NBA DRAFT DAY IS HERE AT LAST!! No more countdowns. No more speculation. No more suspicious Woj tweets. But plenty more trades and false expectations to come. The 2019 NBA Draft is finally here!
If you’ve been following along, you’ve seen over 80,000 words of NBA Draft talk from my account in the past few weeks. I’ll recap everything briefly with links below. Today I want to think about things a bit differently. Which players would be helped the most by landing on the perfect team? Which teams help or hurt the value of a prospect? Who has the biggest upside or the safest floor? What are the best arbitrage plays in the draft? And at the end of the day, what are the best and worst value plays on the entire draft board?
Here’s what you might have missed along the way:
- My final 2019 Big Board rankings
- My latest mock draft, just posted yesterday
- Why Zion Williamson is already a top-10 NBA asset
- Why Brandon Clarke is the second best prospect in the draft
- Why Ja Morant is worth the early hype
- Why Jarrett Culver is already good with the potential to be great
- Why I’m out on R.J. Barrett as an elite prospect
- Why I’m out on Jaxson Hayes and rim runners as elite prospects
- Point guard rankings and scouting profiles
- Shooting guard rankings and scouting profiles
- Small forward rankings and scouting profiles
- Power forward rankings and scouting profiles
- Center rankings and scouting profiles
2019 NBA Draft Final Big Board Rankings
Zion is #1, but it’s all up for grabs after that. What players make up this year’s top 50 NBA draft prospects?
Top-12 pick upside rankings
1. Zion Williamson
2. Brandon Clarke
3. Jarrett Culver
4. Cam Reddish
5. R.J. Barrett
6. Ja Morant
7. Grant Williams
8. Matisse Thybulle
9. De’Andre Hunter
10. P.J. Washington
11. Goga Bitadze
12. Nickeil Alexander-Walker
We love to talk about upside, but the truth is few players actually reach their full potential as we imagine it on draft day. My top-12 includes Zion at 1, then Clarke-Morant-Culver and a third tier from 5 to 12. This is what it would look like if all 12 of these guys hit their 95th-percentile outcome.
Zion’s alone at the top. Duh. His 95th-percentile outcome is winning multiple MVPs and championships. The next tier probably doesn’t surprise, except for the name on top. If Brandon Clarke can keep a similar offensive efficiency in the NBA and hit some threes while keeping his huge defensive ability, he’s the full package. You might notice that that tier is basically in order of defensive ability, with R.J. and Ja at the bottom of the tier for that reason.
Williams and Thybulle get their own tier as specialists. They profile as championship winners at their 95th-percentile but end up more valuable in the playoffs than their regular season numbers will ever show. The bottom tier guys lack star upside, and that’s the real drawback with De’Andre Hunter and why I’ve cooled a bit on him in the draft process.
Top-12 pick 50th-percentile rankings
1. Zion Williamson
2. Jarrett Culver
3. De’Andre Hunter
4. Goga Bitadze
5. P.J. Washington
6. R.J. Barrett
7. Cam Reddish
8. Ja Morant
9. Brandon Clarke
10. Matisse Thybulle
11. Grant Williams
12. Nickeil Alexander-Walker
This is the other end of the spectrum for these players, the floor outcomes, though it’s not exactly the 5th-percentile outcome. The truth is that the 5th-percentile outcome for all of these players is being out of the NBA entirely. Think of it more like the median 50th-percentile outcome, basically what these players would look like if they keep their current profile of strengths without really ever fixing their glaring weaknesses going forward.
Zion stays alone at the top. His elite athleticism, feel for the game, and level of skill is so high that he can’t really fail, absent of his body failing him. His 50th-percentile outcome is probably better than all but like ten of the players in this draft hitting their upside. After that, the next tier are the high-floor guys at the top of the draft, and notice how far Hunter moves up in the rankings. Those four will be valuable on defense in their current roles, even with a smaller role-player type spot on offense.
Barrett, Reddish, and Morant hitting their 50th-percentile outcome leaves three super flawed players. But their athleticism and raw talent along with the draft pedigree probably still makes this trio 10-year veterans. For example, think of Cam Reddish as something like Jeff Green, with the body and talent to keep him bouncing around the league with like five great games a season and 75 more than infuriate a fan base.
For Clarke, Thybulle, Williams, and NAW, a 50th-percentile outcome leaves them buried on a bench or potentially out of the league. It’s telling that I have Alexander-Walker last in both of these rankings and makes me think I might have placed him a tier too high.
Non-lottery players with the highest upside
1. Bol Bol
2. Kevin Porter Jr.
3. Jontay Porter
4. Jaxson Hayes
5. Talen Horton-Tucker
6. Nassir Little
7. Isaiah Roby
8. Darius Bazley
9. Nic Claxton
10. Jalen Lecque
This is like the upside rankings above, except I’m excluding my top 12 along with any clear lottery picks like Garland and Coby. I don’t think the top four are a huge surprise, outside of the inclusion of Jontay Porter with Bol, KPJ, and Jaxson. And yes I think Jontay’s top outcome is that good.
After that it’s two raw wing prospects, and I ultimately ranked THT ahead of Nassir because of his feel for the game and being almost a full year younger. The final four are developmental picks that could explode if everything hits.
Which teams add the most value to a prospect?
1. Boston Celtics
2. Miami Heat
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Indiana Pacers
5. Atlanta Hawks
There’s nothing worse than doing months of draft preparation and deciding you’re out on a prospect, then seeing a team like the Celtics or Spurs draft him and realizing instantly you must be totally wrong. Some teams just know how to draft, and more importantly, they know how to develop players.
Boston has egg on its face this week with Kyrie and Horford but they only have to point to Tatum, Brown, and Smart to show how well they’ve developed players. The Spurs threw me off their scent last year with investments into Lonnie Walker and DeMar DeRozan, but their development of Derrick White and Dejounte Murray is a nice reminder of what they do with the relative unknowns they take on draft day. The Heat have a long list of players they’ve successfully developed, and the Pacers are a healthy franchise who have built their team without any top picks. For players I don’t particularly love like Nassir Little, Romeo Langford, etc, I’ll immediately like them a whole lot more if they end up with the chance to develop for one of these franchises.
As for the Hawks? They haven’t earned their spot on that list yet so it’s just a gut feeling. I think Travis Schlenk is building something special. Shouts to the Clippers, Mavericks, Raptors, Nets, and Nuggets, in no real order. All competent front offices that add value to a prospect.
Which teams hurt a prospect’s value the most?
1. Orlando Magic
2. New York Knicks
3. Washington Wizards
4. Charlotte Hornets
5. Phoenix Suns
This is the flip side of that previous list. Which teams does my heart just sink if a prospect I love ends up getting drafted by that franchise? The Orlando Magic were an easy #1. I absolutely loved Jonathan Isaac, and I was excited about Mo Bamba. But the Magic have been so bad developing young players that I lowered my evaluation of both players almost immediately upon them landing in Orlando. Team situation and environment matters that much.
The dysfunctional Knicks and Wizards front offices speak for themselves. The Hornets and Suns have had a ton of high draft picks and not much success, and they tend to yank around the playing time of their young players. Dishonorable mention to the Cavs, Bulls, and Pistons.
And for real, shouts to the Sacramento Kings for dropping from #1 on the list to out of consideration entirely. What a season!
I wrote around 1000 words on each of my top 50 or so prospects in the draft and grouped them into the five traditional positions. Be sure to check out these links below if you want to learn more about any of these players: point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, power forwards, and centers.
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?
The 10 best prospect & team fits in the draft
Brandon Clarke, Minnesota
Grant Williams, Atlanta
Jontay Porter, Boston
Romeo Langford, San Antonio
Carsen Edwards, Philadelphia
Darius Garland, Boston
Matisse Thybulle, Golden State
Kevin Porter Jr., Miami
Cam Reddish, Atlanta
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Oklahoma City
I’m only going with realistic outcomes here, much fun as it might be to see Zion Williamson playing with the Warriors. That means RIP to Milwaukee Bol Bol and Utah Ty Jerome, two of my favorite fits in the draft, after Wednesday’s trades. The other 10 are vaguely in order but I don’t have too much else to say about them here. You can read about each prospect’s best team fit in all of my profile pages on each position above.
Whose value is helped the most on the right team?
1. Grant Williams
2. Matisse Thybulle
3. Bol Bol
4. Brandon Clarke
5. Tyler Herro
Grant Williams is a favorite on #DraftTwitter, but there’s no doubt that he needs a very specific ecosystem and team fit in the NBA to be successful. He is easily #1 on this list and in a tier of his own. I have him #5 on my board with the belief that he’ll land on the right team and that he can adapt his game to be useful anywhere, but to be the Draymond Lite many hope him to be, he needs to end up on a team where he can set mean screens and be the roll man with an elite guard.
I believe in Thybulle’s upside as a defender, but only if he’s on a team built around his defensive strengths instead of pigeonholed into a man concept. I don’t believe in Bol anyway, but I don’t think he even stays on the wrong court in the wrong scheme. Clarke can be good on most teams but will be great next to a floor-spacing center. Herro is a shooter but the sort of shooter that needs to run around screens in a scheme that involves him. For that Redick archetype, the defense will be so poor that you need them to bend the defense by running through screens to make up for it. Standstill shooting isn’t enough.
This list would also double as the answer to: “Whose value would be hurt the most on the wrong team?”
Which players are safest regardless of team?
1. Zion Williamson
2. Jarrett Culver
3. De’Andre Hunter
4. P.J. Washington
5. Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Zion, duh. The others are all in my building blocks tier for a reason. Part of having a higher “floor” outcome is having a versatile skill set that fits into any team, and that’s what I like about these guys.
What teams are most exciting to get drafted by?
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Philadelphia 76ers
4. San Antonio Spurs
5. New Orleans Pelicans
From a player’s perspective, is there any better outcome than landing on the Lakers or Warriors? The Lakers are a three-man roster, so if they can get a pick (they have none right now, for the next 173 years), that player is looking at significant playing time next to LeBron and Brow as a title favorite. The Warriors aren’t the favorites anymore, but the KD and Klay injuries mean plenty of playing time on a contender in a great ecosystem. Philly lacks depth and offers similar contender playing time with fun, young talent. The Spurs are the Spurs. And the Pelicans make the list because seriously, who doesn’t want to play with Zion? The Mavs and Bucks could have taken that spot too but don’t have a first-round pick.
Favorite arbitrage plays in the 2019 draft
1. Daniel Gafford in the 40s vs Nic Claxton 20–25 vs Jaxson Hayes lottery
2. Justin Wright-Foreman late vs Garland/Coby top 7 or Carsen round 1
3. Chuma Okeke or Isaiah Roby round 2 vs P.J. Washington lottery
4. Matisse Thybulle outside top 20 vs De’Andre Hunter top 7
5. Talen Horton-Tucker round 2 vs Nassir Little lottery
6. Jalen McDaniels round 2 vs Rui Hachimura lottery
7. Yovel Zoosman late vs Iggy Brazdeikis high 2nd
The draft is all about value. If one player appears 10% better than another but costs a top-10 draft pick instead of a second rounder, isn’t it clear which on is the better play? That makes the cheaper prospect an arbitrage play. This is not just draft value. If you pass on Brandon Clarke or Grant Williams and miss them, there is no facsimile for either of them later in the draft. I like Jontay Porter in the 2nd round (or undrafted?!) more than any first-round center, but he’s a very different style of player. And almost any trade down or into the fuure represents good value in this draft. But none of those are arbitrage.
An arbitrage play requires a similar player going much earlier at too high a price. Look at the three rim-running centers. I ended up ranking Jaxson Hayes slightly ahead of Nic Claxton, but Hayes looks like a lottery pick while Claxton could go 10 or 15 spots later. Daniel Gafford is a significant drop in value from either of those two, but he’s probably also available in the 40s. Would you rather have Hayes or Gafford? The answer is Hayes, and it’s not close. But would you rather take Hayes at 10, or trade down from 10 to 40, take Gafford there, and come away with a couple of first rounders for your trouble? That’s arbitrage value. It’s a different way to think about the players above.
The 7 worst plays in the draft
1. Darius Garland top 5, especially on a trade up
2. Trading up into the top 10
3. R.J. Barrett at #3
4. Sekou Doumbouya in the lottery
5. Rui Hachimura anywhre near the lottery
6. Cam Johnson in the first round
7. Bol Bol anywhere before the last few picks of round 1
Again, the draft is all about value, and the idea of a “bust” is relative. Is Andrew Wiggins a bust? Wiggins averaged 24 points a game as a 21-year-old and earned a $146-million extension. If he’d done that as even the #5 pick, he’d be considered a success on some level, but he feels like a bust at #1.
So rather than labeling busts, let’s pick out the worst plays in the draft, the biggest losses of potential value. And with all the Darius Garland hype at 3 or 4 with a list of teams trying to trade up, that certainly seems like it could turn into the biggest draft night, especially for a player that barely rates in my lottery. Any team trading up into the top-10 is going to pay a prohibitive price for talent that just hasn’t separated itself at that level. It will be very difficult for a trade-up to provide much value in this draft.
I’ve explained a few times why I’m out on R.J. Barrett. He could have a similar negative value to Andrew Wiggins in time, though the two are different players. I’d also stay far away from Hachimura and Doumbouya in the lottery. Hachimura just doesn’t fit a winning role in the modern NBA, and Sekou is super raw and will take years to develop, if he ever gets there, and has no real feel for the game. Teams would be better off just trading for a future pick since Doumbouya is a couple years away anyway.
Cam Johnson is the guy I least understand as a consensus first-round pick. Are we having three-point contests now? Basketball is more than just hitting an open shot. Johnson is old, was barely even on the radar til this season, and struggles against any amount of physicality with his frame. Every team needs shooting, but shooters need to be able to stay on the court.
The 10 best plays in the draft
2. Brandon Clarke outside the top 5
3. Jontay Porter second round or undrafted
4. Grant Williams outside the lottery
5. Chuma Okeke outside the first round
6. Matisse Thybulle end of the first or later
7. Goga Bitadze outside the lottery
8. Talen Horton-Tucker round two
9. Isaiah Roby round two
10. John Konchar undrafted
And here we have my favorite plays in the draft, the guys I’m highest on compared to consensus and certainly versus how the NBA seems to value them. Not surprisingly, many of these names are guys you’d raise your eyebrow at as you scroll through my Big Board.
Someone on Twitter asked me why I was so obsessed with Brandon Clarke. I suppose because it’s extremely rare that the potential #2 player in the class is freely available outside the top-10 picks on draft day, which certainly seems to be the case. Grant Williams will be a great or awesome play too, since it looks like he’s probably going to end up anywhere from like 20 to 45. Matisse Thybulle is another player I have in my lottery, way higher than consensus.
Jontay Porter and Chuma Okeke suffered unfortunate injuries, but those injuries made them two of the best plays in the draft. Obviously I don’t know inside injury information here, but a healthy Porter would have been top-5 on my board. The rumor now is that he could go late second or even undrafted, which would be absolutely insane unless Porter’s injuries are genuinely career-threatening.
I’m not even that excited about Goga Bitadze and still I recognize that most of the game’s top centers today are international players that were drafted too low. Somehow it looks like he’ll be taken outside the lottery and that’s silly for a guy that looks likely to be a 30-minute starter and potential 16-game center.
Talen Horton-Tucker is flawed as anything but has an incredibly gifted understanding of basketball and a weird but useful body shape. He could easily have stayed a year and moved safely into the top-10, so he represents huge upside at his age and abilities if he falls to round two.
John Konchar is my deep sleeper, with Dylan Windler and DaQuan Jeffries also looking like terrific vlaues if they fall out of the first round.
That seems like a good place to leave this! Let’s draft. Here’s a slew of links to other draft work I’ve done if you missed anything. ■