With the NBA season nearing the All-Star break and the draft nearly 4 months away, the league standings are beginning to play out. Teams like the Cavaliers, Knicks, and Bulls are vying for the top spot, opening themselves up to the plethora of prospects who will be selected in June. Here is one way that the draft lottery, or the first 14 picks, may play out when Adam Silver arrives at the podium:
1. Zion Williamson (F – Duke) → Cleveland Cavaliers
After the loss of Lebron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the worst team in the NBA and are undergoing a rebuild. Averaging 21.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, while shooting 67% from the field, Zion Williamson is a true, one of a kind physical force who is, without a doubt, the perennial superstar that Cleveland needs. After solidifying the point guard spot when they took Collin Sexton with the 8th overall pick in last year’s draft, the addition of Zion would fit perfectly on a wing desperate team like the Cavaliers. Standing at 6’7” and weighing 285 pounds, while still possessing insane athleticism, Williamson is nearly unstoppable inside the paint. Although he lacks an outside shot, shooting a poor 27% from three-point range, his excellent body control and fantastic touch around the rim makes him deserving of the #1 overall pick.
NBA Comparison: Charles Barkley — Although Barkley was not nearly as big or athletic as Zion, he too was a physical specimen who had great touch inside and excellent body control. Barkley ended up becoming one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game and a Hall of Famer. Considering that Williamson is more athletic and polished coming into the NBA, his floor is extremely high and his potential is untapped.
2. RJ Barrett (SG – Duke) → New York Knicks
The New York Knicks have had a rough past few years. With troubles regarding Carmelo Anthony, Phil Jackson, and owner James Dolan, the franchise is somewhat in disarray. Despite these issues, the team does have some young building blocks in star big man Kristaps Porzingis, who is currently sidelined with a torn ACL, and rookie forward Kevin Knox, who has been averaging almost 20 points per game since the calendar flipped. R.J. Barrett can provide New York with a star playmaker to compliment Porzingis and Knox. Averaging 23.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 4.1 assists, while shooting 45% from the field, Barrett is an elite athlete who can make an immediate impact in the NBA. Being the huge market that New York is, adding the Duke freshman will only attract more big name free agents who want to join the young Knicks core in hopes of bringing a Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the metropolitan area.
NBA Comparison: Khris Middleton — R.J. and Kris have very similar builds, as they are both lengthy wing players who can make things happen on both ends of the floor. Middleton continues to be a very solid defender, and his scoring ability has progressed every season. Although Barrett is also able to hit shots from all over the court, his inconsistent shooting gives him much room to grow and improve in the NBA, just as Middleton has done year after year.
3. Kevin Porter Jr. (SG/SF – USC) → Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls, similar to the Knicks, have struggled mightily in recent years. However, they are looking towards a promising future with some young pieces already on the roster: Lauri Markkanen, an athletic power forward with terrific offensive potential, Wendell Carter Jr., a rookie center with an unpolished offensive game but great defensive ability, and Zach Lavine, who just recovered from a Torn ACL and has broken out as a borderline All-Star since being acquired in a deal for Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves last season. Despite these pieces, Chicago is still lacking an athletic small forward and perimeter defender. Kevin Porter Jr. fills that void completely, as the USC freshman is averaging 10.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists, while playing about 22 minutes per game. Porter’s game fits perfectly into the Bulls system due to his defensive potential and polished offensive game.
NBA Comparison: Jimmy Butler — With similar size and skills, Butler and Porter have much in comparison. While both players have extremely well balanced offensive games, Butler, being older and more experienced, has grown into one of the premier 2-way players in the NBA. Porter’s lethal combination of size and quickness will eventually allow him to become an elite perimeter defender and an even better offensive weapon at the next level.
4. Ja Morant (PG – Murray State) → Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns have been in rebuild mode ever since Steve Nash left the franchise in 2012. However, since his departure, the Suns executives have made some excellent draft choices, taking Devin Booker, a budding young superstar who can seemingly score at will with the 13th pick in 2015, and Deandre Ayton, the 1st overall pick in the 2018 draft, who has made his presence felt in his rookie year, averaging a double-double. Phoenix also has young complimentary pieces in T.J. Warren and Mikal Bridges, who was a steal in the 2018 draft and has the potential to become a talented 2-way player. Despite these pieces, the Suns are still one of the worst teams in the NBA and are desperate for a point guard who can help with court spacing, be a primary ball handler, and can make smart decisions. Ja Morant fits this bill perfectly. Averaging 23.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 10.6 assists this season at Murray State, Morant has placed himself in the conversation as one of the premier talents in this year’s upcoming draft class. He has shown that he can be a floor general, while still being able to score in key situations. This makes him the perfect modern-day NBA point guard and adds another piece that the Suns can build around for the future.
NBA Comparison: Russell Westbrook — Westbrook, over the past few seasons, has become one of the best floor generals in the NBA, earning himself a massive contract extension in the offseason as a result. Although Morant is much better shooter than Westbrook, at least from three, the Oklahoma City point guard contributes in every statistical category and has a tremendous impact whenever he is on the floor. At the next level, Morant can use his incredible athleticism and court vision to explode towards the rim and blow by defenders, much like Westbrook does on a nightly basis.
5. Cameron Reddish (SF – Duke) → Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks made what appears to be a monumental mistake by trading potential Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic for Trae Young and the Mavericks 2019 1st round pick during last year’s draft. Despite this franchise-altering trade, Young has put together a very solid rookie season, putting up 16 points and 7 assists per contest. Atlanta also has a promising young big man in John Collins who has taken major strides throughout his sophomore campaign. However, the Hawks are missing a major presence out on the wing, a role in which Cameron Reddish can fill with ease. Although Reddish has taken somewhat of a backseat to star teammates R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson at Duke, he has shown glimpses of his untapped offensive potential, already showing that he is a lethal scorer with an elite perimeter game and a streaky touch inside the paint. Averaging 13.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in under 24 minutes per contest, Reddish’s length and raw ability leaves plenty of room for growth and development. Adding a young wing like Reddish would be a perfect fit for an Atlanta team that is building for the future.
NBA Comparison: Paul George — Paul George is an incredibly skilled player who can make plays on both ends of the floor. Like George, Reddish is a fluid offensive player who can score from anywhere on the court. Obviously, the Thunder forward is a perennial All-Star and DPOY candidate. However, the Duke freshman’s natural defensive ability and scoring potential will make him a menace to guard against in the NBA.
6. Jarrett Culver (SG – Texas Tech) → Washington Wizards
Culver’s stock has risen tremendously due to his incredible start to his sophomore season at Texas Tech, averaging 18.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists on 54% shooting from the field and 38% from three. The Wizards, on the other hand, look to be falling apart, as huge contracts for John Wall and Otto Porter have them in a bind. This makes Jarrett Culver the perfect guy for a Washington team trying to find its direction for the future. The Texas Tech product is one of the most polished, NBA-ready prospects in this draft, with terrific offensive ability and solid skills on the defensive end. Culver will have plenty of room to grow at the next level, as he can definitely improve on his passing and all-around game.
NBA Comparison: C.J. McCollum — McCollum has become one of the elite shooting guards in today’s NBA, as he is one of the most consistent scoreers from beyond the arc and is a terrific compliment to Damian Lillard. Like Culver, McCollum is a polished defender who is extremely efficient from range. Both players can improve on their court spacing, but Culver is clearly ready to perform at the next level and will be a huge contributor on the Wizards for years to come.
7. Nassir Little (SF – UNC) → Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are another team who have been disappointing to watch this season. With Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond struggling to perform together as teammates, a rebuild seems imminent. As a result, many suspect that the Pistons will take a risk on a prospect with star potential on draft night. Nassir Little, who was one of the most highly rated players coming out of high school last year, has seen his fair share of struggles this season as a freshman as North Carolina under Roy Williams. Playing limited minutes, Little is averaging 9.8 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field. Although these numbers are anything but eye-popping, the freshman’s star potential is there, as Little, standing at 6’7” and 220 pounds, has extraordinary athleticism and has shown flashes of brilliance on both ends of the court. Taking a chance on Little might be a risk worth taking for a Detroit Pistons franchise that is searching for a star talent to build a competitive team around.
NBA Comparison: Dominique Wilkins — With the same height and nearly the same weight as Little, Wilkins matches up perfectly. An athletic freak with untapped potential coming out of college, Wilkin’s similarity in terms of size and strength mirror that of Nassir Little. Although the Hawks legend played a lot more minutes his freshman year for the University of Georgia than Little does now at UNC, the athletic comparison is undeniable. If Little’s skill set allows him to develop into anything close to Dominique Wilkins, he can make big strides in the NBA.
8. Keldon Johnson (PG/SG – Kentucky) → Memphis Grizzlies
Keldon Johnson has played a pivotal role for this year’s Kentucky Wildcats team. Although their team performance has been somewhat underwhelming, at least in terms of Calipari’s standards, Johnson’s play has been a major bright spot. The freshman guard out of Oak Hill Academy is averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists this season. Although the lack of passing numbers is a bit concerning for a backcourt player hoping to be a lottery pick, Johnson’s combination of size and scoring ability make up for his production in other categories. His 6’6’’ frame could be huge for the Grizzlies alongside Mike Conley and promising rookie Jaren Jackson Jr., as Memphis can use a player that can stretch the floor and play multiple positions when needed.
NBA Comparison: Zach Lavine — After recovering from a torn ACL, Zach Lavine has regained his spot as one of the most electrifying player in the NBA. At UCLA, Lavine played limited minutes, just under 25 per game, but made the most of his opportunities, averaging almost 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists during his only year playing college basketball. With a 6’6” frame and similar build to Lavine, Keldon Johnson’s untapped athletic ability resemble an individual who can make a major splash at the next level.
9. Romeo Langford (SG – Indiana) → Orlando Magic
Since the departure of Dwight Howard in 2012, the Orlando Magic have consistently been in the bottom of the NBA standings but have gathered some young assets in the process. These assets have solidified their frontcourt of the future, with budding offensive star Aaron Gordon and rookie Mohamed Bamba, who has shown enormous potential as a rim protector with a 7’10” wingspan and terrific skills in the paint. At the forward spot, second year player Jonathan Isaac has already proven himself to be a lockdown perimeter defender with room to become an excellent 2-way star. However, Orlando is missing a strong presence in the backcourt, giving way to Romeo Langford would sliding perfectly into the Magic rotation. Averaging 18.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists, the Indiana freshman has shown immense offensive talent despite his dismal 24% shooting from three. However, the shooting guard has plenty of room to develop his shot from distance at the next level and will fit right in with the rest of Orlando’s young core.
NBA Comparison: Devin Booker — Like Langford, Devin Booker is a skilled offensive player who is a streaky perimeter shooter with excellent ball handling ability. Booker has the potential to become one of the premier shooting guards in the NBA, as he continues to get better year after year. The defensive potential of Langford, coupled with his scoring ability, result in a lethal combination that will be hard to stop at the next level.
10. Bol Bol (C – Oregon) → Atlanta Hawks (via Dallas Mavericks)
The son of one of the tallest players in NBA history, Bol Bol’s 7’3’’ frame, along with a 7’8’’ wingspan, makes him one of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s draft class. Before injuring his left foot that will hold him out for the remainder of the college basketball season, the freshman big man was averaging 21 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks through 9 games. Bol also shot 52% from 3-point range. His combination of size and skill will fit perfectly in the Atlanta’s system, as three-point shooting is becoming a focal part of their offense. Adding on to a team that is already building a powerful young core in Trae Young, John Collins, and, according to this mock draft, Cam Reddish, Bol can add significant value to a team that needs an athletic player in the frontcourt that spaces the floor and create open shots.
NBA Comparison: Kristaps Porzingis — Porzingis’ incredibly length makes nearly impossible to guard against. Being taller than almost any player in the league, the Latvian forward can see over the defense and can make shots from all over the court. Bol, who has a very similar skillset, can only hope to make the same impact that Porzingis has when he is healthy. The rim protecting abilities of both players are unmatched due their incredible combination of athleticism, size and wingspan, and the fact that they can both hit outside shots adds another dimension to their respective games.
11. Sekou Doumbouya (SF/PF – France) → Charlotte Hornets
Sekou Doumbouya is another very interesting prospect in this upcoming draft. The 6’9” forward is an extremely raw talent, but has displayed some excellent ability in his limited role in France, averaging 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds last season in the Poitiers league. His potential is untapped due to a 6’11’’ wingspan and 8’’11 standing reach. At the age of 18, he will most likely be a project in the NBA, taking a few years to develop before he makes any significant impact. However, this is a great pick for a Hornets franchise that needs to plan for losing Kemba Walker in this upcoming free agency. Doumbouya has the makeup of a superstar but will need time to develop his skills in Charlotte and adapt to the faster pace of the NBA.
NBA Comparison: Pascal Siakam — Siakam’s freakish athleticism for someone his size and terrific ability to make plays up and down the floor match Doumbouya’s set of skills and his untapped potential. Both forwards are 6’9” and are any coach’s dream with their versatility. In his second year in the NBA, Siakam is averaging 14.9 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists, becoming a nightly contributor for the Toronto Raptors. The comparison is clearly there, as Doumbouya’s unique combination of size and skill puts no limit on his potential impact at the next level.
12. Darius Garland (PG – Vanderbilt) → New Orleans Pelicans
The #1 PG in the Class of 2018, Garland had extremely high expectations heading into his freshman season at Vanderbilt. He lived up to these expectations before tearing his meniscus in the first few minutes against Kent State. However, in the four games that Garland played before the injury, he averaged 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.6 assists, shooting almost 54% from the field and 48% from three. The talent is undeniably there, as the star point guard let Vanderbilt to a 4-0 start. Many experts are not sold on the fact that Garland will declare for the draft, but if he indeed does, the freshman is a surefire lottery pick. The Pelicans desperately need a second star next to Anthony Davis in order to attract him to stay with the team. If the Vanderbilt guard does indeed declare for the draft and returns to form after his injury, he will have an immediate impact in the NBA.
NBA Comparison: Dennis Schroder — With extremely similar size and ability as Garland, Schroder has carved out an important role on the Oklahoma City Thunder behind Russell Westbrook. After being traded from the Atlanta Hawks last summer, the 6th-year guard is averaging 15.3 points and 4.4 assists while playing just under 30 minutes per contest. Although Garland is a much better shooter than Schroder from beyond the arc, the size comparison and scoring ability is extremely similar. Garland’s skills will translate well to the professional level, as players like Schroder have done just fine with similar styles of play.
13. Deandre Hunter (G – Virginia) → Minnesota Timberwolves
Being the best player on one of the top teams in college basketball, Hunter is an extremely polished and well-rounded athlete who can accel on both ends of the floor. This year, the sophomore guard is averaging 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists, shooting 52% from the field and 44% from three. A menace on defense, Hunter provides the Timberwolves with an excellent young 2-way player to along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. He might take some time to develop to the faster pace of the NBA, but Deandre Hunter has the tools to become an extremely talented player at the next level.
NBA Comparison: Mikal Bridges — An NBA rookie out of the University of Villanova, Bridges has put himself in a terrific position to receive more minutes for a rebuilding Phoenix Suns team. His ability to make plays on both ends of the floor is vital in a league now in which the three-pointer is more important than ever. Deandre Hunter’s experience playing against top competition at the collegiate level, combined with his aggressiveness on the defensive end are a bonus for any franchise in need of another star player. The Virginia product can be an effective piece for a Minnesota franchise that is stuck in the middle of the NBA standings year after year.
14. Rui Hachimura (F – Gonzaga) → Brooklyn Nets
Hachimura’s draft stock skyrocketed after his terrific performance against the Duke Blue Devils early in the campaign, as he put 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, leading Gonzaga to a key victory over the top team in the country. Since then, the Junior forward has continued to put up excellent numbers for the Bulldogs, averaging 20.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists this season. Although Hachimura lacks insane athletic ability compared to the other players in this draft class and is an extremely inconsistent shooter, his excellent defensive skills and strength inside the paint will allow him to make an immediate impact for a Nets franchise that already has a promising young core, with Caris LeVert, D’Angelo Russell, and Jarrett Allen.
NBA Comparison: Wilson Chandler — An experienced veteran in the NBA, Chandler has put together a very solid career after struggling with his shooting ability at the college level. However, over his 11 seasons in the NBA, Chandler is shooting a very respectable 34% from three and 45% from the field. My point is, Hachimura will have time to develop his shot from streaky to consistent at the next level, as he already excels inside the paint against collegiate competition.
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY EMORY KAPLAN AND DANIEL CIFU.