THE NBA SEASON ENDED UNDER A WEEK AGO, BUT THE 2019 NBA DRAFT IS ALREADY HERE. Already we’ve turned the NBA world upside down with major injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and an earth-shaking Anthony Davis trade. Draft night promises to shake everything up again. We know Zion Williamson is going number one to the Pelicans. That much is sure. We think Ja Morant will go second to the Grizzlies. And we know the Lakers won’t be making any first-round picks, not this year or any other year until LeBron’s grandkids are playing in the league. Other than that? Everything else is up in the air. All hail the NBA offseason.
This year’s draft class is a weird one. Zion looks like an all-timer at the top, but it’s a very top-light class after him, lacking real star power. But don’t confuse top-light for bad. The 2019 class is deep, especially with talented and versatile wings, and every NBA team needs depth and rotation players.
Below is my final 2019 NBA Draft Big Board with players ranked 1 to 50. Last year’s Big Board got too long, and I spent even longer this year watching film, studying stats, etc as I evaluated the prospects. So rather than do everything here, I already did full scouting reports on the top 60 or so guys in the class. Throughout this piece, pay attention a player’s listed position. Traditional positions mean little in today’s NBA, but the listed position will point you to which of these five articles to read more: point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards, and centers. Read the whole thing, skip around for the guys that intrigue you, or skim along the way.
2019 NBA Draft — Ranking the Point Guards
Ja Morant is #1, but is Darius Garland or Coby White second best? And what if the answer is neither of them?
2019 NBA Draft — Ranking the Shooting Guards
Barrett, KPJ, and Romeo are tantalizing, but Culver and NAW make their teams better atop a polarizing positional group…
2019 NBA Draft — Ranking the Small Forwards
Every NBA team needs wing help, and it just happens to be the deepest position in the 2019 draft. Who should teams…
2019 NBA Draft — Ranking the Power Forwards
It’s Zion Williamson and Brandon Clarke at the top. Does anyone else even come close to measuring up?
SOME NOTES ON METHODOLOGY
Feel free to skip this section if you just want to get to the good stuff. Just wanted to let you in on the thought process.
- If you’re wondering what I value most in a prospect, it whittles down to three things: defense, shooting, and feel for the game. If a prospect is lacking in those areas, I’ll have them lower than most. If you don’t play defense or provide value off the ball, you can’t play in the big games. If they’re good at two or all three, it gives them a high floor and keeps them on the court. If you can’t figure out my ranking on any player, it probably comes back to defense, shooting, or IQ.
- I place a huge emphasis on fit in the modern NBA. Big men roles have changed. Athletic wings are more important than ever. Versatility reigns. So does efficiency. Prospects that might have been great a decade ago may be marginalized now. If I can’t envision a clear role on a winning team in the modern NBA, I’m probably not going to be a fan of that prospect.
- Athleticism is a huge X-factor and a great tiebreaker. Athleticism overcomes a lot of shortcomings.
- Size matters, but height matters less than wingspan and standing reach. Check out my wingspan study for more details.
- Some skills can be learned — like shooting and team defensive awareness — while others are innate. Size and athleticism can’t be taught. Neither can basketball IQ, which can make up a lot of athleticism ground.
- Position matters. For some prospects like Grant Williams, they maximize their value by playing a particular position or role. Positional versatility also matters. Wings can often play two or three spots in the lineup. That means more ways to find value on the court.
- Upside matters a lot. Early in the draft, upside is key. One awesome player matters more in the NBA than any other sport, and teams without a star should take a swing if one is there. I typically rank the highest upside guys at the top of their tiers too. You win in the NBA first and foremost because of superstars, so any swing at a possible superstar is probably a good one.
- Median or likely outcome matters. Very few players in the draft will hit their peak upside. That’s the top 5 or 10% outcome, and it’s irresponsible to draft with only that in mind. It’s also irresponsible to think of only the worst 10%. What happens during the 80% in the middle? If a player never fixes that one glaring weakness, is he still valuable?
- Team building matters a lot. Guys like Jarrett Culver or De’Andre Hunter would be valuable on every NBA team. Teams drafting near the top should try to leave themselves as many avenues as possible, not pigeonhole themselves into specific needs around a limited player. Drafting Culver or Hunter means every name on the board is still an option next year.
- I’m a wisdom of crowds guy. I trust my analysis but others have spent a ton of time on all this and I trust them, too. If a ton of smart people spend time analyzing and all come to a similar conclusion, it’s probably more reliable than my own offerings. With that in mind, a thanks and a shout to a bunch of people you should also read and consume for NBA Draft content: Cole Zwicker, Jonathan Tjarks, Jackson Hoy, Jonathan Givony, Rajan Nanavati, JZ Mazlish, Danny Leroux, Sean Derenthal, The Flagrant 2, Michael Margolis, Jake Paynting, Evan Zamir, plus Mike Gribanov, Ben Rubin, the rest of The Stepien, and other #DraftTwitter folks not on Medium.
- The tiers are the cut-offs between clusters. In general, you shouldn’t dip into the next tier down, but the names within a tier can move around. There are mini-tiers within each tier too. The further down you go, the more acceptable to reach into a lower tier, especially if it’s for a higher-risk upside guy instead of a safer player with a lower ceiling.
- That’s it. Sit back, relax, happy reading, and enjoy the draft.
TIER I — THE FRANCHISE CHANGER
1. PF Zion Williamson, Duke
What else is there to say about Zion at this point? He’s #1 on every draft board, he’s all alone in the top tier, and he changes everything for the Pelicans franchise. I gushed about Zion on the Nuggets Numbers podcast and wrote how he’s already a top-10 NBA asset right now.
TIER II — THE SUPERSTARS
No prospects in Tier II
You’ve heard a lot of talk about how this is a really walk draft. This is the reason why. It’s not that there are no good players in this draft. There are good players, lots of them. There are in every draft. In this draft, I’m especially excited about the huge number of talented and versatile wings. It’s a great draft to have multiple mid-to-late picks and get a few bites at the apple. There may not be many franchise-changing stars but there are plenty of valuable rotation guys and building blocks.
The problem isn’t that there aren’t any good prospects in the 2019 draft. The problem is there’s only one great one. Not every draft has a Zion, but most drafts have three to five guys that would fall in this range and get everyone excited, especially the teams that tanked all year for the right to pick top-5. This year we’re missing this whole tier, and it screws everything else up because all the other picks get pushed up three to five spots.
I’d be excited about Ja Morant at #5 Phoenix or #7 Chicago, but in this draft, he’s the #2 pick. Jarrett Culver would be a slam dunk 3+D guy with upside to Atlanta at #8, but in this draft he’s top-5 and Atlanta would need to trade up for him. The domino effect continues. Coby White goes in the top half of the lottery instead of the end of it. Cam Reddish and Nassir Little stay in the lottery after lost freshman years because we’re out of other options.
It is what it is. This is the group of prospects we’ve got. It sucks for the teams drafting 2 to 5, but it’s great news for the teams later in the first because there’s far less of a gap between the best non-Zion players and everyone else in this draft. Remember the 2013 NBA Draft when no one knew who should go at the top of the draft? We ended up with Anthony Bennett, Cody Zeller, and Alex Len top-5 while C.J. McCollum (10), Giannis Antetokounmpo (15), and Rudy Gobert (27) became stars much further down the draft. When there aren’t surefire prospects at the top of the draft, the middle and late picks are all the more important.
That means this is a great draft to trade down, since the tiers are so smushed together and player evaluations are so varied. Two of the top-5 guys on my board won’t be drafted among the top-10 picks. One might not even go in the first round. That just makes them all the more valuable as value plays later in the draft if you can trade down and pick up assets along the way.
The 2019 NBA Draft isn’t bad. It’s just different. So shed a tear for the teams at the top searching for star prospects that aren’t there, but get excited for the middle and late picks because there’s a lot of intriguing potential to be had. By the way, did you notice how long this section was? That’s how big a gap there is between Zion and everyone else in this draft. The New Orleans Pelicans won the literal lottery. Now let’s move on to everyone else.
TIER III — ALL-STAR UPSIDE
2. PF Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga
3. PG Ja Morant, Murray State
4. SG Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech
After all my hours of evaluation, these are the three guys I settled on at the top of my non-Zion draft. Brandon Clarke and Jarrett Culver were near the top of the list all season. Ja Morant took me awhile to get there, but in the end, he’s just too talented to not have in the mix in this draft.
I’m not going to say much about these guys because I already wrote a full 5000 words on each. Brandon Clarke is a potential Defensive Player of the Year, and he has more offensive potential than you think. Ja Morant has star potential at point guard but I worry about the ultimate upside of the team drafting him because of his shooting and defensive deficiencies. Jarrett Culver is already really good because of his defense and all around game, but he’s going to have to hit his shots to feel like he’s worth a top-5 pick.
Brandon Clarke’s defense alone is worth a top-5 NBA Draft pick
Clarke’s athleticism and feel for the game give him superstar upside — even if he doesn’t fit the usual mold…
Is Ja Morant really worth the #2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft?
Morant looks like a worthy #2 pick in a weak draft, but will his game translate to a winning NBA style?
TIER IV — FRANCHISE BUILDING BLOCKS
5. SF Grant Williams, Tennessee
6. SF De’Andre Hunter, Virginia
These guys were pretty close to even all year. Hunter slots seamlessly onto almost any NBA team, so he’s an easier building block. Williams is going to need a much more specific role to be successful. But I see him being so valuable in that particular role that he ultimately ranked ahead of Hunter, who feels like a really good third or fourth banana that helps most teams but doesn’t make me lose sleep at night if I missed out on him. I go more in-depth debating the two in my wing rankings piece.
7. SF Cam Reddish, Duke
8. SG R.J. Barrett, Duke
I’ve never really been in on R.J. Barrett. I tried all season but never quite got there, and this ranking is effectively me saying, “No thanks, I’m not interested.” But as I really thought about the things I dislike about Barrett’s profile, it also got me wondering more about Cam Reddish, who I loved to start the season then progressively soured on with every passing game. Reddish was objectively terrible this year. There are a lot of serious flaws in his game. But I think there’s real merit to the idea that Reddish was pigeonholed in an uncomfortable lower-usage off-ball role he never adjusted to and that his unfamiliar role and nagging injuries showed us a different player than he can be when he plays with the shackles off.
Two months ago, I never would have imagined ending up with Reddish ranked this high, ahead of Barrett. But at the end of the day, I had to ask myself: which of these guys would I genuinely rather have if I were building an NBA team? The answer is Reddish because I just believe he fits the style of the NBA better and is easy and obvious to build around. I just don’t feel that way about R.J. Barrett.
Do I really think R.J. Barrett is only the 8th most talented player in the draft? No, of course not. The talent is clear. I just found seven guys I’d rather have to build a winning NBA team than him, and I ultimately don’t believe he’s going to help me reach the highest levels. I’m all the way out on R.J. Barrett.
Why I’m out on R.J. Barrett as an elite NBA prospect
R.J. Barrett is one of the most naturally gifted players in the 2019 NBA Draft, so why is it so hard to see him…
9. PF P.J. Washington, Kentucky
10. C Goga Bitadze, Georgia
11. SF Matisse Thybulle, Washington
12. SG Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech
I think of these four as sort of a tier between, maybe a Tier 4.5. They’re really positive rotation players that look like 16-game playoff guys. The safety they bring as more surefire building blocks makes them very quality picks at the back end of the lottery or anywhere outside. That being said, there’s also a limit here. None of them project to be first or second options on offense, maybe even third, so it’s really hard to compare them to the guys above them on the list, the Reddishes and Barretts of the world. The ceiling conversation just isn’t the same at all. But if you really don’t like either of those two, and that’s certainly reasonable, then these are far safer picks with much more reliable floor and median outcomes. A team that feels they’re close and doesn’t need to swing for the fences might prefer one of these four.
A word on Matisse Thybulle, since he’s probably ranked higher here than anywhere else you’ll see. Thybulle’s offense is problematic. But his defense is game-changing, good enough that teams should build their scheme around his off-ball abilities, and I believe that defense alone has enough upside to make him a potential game-changer. Goga grades out as my highest center in the draft because my study shows his balanced profile gives him the best chance of playing meaningful minutes with a positive impact, pushing him higher than the intriguing rim runners in this draft.
TIER V — THE VERY SOLID ROTATION PLAYS
13. PG Coby White, North Carolina
14. PG Darius Garland, Vanderbilt
I finally made a choice between Coby White and Darius Garland, and my choice is… neither. Well, it’s not neither, it’s just neither in the top-7 where they project to go. Point guards are like quarterbacks. If you don’t have one, you feel compelled to take a swing on the first franchise guy available, and then you often spend years developing them, even when it doesn’t work. Investing in the wrong franchise QB or PG can set the team back half a decade. I don’t see either of these guys as a franchise point guard. I think Coby is a really nice rotation guard. I think Garland is a microwave scorer but not going to be the next Damian Lillard. They both shoot. They’re nice. I just feel much better about adding one of them to a competent guard rotation than building my franchise around them as the lead.
15. C Jontay Porter, Missouri
16. SF Chuma Okeke, Auburn
Ah, the injured guys. Okeke’s injury doesn’t bother me much. We know how to rehab torn knee ligaments, and rookies are rarely good out of the gates anyway. Okeke will be back by midseason and, if anything, the injury should really boost his value by giving him a bargain price in the draft. I’m not sure he’d move up much further for me, healthy or not. Jontay is a different story. A healthy Jontay Porter probably ranks 5th on my board at the end of the top non-Zion tier. I am a huge believe in what Porter can bring to a team. But his injury history is much more troublesome, enough to seriously drop him in the draft. I am not privy to his medical records so I’m taking an educated guess here that Jontay can get healthy, redshirt his rookie season, and be well worth the investment as a Jokic Lite prospect for a team willing to wait.
17. SF Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State
18. SF Nassir Little, North Carolina
Batter up! Two raw prospect wings that are really tough to evaluate and will inevitably turn into home runs or strikeouts. These are the sort of guys missing at the top of this draft, only one of them will probably completely miss and the other might have been a top-5 pick with another year of seasoning. In the end, I favored THT because I believe in his feel for the game winning out.
19. SG Keldon Johnson, Kentucky
20. PF Isaiah Roby, Nebraska
21. SG Tyler Herro, Kentucky
This is the end of the solid rotation pieces. These guys aren’t franchise changers, but they fit a role and feel like they’ll stick in my rotation. I rank Roby higher than most and think he’ll be a very nice addition for where he’ll end up going, probably somewhere in the second round. I ultimately chose Keldon over Herro among UK wings because I like the overall package and what he doesn’t take off the table versus the Herro archetype.
TIER VI — THE UPSIDE SWINGS
22. SG Kevin Porter Jr., USC
23. C Jaxson Hayes, Texas
At this point of the draft, we’ve run out of guys I’ve talked myself into and we’re starting to take home run swings. My entire tier from 22 to 33 fits that description outside of three guys. Almost everyone else in this tier will very likely get drafted ahead of where I’d be comfortable taking them in the name of upside and potential. The potential for KPJ and Jaxson just oozes off the screen. The feel for the game, not so much. Either one of these guys could end up the second best player in the draft if they hit their top-5 percentile outcome. But the bottom 50+ percentile outcomes feel like they might wash out completely, or in Jaxson’s case, be super replaceable. I like both of them as a swing this late. In the lottery, it’s a hard pass.
24. SF Dylan Windler, Belmont
25. PG Ty Jerome, Virginia
26. SF DaQuan Jeffries, Tulsa
These three guys don’t belong in this tier’s home run swing grouping, but here they are. Three of my favorite value plays in the draft at the end of round one or anytime in round two. I can’t wait to see 10 or 15 guys get taken before them only to never catch any real rotation minutes when all three of these guys are ready to jump in and fill a valuable team role from day one.
27. SF Darius Bazley, New Balance
28. C Nic Claxton, Georgia
Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss, you’ll still gather a lot of random players and picks and someday maybe you can trade all of it and the entire rest of your future for Anthony Davis.
29. PF Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga
30. PF Sekou Doumbouya, France
31. C Bol Bol, Oregon
32. SG Romeo Langford, Indiana
33. SF KZ Okpala, Stanford
And these five are effectively just a pass for me. Three or four of them could go in the lottery and I think anyone in this group going in the lottery could be a tragically bad pick. There’s a real lack of feel for the game from this quintet, and even if these guys work out to what they’re supposed to be, I’m still not that enthusiastic about how it helps my NBA team. If any of them make it to the end of the first or into the second, sure, swing away. But they won’t, because that’s not how this works. I’d bet one of these five ends up hitting, and the one that does will be a top-7 player in the draft. Good luck figuring out which one it is.
TIER VII — EVERYONE ELSE
34. SG John Konchar, IPFW
35. SF Iggy Brazdeikis, Michigan
36. SF Yovel Zoosman, Israel
Welcome to role-playing wing central. These are the guys I love as second-round picks once Windler, Jerome, and DaQuan are gone. There’s a real lack of NBA athleticism here, but I’m betting on feel for the game, effort, shooting, and overall production. These three guys will fit a rotation, and Konchar and Zoosman could even come as undrafted free agents.
37. PF Jalen McDaniels, San Diego State
38. C Bruno Fernando, Maryland
39. PG Carsen Edwards, Purdue
40. C Daniel Gafford, Arkansas
I like all four of these players — as bench options. I don’t see starter equity, but they each play a particular role that’s valuable in limited minutes and/or the right matchup, so there’s some value there in the second round.
41. PG Jalen Lecque, Brewster Academy
42. SG Cam Johnson, North Carolina
43. PF Luka Samanic, Croatia
44. PF Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State
Lecque and Kabengele are home run swings with clear flaws in the game. Johnson and Samanic are shooters I don’t expect to provide much else.
45. SG Jordan Poole, Michigan
46. SF Eric Paschall, Villanova
47. SG Jaylen Nowell, Washington
48. SG Terence Davis, Mississippi
49. SF Louis King, Oregon
50. PG Josh Perkins, Gonzaga
The ordering at this point is pretty trivial, and just to be clear, this tier doesn’t end at 50 but could easily include another 25 or more names. I don’t find it particularly interesting to read about why someone ranks 46th instead of 48th. If guys are that low or worse, there’s a very good chance they’re never going to amount to anything that matters in the NBA. This list of six are guys I would be excited to bring in for a workout if they go undrafted since, you know, they’re free at that point, so why not give them a shot?
That’s it! That’s the final 2019 NBA Draft Big Board top 50.
Thanks for following along, and be sure to catch up on the other pieces you may have missed along the way. Please leave any questions and comments below and I’m happy to answer any of them.
Watch for a final mock draft tomorrow, some last minute thoughts Thursday, and plenty of analysis and post-draft thoughts to follow. ■