3-point shooting has been up-and-down, and that skill could determine whether he stays on the floor in the NBA.

Correction: I mistakenly initially omitted Cameron Johnson. He has been added.