Rob Dauster

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 Prospect Profile: Is Jarrett Culver’s upside worth being a top five pick?

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Jarrett Culver.

Previous draft profiles:

Jarrett Culver is the second member of Chris Beard’s first real recruiting class at Texas Tech to go from totally under-the-radar to a guaranteed first round pick.

It started last year with Zhaire Smith, a sensational athlete and developing shooter that found his way into Tech’s starting lineup before eventually finding his way into being the No. 16 pick in the first round of last year’s draft. Most expected that Culver, who averaged 11.2 points and just 1.8 assists while shooting 38.2 percent from three, to soak up the role that Smith played for the Red Raiders, but that isn’t what happened.

Instead, Culver became what Keenan Evans — the 2018 Big 12 Player of the Year turned two-way player for the Detroit Pistons — was for the Red Raiders. He didn’t just become a better scorer and a talented wing prospect, he became their point guard.

And that is where the intrigue lies for Culver when it comes to his potential at the next level.

He has the size you want out of an off-guard and, at 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, is big enough to be able to guard small forwards in the NBA, but he doesn’t have the game of a typical 3-and-D player. As a sophomore, he averaged a team-high 3.7 assists for Texas Tech, but he wasn’t exactly what you would call a point guard. In fact, he was often essentially playing the four, with a trio of smaller guards on the floor around him. What Beard did was build an offense that was heavy with motion principles early in a possession, but as the shot clock wound down, the ball would end up in Culver’s hands, where he would be put into an isolation or a ball-screen action and allowed to create.

That is what he does best.

Shot creation.

Culver is excellent in triple-threat situations. His ability to shoot off the dribble consistently improved throughout his college career, and he’s generally at his best when he is allowed to get into a rhythm jumper off the bounce. He needs to quicken up his release in the NBA, but he has some wiggle room given the way that he gets his shot off. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but he can dunk on defenders when he gets a lane to the basket and his long strides and improving frame allowed him to be able to get to where he wanted to get to in the lane despite the fact that his first step is not all that quick.

But where Culver improved the most during the offseason was with his ability to operate ball-screens. He obsessively studied tape during the summer to learn the proper reads and proper passes to make when running a ball-screen, and the improvement showed. He forced teams to have to stop going under the screen against him because of his ability to step-back and make off-the-dribble threes. He can throw one-handed, live-dribble passes to shooters in either corner. He turned Tariq Owens into a serious threat on the offensive end of the floor with his ability to hit him on lobs while also knowing how to create the space and passing lane for a dump-off.

He’s grown into being a high-level, well-rounded offensive weapon, and there is quite a bit of value in a player that can be a secondary shot-creator without having to play as a point or off-guard.

Now, there are some limitations as well.

Culver has averaged more than four threes per game in his two-year career, and he’s shooting just 34.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s better as an off-the-dribble shooter, which actually is not exactly ideal for a player that is going to be spending quite a few possessions playing off the ball. He’s added some muscle since last season — and a growth spurt in the last year makes it seem possible that his body is not done developing — but he is still pretty slender and is not great at dealing with physicality on either end of the floor. There are some real concerns offensively about how he will handle the athleticism NBA defenders have, and the 5-for-22 shooting performance he put together in the national title game against De'Andre Hunter doesn’t assuage those concerns.

There are also some question marks about his defense. Personally, I think he’ll be fine. He’s never going to be a total lockdown defender, but I don’t think that he will be a liability. He’s not going to be the guy opposing coaches target. He has spent the last two years playing within one of the best defensive systems in college basketball, but one that is built on exceptional game-planning and coaching as much as raw talent. So while it may have left Culver somewhat over-hyped on the defensive end, to me it is also proof that he can execute a game-plan and do a job on that end.

Put it all together, and what you have is a guy that can do a lot of things really well. You have a guy whose combination of skills should allow him to be a valuable piece in an NBA rotation. What you don’t have is a player that is likely to end up being an NBA superstar. These comparisons aren’t perfect — they never are — but I think he’s going to end up being somewhere between Caris LeVert pre-injury and Evan Turner.

He’s a safe-bet to be a rock-solid starter in the NBA, potentially as early as this season.

But I’m not sure just how much upside he has.

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Ja Morant is the future of the point guard position

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Ja Morant.

Previous draft profiles:

The trajectory that Zion Williamson and Ja Morant have taken to get to the point where they are projected to be the top two picks in the NBA draft could not be more different.

Four years ago, they were playing on the same, small AAU team out of South Carolina. From there, Zion blew up, becoming a viral sensation thanks to his athletic exploits, having his jersey get worn by Drake when he was still a high school junior and spending the majority of his time in the high school ranks as a top-five talent in his recruiting class.

Morant, on the other hand, was more or less a no-name prospect into the summer before his senior year. He eventually became a popular mid-major target, and he even received a scholarship offer from in-state South Carolina. He was hardly unknown, but he was miles away from being someone considered to be a potential franchise-changing talent at the NBA level.

As it stands today, the thing that both Zion and Ja have in common — besides the two most recognizable first names — is an otherworldly level of explosiveness that has both ratcheted up their hype and buried the lede. The reason Williamson is the most exciting prospect to come out of the college ranks since Anthony Davis is because of his ability to play the point and the five, all at the same time. He’s Draymond Green, only if he was injected with NOS from Dominic Toretto.

Morant’s athleticism rivals Williamson’s. Blessed with a 44 inch vertical, Morant’s motto this season was “jump with me if you want to go viral,” and that couldn’t have been more accurate. He spent more time on SportsCenter this season than every Ohio Valley Conference player before him combined, something that was highlighted by this dunk:

And that explosiveness matters, I would never try to say otherwise. Dunking over weakside defenders in the NBA is going to be more difficult than when playing at UT Martin, but being able to elevate the way Morant elevates will help him transition to the next level. His quick-twitch athleticism also manifests in his ability to make plays in the halfcourt, where his ability to change speeds — and to go from a standstill to top speed — is what allows scouts to be able to project Morant as a player that can create offense against set NBA defenses. For a player who did so much of his damage at the college level in transition, that’s a big deal.

Morant’s physical tools makes it very easy to see him as another De'Aaron Fox. They’re both about 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds with a 6-foot-6 wingspan, and Fox just wrapped up his second season in the NBA with averages of 17.3 points, 7.3 assists and 3.8 boards.

But simply focusing on Morant’s athletic ability is to ignore what he does best: Pass.

Because while Morant did average 24.5 points and 5.7 boards while shooting 36 percent from three, perhaps what is most impressive about his sophomore season with the Racers is that he led all of college basketball in assists at 10.0 per game, just like Lonzo Ball led the nation in assists in 2017 and Trae Young did in 2018.

I mention both of those guys for a reason. Morant does not have the same hit-ahead ability in transition that Ball does, but Morant’s vision in the open floor and ability to make long, accurate passes in the open floor is one of the things that he does best. He also thrives in early-offense, where his And-1 Mixtape handle allows him to keep his dribble alive and probe opposing defenses. Because he is such a threat as a scorer, defenses would then collapse, which is when Morant’s ability as a dump-off passer and a lob-thrower comes into effect.

And that’s not even what he does best as a passer, because where he really shines is in the halfcourt and working off of ball-screens. Morant’s basketball IQ is the most underrated part of his game. He knows how defenses are going to defend him. He knows how to use his eyes to move weakside defenders. He knows where the tag is coming from, and whether the shooter in the far side corner or the roll-man will be open. This is where that Trae Young comparison comes into play, because reading defenses is where Young thrived while at Oklahoma.

The best way to describe Morant’s ability as a passer is that he not only knows when and where his teammates are going to come open, but he has the ability to find a way to make the pass that will get them an open shot. Morant is right-handed, but he will, at times, look like a left-handed player because of how often he makes bullet, live-dribble passes with just his left. He makes reads, and passes, that few point guards in the NBA today can make.

That passing is what makes all the difference, and as much as his athleticism or ability as a scorer, it’s the reason why he can be viewed as a player with the potential to be a franchise-changing point guard in the same stratosphere as the likes of Russell Westbrook and John Wall.

Now, Morant does have some flaws, and they are quite notable and relevant.

For starters, he is of a slight build, which is less than ideal. He is not going to be able to bounce off of contact in the NBA the same way he did in the OVC, and in a league where switchability is a priority at the highest-level, he is going to be targeted. Opposing coaches are going to target him by trying to force switches the same way that Nick Nurse did with Steph Curry in the finals. That is going to be an issue if he can’t add some weight and strength, particularly because he has not been a consistently great defender to date. Some of that can be attributed to the load that he was asked to carry offensively, and there is reason to believe that Morant’s athleticism, anticipation and quick hands will translate to being an above-average defender in the NBA.

Morant can also be a bit sloppy. He averaged more than five turnovers per game, and while some of that is strictly a result of workload and defensive attention, he also had a habit of trying to force passes that weren’t there.

But the biggest question mark, and what is going to determine his ceiling more than just about anything else, will be how well his jumper comes along. Morant shot 36.3 percent from three this past season, but that number drops to just 33.6 percent if his 7-for-8 shooting from three in the NCAA tournament is factored out.

Put another way, as good as Morant was this past season, there is still plenty of room for him to grow moving forward.

And in a league where ball-dominant lead guards that thrive in ball-screens is the norm, Morant is a player with quite a bit of value in the long-term.

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Zion Williamson, the perfect prospect at the perfect time

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Zion Williamson.

Previous draft profiles:

The thing that stands out when it comes to Zion Williamson, the biggest reason that he has become an internet sensation with a chance of becoming an international superstar, is his athleticism.

It’s the dunks.

Human beings aren’t supposed to be the size of Zion, and the people that are that big certainly are not supposed to be able to move – or fly – the way that he does. That athleticism plays a major role in the reason why he is, for my money, the best prospect to enter the NBA since Anthony Davis, but it is far from the only reason that he has a chance to be a generational talent at the next level.

In an era of positionless basketball, Zion Williamson has the potential to develop into the NBA’s preeminent small-ball five, or point-center, or whatever term it is you want to use to describe the basketball’s biggest matchup nightmares.

It starts on the defensive side of the ball. Williamson stands just 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, but between his athleticism, his strength and his anticipation, he plays like a 7-footer. He’s not going to get buried under the rim by even the biggest centers in the league, and he is terrific at coming from the weakside and blocking shots at the rim:

His anticipation is on another level defensively, which is what makes him such a dangerous playmaker on that side of the ball. He jumps passing lanes, he can pick a point guard’s pocket when blitzing a ball-screen, he has an understanding of what an opponent is going to try to do before they do it.

He’s not just a rim protector, however. He can move his feet on the perimeter, staying in front of point guards when he is caught in a switch:

He can do all of the things that bigs are asked to do defensively in the pace-and-space era, and he may be the best that we’ve ever seen when it comes to grab-and-go ability. In transition is where he may end up being the most valuable and the most dangerous. Williamson can lead a break. There is room for him to improve his handle, but he would be able to step onto an NBA floor today and be capable of bringing the ball up the floor. His speed and strength makes him nearly impossible to stop when he gets up a head of steam, but he also has terrific vision and is capable of making pinpoint passes through traffic when defenses throw multiple bodies at him.

That vision was most evident in transition this past season, but he did show flashes of being able to create off the bounce in a halfcourt setting as well.

Part of the reason those chances were limited was due to the way that defenses played Duke this season. The Blue Devils were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country last year, and the result was that by the the ACC and NCAA tournaments rolled around, the secret was out — other than Cam Reddish, you didn’t really have to worry about guarding anyone else beyond 10-12 feet. Opposing defenses simply packed as many bodies as possible in the paint, and while Williamson was still able to get to the rim just about at will — and shoot 68 percent from the floor in the process — it limited the chances that he had to actually rack up assists. He wasn’t dumping the ball off to the bigs when there were four defenders standing with a foot in the charge circle, and kick-out passes to the likes of Tre Jones, Jordan Goldwire and Jack White were precisely what defenses wanted.

Put another way, I think that Williamson’s assist numbers are going to be what spikes at the next level. Not only will he be playing in a league where there is significantly more spacing, but the reason for that spacing will be the fact that he is surrounded by guys that can actually make threes.

That spacing, by the way, will make Williamson significantly more difficult to guard. There simply are not any traditional fives in the NBA that are going to be able to keep Williamson in front with any kind of consistency, and the players that are quick enough are not going to be strong enough to keep Williamson from getting to his spots. And for all the concerns that have been voiced about Williamson’s shooting ability, he did finish the season hitting 33.8 percent of his three-pointers. If Draymond Green shot 33.8 percent from three, then the Raptors might actually respect him enough to feign guarding him beyond the arc in the Finals.

I bring up Green for a reason, because I think he is the perfect place to start talking about what Williamson can be at the next level. Williamson will be able to do, and has the potential to be better at, all of the things that Green does so well — guarding 1-through-5, protecting the rim, bringing the ball up the floor, leading the break. But what really sets Green apart from the field is the way that he is able to exploit 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s offensively and stop 2-on-1s defensively.

I’m not sure there is a player in the NBA that is as basketball smart as Green. He almost never makes the wrong decision on the offensive end of the floor, and part of what makes Golden State’s offense so lethal is that you’re forced to choose between using an extra defender to keep Steph Curry or Klay Thompson from getting a clean look at a three or letting Green make a play with a numbers advantage. On the defensive end, there is no one that is better at stopping those exact same 2-on-1 situations than Green.

There just isn’t.

And I think that Williamson has the basketball smarts and ability to be able to, potentially, do all of those things just as well one day.

He’s also bigger, more athletic, a better natural defender, a better scorer and a more difficult player to stop 1-on-1.

Imagine if you took Julius Randle‘s scoring ability, gave it to Green and then super-charged that Frankenstein with the kind of strength, speed and athleticism that would make the NFL’s best defensive ends jealous.

Would that be a player you might be interested in?

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Bol Bol is going to get someone fired one way or another

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Bol Bol.

Previous draft profiles:

In theory, I get it.

Bol Bol is 7-foot-2. He has a 7-foot-8 wingspan. He is one of the very best big man shooters that we have ever seen, and when he is engaged and motivated and in the mood to play, he can be a dominant shot-blocking presence.

In the modern NBA, there is a ton of value in players that can protect the rim on one end of the floor and space the court at the other end. And Bol doesn’t just space the floor. He’s 7-foot-2 and gangly and can do things like this:

If you’re an NBA GM and you pass on the next Dirk Nowitzki, you’re going to find yourself in search of employment.

But when it comes to Bol, the truth is that there is no in-between with him on a basketball court. What he does well he does at an elite level. What he doesn’t do well is very hard to watch.

Let’s start with the part that, for my money, is the deal-breaker strictly as a basketball player: For someone that can be such a high-level rim protector when he wants to be, Bol is just a terrible defender. In an era where versatility and positionless basketball has become king, the saying you’ll hear in coaching circles is, “You are who you can guard.”

I have no idea who Bol is going to be able to guard at the next level. He was listed at 235 pounds by Oregon, but he checked in at just 208 pounds at the NBA combine. Combine that with his incredibly high hips and his total aversion to physical contact in the paint, and the idea of Bol trying to guard the likes of Boogie Cousins, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and any other five that I’ve watched play in an NBA game makes my head spin. He was abused by Iowa’s frontline, and frankly, this was the norm for Bol despite the fact that he averaged 2.7 blocks on the season:

He also has nowhere near the footspeed or lateral quickness to be able to defend anyone on the perimeter. The idea of asking him to switch a pick-and-roll and try to stay in front of any NBA guard will cost his coaching staff next season at least two hours of sleep every night before a game.

If it sounds like I’m killing him here, I am. As tantalizing as his talent is offensively, he is a long, long way from actually being able to stay on the floor during an NBA game.

And while I think that, in theory, it certainly is possible for him to be able to get to a point where he can be a really good pro, the other major red flag with Bol is that questions about just how much he actually likes basketball have surrounded him since early in his high school career. He needs to live in the weight room for his first two or three seasons in the NBA. When he’s not in the weight room, he needs to be in the practice gym, learning how to play and where to be on the defensive side of the ball. Does he have the work ethic to actually improve the flaws in his game? And even if he does add the muscle and learn where he needs to be and when he needs to be there defensively, will it matter if he is afraid of physicality? If his conditioning was an issue playing just nine games at the college level, will he be able to handle the rigors of an 82-game season while carrying 250-260 pounds in an ideal world?

I think the answer to both of those questions is ‘no’.

Which leads me to the final red flag.

Bol missed the final two months of the season with a fractured navicular bone, which is a terrifying injury for any player, let alone a 7-foot-2 center that needs to add weight while getting in shape. Can he avoid reaggravating the injury when he has 50 more pounds on his frame? Can he do that while putting in the work that it will take to get into NBA shape with that extra weight?

And we’re asking all of this from a kid that already has work ethic concerns?

There’s a very real chance that Bol could end up being out of the league quicker than Anthony Bennett or Hasheem Thabeet. Drafting him early and getting absolutely nothing out of the pick is another way to find yourself filing for unemployment.

Like I said, I get the upside.

But if I am an NBA GM, I’m letting someone — anyone — else deal with that stress.