Happy NBA Draft Day! Hundreds of ballers will wait to hear their names called and I have seen a significant number of them to form opinions for pleasure. Although this year’s is not a top heavy class, there is value to be found in each of the tiers below despite the lines blurring after a certain point around pick 20. My rankings below are a matter of player preference and personal philosophy.
1-5: The All Stars.
1. Zion Williamson. F, Duke. ESPN Rank: 1
It’s almost blasphemous to think that Zion was not a top five prospect to watch in college basketball but that was the view of many outlets prior to his historic year where he became the most efficient player in NCAA history. No one is questioning how his game will translate at the next level anymore as they’ve all fallen in love with his mesmerizing style of play full of heart and muscle. There’s never been anyone quite like him in the NBA and he’ll be fun to watch in NOLA.
NBA Comparison: Dominique Wilkins
Best fit: Anywhere.
2. RJ Barrett. G, Duke. ESPN Rank: 3
There is something funny about young RJ receiving all the criticism folks could instead give to Zion but choose not to because they know better. Yes, he doesn’t hit threes or free throws with regularity you’d like and uses his left hand too much like his best friend but he gets to the basket to create for himself with his handles and is a good passer. He’s fun loving but has a competitiveness that does not rub the wrong way, not to mention an underrated athlete.
NBA Comparison: Tracy McGrady
Best fit: Knicks at 3 where he has family and friends to see it become his city.
3. Ja Morant. G, Murray State. ESPN Rank: 2
If you have talent, they will find you. Seen during a Murray State coach’s lunch break, Morant revived the program as a unheralded recruit overshadowed on the same AAU team as Williamson. Crafty and quick as a cat, he is a joy to watch in both involving his teammates which he does better than almost anyone in the draft or go get it himself across court in transition. The game comes easy and he’s prone to make mistakes at times but not for lack of trying.
NBA Comparison: Skinny John Wall
Best fit: Memphis at 2 to PnR partner with a stud big and replace Mike Conley.
4. DeAndre Hunter. F, Virginia. ESPN Rank: 5
One of the best defensive players in the draft whose impact on that end isn’t shown completely on the stat sheet, DeAndre is much more than a 3 and D player people make him out to be. He’s a winner who has some offensive game up his sleeve and is learning to take over games but needs a coach and system like he had in Virginia to help him do it as San Antonio did with a Finals MVP they rather not name. If he learns to handle the rock a little better, he’ll flourish.
NBA Comparison: Less smooth Joe Johnson
Best fit: John Belein’s Cavs at 5, the 1 team he worked out for. Is the secret out?
5. Jarrett Culver. G, Texas Tech. ESPN Rank: 6
A tireless worker, Jarrett had to carry Texas Tech on his back and had the leeway to do so. Throughout outdueled by Hunter in the tournament, he still found ways to keep them in the game and make an impact. He’s capable of matching up as a defender against many positions if he puts on more weight and a surprising iso scorer who will make his money in the midrange even in today’s game. Culver should continue to work on his jumper to be consistent.
NBA Comparison: Khris Middleton
Best Fit: Pelicans at 4 should they trade Jrue Holiday and make a core four.
6-10: Day 1 starters with a chance to be well above average players quickly.
6. Darius Garland. G, Vanderbilt. ESPN Rank: 4
You hate to say that Darius almost benefited from not playing much this season but he did. There’s intrigue there and rightfully so. He’s an elite pull up shooter and seems to have a nice feel as he glides in and out of the floor. He has still to develop physically and there have to be questions about if he can take a beating with that frame as point guards are getting bigger and stronger, not to mention if Garland is one yet with low assist numbers albeit sample size.
NBA Comparison: Kyle Lowry, who didn’t start off as much of a passer.
Best fit: Phoenix at 6 with Devin Booker to get them to finally start winning.
7. Brandon Clarke. F, Gonzaga. ESPN Rank: 13
He won’t wow you with his measurements but he doesn’t wingspan or standing reach because he has something better that allows him block and rebound the way he does at his size: instincts. He’s a John Collins type dunker who had a campaign for the ages at Gonzaga, leading the nation in field goal percentage. A true Cinderella story from San Jose State, there was a time where he would go first overall like Kenyon Martin and not twenty spots lower in most mocks.
NBA Comparison: Shawn Marion
Best fit: Minnesota at 11 to be Karl Towns clean up man and help them defend.
8. Coby White. G, North Carolina. ESPN Rank: 8
A scoring guard who broke MJ’s freshman scoring record at UNC, Coby is properly named and takes refuge in the sport to help him cope with all that he has going on personally as a teen. He’s who I‘ll be rooting for Thursday night as someone with his head on right and savy player who knows his strengths and weaknesses ala Jamal Crawford. His shot selection could be better at times but he switches it up with his speed and keeps defenses on their toes.
NBA Comparison: Lou Williams
Best fit: Chicago at 7 where he complements Dunn if they have plans for him.
9. Cam Reddish. F, Duke. ESPN Rank: 7
An enigma, there’s a wide range of outcomes with Cam all depending on his attitude. He could be Jeff Green like where we wonder what could have been or fulfill his promise some liken to Paul George that I don’t quite see. He has a stroke that is fluid and effortless as well as great defensive potential but both make you question why he was so dreadful at Duke in a situation most thrive. He goes missing for long stretches but comes back in the last few moments.
NBA Comparison: Raw Carmelo Anthony
Best fit: Atlanta at 8 where he can do more than just catch and shoot he hates.
10. Bol Bol. C, Oregon. ESPN Rank: 15
Literally all that I said about Reddish can apply to Bol as well. He too is a top five talent on paper for possessing guard skill that is silly to see for his height but with other considerations that cloud an otherwise rosy picture. First, the foot surgery and frail frame. The difference is he couldn’t have played any better in his handful of games before going down but may not matter to some. To me, it’s still worth the risk as the best two way player available on the board.
NBA Comparison: slightly less immature Kristaps Porzingis (yes, I’m still bitter)
Best fit: Atlanta again at 10 to make their own scary foursome. Threes for days!
11-15: Believe, let them develop at their own pace and be pleasantly surprised.
11. Rui Hachimura. F, Gonzaga. ESPN Rank: 12
I realize I may the high guy on both players for the Zags compared to everyone but there’s something to be said about production and Rui had a lot of it. He can really move for someone his build and get on you in a hurry. His offensive arsenal that’s getting better by daily and leaping ability are similarly deceptive. He’s long and will become a serviceable defender as he learns more of the intricacies of offenses as he is quite new to playing from Japan but needs trust.
NBA Comparison: Tobias Harris
Best Fit: DC at 9 so he can be put perfectly in what direction they choose to go.
12. Nic Claxton. C, Georgia. ESPN Rank: 29
My biggest riser, second only to the man next up, Nic is someone a team will have to develop fully but a blank slate with all the tools you look for in a modern big. The ability to switch defensively, play make with the ball in his hands and begin to shoot it a little, he’ll be helped by having an actual point guard to make his job easier to do all these things with as he wasn’t in the ideal spot in Georgia although he was surely coached up well to be as aware as he is.
NBA Comparison: Value brand Chris Bosh
Best Fit: Spurs at 19 to learn from and someday replace LaMarcus Aldridge.
13. Luguentz Dort. G, Arizona State. ESPN Rank: 26
The best name in the draft, Lu plays exactly how he looks and that’s intense. There’s no time to take a breathe when you’re watching him because he’s always moving. I don’t understand pigeonholing him as Marcus Smart already when he is younger, taller, far more creative offensively and far from a libaility with his acrobatic layups and improved shooting in the second half of an impressive first year in the States. He has a nice arc to his shot and can fly.
NBA Comparison: What the NBA thought Donovan Mitchell would be coming in.
Best fit: Pistons at 15 where he can play alongside bowling ball Bruce Brown.
14. Romeo Langford. G, Indiana. ESPN Rank: 14
Originally I had him slated lower but it’s hard to not put him in my lottery. He’s not afraid of shooting from anywhere or defending and was hampered all season by a hand injury. Romeo should be able to shoot better and efficiently, still needing to go to the right team for him to have a productive career but the sky is the limit. Perhaps it’s better for him to go somewhere with less pressure so he is not forcing shots and does what is natural to him in looking for others.
NBA Comparison: Will Barton
Best Fit: Pacers at 18 who can help him fill in and be a second alpha to Oladipo.
15. Goga Bitadze. C, Mega Bemax. ESPN Rank: 17
By far the best European player in this class and EuroLeague Rising Star winner, Goga works in and out of the post as a stretch five. It’s not pretty and laborious more times than not but the Georgian sets screens and can assist as well as finish. He does not need to be ball domimant but is just as good when he is. Foot speed is a concern with him and he’ll be taken out to the perimeter a lot by guards but he will block his share of shots as a interior presence.
Comparison: Marc Gasol
Best Fit: Boston Celtics at 14 especially after Al Horford leaves in free agency.
16-20: First off the bench guys who play as sixth men and in and out of lineups.
16. Mfiondu Kabengele. C, Florida State. ESPN Rank: 23
I’m not sure how he didn’t start at Florida State but Mfiondu was spectacular off the bench as their sixth man. Dikembe’s nephew can block shots like his uncle but it’s far from the only thing he can do. He’s an effective rebounder and energy big, with his imposing weight and wingspan. He shoots threes if you let him and spaces the floor. An engaging personality, he is “an old 22” which is absurd with upside left if he fouls less while not going into tunnel vision mode.
Comparison: Jaren Jackson lite
Best fit: Grizzlies at 23. How cool would it be if he started next with his comp?
17. Nickeil Alexander-Walker. G, Virginia Tech. ESPN Rank: 22
What’s up with Canadians these days? They’re churning out first rounders left and right and have gone back to back here, with Dort before. NAW may not be as gifted athletically as his cousin Shai, since it’s easy to compare the two, but has a solid first step that he uses to get in the lane and is ambidextrous. He has long, wiry Dejounte Murray arms to swipe the ball away for steals and plays with the team, doing what each play needs even if it’s being a spot up shooter.
Comparison: Spencer Dinwiddie
Best fit: Orlando at 16 where he can be with Fultz and better than Elfrid Payton.
18. Dylan Windler. G, Belmont. ESPN Rank: 37
A likely second rounder due to playing for Belmont and not Kentucky, Dylan has a chance to be a lethal weapon teams will kick themselves for not taking in a time when threes have more value than ever. He can get his lefty release off in any scenario and makes incredibly tough shots. He’s 6-8 and plays shooting guard like a certain Splash Brother although that’s not who he reminds me of. Windler knows when to grab boards and get makes on them like a Joe Ingles.
NBA Comparison: Knockoff Manu Ginobli
Best fit: Warriors at 28 where he’ll go wild with Steph Curry at least for 2019.
19. Tyler Herro. G, Kentucky. ESPN Rank: 18
I’m probably the only person on Earth who has Tyler ranked below Windler but I get the hype. He’s a sniper with pure mechanics but can get buckets in a multitude of ways. I saw some flashes of a point guard where he had really nice chemistry with the next person on this list and a mean streak to him that led him to play as many minutes as he did for the Wildcats, a fact he takes pride in. He does not seem to be a liability on defense either as is a worry with shooters.
NBA Comparison: Zach LaVine with less bounce
Best fit: Philly at 24 so he replaces JJ Redick and/or Butler and shoots for Ben.
20. Keldon Johnson. G, Kentucky. ESPN Rank: 19
If I’m being honest, Keldon was one of the hardest evaluations I had to make and it wasn’t because I didn’t like him. Coach Cal makes it notoriously hard for us to tell the full extent of a player’s ceiling with their concretely assigned roles. But what’s clear to me is he plays his butt off despite being very predictable. He plays off-ball almost exclusively and while that’s dandy and translates well, what does he do if asked to fend for himself or worse, plays with selfish guys?
NBA Comparison: Caron Butler
Best fit: Atlanta at 17 to make for a coup of draftees that he can grow up with.
21-25: Elite role players and eventual starters with little to no bust potential.
21. PJ Washington. F, Kentucky. ESPN Rank: 16
Three straight from Kentucky? You bet. This is also because they’re all pretty evenly matched in terms of impact and as quality performers. But if I had to choose the most important player of the group, it’d be PJ as he was their soul/leader. There is a risk he is tad undersized, but he can score when he wants to but prefers to do everything. His physicality will play and he’s added a three he shoots from top of key to demoralize you afterwards like Blake Griffin has done.
NBA Comparison: Paul Millsap
Best fit: Boston at 20 so he is a part of a rookie front court with Goga and Co.
22. Ty Jerome. G, Virginia. ESPN Rank: 25
No, he’s not much of an athlete but he’s very important to the fabric and culture of championship teams like the one he was in, just like Malcolm Brogdon. He notices what’s happening five steps before it happens better than anyone and is New York tough. His dribble moves are underrated and the few times he shoots, you can be confident it’s going on. He won’t make many errors and knows when to pounce on them himself as a system player and coach’s dream.
NBA Comparison: Brent Barry
Best fit: Cleveland at 26 so he is a Cav again and backcourt pairing for Sexton.
23. Admiral Schofield. G, Tennessee. ESPN Rank: 36
I just don’t know what many are missing here the new Admiral. He’s done what he has had to do, sacrificed and improved both his game and build that he knows how to use his advantage to unimaginable levels from where he was before. He has a silky shot and is as hungry as anyone I’ve listened to. If I searched up glue guy in the dictionary, his photo would come up but sadly we recognize only the best of them in Draymond Green and not all the others.
NBA Comparison: Robert Covington
Best Fit: Portland at 25 as a junkyard dog when Dame and CJ don’t want to be.
24. Zylan Cheatham. F, Arizona State. ESPN Rank: 45
Everyone is looking for that Swiss Army knife and keeps missing badly. Zylan is that player that’s going unnoticed, similarly to Schofield. For what reason? Being a senior. He wanted to win so badly even in college that he sat out a year after leaving San Diego State for the chance and became a guaranteed double double. An emerging offensive game with his hops is good but someone who flies cross country to workout with teams even after their brother dies is better.
NBA Comparison: Pascal Siakam
Best Fit: Spurs at 29 where he can hit the ground running and play right away.
25. Carsen Edwards. G, Purdue. ESPN Rank: 35
Carsen is the player this year who if he was just a few inches taller, no one would have questions about and fans clamor to draft as the first point guard. But that’s reality and he is mature enough to deal with it as he has every level. When he gets hot, there are few players harder to stop as it happens in a hurry. His range is not an issue either as he can launch it with strong lower limbs and he’s great at creating separation either by running around or going to the hole.
NBA Comparison: Isaiah Thomas
Best Fit: Celtics at 22. He should be better than Rozier who may walk like Kyrie.
26-30: Need to prove more than 10 and 5 but will be picked high anyway club.
26. Jaxson Hayes. C, Texas. ESPN Rank: 11
A human pogo stick who had the sense to stop playing football for basketball, Jaxson is a rim runner I don’t quite feel comfortable projecting much higher than this simply because I’ve never seen him do anything but dunk. That’s not an indictment of his ability but his opportunity. Even Jarrett Allen was allowed to showcase more and I would not exactly take him for his word about a potential evolution or even his workouts when there are more finished products.
NBA Comparison: Willie Cauley-Stein
Best Fit: Hornets at 12 so he can play behind his opposites and take from them.
27. Kevin Porter Jr. G, Southern California. ESPN Rank: 20
We’ve all heard the hype calling him James Harden and it was a bit too soon. KPJ is the draft’s most polarizing player and a lot has to do with his bad choice of college. USC was maybe the biggest waste of collective talent as the whole roster has seemed disengaged for years. He was suspended for bad conduct and is susceptible to distractions more than any youngster but his three level scoring and handles will have teams crossing their fingers they can get to him.
NBA Comparison: Dion Waiters
Best Fit: Thunder at 21 since they‘re strictly ball and raised the Beard after all.
28. Nassir Little. F, North Carolina. ESPN Rank: 10
Nas probably has gripes about how he was handled at UNC as well and I can’t blame him although I would’ve liked a second season for him to take the next step. He’s usually been a slow starter even in high school and is tantalizing if he can put it all together but Stanley Johnson has not been able to. His mobility is special and he can stick to his man well which he relies on to fuel his offense. The 3 ball should come but it will be gradual and I see him as a small ball four.
NBA Comparison: Gerald Wallace
Best Fit: Miami at 14 offers a familiar role to what he’s had and emphasizes grit.
29. Sekou Doumbouya. F, France. ESPN Rank: 9
He promises to be versatile and be able to switch when he has to but he’s close to former top pick Al-Farouq Aminu, which is not meant to be an insult as much as a cautioning of expectations. His polishing up the last few months are notable but nothing to write home about yet since Sekou has a while until he’s comfortable bringing what he does in practice to actual games. Wake Forest’s Frenchman Jaylen Hoard is someone who has upside with less risk much later.
NBA Comparison: Luol Deng
Best Fit: Brooklyn at 27 can use him corectly on defense and get him stronger.
30. Darius Bazley. Intern, New Balance. ESPN Rank: 27
Not many kids can survive the decision he made to de-commit and train by himself but judging by how much bigger Darius looked at the combine, he did fine for himself listening to Rich Paul. I was impressed with his professionalism and answers to media, which made him seem like a veteran with a baby face. He’s unusual for his skillset as a big wing who can pass, dunk, run and shoot. A team that loves him has to try to find a way to take him in the end of the first.
NBA Comparison: Tayshaun Prince
Best Fit: Detroit developed Prince into a champion and could do the same here.
It was tough to leave out a number of deserving first rounders, but my decision not to was reached after I determined each of their ceilings not being quite high enough to justify an early selection. Still, Washington’s Matias Thybulle who figures to be an Andre Igoudala type defender for a contender, UNC’s Cam Johnson a lights out shooter despite his older age, Auburn’s Chuma Okeke who suffered a torn ACL in the predraft process, Villanova’s Eric Paschall and Grant Williams who I wish I could have included more than anyone but just didn’t have the space to, will almost certainly go higher than some of my personal top 25.
The second round, as usual, is a goldmine ripe for taking where the best GMs and front office seek to gain difference makers on the cheapest contracts. My first five mentions are players I thought as highly of as my 26-30 but decided not to include because how unlikely their cases to be firsts are thanks to the hype of the late firsts or them being miscast. The five after are lesser talents but likely to stick around as rotation players and the last five are wild cards.
31. Shamorie Ponds. G, St. John’s. ESPN Rank: 46
My first second rounder is also one of my favorite player to watch because he is a true one on one street baller, Shamorie exemplifies Brooklyn and can resemble their All Star point guard at times with his overconfidence that has gotten him this far. He’s shifty and amazing off the dribble, upped his passing numbers and could always score. He is getting in shape and is a steal here.
NBA Comparison: PSAL Kemba Walker
32. Jordan Bone. G, Tennessee. ESPN Rank: 56
The most under-appreciated and overshadowed player in the country even after he set athletic testing records in Chicago, Jordan was the engine that made the Vols go. Some of this is because of how unselfish he plays when he could easily be Derrick Rose but does not try to attract attention to himself. He takes his role as captain and general of a team seriously and is plenty capable.
NBA Comparison: Rich man’s Monte Morris
33. Zach Norvell. G, Gonzaga. ESPN Rank: 63
Someone who could probably relate to Bone, Zach should be known more but also had to defer to the big boys even though he played just a big a part in their success as a three point specialist with beautiful form who sometimes looks like Michael Redd. I wish they had their own teams to show us what both of them could do since they know they’re good, ooze talent and change games.
NBA Comparison: Rodney Hood
34. Talen-Horton Tucker. G, Iowa State. ESPN Rank: 33
I mean this in the nicest way possible, but Talen looks like a freak with his average height but 85 inch arms and figure. He’s among the youngest players in the draft and relies too much on this god given talent rather than his motor, which is to expected at this point. He’s gotten away with going impromptu collegiately but would be helped by G-league time and individual coaching.
NBA Comparison: Eric Gordon
35. Isaiah Roby. F, Nebraska. ESPN Rank: 39
Nebraska made Isaiah play out of position all season at center and the 6-8 forward did the best he could and admirably considering the circumstances. The experience was a bit traumatic as he shies away from contact at times but who could blame him? The dunker displayed a willingness to do what his team needed and can be more of a ball handler and outside threat once he’s drafted.
NBA Comparison: Aaron Gordon
36. Naz Reid. F, Louisiana State. ESPN Rank: 49
I believe some are harsh on Naz. Coming out of Jersey, there was hope around him but even after a solid first season, they have soured because he might not be Amare Stoudemire. But what he is plenty decent as perplexing bruiser who could use conditioning and further clarity on the type of player he wants to be.
NBA Comparison: Andray Blatche
37. Daniel Gafford. C, Arkansas. ESPN Rank: 41
Daniel was a surefire first last year in what was a perceived to be a much stronger group so prospect fatigue is likely why he’s available. The same player as before, a lob artist and shot blocker who put up stats, he has the right idea of working to become a modern big and will do so as he’s more disciplined.
NBA Comparison: More serious Javale McGee
38. Jaylen Nowell. G, Washington. ESPN Rank: 81
The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Jaylen likes to go on the attack when he plays. He doesn’t have to do much to have an impact and I’m shocked he hasn’t gotten buzz as an over 40 percent from downtown shooter who posterizes folks and bring defenders to him so he can then pass it off sometimes to a fault.
NBA Comparison: Jaylen Brown
39. Quinndary Weatherspoon. G, Mississippi State. ESPN Rank: 57
Quinndary is in the same boat of sleepers. He’s done his best but is older and does not jump off the screen. He will outhustle bigger guys for rebounds and knows how to shoot it as well, with a jumper I like. He won’t change his style and can set up teammates adequately enough when he has nothing going.
NBA Comparison: Josh Hart
40. Terence Davis. G, Ole Miss. ESPN Rank: 40
Also a four year guy playing in the state of Mississippi, Terence should also be able to carve out a niche for himself. He has a chiseled torso and is strong to the rim with it. More twitchy than quick, he also has a jump shot that looks good at times but is not helped by his giant hands that he utilizes on defense.
NBA Comparison: Tim Hardaway Jr.
41. Jontay Porter. C, Missouri. ESPN Rank: 42
Jontay is also in this spot because of repeated knee injuries but doesn’t need burst nearly as much with him being a rare playmaking center who can hit from deep. As highly touted as his brother, both have had horrible luck and just need things to break right for them to stay healthy and fulfill their large expectations.
NBA Comparison: Domantas Sabonis
42. Alen Smailagic. C, G-League. ESPN Rank: 64
The most hidden player in the draft, the Serbian is the apple of the Warriors eye and they’re hoping to slip him past 29 other teams. But it won’t be so easy as he held his own against tougher competition than leagues he dominated back home. He has touch and is a big kid at 18, who plays defense enthusiastically.
NBA Comparison: Ante Zizic
43. Miye Oni. G, Yale. ESPN Rank: 52
Vying to become the first Ivy League player drafted in a long time, Miye is certainly deserving. The Nigerian-American is obviously intelligent and has broad shoulders that he used to carry his team as well bench press many reps. Yet he was passive at times. He’ll need to
NBA Comparison: Lesser Buddy Hield
44. Jarrey Foster. G, SMU. ESPN Rank: 80
Sadly, more than anyone I’ve profiled thus far, Jarrey is the likeliest to go undrafted. But that is no matter as he’s faced many obstacles bigger than even this and has perspective. Once a prodigious leaper, he’s been robbed of that but has revamped his shot that appears worse statistically but better on tape.
NBA Comparison: Danny Green
45. Jordan Poole. G, Michigan and Moses Brown. C, UCLA. ESPN Rank: 51 and 96
I might be cheating here by including two players as my 45th but both are big teases to me that I notice a lot of potential in. Jordan is adept at cutting to get open and can look incredible but disappear later. The same goes for Moses, a Queens native, who can block shots by just standing as a mountain of a man.
NBA Comparison: This year’s Allonzo Trier and Mitchell Robinson
Well, that’s it! Hope you enjoyed my opus and I thank you for reading this guide. Let me know what you think of any of it, my comps and fits, and who you learned about that has you intrigued! Drafting isn’t an exact science but is fun!