2019 NBA Draft Board Part 1 - 51-31

-Jim Root

Welcome to the 2019 edition of Jim’s NBA Draft big board! For the first time, we’ll be counting down the players, rather than starting with numero uno, which means there’s going to be a TON of drama as you wait to figure out who could possibly be sitting in the top spot.

Although this website is all college basketball, all the time, I do like to make a draft big board as a sort of “goodbye” to the players we’ve watched all year(s). Like a proud parent watching our children graduate and enter the real world, we’re sending our college hoops children into the NBA…and like any caring parent, we’re ranking their likelihood to succeed at the next level.

An important caveat: this board only includes Division I college players: that means no Sekou Doumboya, Goga Bitadze, or other international hoopers, no Jalen Lecque (prep school), no Amir Hinton (Divison II), etc., as I cannot honestly say I’ve watched enough of anyone else to have an honest opinion on them. I do regularly watch the NBA (Fear the Deer forever), so I feel qualified to give an opinion on which of the college guys will fit into #thisleague…

Another caveat - I ranked 51 players because I can’t count. Bonus material!

Tier 6

Note: there would be more players beyond #51 in Tier 6. Honorable mentions include Zach Norvell, Terance Mann, Charles Matthews, Jordan Bone, Max Strus.

51. Justin Wright-Foreman, Guard, Hofstra

Wright-Foreman is an absolutely electric scorer, and he put on an incredible show at the 3x3u Tournament in Minneapolis en route to a Colonial championship (he was the clear MVP). He’s smallish and much more of a scorer than a point guard, but he has “bench microwave” upside for his ability to create his own shot, shoot off the dribble, and effectively finish against size inside (68.8% at the rim, per hoop-math – a phenomenal number for a tiny guard who largely scorers there off drives).

50. Miye Oni, Wing, Yale

I’m trying desperately to not let my frustration with Oni and his galling 2/16 performance against LSU in the NCAA Tournament influence my ranking (alas, that Yale moneyline…), and it was troubling more so in the sense that it was a microcosm of Oni’s issues against elite teams throughout his Yale career. In eight “Tier A+B” games during 2018-19, he shot 7/43 from deep en route to a dismal 39.1 effective field goal percentage. His sophomore year wasn’t any better, either, posting a 35.5 eFG% in eight such games that year.

Still, though, Oni has some intriguing physical skills and dimensions (nearly a 6’11” wingspan), and he could be developed into a useful two-way piece.

49. Jaylen Hoard, Forward, Wake Forest

It’s hard to know what to think of Hoard, considering he spent last year trapped in the basketball-sucking vortex that was Wake Forest. This may surprise you, but a team whose best offense was mid-post isolations for a still-developing freshman was really bad!

Enough about Danny Manning’s failures – Hoard is an athletic ‘tweener whose strengths are much more effort- and raw ability-based at this stage. His shot offers some upside for someone with his frame, but the results (12/53 from deep, 23%) underline the development that still needs to happen. He’s an interesting upside pick in the second round simply given his pedigree and how adverse his situation was with the Demon Deacons.

48. Zylan Cheatham, Forward, Arizona St.

Cheatham has the “jack of all trades, master of none” vibe to him, a lanky athlete who was the anchor of Bobby Hurley’s first semi-decent defense in four seasons in Tempe. He’s a voracious rebounder and a surprisingly skilled passer, showing the potential to be a dangerous short roll player against aggressive pick-and-roll defenses. He’s also a versatile defender, flashing the ability to guard bigger and smaller players alike, and only his spotty shooting prevents him from being a more appealing prospect.

47. Jared Harper, Guard, Auburn

Harper is similar to Wright-Foreman in that his most valuable skill may be his pull-up shooting. Only 24.5% of his three-point makes were assisted, and yet he knocked down a very respectable 37.0% - many of them from much deeper than the college line. Of course, he’s also an effective floor general and clever passer, and he’s comfortable in an up-tempo system that thrived on getting the ball to shooters in the open floor. He’s tiny, though, measuring only 5’11” in shoes, and while his vertical pop (40.5” max vertical) leads to some impressive highlights, he’s a pretty poor finisher at the rim, mitigating his ability to get in the lane at will.

46. Naz Reid, Big, LSU
45. Dedric Lawson, Forward, Kansas

Reid and Lawson are two differing prospects – Reid is the “tantalizing potential” guy with a questionable motor, while Lawson is one of the most physically limited but ultra-productive players in the draft. Lawson had the worst max vertical at the combine at a staggeringly low 26 inches, worse even than the 7’7” Tacko Fall, while Reid had the highest body fat percentage by over 4%, indicating the untapped talents within his deceptively skilled body. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: if you want to swing for the fences in Round 2, Reid makes sense as a 6’10” guy with a 7’3” wingspan that knocked down 13/34 threes in SEC play, but if you want safe production out of a bench big, Lawson and his do-everything skill game serves as a high-floor option.

44. Louis King, Wing, Oregon

After missing the first seven games with injury, King tagged into the Oregon starting lineup after Bol Bol fractured his foot (the two never started a game together). King’s development into an indispensable piece of Dana Altman’s zone traps over the course of the year contributed heavily to Oregon’s late surge. The young wing offers a tempting combo of length (7’0.25” wingspan) and shooting ability (38.6% from 3 on 153 attempts) within a frame that looks capable of adding significant muscle.

43. Terence Davis, Wing, Mississippi

I thought I would be high on Davis (he wasn’t even initially invited the Combine), but then he showed out at the G-League Elite combine and is steadily rising on a lot of boards. Despite intriguing length (6’8.75” wingspan), strength, and lateral quickness on the wing, his appeal was always limited by an inability to actually knock down shots (32.2% career from 3 before this season). However, his stroke showed marked improvement as a senior (77.2% FT, 37.1% 3FG), and new coach Kermit Davis really weaponized his playmaking abilities in a way that proved Davis can be a threat off the bounce, too.

42. Ignas Brazdeikis, Wing/F, Michigan

Brazdeikis was a revelation early in the season, seizing the primary scoring reins for a Michigan team that blasted the likes of Villanova, UNC, and Purdue into oblivion before the calendar turned to 2019. His shooting helped stretch defenses, and he looked surprisingly comfortable in Michigan’s whip-smart man-to-man scheme right away, both on and off the ball (his D against Eric Paschall stands out in my memory). His off-the-dribble game still needs development, and he his passing vision is largely nonexistent at this stage, but he’s young, physically mature, and full of potential.

41. Chuma Okeke, Forward, Auburn

I’m a little lower on Okeke than a lot of “Draft Twitter,” and it’s not due to the gruesome ACL injury he suffered against UNC. He has some excellent statistical indicators, namely his steal/block rates and effective perimeter shooting numbers, but I also believe he played in a high-pressure, up-tempo system that inflated his defensive numbers somewhat. I also didn’t get the sense watching Auburn that he was surefire pro. Of course, those are two very subjective reasons, and I could well be wrong, but I’m taking a more reserved approach towards his stock. And yes, the ACL is still a worry, as well – there’s a decent chance his rookie year is a redshirt.

40. Isaiah Roby, Forward, Nebraska

I don’t totally know what to do with Roby. He’s an interesting blend of big man (7’1” wingspan, 6.4% block rate) and wing skills (45/126 from deep the last two years, 35.7%), but I’m not sure what he’s great at and I worry that his lack of size + explosion may limit him (his shot-blocking is often more via timing). If he can guard on the perimeter, he becomes a super appealing defensive player, though, with some “big wing stopper” potential.

Tier 5

39. Shamorie Ponds, Guard, St. John’s

Another of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of possible second-round point guard options, Ponds offers particular upside on the defensive end thanks to his lightning-quick hands. Chris Mullin’s hyper-aggressive (alternate descriptor: undisciplined) scheme was a part of that, but you don’t finish in the top 35 nationally in steal rate on scheme alone. He also possesses a smooth lefty stroke, save for a mysterious sophomore slump where he decided to punt the ball at the basket, and especially showed potential via pull-ups. He’s another “get him some better coaching” candidate, too, as Mullin’s stagnant offense often stunted Red Storm possessions. Ponds was one of the country’s better operators in the PnR (89th percentile as a scorer, per Synergy), yet he barely scratched into the country’s top 100 in PnR possessions per game (91st).

38. Tremont Waters, Guard, LSU

I go back and forth on lil’ Tremont. He received (and earned) the “Trae Young Lite” comparisons as a freshman, terrorizing defenses with clever passing and deep pull-up shooting. Surprisingly for a sophomore PG, though, he became sloppier as a sophomore, seeing his assist:turnover ratio fall from 2.1 to 1.7. He’s also tiny, and despite an innate ability to generate steals, he’s likely a defensive liability for most of his career. If the turnovers continue to plague him and his shooting trends more towards his sophomore year numbers (32.7% from deep), then he’ll struggle to be effective. Still, though, the scoring+vision combination is enough to take a chance on.  

37. Justin Robinson, Guard, Virginia Tech

My favorite of the Round 2 PGs (unless you count Carsen Edwards), Robinson is as true a point guard as you’ll find, with some modern shine to his game to fit the current trends of the sport. He was limited by a foot injury this year, missing all of the team’s February and only returning for the NCAA Tournament, but he still managed to display the dribble breakdown ability, passing vision, shooting, and defense that make him so appealing. Buzz Williams’s offensive system is pro-friendly – spread the floor with shooters, run a lot of empty lane ball screens – and Robinson made it one of the country’s most potent attacks when on the court. He also played his best in big games: 127.3 offensive rating in 11 “Tier A+B” games, including an effective 14 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds against Duke’s professional squad in just his third game back from injury. I’m buying J-Rob stock, provided he ends up in a decent situation.

36. Daniel Gafford, Big, Arkansas

Gafford is very much a “get him in the right role” big guy. He’s a superb athlete for a big man, and he will be a force around the rim on both ends of the court as a dive man, offensive rebounder, and shot-blocker. He isn’t even remotely a shooter (and probably never will be), though, so the natural comparison of a Clint Capela/Tyson Chandler-type makes sense – let him wreak havoc barreling down the lane and hope the defensive instincts develop to the point of being an anchor on that end. For what it’s worth, Arkansas was significantly better on both ends of the floor with Gafford in the game, so his vertical impact on the game showed up at Arkansas.

35. Dylan Windler, Wing, Belmont

Two separate acknowledgements: I love Windler, but I also have to admit his splits this year were semi-concerning. He torched Ohio Valley opponents to the tune of a 58%/48%/89% shooting slash, a completely ludicrous display of efficiency from all over the court. Against “Tier A+B” opponents (11 games), though, those numbers fell to 44%/29%/78%. He clearly struggled somewhat against elevated athleticism, which is not great considering the NBA is a few levels up from Tennessee Tech and SIU Edwardsville. Still, though, he was phenomenal against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament, flashing his upside as a knockdown shooter and outstanding wing rebounder (30th defensive rebound rate nationally). If he can adapt to the step up in competition, he could be a steal.

34. Rui Hachimura, Forward, Gonzaga

This website has an “anti-Rui” reputation to keep up, and I’ll augment that here. Rui is a fun story and a solid scorer, but he’s simply not useful enough in areas other than interior/midrange scoring and rebounding to rank ahead of other players in his archetype. His defense, passing, and overall basketball IQ need a ton of development to reach NBA-level, and although his late start in the sport may explain some of those issues, there’s an innate lack of “feel” that is too worrisome to overlook. He’ll get drafted way earlier than this and have some years where he gets 12ppg and 6rpg on decent percentages, but his upside is limited by the more intangible aspects of the game.

33. KZ Okpala, Forward/Wing, Stanford
32. Jalen McDaniels, Forward, San Diego St.
31. Nic Claxton, Big/Forward, Georgia

The shade thrown at Rui’s all-around game is reflected by ranking these three guys ahead of him, all of whom offer similar-ish physical packages while also possessing more nuanced skill sets. All played on sub-100 KenPom teams, so they’re not the most well-known of prospects, but they’re worth a look.

Okpala is probably the rawest of the bunch, but he has some intriguing potential to guard wings at his size: he played in a man-to-man system hellbent on taking away the three-point line in college and held up fairly well. He’s also a solid passer and developing shooter.

Versatility is the big buzzword among these three prospects, and though McDaniels is currently probably the least versatile of these three, he made great strides during his sophomore year. He more than doubled his assist rate (6.5% to 16.0%) and started to knock down a few jumpers, shouldering a heavy offensive burden for a San Diego State team that often looked completely lost on that end. He projects to be much more efficient in a limited role (as he was during his freshman campaign), but he does need to add a lot of weight/strength: he measured at only 191.6 pounds and did 0 bench reps at the combine.

Claxton is thin, too, but he does have 25 pounds and two inches on McDaniels, and his similar floor game with those added dimensions bumps him just ahead the San Diego State product. The shot is raw, but he’s a legitimate presence at the rim, and he has tremendous skill with the ball in his hands for a man of his size and age. It’s tempting to punish him for how bad his team was in the SEC, but in actuality, he was the only thing preventing them from being a MEAC-level disaster:

I’ve spent a lot of time on Hoop Lens, and “+4 on, -35 off” is the widest divide I’ve ever seen. I think there’s some “Lamar Odom Lite” potential here.