2019 NBA Draft Grades: Lottery picks

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1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, F, Duke

RIGHT MOVE? There was no other choice for the Pelicans, who lucked into the top pick just as Anthony Davis ushered himself out of New Orleans. Statistically speaking, Williamson should meet or exceed Julius Randle’s production (22-9 last season, same stats Williamson put up at Duke).

COMPING THE PICK: No natural comparison exists for Williamson, whose been stacked against the game’s greats (Charles Barkley comes up regularly) as a dunker and rebounder. To that end, former Oklahoma forward and highlight-reel dunker Blake Griffin is the closest resemblance in terms of style of play and upside from Day 1.

REGRETS, HAVE A FEW? Other than trying to sell the pick to the highest bidder, it’s unlikely vice president of basketball operations David Griffin will look back on this selection and wonder, “What if…?” Williamson is not yet the total package, but the ceiling is sky high and anticipation for him hitting the NBA court will be off the charts.


2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State

SMALL SCHOOL, BIG TIME: If not for Williamson, there would be more oohs and aahs in the gallery of Morant’s unique talent. He can jump out of the gym, has Magic Johnson-like vision and drained 3-pointers with a smooth stroke ready to translate to the NBA.

YOUR SHOW, MO: Morant became the first player in NCAA history to average 20 points and 10 assists and proved in two big showings in the NCAA Tournament that his game plays just fine, thank you, outside the Ohio Valley Conference. Morant is a Day 1 starter with the Grizzlies, replacing franchise pillar Mike Conley as a key to the fresh foundation alongside Jaren Jackson, the No. 4 pick in 2018.

GRIN AND BARRETT? The popular opinion entering the 2018-19 college basketball was RJ Barrett of Duke was the best player in the nation and a good bet to be the top pick in the draft. He has the guts and bravado to be a big-ticket item in the NBA, and his game won’t likely fracture under the weight of being the marquee attraction at Madison Square Garden. Even still, the Grizzlies determined not long after scoring the second overall pick in the draft lottery that Morant was their man.


3. New York Knicks: RJ Barrett, F, Duke

CENTER STAGE: Barrett goes from Cameron Indoor Stadium to MSG and should inject life into a young core without a proven superstar. Barrett can score in a lot of ways, and the pressure of the market isn’t a factor. If there was another direction to go here, it was perhaps point guard, but the Knicks are confident a core of Barrett, Dennis Smith Jr. and 19-year-old Kevin Knox can help turn the franchise around.

LYIN’ ABOUT ZION: Fib if you must, N.Y. fans, but the Knicks can’t hide their hangover from the draft lottery upset landing them with this pick and not the opportunity to pick Barrett’s teammate, Zion Williamson, at No. 1. A relative disappointment, we’re betting it won’t be long before Knicks fans are all in on Barrett.


4. Atlanta Hawks (from Lakers via Pelicans): De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia

RUN WITH RALPH: For the first time since Ralph Sampson went No. 1 in 1983, the Virginia Cavaliers have a top four pick in the NBA draft. Opinions are split whether Hunter will be a good enough shooter to evolve into a facsimile of Draymond Green for the Hawks. He definitely can defend, move laterally and jump, allowing him to play on the ball against bigger opponents because of his NBA-ready frame.

BIG TIME: There is no true center in this draft, and the Hawks held onto the 10th pick in the first round. Size with speed should be an agenda item in Atlanta, which could thrive with a dunk-and-rebound 5 to pair with John Collins. Further, I’m not convinced Hunter wouldn’t have been around a pick or four later. Atlanta had the No. 8 pick.


5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt

WIN WITH COLLIN: The lottery pick of the moment last year was Collin Sexton, self-titled Young Bull, a point guard out of Alabama. Garland is a better shooter, natural scorer and a smart, face-of-the-franchise type of personality. But he does almost all of the same things the Cavaliers drafted Sexton to do last season, further confounding the direction of the team in the latest post-LeBron rebuild. Problem area: Neither can defend. Another one: Garland is not a pick-and-roll passer, which is to say we’re punting on all of those Damian Lillard comparisons.

NO DEAL: The Cavaliers reportedly worked feverishly to deal this pick. New head coach John Beilein loves guards, and big men and wings that play like guards, so we’d be nuts to doubt his plan without seeing the full blueprint.


6. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Suns): Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech

IN LIKE FLYNN: History says this pick is already better than the last No. 6 pick that went to Minnesota: Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn one spot ahead of Stephen Curry (Warriors) in 2009. With a new regime in place, the Timberwolves are still on the outside looking in at Western Conference contenders.

WIGGINS OUT: Former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins might not be long for Minnesota. With the Wolves “actively shopping” the one-time Cavalier who was swapped for Kevin Love, Culver does make sense as the team attempts to build around Karl-Anthony Towns. The Big 12 Player of the Year is versatile, defends to win and can handle the ball in a pinch.


7. Chicago Bulls: Coby White, PG, North Carolina

DUNN DEAL: Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine are in Chicago now, but White is the future. Dunn could be shopped for a veteran wing or big man, but White is a big get for the Bulls without parting with any assets. White is 6-5, plays like his bouncy and significantly lofted hair is on fire and shoots well enough to score consistently in the NBA.

CORE EXERCISE: With White, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter — all taken No. 7 overall — together and LaVine under contract, the Bulls could be ready to thrive sooner than expected.


8. New Orleans Pelicans (from Hawks): Jaxson Hayes, F, Texas

LEARNING TO GROW: Hayes grew a startling 11 inches and became an impact player his senior year in high school. He’s an athletic freak, even if still growing into his lanky 6-11 frame. Hayes is instant from floor to rim, will make a living on lobs and can execute off of screens. The Pelicans can pair Hayes with Williams and threaten to lead the league in bent rims and blocked shots.

MORE TO SCORE: Hayes is not a natural with the ball in his hands, living on second chances and alley-oops. The Pelicans are looking like a team that will be hyper-dependent on Williamson to carry a lot of the scoring load alongside point guard Jrue Holiday.


9. Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga

WAVE THE WAND: Hachimura has some convincing to do in that he’s a ‘tweener in the NBA and lacks a consistent perimeter shot — 3-point stroke in particular — to make a pro living. A likely rotational player as a rookie, he might not provide the impact some anticipated the Wizards could score with a top-10 pick.

BEAL STREET: With no John Wall (injury) and Bradley Beal reportedly on the trade block, a guard such as Tyler Herro or Romeo Langford, or another power forward — Kentucky’s PJ Washington to name one — would have been a wiser gamble.


10. Atlanta Hawks (from Mavericks): Cam Reddish, G, Duke

EASY, SHOOTER: Reddish gives Duke three top-10 picks but he’s nowhere near the sure thing his peers are because of questionable makeup. Could Reddish thrive? Yes, based on his 6-foot-9 frame and golden touch from 3-point range. He can play off the ball at the 2 or 3 depending on the lineup the Hawks utilize. Maturity, as with most teenagers, is the lingering question but upside is undeniable if the lights comes on to stay.


11. Phoenix Suns (from Timberwolves): Cam Johnson, SF, North Carolina

SUNS SETS: First-year head coach Monty Williams gets the best shooter in the 2019 draft, a 46 percent shooter from 3-point range in college who understands how to play without the ball. Johnson should score early and often, and paired with Devin Booker gives the Suns punch to run in the Western Conference.


12. Charlotte Hornets: PJ Washington, PF, Kentucky

IN THE WASH: Washington willingly mixes it up, averaging 15.2 points and 7.4 rebounds and can play power forward in the NBA thanks to a 7-foot-2 wingspan. If his shot continues to improve, Washington has lead scorer potential in the mold of LaMarcus Aldridge.


13. Miami Heat: Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky

HERO MODE: Herro was not viewed as a lottery pick or anything close to it at the start of the season. Kentucky head coach said during and after the season that Herro became a well-rounded basketball player, the most improved player on the roster despite averaging only 14 points per game. In the NBA he will be asked to shoot — at 6-foot-6 he’s not a liability on defense — but he can make mid-range jumpers and score in traffic, too.


14. Boston Celtics: Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana

WHERE ART THOU: Langford played through a thumb injury and averaged 16 points per game, but he’s the type of prospect who can find a fit in Brad Stevens’ offense. He’ll attack the rim and live at the free throw line, but shot a woeful 27 percent from the 3-point range.


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