2019 NBA Draft Lottery Reactions & Grades
It's easy to lose yourself in the minutiae and mechanics of front office moves particularly when a seemingly rudderless team like the Phoenix Suns reaches for mid-to-late first round pick like Cameron Johnson at #11 overall. This post is not a post to plumb those depths but rather to focus primarily on the on-court fit, outcome, and potential other options of the players drafted and teams that drafted them.
The grades are subjective, the projected roles are semi-educated guesses occurring in advance of summer league and free agency. In short, don't hold me to it or feel free to lambast me if that's your bag.
New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson Duke | PF/C
Other picks options?: None, this was the pick
There’s not much to say here. Best player, consensus number one pick, fits team need, will start from the jump. The luck of the Pelicans has busted down the damn door from the Anthony Davis era to a brand new, bulkier, sweatier period of presumed prosperity. Where other teams have dynamic on-court duos, in this new world of front office fandom and analytics, the Pelicans’ new duo is Zion and … David Griffin.
Ja Morant Murray State | PG
Other picks options?: Other picks options?: RJ Barrett
Memphis told the world they’d be taking Morant when they won the lottery’s second pick and they stuck to their word. Beyond the integrity of keeping your word, similar to New Orleans and Zion, the addition of Morant accelerated the full transition away from the Mike Conley/Marc Gasol grit & grind Grizz into the current, evolving iteration of Morant/Jaren Jackson/Brandon Clarke (selected 21st overall). Morant made all kinds of sense here even if you had RJ Barrett higher. He’s an electric athlete who allows for forward evolution and fits a Memphian ethos. Now the team just needs shooting and scoring. (Side note: The Grizz hired Taylor Jenkins as head coach and I have no idea what this means for Morant or the team.)
New York Knicks
RJ Barrett Duke | SF/SG
Other picks options?: Not really, maybe Darius Garland, but that never felt real. RJ was the pick.
People talked about this being a three-player draft and while that sounds like hogwash given some of the high-level complimentary talent in later picks, there wasn’t a ton of argument on the top-three. The Knicks have some young talent that we can debate in terms of their near and long-term effectiveness (Dennis Smith Jr, Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson), but there are gaping holes throughout the roster that the 6-7 tank-wing Barrett can help try to plug. If the current rumors that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are looking at Brooklyn instead of the Knicks, well then a supremely (possibly detrimental) confident Barrett can probably contribute as well as any player in this draft. That said, the Duke version of Barrett was stubbornly sure of himself to the point that you start to question his basketball IQ even though having seen Barrett in high school games, IQ and passing were never concerns. Some point to Duke’s lack of shooting as part of his challenge, but I don’t buy it. Too many times, Barrett insisted on going isolation and forcing the shot, regardless of whether a teammate was open or not, regardless of who the teammate was. It felt like he could’ve had pre-ACL Klay Thompson out there and still crashed into three defenders trying to flick the shot up. The Knicks aren’t exactly flush with shooters so while I’m confident in Barrett’s ability to lift a heavy usage rate, I’m less certain about his ability to consistently make the effective basketball read. Also, Barrett and Smith Jr strike me as strange bedfellows.
by way of Pels by way of Lakers
De'Andre Hunter Virginia | PF/SF/C
Other picks options?: None, Hawks traded up specifically to get him
The Hawks traded up from #8 to #4 to nab Hunter and we were repeatedly reminded that Atlanta was the only team Hunter worked out for. It’s clear the player/team were into each other, but what to make of the pick? It depends on a couple things, I suppose:
What do you make of Hunter and where do you think he’s best deployed at the pro level?
Is Atlanta positioned to best take advantage of his strengths?
I like Hunter and believe he has the makings of a contributing role player. I don’t know if he’s best-suited for the three or four though. Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce was clear that “John (Collins) is our 4,” which at least is a dab of cold water on the idea of Hunter spending significant time there. With the trade of Kent Bazemore to Atlanta for Evan Turner, assuming Turner, a piece that doesn’t fit Atlanta’s go-forward scheme, doesn’t see much time on the wing, there will be more minutes for Hunter and fellow draftee Cameron Reddish to spend on the wing. Given Hunter’s multi-positional defense and his good, if conditional, perimeter shooting, the pick is sensible. The price they paid can be questioned, but the pick and the player fit.
Darius Garland Vanderbilt | PG/SG
Other picks options?: Jarrett Culver probably a better conventional fit
In theory, I get the idea that Garland and Collin Sexton could be some kind of midwestern Eastern Conference version of Portland’s Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum. In actuality, it seems highly unlikely. Dame and CJ were both four-year college players who landed in the NBA with loads of experience and maturity. Sexton grew as a rookie, but Garland lands in the league with just a handful of college games. NCAA competition isn’t a pre-requisite to NBA success, but projecting out a pair of guards who can’t legally drink as one of the NBA’s best backcourts is a leap of audacious imagination. Aside from the tandem talk, Garland may have been the best player available but it’s hard to see him as the best fit for a team that employs David Nwaba and Jordan Clarkson as its two guards and Cedi Osman (who I like) as its three. Jarrett Culver or trading down for any of Tyler Herro, Brandon Clarke, or Grant Williams all makes more conventional sense. I applaud the Cavs for the willingness to stick to their convictions that Garland is their guy, but I don’t like this pick or this fit and it’s fair to question how a backcourt of Garland and Sexton defend.
by way of Suns
Jarrett Culver Texas Tech | SG/SF
Other picks options?: Not really
This is a selection I can support. Minnesota gave up Dario Saric and #11 to move up and Culver is a tasty, worthwhile fit. At close to 6-7 with a nearly 6-10 wingspan and having just turned 20 in February, Culver has solid wing size and strength, is a plus passer and defender. He was sort of miscast as Texas Tech’s primary scorer and initiator this past season but will be better deployed in a supporting role. If you’re a Wolves fan or a fan of defense, it’s fun to think about lineups including Culver alongside Josh Okogie and Robert Covington – all the length and defensive doggedness needed to create a rigid backbone of a defense. Culver has a ways to go as a shooter and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops over time, but the rest of his game and character are well-rounded enough that I’m far from stressed out about his shooting. Through six picks, I’d probably have this player/team match as third overall behind Zion and Ja.
Coby White UNC | PG/SG
Other picks options?: Could make a case for Sekou
I get this pick and understand why teams like Coby White – size at point guard (6-5), can shoot off the dribble, has speed and can push the break – but I don’t love White as a point guard prospect. He’s not a great shooter (35% from 3 at UNC), doesn’t have length (6-5 wingspan), and wasn’t a good defender at Chapel Hill. While not high on him as a prospect, I can get on board with the idea that the pick helps Chicago move towards an up-tempo identity. With White, Zach Lavine, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter, the Bulls have a potential starting lineup with plus scoring and shooting at every position. How this translates defensively is harder to envision; particularly as it applies to White’s defensive assignments. The Bulls look like a fun team, but fun doesn’t win basketball games.
by way of Hawks
Jaxson Hayes Texas Tech | C
Other picks options?: Several: Brandon Clarke, Cam Reddish, Sekou, Goga
Like Coby White to Chicago at #7, I’m lukewarm (at best) on New Orleans taking Texas’s 6-11 Jaxson Hayes and, again, it’s in part because I’m low on Hayes. The idealized state of these Pelicans is a long, athletic roster with a pair of big guards (Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday), long, athletic forwards (Zion, Brandon Ingram), and the 7-3 wingspan and gazelle-like strides of Hayes at center. In a reality where each of these players reaches their ceilings, this team protects the rim, snatches all the rebounds, and breaks hearts and minds with their transition game. Hayes is ultra-raw and his overall court awareness (both offensively and defensively) is light years behind where it needs to be. The learning curve is so great that I don’t think he’ll be a dependable contributor until his second contract and I have doubts he’ll get to above average starter. Georgia’s (the country) Goga Bitadze isn’t nearly the athlete of Hayes, but he has length, better basketball instincts, is a smarter and more aggressive defender, and can provide some floor spacing. He’s better than Hayes today and my guess is that will continue to be the case in a few years.
Rui Hachimura Gonzaga | PF/SF/C
Other picks options?: Several: see pick #8
Washington doesn’t have a General Manager and didn’t bring in Hachimura for a pre-draft workout. The 6-8 Japanese native can score the ball and has a great frame with strength and length that he’s willing to use, but he appears to play with a lack of awareness unbecoming of a 21-year-old pro. Offensively, there’s something of a general obliviousness that exists, an unawareness of open teammates, of better shots, of alternate options in general. Defensively, he can key in on the man in front of him, but his focus appears to be limited to that one, small part of defending. By all accounts, he’s a good kid and worker, but his habits seem deeply ingrained in a way that will be difficult to correct. Brandon Clarke, Sekou Doumbouya, Grant Williams would’ve all made more sense in terms of attainable upside and basketball fit.
by way of Dallas (Luka/Trae trade)
Cam Reddish Duke | SF/SG/PF
Other picks options?: Goga, Sekou, Brandon Clarke, Grant Williams
Like Trae Young last year and De’Andre Hunter at #4, the Hawks get their guy in Reddish at #10. I had Reddish at #21 on my final big board and believe there were several better prospects available, but I don’t have an issue with Atlanta taking him here. Given the Hawks’ youth and timeline, the expectations for collective competitiveness are low and for Reddish specifically, they’re somewhat non-existent. In that regard, he couldn’t have landed in a better spot. Whether the Hawks choose to start Allen Crabbe, DeAndre Bembry, or Hunter at the three, Reddish should be able to come in off the bench, spot up around the three-point line and adapt to the pro game as primarily a catch-and-shoot guy. Unlike Duke, Atlanta won’t need him to do any more than that. Any explorations attacking and creating off the dribble can be purely low stakes learning. I saw enough at Duke that his on-court output eventually outweighed his high school tape, the fluid athleticism and measurements, and the ease and beauty of his shot. He’s got the kind of gaps that made him one of, if not the most, divisive prospects in the draft, but there’s probably not many better destinations in the NBA to address them.
by way of Wolves
Cam Johnson UNC | SF/SG/PF
Other picks options?: Sekou, Brandon Clarke, Grant Williams, Chuma Okeke
I too was kind of confused about the Suns taking Cameron Johnson at #11. In terms of value, it’s close to a certainty that Phoenix could’ve traded down, picked up another asset, and gotten Johnson later in the draft. But they didn’t and while we can critique the front office for the decision, Johnson the player and fit are more interesting to me. He joins a roster with a new head coach (Monty Williams) and potentially four forwards ahead of him in Josh Jackson (still on the roster as of 6/26/19), Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre (given qualifying offer as of 6/26/19), and Dario Saric (acquired on draft day). And even with uber scorer Devin Booker on the roster, it’s possible Johnson is the best standstill shooter on the team. That he’s also capable of shooting off the move only amplifies his potential versatility as a shooter. His skillset makes sense for a team that appeared to intentionally target shooting (Ty Jerome was their other pick). How Coach Williams integrates Johnson into the roster and what that roster ultimately looks like (D’Angelo Russell, an actual point guard, moving forwards) will help shape his early development, but given his pro-ready jumper, I like the player and fit much more than the draft slot.
PJ Washington Kentucky | PF/C
Other picks options?: Sekou, Brandon Clarke, Bol Bol, Grant Williams
PJ Washington was 13th on my board and I’m generally a fan of his and this pick. It’s a safe, sober, and smart play. My critiques of the pick are twofold and not really specific to PJ:
The Hornets recent draft history includes Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, Frank Kaminsky, Noah Vonleh, Cody Zeller, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Something has to give here and I would’ve liked to see them reach for a potentially more impactful/high ceiling gamble such as:
Grant Williams, Brandon Clarke, Bol Bol, or Sekou Doumbouya
It’s possible, and likely, that Charlotte saw PJ as the player with the highest ceiling of this bunch and if that’s the case, it’s hard to argue. He’s a smart, long, multi-positional defender who can pass and seamlessly blend into a roster. Those are good things. At some point though, the franchise has to try to be better than good.
Tyler Herro Kentucky | SG
Other picks options?: Sekou, Brandon Clarke, Grant Williams, Bol Bol, Romeo Langford, Kevin Porter Jr
A lot of people, myself included got spooked by Herro’s negative wingspan, but ultimately for me, and Miami apparently, that drawback wasn’t enough to knock him too far down the board. Herro is a multidimensional offensive player who has what appears to be an elite shot (93% from the line) and can attack off the dribble. He’s a willing, if less capable, defender. For a Heat team that continually finds a way to squeeze and stretch players to their potential, Herro, who has a reputation as a hard and willing worker, seems like a both a cultural and on-court fit.
by way of Sacramento Kings
Romeo Langford Indiana | SG/SF
Other picks options?: Sekou, Brandon Clarke, Grant Williams, Chuma Okeke, Goga, Nassir Little
It’s hard to deeply assess this pick given the uncertainty in Boston’s roster: likely losing Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, emerging as clubhouse leader for Kemba Walker. Even with those shifts, Boston is still thick on the wings with players who can mostly do what Romeo Langford can do, but do those things better. Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, and Jayson Tatum are all better slashers, shooters, creators, and defenders. Langford, at 6-6 with a 6-11 wingspan isn’t a lost cause though and like Cam Reddish, he’s in a position to develop at his own pace in a low-pressure role. He was good in his lone season at Indiana but somewhat basic in his straight-line attacking. He shot poorly from the perimeter and eventually revealed that he’d been dealing with a torn thumb ligament in his shooting hand, but as I wrote in my prospect preview of him, in six games before his injury, his shooting wasn’t much different from his post-injury splits. Langford is a prototypical wing with good athleticism and length so he’s far from a lost cause, but a more versatile wing/combo forward like Chuma Okeke, a high ceiling project like Sekou, or combo bigs like Grant Williams (Boston got him at #22) or Brandon Clarke would’ve made more sense for me. The pick is fine.