With 2019 now upon us, let’s take a look at the players that may become lottery picks for your struggling NBA team come the draft in June. Obviously all teams and seeding are subject to change, but I think it’s safe to say the Cavs, Suns, Knicks, and Bulls will all be competing/tanking for the Zion Sweepstakes aka the 2019 NBA Draft.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Zion Williamson (Duke, PF, Freshman)
Zion is one of the rare talents that lives up to the hype and then some. His size, athleticism and quickness have NBA scouts drooling and it’s becoming hard to believe that he will not be a lock for the number one pick in next years NBA draft. It’s not just the thunderous dunks that set Zion apart, in his young career at Duke he has proven to be ultra-efficient from the field. His 72.4 2pt percentage is almost too good to believe. He has also proven to be a terrific defensive player as well with 2.1 steals and 1.9 blocks per game.
Zion will have no problem adjusting to the NBA game, he is already bigger than 90 percent of the league. He will need to improve his outside shot, but he his already leaps and bounds ahead of previous top picks like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz who can barely hit the rim with their outside shooting.
A team like the putrid Cleveland Cavaliers could greatly benefit if they can cash in on the Zion sweepstakes, he is a great player but also a must-see attraction. With LeBron gone to LA it would provide a much-needed boost in fan support.
2. Phoenix Suns: RJ Barrett (Duke, SG/SF, Freshman)
Barrett may be the only other talent in college basketball that realistically can compete with Zion for the top pick. He has shown some struggles of late and had possibly his worst game of the season recently in a tightly contested matchup against Texas Tech. Regardless Barrett has all the intangibles NBA scouts look for and has shown the ability to get to the rim at will. He is currently averaging 23.8 pts per game along with 6.8 reb and 3.8 ast.
His style of play fits perfectly in the modern NBA where teams look to get out and run in transition and find the open player. The NBA comparison would be DeMar DeRozan because of his similar body frame and ability to get a basket at any given time.
The Phoenix Suns may not be the best fit for Barrett with them needing a point guard more than another athletic SG/SF, but he might be too great of a talent to pass over. Just like Zion, his shooting will need to improve along with his decision making that could use some improvement. Zion may have the highest upside, but I believe Barrett is the more sure-fire bet to be an elite NBA player.
3. New York Knicks: Cam Reddish (Duke, SG/SF, Freshman)
Cam Reddish has struggled so far in his young college career, having to defer to his talented teammates like Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett has made it tough for him and at this point he is averaging just 13.5 pts per game.
Even with this somewhat disappointing play so far, he is still strongly considered to be a top 5 pick. A lot of that has to do with his 6’8” frame, his defensive tenacity and his smooth shooting form. If placed in the right situation he has a very high ceiling, it may take him a couple years to get there but all the tools are already there.
The Knicks could easily overlook these struggles Reddish has had so far in college and would select him in the hopes he could be a main piece in building a young and talented core that could attract other top free agents next summer.
4. Chicago Bulls: Ja Morant (Murray State, PG, Sophomore)
Morant is averaging 23.0 pts, 9.3 ast and 7.0 reb so far this season and is establishing himself as the top point guard prospect in this year’s draft.
He is an explosive talent and his playmaking ability is already wise beyond his years. The Bulls would benefit from having Morant running their offense and his scoring and unselfish style of play would take some of the pressure off the Bulls other young talent like Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
He is another player that will need to improve his outside shot, he’s shooting 28% from three so far this season and is one of the only aspects of his game that will need some serious work if he wants to stay on the floor in the NBA.
5. Atlanta Hawks: Kevin Porter Jr. (USC, SG, Freshman)
The 6’6” Porter has only played in 5 games so far this season because of a quad injury that has kept him sidelined for the past month, but the glimpses we have seen from him has been more than impressive. His jumping ability and quickness getting off the floor is out of this world.
The Seattle, WA native has a very polished offensive game for such a young player and has shown a knack for making athletic plays and being able to take any defender off the dribble in isolation.
He would be a great fit for the Atlanta Hawks and would fit in perfectly with their other young talent in Trae Young and John Collins.
6. Washington Wizards: Bol Bol (Oregon, C, Freshman)
Bol Bol is the son of the late Manute Bol who was one of the tallest players in NBA history. Bol is slightly shorter than his father was, standing at 7’2” and has a much different style of play than his father. Bol can handle the ball like the guard and has proven to have a lethal three-point shot.
In 9 games played for the Ducks so far this season Bol is averaging a near double double with 21 points per game and 9.6 rebounds. Along with, that he is shooting 52% from the three-point line, quite a remarkable percentage for a 7’2” player.
There have been some questions about his toughness and durability with him currently missing time with a foot injury. Very similar to his father he has a very skinny frame and it could be a red flag for pro scouts. He uses his height to block shots with ease, averaging 2.7 shots blocked per game so far this season, but he frequently will get out muscled in the paint.
Luckily for Bol the NBA is in the midst of the three-point era where all players 1-5 need to be able to shoot the three. Because of that, Bol will absolutely garner a lot of attention in the draft. The Wizards are desperately in need of a big man and Bol could be a centerpiece to build around for the future if Bradley Beal and John Wall are not with the Wizards for the long run. An NBA comparison would be Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-foot big man with guard like skills.
7. Orlando Magic: Darius Garland (Vanderbilt, PG, Freshman)
Garland is yet another supremely talented freshman that was injured after just four games this season. The torn meniscus shouldn’t hurt his draft stock and he is expected to make a full recovery. He averaged 19.8 points per game in the few games he did play along with showcasing his superior perimeter game and a deadly three-point shot.
His playmaking ability and effort on defense has been questioned but there is no doubt he is an elite scorer at the guard position. A team like the Orlando Magic could desperately use his services and I would expect them to target him in the draft along with other top guard prospects.
Garland balled out at the 2018 Nike Hoop Summit and put himself firmly in the discussion to be a lottery pick even before this season. It may end up being a blessing in disguise that he was injured this season because it won’t allow for any of his weakness’s to be fully exposed.
8. New Orleans Pelicans: Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech, SG, Sophomore)
Culver just recently had an excellent game against a superior Duke team just a week and a half ago. He certainly had an eye-opening performance by filling it up for 25 points in front of many NBA scouts that were in attendance to watch Duke’s fantastic freshman.
He lacks some of the explosive athletic ability that you look for but knows how to work the angles on the floor and his polished jump shot and footwork helps him overcome that.
With the Pelicans future with Anthony Davis up in the air, Culver could be a good starting point in what will be a serious rebuilding process if Davis were to leave or get traded. He is a lengthy defender who can step in at the NBA level and be able to contribute immediately
9. Minnesota T’Wolves: Keldon Johnson (Kentucky, SG/SF, Freshman)
It wouldn’t be the NBA Lottery if there wasn’t a Kentucky Wildcat involved, the 6’6 Keldon Johnson has the rangy stereotypical NBA body that scouts drool over. He is one of the more athletically gifted players coming into the draft and should fit right into the run and gun style of the NBA.
It was well known coming into this season how gifted of an athlete Johnson could be, but his shooting was a serious question mark. He has greatly improved in that aspect and is shooting 43% from deep and 53% from the field overall.
If Johnson’s shooting can continue to improve, we could be seeing his stock rise as we get closer to the draft. If you look into the past at how some of Kentucky’s guards/wing players have faired at the NBA level, with names like John Wall, Devin Booker, and De’Aaron Fox, it may be hard to pass on another supremely talented Wildcat.
10. Brooklyn Nets: Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga, PF, Junior)
Hachimura has been more of a work in progress over his time with the ‘Zags, improving each year he has been there and having a breakthrough Junior campaign. He is averaging 21.2 pts per game while reeling in 6.5 boards.
His quickness and ability to finish around the basket along with his development of a mid-range game have been key to his success this season.
There are questions about how his game will translate at the next level. At 6’8 230 lbs he plays like a traditional power forward and does much of his scoring in and around the paint. If he is going to succeed in the NBA, he will undoubtedly need to develop more of a outside shot and continue to improve his defense. One thing that could benefit Hachimura is the NBA’s ever-growing tendency to play small ball, if he can rebound and provide timely scoring, he could make a place for himself in the league.
11. Atlanta Hawks via Mavs: Sekou Doumbouya (France, SF/PF, 18 years old)
The Hawks made possibly the biggest blunder in recent memory by trading away Luka Doncic to the Mavs in last years draft. With the pick they got in return they may learn from their lesson and take a flyer on another international player in Doumbouya.
He is very, very raw and has not played all that much in the French professional league thus far and just turned 18 recently. The potential is limitless though, the 6’9 athletic freak wowed many scouts at last years U18 tournament and will garner some serious attention as the draft nears.
He may not make a splash in the league like Doncic has, but the raw potential is limitless. Possible Loul Deng comparison after he is NBA polished.
12. Utah Jazz: Nassir Little (UNC, SF/PF, Freshman)
Little has underperformed thus far with the Tar Heels and there are serious questions about his shooting ability long term. But with a 6’6 220-pound frame it may entice teams to overlook his recent struggles.
He certainly has the NBA body and his athleticism is off the charts, he could provide another athletic swing player for the Utah Jazz to go along with Donovan Mitchell. How Little performs down the stretch of the college season and into the NCAA tournament could go a long way in determining his draft stock. I would expect him to solidify the hype that he can be a lottery pick.
13. Detroit Pistons: Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech, SG/SF, Sophomore)
The sophomore guard has been off to a stellar start to the season for the Hokies, averaging 18.2 pts per game and shooting a stellar 48% from deep. His shooting ability alone will make him an asset at the next level.
His 6’5” 205 lb frame also sets him apart and provides him with all the physical ability to succeed. His improvement from his first season at VA Tech inspires hope that he will continue to grow and expand his game.
The Pistons could certainly use another sharpshooting guard to go along with a powerful front court with Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. Look for Alexander-Walker’s stock to continue to rise.
14. Charlotte Hornets: De’Andre Hunter (Virginia, PF/SF, Sophomore)
Hunter is the type of player that can be a difference maker at the next level without scoring, (think Marcus Smart) he has the toughness and motor to make a difference on a nightly basis. His 6’7 frame can enable him to be a lockdown defender in the NBA, the type of player the Hornets could desperately use.
It’s questionable how his offensive game will translate, but he has made major strives in his second season at UVA with his 3pt and FG percentage improving in his second year while averaging 14.5 pts per game.
One thing that can’t be questioned is Hunter’s effort on a nightly basis, something that translates to any level.