The NBA Draft is less than a month away. The league’s new and enthralling lottery system established which teams will be making the first 14 picks of the 2019 NBA Draft.
The New Orleans Pelicans won the NBA Lottery and will make the first selection on June 20 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers round out the top-five.
With the top selections in mind, let’s examine the five most NBA-ready prospects.
Gifted the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Pelicans are fully expected to nab Duke’s Zion Williamson. Pelicans GM David Griffin has already discussed the potential pairing of Williamson and disgruntled superstar Anthony Davis. Griffin is optimistic of keeping Davis in New Orleans long-term, but the six-time All-Star has remained steadfast on his desire to be traded.
Williamson posted the best player efficiency rating (PER) in the nation during his freshman campaign. The 6’7″ forward averaged 26 points per game in the NCAA tournament, a notch above his regular-season (22.6) output.
An elite defender and rim protector, Williamson registered 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per contest. Capable of dominating on both ends of the floor, Williamson is a franchise-altering player who the Pelicans will look to build around.
2) Ja Morant
With Williamson essentially a lock to land in New Orleans, Murray State’s Ja Morant appears to be a shoe-in selection at No. 2 for the Grizzlies.
Source: Barring the unexpected, Memphis Grizzlies front office and ownership appear to have locked in on selecting Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and are informing parties in Chicago of such. That clears the way for R.J. Barrett to fall to the Knicks at #3.
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 15, 2019
Morant appeared in 33 games in his sophomore season for the Racers, averaging 24.5 points per game on 50% shooting from the field. including 36% from three-point territory. Morant is a freak athlete who can play above the rim and has drawn comparisons to Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook.
The 6-foot-3 point guard is an exceptional distributor, dishing out 10 assists per contest. Morant was the first player to average double-digit assists in Division I college basketball since the 1994-95 season.
Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley carries a massive contract for the next two seasons. It will be difficult for Memphis to deal a player past his prime making roughly $67 million over the next two years, so Morant and Conley should conceivably play alongside one another in what will be an undersized backcourt. The Grizzlies could opt to send Conley to the second-unit, allowing Morant to play the 1 and jumpstart the new era of hoops in Memphis.
3) RJ Barrett
Williamson’s teammate at Duke, RJ Barrett, is widely regarded as the No. 3 prospect for the upcoming draft. Barrett entered the year as the top freshman prospect in college basketball–before Williamson took the country by storm with his astounding two-way abilities.
Not to be overlooked, Barrett is the only freshman in ACC history to average over 22 points, seven assists and four rebounds per game. The shooting guard broke the ACC freshman scoring record and earned a first-team All-American selection. Barrett scored in double-digits in all 38 games for the Blue Devils. His scoring totals are extra impressive, given that he had to share the court with another college superstar.
The Knicks have the third pick and are likely to grab Barrett, who turns 19 in June but already has the look of an NBA starter.
4) De’Andre Hunter
The top-3 selections in the NBA Draft seem (supposedly) set in stone. So who else is capable of making an immediate impact on an NBA roster? The best bet is Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Hunter spearheaded the Cavaliers’ NCAA title run. The forward led Virginia in scoring and field goal percentage, ranked second in rebounding, third in blocks, fourth in assists and shot 44.6 percent from 3-point range.
A bonafide two-way player, Hunter should see plenty of floor time in his rookie season, regardless of where he ends up.
5) Jarrett Culver
Speaking of outstanding all-around talent, Texas Tech’s swingman Jarrett Culver has the makings of an elite 3-and-D NBA player.
Culver earned the Big 12 Player of the Year honors in his sophomore year, accumulating 18.5 points, 6.4 boards and 3.7 assists per game. He led the Red Raiders to the Big 12 regular-season title, ending a 14-year run by the Kansas Jayhawks. Culver then guided the Red Raiders to the National Title Game, where they lost to Virginia in a thrilling overtime duel.
Culver was the best defender for Texas Tech, the 11th-ranked defensive team in the country. He struggled at times to produce consistently on offense, but has plenty of time to hone his scoring skills. The 6’6″ 195-pound guard/forward has an ideal frame for the NBA, a major reason scouts are so high on the versatile defender.