Conference play has kicked off and a few key names are being penciled in at the top of all draft boards. theScore's Wael Saghir ranks the early favorites to land in the lottery for the 2019 NBA Draft.
1. Zion Williamson - Duke, Freshman, F
At first glance, Williamson's 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame combined with his generational athleticism is the primary reason for the hype surrounding the 18-year-old. However, an unheralded aspect of his game is his ball-handling and vision. It will be increasingly difficult to confine the Blue Devils superstar to one position once he reaches the next level.
Williamson's lack of a consistent jumper will force him to serve as a playmaker on the perimeter against opposing big men. Opponents that can minimize his verticality and strength may be concerning, but fortunately, he should impact both ends of the floor in some capacity from Day 1.
2. R.J. Barrett - Duke, Freshman, G/F
Barrett's high expectations have led to questions about his consistency thus far. His maturity and natural feel for the game should help quiet the doubters who have been quick to compare his occasional inefficiency to fellow Canadian and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins.
At the end of the day, Barrett is a 20-plus point-scorer with strong rebounding numbers and has better vision than his aforementioned countryman. It's comforting that this 6-foot-7 terror doesn't shy away from big moments, even if things aren't going his way. If he becomes a legitimate threat from three, he could overtake Williamson for 2019's best.
3. Cam Reddish - Duke, Freshman, F
Reddish's impact continues to dwindle as he sits fourth in coach Mike Krzyzewski's pecking order behind Williamson, Barrett, and point guard Tre Jones. His numbers continue to dip in his minimized role, scoring in single digits in three of his last four games.
The irony is he was the first of Duke's supposed Big Three to commit to the prestigious program and it's possible that if his star teammates didn't tag along, it would be a different situation for the struggling forward. The forgotten Reddish remains an elite prospect that can play either forward position and take on point guard duties. Not many in this class can match his well-rounded talent on offense.
4. Nassir Little - North Carolina, Freshman, F
Little's strange season continues as Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams has chosen to stick with his star seniors. Though he's still raw on both ends, he remains the best non-Zion athlete in the draft, with tremendous leaping ability. He's also a highly capable 3-point threat despite connecting on just 24 percent from beyond the arc so far. Patience will be key for any interested parties, but it's hard to imagine he falls outside the top five come June.
5. Romeo Langford - Indiana, Freshman, G
Langford continues to be productive for one of the better teams in the nation. At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, he has the ideal build to play either wing spot in the NBA. His length should make him a menace on defense, and he has the ceiling of a two-way star that should have a long and productive career. However, he'll need to start hitting 3-pointers with consistency if he wants to climb the board.
6. Kevin Porter Jr. - USC, Freshman, G/F
Porter's hot start through the first five games of the year has been put on hold while he recovers from a thigh bruise, but he's comfortably catapulted himself into a top-10 talent. His size and physicality make him a difficult cover for any perimeter-oriented player, and that should translate in the NBA. He's able to use his stature to his advantage in one-on-one situations but has struggled to adapt to a team environment where he's not consistently the top option.
7. Ja Morant - Murray State, Sophomore, G
Few players have the legitimate star potential of the Racers' 6-foot-3 rocket. Morant's innate ability to collapse defenses and get to his spots with ease will immediately make him effective as a playmaker in the modern NBA.
With Vanderbilt's Darius Garland done for the year, Morant is comfortably slotted as the top point guard prospect in the draft. He can often score at will and is arguably the best passer available, but there will be questions about his thin frame.
8. Bol Bol - Oregon, Freshman, C
Bol's stock took a major hit after the 7-foot-2 big man underwent season-ending foot surgery. Prior to the injury, he was Oregon's lone bright spot, leading the team in points (21.0), rebounds (9.6), and blocks (2.7) while shooting a remarkably efficient 52 percent from behind the arc.
His draft positioning may continue to dip if he won't be ready to play for the start of the 2019-20 NBA season. However, teams have recently shown a willingness to take the risk and select players who are still recovering from injuries, as the Philadelphia 76ers did with Joel Embiid or the Denver Nuggets with Michael Porter Jr.
9. Sekou Doumbouya - Limoges CSP (France), G/F
The lone international prospect on the board comes with the tools of a future superstar. Unlike the perception of most overseas draftees, his size and athleticism give him the best physical profile for a European since Giannis Antetokounmpo.
It'll likely take a while (if ever) before Doumbouya reaches his ceiling. He's as raw as they come but has already shown off a good touch on his jumper and could turn into a versatile 3-and-D combo forward.
10. Rui Hachimura - Gonzaga, Junior, F
Outside of a disappointing effort against North Carolina, Hachimura has been a steady force. He doesn't have the type of athleticism that stands out, but he's a nimble-footed big man with elite strength and balance.
The Japanese product is still noticeably working through certain kinks in his game, but he should become the top stretch power forward in his class with the defensive versatility to switch on the perimeter. If he was playing this way as a freshman, he'd be in the conversation for top pick in the draft.
11. De'Andre Hunter - Virginia, Sophomore, G/F
It's often tempting to put Hunter high on the list considering his elite 3-and-D potential and 7-foot-2 wingspan. The Cavaliers star may be the best defensive prospect in the class and is leading the way for a top-five defense in the country. The sophomore continues to show progress from the perimeter, hitting 42.3 percent on 2.2 3-point attempts per game. A higher volume with similar efficiency would only add to his value come draft day.
12. Jarrett Culver - Texas Tech, Sophomore, G
Culver is the lone new entry on this list after a strong December, including a 25-point performance against top-ranked Duke. He's already an efficient spot-up shooter with a great pull-up game. The 6-foot-5 guard never looks like he's in a rush thanks to his deceptively crafty footwork, which helps him create separation and find openings in the defense. He leads the 12-1 Red Raiders in points, rebounds, and assists while shooting 45.2 percent from three.
13. Keldon Johnson - Kentucky, Freshman, G
Johnson's been elite for a surging Kentucky squad after a brutal opener against the Blue Devils. He's been shooting efficiently, connecting on 53.7 percent from the field, 43.2 percent from behind the arc, and leads one of the top offenses in the country in scoring.
The 6-foot-6 guard excels on defense and has a high IQ with a great understanding of defensive positioning. He might be a little lean to take on physically demanding assignments at the next level, but head coach John Calipari always seems to have the most NBA-ready talent in the draft.
14. Darius Garland - Vanderbilt, Freshman, G
An unfortunate season-ending MCL tear has potentially derailed Garland's draft stock just five games into the year. He was able to show off his 3-point range during his short-lived campaign, hitting 11-of-23 from distance, while quickly proving he has the talent to stick around the NBA despite lacking size.
Garland is an average athlete but understands the game and reads the floor better than most available prospects. He's a good finisher around the basket and should become a serviceable distributor whether he's a full-time starter or career backup. The 6-foot-3 point guard will need to show he's physically fit during the combine if he wants to rise up the rankings.
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