2019 NBA Mock Draft: Can Anyone Catch Duke's Zion Williamson for the No. 1 Spot?
Even after just one month, the 2019 NBA draft's first-round board is starting to take shape.
The latest projected lottery already looks significantly different from our first mock early in November.
New freshmen have emerged over the past few weeks. And certain breakout upperclassmen continue to showcase their improvement.
The draft order is based on NBA standings as of December 5.
It's early December, and it's becoming difficult to picture any team in the league eventually passing on Zion Williamson.
Compared to his teammate RJ Barrett, who started the season atop most draft boards, Williamson always won the upside debate based on his superior size and extraordinary explosiveness. But he's also been the more effective two-way player right away for Duke, averaging 31.8 points per 40 minutes, roughly the same as Barrett (31.1), on 7.5 fewer shots (per 40).
He ranks in the 99th percentile in transition points per possession, but he's also a combined 16-of-22 on post-ups and isolations.
Shooting 67.7 percent from the field, Williamson has been wildly disruptive defensively as well. His 4.0 percent steal rate is double Barrett's, highlighting the 285-pounder's unique quickness and reaction time. He's blocking 3.4 shots per 40 minutes.
His shooting and three-ball are further behind, but Williamson looks like one of the rare players who won't need a jump shot to dominate a game.
RJ Barrett doesn't look as desirable as he once did, mostly a result of Zion Williamson stealing his thunder. The Canadian wing still appears locked into the top three, averaging 23.1 points and 4.0 assists.
His 8.8 points per game in transition rank No. 3 in the country. He's been special in the open floor, not just by using his athleticism but by having a knack for knowing when to speed up, what angle to take and how to finish.
Barrett has been less effective creating with the ball in the half court, as he's just 9-of-27 combined between pick-and-roll and isolation possessions. His 61.0 percent free-throw mark also raises doubt over the legitimacy of his 2.0 three-point makes per game.
He's taken some heat for his shot selection and occasional tunnel vision. But Barrett just finds non-traditional ways to score, and his potential to become a top option should interest every tanking franchise.
Stuck as Duke's third option, Cam Reddish is still averaging 16.3 points in just 23.0 minutes (28.3 points per 40).
It's possible certain scouts wind up having him higher than his teammate RJ Barrett, who isn't as big or convincing as a shooter. Reddish already has 26 threes (43.3 percent 3PT) through eight games, demonstrating the effortless stroke and confidence that will help teams believe in his three-ball carrying over.
He's also shown glimpses of pick-and-roll and isolation offense, but with Williamson, Barrett and Tre Jones getting most of those opportunities, scouts will only have flashes to go on when projecting his trajectory as a scorer.
On the negative side, Reddish has struggled to finish in traffic or when contested. He's at 41.7 percent inside the arc, and he's missed 12 of his 16 guarded catch-and-shoot jumpers.
With Duke's Big Three off the board, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have to look elsewhere. And Bol Bol, despite his question marks, could be too enticing at No. 4, particularly if he continues averaging around 21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.
His shooting has been the most encouraging early sign, with the 7'2" center making nine of 18 threes through seven games. He's also showcased unique scoring ability off dribbles and post-ups when it's extremely difficult to challenge his release.
There will be teams that find it tough to visualize Bol's game working in the pros, mostly because—outside of Kristaps Porzingis, who's more athletic—there aren't any players that size with his particular style of play.
Bol's defensive IQ has been suspect as well, while stronger opponents have been able to play through him down low.
However, there could be significant upside tied to his size, 7'8" wingspan and skill set, which he's currently executing with fluidity and consistency. Bol has scored at least 21 points in five of seven games.
The emergence of Kevin Porter Jr. gives the 2019 draft class a boost and lottery teams an extra potential stud to choose from.
An eye-test standout with 6'6" size and showtime athleticism, Porter has earned scouts' attention with flashes of advanced shot-creation and tough-shot-making skill.
At 18 years old, he is visibly raw, which shows on bad turnovers and low-percentage one-on-one jumpers. But he's still shooting 53.8 percent, converting those tough looks at an impressive rate and getting himself easy ones by tapping into his quickness and bounce.
After taking Kevin Knox, the New York Knicks will continue to chase long-term upside in the draft. And they should see more with Porter than Indiana's Romeo Langford and North Carolina's Nassir Little.
Except for a rough go against Duke in a game that wasn't ever close, Romeo Langford has lived up to his preseason billing, averaging 17.9 points through nine matchups.
And that's while shooting 9-of-35 from three.
The smoothness to his makes has made it easier to overlook the misses early on, though scouts will obviously want to see Langford start to heat up from outside.
He's still scoring from all three levels, looking extra sharp in the second, having converted a combined 11 of 17 mid-range jumpers and runners. But he's also converting 70.6 percent of his finishes around the basket, and once his perimeter game starts to click, Langford should look like one of the most complete scorers in the projected 2019 class.
He'll have enough chances to bounce back from the Duke game in Big Ten spotlight matchups.
With Vanderbilt's Darius Garland out for the season, point-guard-needy lottery teams will turn their focus toward Ja Morant.
Based on his start and Murray State's remaining schedule, Morant figures to finish the season with outrageous production. He'd be the only player in more than 25 years to average at least 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists if he keeps up his current pace.
The numbers have made him easy to identify, but it's the outstanding quickness off the dribble and explosion in the lane, plus his ability to convert easy baskets and create open shots for teammates, that suggest Morant's game will translate to the NBA.
He may lead the nation in turnovers (averaging 6.0 through five games). But whether a team chooses him over Garland will come down to Morant's shooting development (9-of-27 3PT), which remains his biggest question mark.
The scouting report has held up on Keldon Johnson, who's slashing through defenses, playing hard and limited around the perimeter.
His body and athleticism were built for his preferred style. An attacking guard who'll play through contact, Johnson is averaging 15.9 points, and that's with just six three-point makes all season. He's consistently earning himself opportunities at the basket and free-throw line (7.5 attempts per game). And he's made six of 10 runners in the lane, showing the ability to convert when there isn't a direct path toward the rim.
Johnson needs to add a pull-up, but he's looked competent shooting when set and left open. Lottery teams will be willing to bet on his jump-shot development and, in the meantime, put extra stock into Johnson's tools, burst, production and effort level.
North Carolina hasn't unleashed Nassir Little, who's coming off the bench, playing just 19.6 minutes per game.
We're still getting enough flashes of upside with explosive finishes and pull-ups off the dribble, though.
The draw to Little stems from his powerful, athletic 6'6", 220-pound frame, plus face-up scoring ability and the versatility to play and guard both forward positions.
And there is a good chance that even if coach Roy Williams continues to limit his opportunities, NBA lottery teams will overlook the lack of production for long-term potential.
However, he is further behind than initially expected, starting the season five-of-18 from three with six assists in 157 minutes. He's leaning mostly on his physical gifts, and he'll need to start showcasing more skill to earn back a spot in the same tier as RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish.
On breakout watch to start the season, De'Andre Hunter is following through, leading Virginia in scoring (16.4 points) and rebounding (5.5).
He's shooting 64.5 percent inside the arc and 47.6 percent behind it, looking stronger below the rim and more confident with his jump shot.
Hunter would have to turn up his scoring and shot-creating during conference play to push his way into the first half of the lottery. But all NBA teams will value his combo-forward versatility. Signs point to a multi-positional defender who can stretch the floor, attack closeouts and score from the post.
Still 17 years old and playing just 14.7 minutes per game between Eurocup and Jeep Elite—France's top division—Sekou Doumbouya will have a draft case built strictly on flashes and potential.
He was added to watch lists for the 2019 draft after a huge 2016 FIBA U18 European Championship and more impressive games in LNB Pro B.
At 6'9", Doumbouya has power forward size and strength with quick feet defending the perimeter. And though limited offensively, particularly against pros overseas, he's turning into a competent shooter for a big man his age.
He'll still look risky in the first half of the lottery without any polish or production. Doumbouya will seem more enticing in the No. 8-14 range for teams willing to wait on his development.
Jarrett Culver is making the leap, averaging 19.0 points while more than doubling his assist rate to 28.4 percent from a year ago and shooting 45.8 percent from three.
He's already generated 52 points combined out of pick-and-rolls and isolation after totaling 51 points all last season. Culver has shown some extra wiggle, scoring and playmaking off the dribble this year, despite lacking explosion.
Once all the flashy freshmen names are off the board, there should be plenty of demand for this tough defender with an improved all-around offensive game.
A torn meniscus will sideline Darius Garland for the season, but it won't knock him off first-round boards, assuming doctors project a full recovery. The list of players who've suffered the same injury and bounced back to full strength is lengthy.
Garland gave scouts one last glimpse of his scoring potential just before going down, having hung 33 points on Liberty.
His perimeter game sets him apart. He made 11 of 23 threes and 13 of 23 jumpers off the dribble, burying defenses with decisive pull-ups inside and behind the arc.
Garland lacks explosion and feel around the basket, and he won't be able to sell teams on his floor game. But his tools, shiftiness and skill level point to a future NBA guard.
Defenses haven't had answers for Daniel Gafford, even though his offensive game remains relatively basic.
He's averaging 19.8 points on 73.0 percent shooting, scoring out of the post and on offensive rebounds, cuts, transition and rolls to the basket. And he's playing through contact, getting to high-percentage finishing spots around the rim.
He's still shooting 58.7 percent from the free-throw line, and despite his improved back-to-the-basket game, NBA teams won't be looking to feed him the rock against set defenses.
But there are valuable NBA bigs (even JaVale McGee) in roles that only call for them to run the floor, finish, rebound and protect the rim. And Gafford, who's 6'11", 233 pounds, athletic and intense, continues to strengthen his case as a center who can fill that role at the next level.
15. Charlotte Hornets: Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga, PF, Junior)
Hachimura is making the jump from role player to college basketball star (21.9 points, 60.6 FG%), and at 6'8" with athleticism and scoring versatility, he's going to generate plenty of discussion among NBA teams. Concerns remain regarding his shooting and defense, which raise questions about how he'll fit. But between his tools, face-up quickness, mid-range touch and effectiveness around the basket, one team is bound to bite on the marketable, consistently improving Japanese forward.
16. Orlando Magic: Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech, SG, Sophomore)
Mostly a spot-up player a year ago, Alexander-Walker has already totaled 49 points out of pick-and-rolls, more than twice as many as he generated as a freshman. He's become a tougher cover off the dribble, and he continues to look sharp shooting the three (42.4 percent). Alexander-Walker looks the part with 6'5" size, broad shoulders and strong legs, but buying in will mean overlooking his lack of blow-by speed and explosion.
17. Portland Trail Blazers: Naz Reid (LSU, PF, Freshman)
Reid has been hit-or-miss early in the season, looking like a lottery pick during games when the ball-handling moves are working and his jumper is falling. For a 6'10", 240-pounder, he has an advanced ability to create shots and make tougher ones away from the basket with high levels of difficulty. Shooting just 35.3 percent over LSU's last six games, Reid has cooled off considerably since scoring 29 points against UNC Greensboro. Despite overwhelming physical tools, he's only at 50.0 percent inside the arc, averaging just 8.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per 40 minutes.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Mavericks): Jontay Porter (Missouri, C, Sophomore)
Doctors and medical reports will play a key role in determining Porter's draft stock following his preseason torn ACL and MCL. A projected full recovery should be enough for teams to feel comfortable evaluating him as a healthy center who finished his freshman season as one of two players in the country to average at least one three-pointer, 1.5 blocks and 2.0 assists. There is obviously risk tied to Porter, his injury and limited experience, but he checks the boxes NBA teams covet today in centers, and at 19 years old, there is an enormous window for his knee, conditioning and skills to improve.
19. Boston Celtics: Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga, PF/C, Junior)
The San Jose State transfer moved the needle for himself against Duke, when he helped Gonzaga pull off a win by contributing 17 points and six blocks. Clarke is already 22 years old, which hints at limited upside, particularly given his basic offensive game. But for a 6'8", 215-pound bouncy forward, his athleticism, effort level and instincts point to an active, off-ball energizer who'll add value by positioning himself for easy baskets, protecting the rim, switching on defense and hustling.
20. Indiana Pacers: Coby White (North Carolina, PG/SG, Freshman)
With Nassir Little generating most of the preseason attention at North Carolina, it's now starting to shift toward White, the team's leading scorer through eight games. Though not strong or explosive, he's getting to his spots on the floor via change of speed, and he's knocking down 2.3 threes in just 23.1 minutes per game. White has also delivered numerous high-level passes and flashed defensive quickness guarding the ball. He figures to become an impact player during ACC play, though concerns over his finishing at the rim, playmaking and skinny frame will likely carry into the predraft process.
21. Boston Celtics (via Grizzlies): Luguentz Dort (Arizona State, PG/SG, Freshman)
Teams may be split on Dort, whose style and mentality result in tough baskets and bad mistakes. For a 19-year-old, 6'4", 215-pound guard, his production should eventually outweigh his inefficiency. Dort is averaging 21.7 points, fearlessly attacking defenses with hard drives and three-balls. He'll need to focus on toning down the 3.6 turnovers per game, developing a floater, improving his shooting mechanics and staying attached defensively.
22. Los Angeles Lakers: Jaxson Hayes (Texas, C, Freshman)
A surprise riser this early, Hayes has been tough to ignore for his standout tools, activity and production. He's blocking 13.0 percent of opponents' shots and ranks No. 9 in the NCAA in defensive box plus-minus, showing terrific mobility for a 6'11" big. Hayes remains limited offensively, but he's still adding value as an easy-basket weapon on rim runs, misses and pick-and-rolls.
23. Detroit Pistons: Quentin Grimes (Kansas, SG, Freshman)
Grimes' stock is falling after his 21-point debut against Michigan State. He's struggled to create and make shots, and his defense has been on and off. Grimes should still have support for his solid NBA body (6'5", 210 lbs), shooting and secondary playmaking potential, and at 18 years old, the long-term projection lens should overlook the freshman slumps—to a degree. He'll need to get back on track to solidify himself as a one-and-done first-rounder.
24. Golden State Warriors: Jalen McDaniels (San Diego State, PF, Sophomore)
McDaniels looks sharper than a year ago, showing more scoring skill with his jump shot and ability to face and use the dribble. He's cooled off since going for 26 points against Xavier, and his shooting will likely be erratic all season. But McDaniels' NBA tools and athleticism will buy him time with scouts, while the improvement he's made should help persuade them that more is coming.
25. Philadelphia 76ers: Simi Shittu (Vanderbilt, PF, Freshman)
Shittu is still getting his legs back after last season's torn ACL, as he's had trouble around the rim (55.6 percent) or offering any defensive resistance (25th percentile in man-to-man). Still, at 6'10", 240 pounds, he's impressive physically with scoring ability in the paint and unique ball-handling and playmaking skill. Shittu would likely need two years in college to max out his stock, but it wouldn't be surprising if he choses to reduce risk, go pro in 2019 and sell teams on his potential and ability to regain explosion.
26. Milwaukee Bucks: KZ Okpala (Stanford, SF/PF, Sophomore)
A 6'9" face-up scorer, Okpala has made a noticeable leap, showing improvement in his ball-handling, passing and early shooting numbers (10-of-21 3PT). He's raw and possibly another year away, with plenty of work still to do ironing out his jump shot and shot creation. But he's cooked the weaker competition early and given scouts some impressive flashes against North Carolina (16 points, nine rebounds) and Kansas (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two blocks). Potential and production could be enough for Okpala to earn a first-round grade in 2019.
27. Oklahoma City Thunder: Shamorie Ponds (St. John's, PG, Junior)
Ponds is building a first-round case and not just by averaging 22.4 points on 52.9 percent shooting. His production hasn't been empty. He's answered the call from scouts early, guiding St. John's to an undefeated start while carrying the team late in games, including Saturday against Georgia Tech, when Ponds poured in 37 points to fuel the comeback. He can be wild, and NBA teams may see more of a spark than lead guard, but his scoring and shot-making have reached convincing levels.
28. Boston Celtics (via Clippers): Talen Horton-Tucker (Iowa State, SF, Freshman)
At 6'4", 238 pounds, Horton-Tucker isn't your typically sized guard or forward. But he's averaging 2.4 assists, 1.8 threes and 2.1 steals, surprising scouts with his wiggle off the dribble, shot-making and defensive quickness. A below-the-rim athlete, Horton-Tucker is shooting just 37.3 percent, though, and he'll want to improve his scoring efficiency to keep building momentum with his draft stock.
29. Brooklyn Nets (via Nuggets): Jaylen Hoard (Wake Forest, SF/PF, Freshman)
Hoard hasn't shot well (3-of-14 3PT), but he's averaging 16.0 points, scoring in different ways with skill and athleticism. It's easy to see potential tied to his tools and versatility, which, when coupled with this type of production, should be enough to draw first-round interest. Still, Hoard has plenty to improve on. He's struggling off the ball in spot-up situations (5-of-17), and he isn't the sharpest shot-creator.
30. San Antonio Spurs (via Raptors): Tre Jones (Duke, PG, Freshman)
Jones has played a key role in orchestrating Duke's offense and pressuring opposing ball-handlers. Despite lacking speed, explosion and scoring pop, he's making a case for himself with his passing, decision-making (48 assists to eight turnovers) and defense. Teams could view Jones as another Monte Morris.