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?

Brandon Anderson
Jun 15, 2019 · 22 min read

OINT GUARD IS THE NBA VERSION OF A QUARTERBACK. The point guard runs the offense and touches the ball on every play, often several times. They’re the ones making key decisions and processing everything, the engines that make everything else tick. A team takes on the personality of its point guard and an offense is built around their strengths, just like a franchise quarterback. And for the few teams without their cornerstone guy, nothing else seems to line up quite right until they find them.

There’s another way point guard is like quarterback. In the NFL Draft year after year, quarterbacks get pushed far up the rankings and taken at the top of the draft in a panic. Any team without its franchise quarterback is expected to swing on someone who could be that guy. The NBA is starting to feel the same way. Teams like the Bulls, Suns, and Knicks do not have a sure point guard to lead the offense, so now that they each have a top-7 pick, there’s a lot of pressure to go find a lead handler so everything can flow through them.

The problem is this year’s point guard class isn’t very good. It’s not great at the top, and it’s definitely not deep. Potential first-round picks like Tre Jones, Markus Howard, and Ashton Hagans all returned to college, leaving the point guard rankings leaner than ever in an already weak year. That could mean the few available prospects get pushed even further up draft boards — classic supply and demand.

But there’s another key factor to keep in mind. Drafts don’t happen in a vacuum. This draft is light on point guards but deep with a glut of talented wings, a position every NBA team needs more of. But next year’s draft is stacked with franchise point guards at the top. Teams that don’t get their point guard this year can build their foundation instead and grab the right signal caller next season. Sometimes in the draft, there is no right quarterback or point guard. Sometimes the right one is none at all and trying again the next time around.

Let’s run through the point guard rankings, finally make a choice between Coby White and Darius Garland (spoiler alert: it’s neither), and do a full scouting report with NBA expectations and best team fits. Don’t miss the other positions below as you prepare for the NBA Draft…


TIER I — THE SHOW STOPPER

1. Ja Morant, Murray State

Profile

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already familiar with Ja Morant. You’ve definitely seen some of his highlights, an endless supply of athletic dunks and showtime passes. Morant rose to fame at tiny Murray State in Kentucky, leading them to a first-round tournament upset over Marquette in which he dominated the game with a triple-double. Now Morant is the presumed #2 pick, a future franchise point guard.

Scouting analysis

I did a full 4000 word Morant analysis and breakdown. Take a look!

NBA expectations

Again, see my Morant piece. Ja is the one PG in this draft I definitely expect to be an NBA starter, though I’m not in love with his ultimate upside, especially with the lack of jump shot or defense. But the highlights? They’re coming.

Best team fits

It looks 95% likely that Morant will head to Memphis. He fits well enough there and gets to spend some time in a lesser role learning from Mike Conley.


TIER II — WAIT FOR 2020 INSTEAD

2. Coby White, North Carolina

Profile

Coby White was the engine that drove North Carolina this year. Playing for a coach in Roy Williams that’s notoriously difficult on freshmen point guards, White had a standout season, averaging 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists a game, pushing the Tar Heels forward at every turn of the game with breakneck pace and his trademark step-back jumper.

Scouting analysis

The first thing you notice about White is how fast he plays the game. Ever turned a podcast on 1.5 or 2x speed? That’s how Coby White plays. Everything is in fast motion, and it’s all the more impressive for a freshman point guard under Roy Williams to be making so many decisions so quickly. White is in constant attack mode. He’s more quick than fast, and he does a great job playing downhill in transition or attacking the rim. White is an average athlete, but he plays point guard like a running back, patiently waiting and then once he hits that hole, he’s gone. It’s not sheer speed with White that kills you — it’s the acceleration and change of speed, throwing opponents off rhythm and creating space for Coby to operate in.

If you look at the individual skills, they really don’t add up. White’s handle is average at best. He can be loose with his dribble and turn it over too easily, and he struggled against physical defenders like Tre Jones and Ashton Hagans at times. White’s passing is fine. He’s not a great passer but has the defense on its heels and has great timing and a knack for making the right reads. White can get his shot off with the step-back, but his finishing near the rim seems more hopeful than anything, strong enough to get there but not always able to finish through contact. White was visibly worse against better, more athletic teams, and spoiler alert, NBA teams are bigger and more athletic.

Folks love to talk about White’s size at 6'5", how he can guard multiple positions, and I honestly don’t see it. White has a small wingspan, he constantly gets lost on defense or loses his man. He’s disruptive and creates events but I don’t love the team defense. He’s not an impact player on defense.

So with all those negatives, how in the world is Coby White my #2 point guard? Well, it’s partly because it’s a weak point guard class, but in the end, there’s just something about this guy that’s more than the sum of the parts. White has an incredible feel for the game and just gets it. He plays with incredible confidence and mojo and feels like a guy you want on your side. I believe in White’s ability to make a play when I need one, and I believe he’ll scramble the defense constantly pushing, running it down their throats. I also believe in White’s jumper. The results come and go a bit, but he’s excellent on catch-and-shoot with clear NBA range, and he can launch that step-back J anytime he wants.

NBA expectations

I’m not totally convinced Coby White is a point guard, but I’m also not convinced I even know what a “point guard” is anymore. I do think he’s going to end up as a top-three guard in an NBA rotation. He’s not going to run traditional point, but he can play off the ball as a shooter or fit as a starting point guard on a team with a primary wing initiator, or he can come off the bench and run the ball down opponents’ second units.

White got better and better as the season went along, and he eventually wore me down, just like every opponent. Coby White plays at a frenzied, hurried pace but is patient with the ball and quick to make decisions. I see him turning into a shot-making combo guard like Cuttino Mobley or Chauncey Billups. In the end, I’m buying White’s intangibles, his poise, and his feel for the game. I don’t know if he’s a point guard, but he’s a darn good basketball player.

Best team fits

I would love to see Coby White end up on a team like the Bucks, where he’d be devastating in transition and pushing off a make, but that’s not going to happen. He’d fit well in Minnesota, and I could see him next to Devin Booker in Phoenix or Zach LaVine in Chicago, though the defense would be really problematic. White’s versatility and ability to play both on- and off-ball make him appealing for a lot of teams.

You see a lot of Darius Garland to the Lakers, but I actually like White as the better fit. He’s more NBA-ready, and he can do more off the ball which is sort of ideal with LeBron, plus the Lakers run a lot now so he fits well. I also like White next to Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson if the Pelicans snag a second pick in an Anthony Davis trade. The Pels have play up-tempo lately, and that team would run opponents into the ground, while Holiday could compliment White’s playmaking.

If I’m a team like Chicago or Phoenix in search of a franchise point guard, I’m not sure Coby White is that guy. I’d rather draft him as part of a nice guard rotation than turn over the keys to the kingdom, and I believe strongly that Chicago and Phoenix are better off drafting another position and waiting for the point-guard rich class in 2020 to get their franchise guy.

3. Darius Garland, Vanderbilt

Profile

Darius Garland was Vanderbilt’s star that never happened. Garland played only five games in November before a meniscus injury ended his season. In his brief time on the court, Garland flashed an array of pull-up jumpers and looked like a modern NBA point guard, a shot taker and a shot maker. He has a great handle and a quick release and is a scorer all the way.

Scouting analysis

I’ll be up front: I’ve seen less on Garland than any other non-international prospect with so little footage available. I’m going mostly on highlights instead of games (not my preference) and on second-hand information from others that followed Garland in high-school ball.

Garland is on the smaller side at 6'2", physically similar to Kyrie or Curry. His game is meant to be similar as well. Garland is a scoring guard more than a point. He has a really nifty handle, one of the best in the class. It’s a very tight dribble, plus some intermediate skills like the hang dribble James Harden loves. Garland has a nice first step and is super shifty, but he’s more quick than explosive, a mostly average athlete overall. My size and wingspan study shows that players at Garland’s size are typically going to be a huge minus on defense, and that looks likely. For a player this size to make it in the NBA, they need to have a great handle, an awesome jump shot, or both.

Garland believers think he has both. He appears to have the best pull-up jump shot in the draft. Garland can get his shot up in a hurry. The shot certainly looks believable. Garland made 35% of his threes in high school and clearly has plenty of range. Any scout who’s seen Garland play seems to believe the shot is real. He can struggle finishing through contact physically and is still improving his ability around the rim.

As a passer, Garland is not particularly exciting. He’s more of a natural scorer than a passer, and his creation is mostly for himself. In the games I saw, Garland does well using a screen to buy himself some space but I worry he doesn’t have enough burst to create the space himself or create within the flow of the game, outside the pick-and-roll. Garland had an assist-turnover ratio below 1, and most of his assists felt like easy passes more than creation. He’s not really a natural traditional point guard, though PG is evolving and Garland certainly fits where the game is headed.

NBA expectations

It’s really easy to see what Garland is supposed to be. He’s Jamal Murray or Kemba Walker or Isaiah Thomas. Maybe he’s Kyrie or Dame. Every team wants a 22/3/6 type scorer that can get a bucket with everything on the line. What worries me is that Garland’s limited size and skill set mean he’s all in on this narrow path to success. If the handle is elite and he can hit 40% of his threes and plenty of pull-up twos, he’s a superstar. If the handle is just good and he makes 36% from deep instead, he’s a bench scoring guard. Garland’s skill will be shooting and scoring. If the shot isn’t great, he can’t be either.

The shot certainly looks good, but who knows really whether a player is good or great or elite as a shooter? It’s not like 35% in high school is that special, and we have so little college data to go on. That also scares me with the mental side. Point guards need to process and make quick decisions, and we have precious little way to know if Garland can do that at a high level. I also worry that Garland seems to have risen so far from where he entered the season, out of the first round entirely on some boards. Can four college games really move you up from 30+ to top-5?

There aren’t many Garland numbers, but I’m a bit concerned with the assist and turnover rates and with the lack of steals and free throws. And these are games against USC, Winthrop, Alcorn State, and Liberty. What would Garland have looked like against Ashton Hagans or Jordan Bone or in a tournament game? We just don’t know. I worry that we spent an entire season breaking down everyone else’s game and have only brief positive memories of Garland.

If Garland’s jumper and handle hit, he’s a star. If they don’t, he might be Bryn Forbes. It’s all on the shot because he’s not going to rebound or defend or create much for teammates. He’s got a higher ceiling than Coby or maybe even Morant, but he also has easily the biggest bust potential if the shot and isn’t what it needs to be. I just can’t get there, not in the top-5.

Best team fits

I’m super intrigued by Garland in New Orleans, assuming they get a second pick in an Anthony Davis trade. Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson provide the perfect cover for Garland’s defensive deficiencies and would give the team three dynamic ball handlers and creators. That’s the start of something real. I’m less excited by Garland in Phoenix or Chicago where he’d have to fight for time on the ball with another poor defensive guard, and while the fit with LeBron makes sense theoretically in L.A., I don’t buy the timeline of a 19-year-old guard with a 34-year-old Bron. I don’t like Garland with Collin Sexton in Cleveland at all, nor with Trae Young in Atlanta. That leaves New York, who wants to sign Kyrie or Kemba. I don’t think Garland is a top-8 pick, and I don’t think there’s a good fit for him there either barring a New Orleans trade.

I mocked Darius Garland to the Boston Celtics at #14 last time, and I love that fit as the next in line at the Kyrie & Isaiah role, getting buckets and letting the rest of the team cover on defense. If Garland slides out of the top 8, I’m happy with his fit in Washington, Charlotte, or Miami, or with a trade up from Orlando or Indiana. Those are all good spots to take a shot on Garland — I just don’t think he makes it that far.


TIER IV — THE CHAMPION

4. Ty Jerome, Virginia

Profile

Ty Jerome is a guy you’ve seen in 10 or 15 games without ever really noticing. He’s usually on the winning side since he played for Virginia, and maybe you finally noticed him as he was cutting down the nets this March Madness. Jerome is a typical upperclassman point guard champion. He ran the offense smoothly and set his teammates up for success, hitting clutch shots and always finding the big play in the biggest moments.

Scouting analysis

That’s all fine and good, but most of those descriptions don’t exactly translate to the NBA. Ty Jerome may have been one of the best point guards in college this year, but the cold, hard truth is that Jerome is 22 years old and super unathletic, pretty much the antithesis of the exciting young prospect you look for on draft day. Jerome has a negative wingspan, and he tested miserably in pretty much every area at the Combine as an athlete. He’s not going to run by you, and his lack of size and athleticism mean it’ll be really tough for Jerome to guard the NBA’s elite athletes or to create space on offense.

So how is Jerome the #4 point guard in the class then? Because Ty Jerome is a point guard, the traditional kind, the one that used to run offenses in the 80s. Jerome is all about passing and basketball IQ. Even on a team full of smart dudes, Jerome stood out as the leader and the guy with the most obvious feel for the game. Jerome plays at his own pace, a la Virginia, and is never rushed, always calm in the biggest moments. Jerome is a smart passer and a good one, and he makes great decisions in the pick-and-roll. His vision helps him pass teammates open, and he uses his wile to overcome his athletic shortcomings and create space and plays for his team. You look at Ty Jerome against the athletes at Duke or Carolina and there’s just no reason he should be making plays and controlling the game, but there he is doing just that.

Jerome did struggle sometimes against size and physicality, and that will be even true in the NBA. His handle is average at best, and he’s not going to run by anyone. He doesn’t have much more upside to tap into. What you see is what you get, and Jerome knows his strengths and plays to them. He’s a knockdown shooter from deep, hitting 40% on almost 500 career threes, elite off the catch-and-shoot with clear NBA range. He’s going to run your offense and make his teammates better, and he’s gonna put the fun in fundamentals. Over and over in my Jerome notes this year I wrote “finds a away.” Somehow Ty Jerome just always seems to find a way.

NBA expectations

It feels like there’s a Ty Jerome in every draft, that upperclassman point guard that slides with a lack of ideal measurables, age, and upside before slotting quickly into NBA minutes. Think of breakout Denver sophomore Monte Morris or NBA Finals MVP runner-up Fred VanVleet, or maybe you prefer Jerome’s fellow Virginia alum Malcolm Brogdon. All of these point guards lacked panache but they play the game right and get the job done, and they’ve each been very valuable NBA contributors. Jerome looks next in line.

He looks ready to contribute immediately as a backup point guard, and on the right team, he could have starter potential as an off-ball 3-and-D point guard, using his basketball intelligence to do just enough defending and otherwise playing within the flow of the offense, moving the ball along, and knocking down open jumpers.

Best team fits

Ty Jerome to Utah at 23 is one of my favorite player fits in the entire draft. Think Ricky Rubio but with a jumper, letting Donovan Mitchell do most of the creation and otherwise doing Jazzy stuff. I also love him to Milwaukee at 30 as a potential Brogdon replacement or to Philly at 24, 33, or 34 in a similar role. Jerome will be playing key playoff minutes on any of those three teams next spring if they grab him. Dallas or New Orleans make sense later in the second if he gets there. Jerome is a guy that can help a lot of teams.


TIER V — SECOND ROUND TARGETS

5. Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Profile

Carsen Edwards was this year’s March Madness darling with four incredible games before a heartbreaking Elite 8 loss. He scored a ridiculous 35 points a game and hit 28 threes, a walking heat check that could rise and fire anytime anywhere. And that is basically the Carsen Edwards show. Edwards stands just 6-feet tall in shoes so he faces an uphill battle, but in a league always looking for guys that can create their own shot, he fits the bill.

Scouting analysis

Edwards is super small at 6'0" and just under 200 pounds, though he has a long wingspan that helps offset his height some. He’s super strong for his size and has a great burst and excellent movement in small spaces, which he uses to fight for space to get his jumper off. Edwards is really quick and slithery and can almost always find a way to get his shot off or get to the rim, though he struggles to finish there with his size, hitting a rough 50% of his shots at the rim. Edwards has a wicked crossover and a great dribble. He is fine as a passer but is far more of a scorer, averaging only around three assists a game.

Carsen Edwards feels more like a volume play to me than an elite scorer. We remember those hot shooting games in March, but Purdue fans know Edwards was just as viable to put up a 4-for-18 night and shoot his team right out of the game. He made only 45% of his twos, his size a real detriment there, and his three-point percentage is good not great at 37% on a massive volume. He’s more James Harden than Steph Curry as a shooter, his strengths being his shot-hoisting ability more than his shot-making.

Edwards fights on defense but his size is a real detriment. Jackson Hoy’s metrics show that Edwards plays bigger than his size, more like a 6'2" player, but that’s a small saving grace. He’ll likely always be a negative on D.

NBA expectations

Edwards’s NBA upside is a bench 6th man microwave scoring role. The NBA always wants guys that can create their own shot, especially in the playoffs. I’m just not sure I buy Edwards making enough shots for it to matter. I thought Markus Howard was a better shooter and far better at the rim, but he returned to Marquette. I also liked Tyus Jones and Ashton Hagans better for what they brought defensively, but they went back too. Edwards ended up #5 on my point guard list pretty much by default. I’m not much of a believer, but there really aren’t any other good options.

Having said that, maybe the shots fall at a good enough rate to give Edwards that bench scoring role. If Edwards is available in the second round, I think he could be a better draft play than reaching for Coby or Garland in the top 7. An NBA team drafting Edwards is hoping he becomes one of those classic 6th Man of the Year instant scoring types a la Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams.

Best team fits

I’d much rather see Phoenix or Chicago take Edwards in round two than Coby or Garland in the top 7. But Philadelphia is a really perfect fit. They have two picks at 33 and 34 and Edwards is the exact sort of bench scorer and handler they were missing from this year’s team. I’d like to see what Rick Carlisle would do with Edwards in Dallas, too.

6. Jalen Lecque, Brewster Academy

Profile

Jalen Lecque is a relative unknown because he did not play any college ball after de-committing from North Carolina State. Lecque has a lot of great highlights but we obviously don’t know much after that. He’s a freakish athlete that blew up the Combine, but he’s raw as a point guard.

Scouting analysis

Lecque is a bet on outlier athleticism. He spent the year training with the guy that trained Donovan Mitchell and Will Barton, both of whom competed in NBA dunk contests. That trainer called Lecque an athletic freak and said he was on a whole different level than those two athletically, so that’s saying something. Lecque has great size for a point guard and a massive 43" vertical. He’s more power than finesse and plays with power and panache, garnering the nickname Baby Westbrook for his nasty, angry dunks.

And… that’s about what we know about Lecque’s strengths. Everything else is a work in progress, honestly including the rest of his athletic profile. Lecque is just average speed and agility and doesn’t change directions super well, so his athleticism is not always particularly functional. He has a quick first step and gets to the rim and finishes well, and his size helps him rebound well, and he’s an improving passer but more of a scoring guard than a creator. Lecque’s handle needs real work, and his shot form is pretty rough, even after a year of training for the NBA. He is a point guard project.

NBA expectations

Expect Lecque to spend a couple years in the G League. His game lacks polish and refinement, and he’s going to have a big mental gap to make up too without any time under college coaching. Lecque is a home run swing bet on elite athleticism, the sort of bet we’ve seen pay off on guys like Spida Mitchell. The hope here is one of those angry, athletic, aggressive point guards in the mold of Westbrook, Collin Sexton, or Dennis Smith Jr.

Best team fits

Lecque should go in the second round, maybe somewhere in the 40 to 50 range. He needs to go to a team that has a starting veteran point guard and can afford to spend a few years developing Lecque. Charlotte or San Antonio fit in that range, or a team like Portland or Brooklyn could make sense.


TIER VI — POST-DRAFT DART THROWS

Again, I don’t really love the point guards that will be drafted this year. I’m fine with Morant as a top-5 pick, and I love Ty Jerome late first or early second. Otherwise, I’d rather use my 2019 picks on the glut of talented wings and give one of these guys below a shot in undrafted free agency. A few could be drafted, but some will be available, and though they’re in roughly the order I like them, they’re clustered together enough at this point to just wait and throw a dart.

Josh Perkins, Gonzaga

I’m all alone on Josh Perkins island, but I want to give this guy a chance. Perkins was a four-year starter and he was Gonzaga’s maestro, making everything happen. He ran the offense well and was the lifeblood of the team. Perkins is a good passer, and he improved steadily each season and hit 37% of his threes or better in five college seasons. Of course that also means he’ll be 24 when the season starts, but that’s fine. The whole point of Perkins is bringing in an adult as a third point guard at the end of the bench. Dude just makes winning plays. Listen, if T.J. McConnell and Ryan Arcidiancono can carve out NBA careers and Fred VanVleet can earn a Finals MVP vote, there’s just no way you’ll convince me Perkins shouldn’t be on an NBA roster.

Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra

Justin Wright-Foreman is the guy you snag at the end of the draft or in free agency if you missed out on Garland, Coby, and Carsen. JWF is just a bucket getter. He averaged 26 points a game over the last two seasons, including 40% on volume three-point shooting. Wright-Foreman is almost as small as Edwards and mostly untested against bigger, better athletes, and he’s only fine as a passer and not much on defense. But he can score from all three levels and light up the scoreboard in a hurry, so he definitely deserves a shot. He might be the best draft play of all the score-first points since he’ll be so cheap.

Tremont Waters, LSU

I watched a handful of LSU games this year for Naz Reid, but every time I tried to pay attention to Reid, I came away impressed with Tremont Waters instead. Waters is tiny. He’s only 5'11" and weighs just 175 pounds, and there’s precious little history of NBA success at that size, unless you were a big fan of guys like Speedy Claxton and Aaron Brooks. Still, Waters is really good. He’s super fast and has a great burst and a ton of athleticism, and he’s a very skilled scorer, though his poor shooting combined with his poor size could be a death knell as a prospect. Waters’s size will kill him on defense, but he’s very active and tries hard, and he has quick hands and makes a ton of steals. The NBA is getting a little smaller each year, so Waters deserves a chance.

Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech

Justin Robinson is the sort of guy you’ll hear described as a floor general. He’s a 3 and D point guard, a tough defender with leadership and intangibles. Robinson is a nice handler and a good passer, and he hit 39% of his threes in four seasons as a starter. He’s old, small, and not particularly athletic, so there’s no real upside, but he could fit in a low-usage off-ball point guard role next to a primary wing creator, like Malcolm Brogdon or Patrick Beverley.

Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s

I’m sure Shamorie Ponds will get drafted, but I wouldn’t be the one spending the pick. I just don’t see it. Ponds is another small PG and he fills up the box score, but he just didn’t stand out in any of the games I watched. He’s more of a combo guard than a point and seems kind of above average but not great at everything. I don’t see an NBA skill for Ponds to hang his hat on. His shooting is inconsistent at best, and he’s small and not a particularly good athlete.

Jordan Bone, Tennessee

Like Jalen Lecque, Jordan Bone is another bet on sheer athleticism. Bone posted some of the most eye-popping numbers ever seen at the Combine by a guard. The problem is not much of that has translated, as the athleticism isn’t super functional on the court, and Bone is a poor finisher and inconsistent shooter. I’d bring him in for a chance, but I’m not super optimistic. ■



Follow Brandon on Medium or @wheatonbrando for more sports, television, humor, and culture. Visit the rest of Brandon’s writing archives here.

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Brandon Anderson

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Sports, TV, NBA, NFL, culture. Words at SI's Cauldron, Grandstand Central, others @wheatonbrando ✞

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