Periodically, over the course of the coming seven months, we will be posting an updated mock draft here on College Basketball Talk.
This will be different than other mocks, mind you. We’re not as much projecting who is going to be picked where — that is impossible to do right now, as the NBA season is six weeks old and the NBA changed their lottery rules to flatten out the odds of who gets the first pick — as much as take a look at where, in a vacuum, a player should be picked.
With that in mind, one of the objectives of this mock will be to take a deeper dive into a handful of the most intriguing prospects in the mock each and every week. This isn’t meant to be just a place to rank prospects, the goal is to open up the floor for some discussion about the players that need the most discussing.
Oh, and one other note: We’re only talking about the college kids here. I could sit here and pretend like I know something about Sekou Doumbouya beyond what I Googled and found on YouTube, but the truth is I don’t know a damn thing about him.
I’ll stick to what I know for now.
And that is these prospects:
1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
I’ll take the L on Zion. Prior to the start of the season, I had Zion ranked as a mid-to-late lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. I didn’t know how the athleticism would translate, and I didn’t know just how good of a feel he had for the game. He’s a pretty good passer. He’s a better shooter than people gave him credit for, even if that is still the weakness in his game. He’s got some handle. He blows by defenders on the perimeter like they’re cops with a radar gun.
Oh, and the athleticism?
It translates. The rebounding, the shot-blocking, the ability to grab-and-go in transition. He’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the NBA, an amalgam of Julius Randle and Draymond Green, only wildly marketable and already a star with a massive brand.
The only concern that I have taking him No. 1 is the weight, and it’s not because I’m all that concerned about whether or not, at 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, he can move around the court the way that he needs to. As long as his wind and conditioning are where they need to be, he should be fine.
My issue is the wear and tear that will come with that added weight. His vertical is somewhere in the neighborhood of four feet, give or take an inch or three. Go jump off of something that is four feet tall and see if you feel it in your knees and your ankles. Now imagine doing that over and over and over again — hundreds or thousands of times per week — with 272 pounds landing on those joints.
That’s where the concern lies for Zion. Wipe that away, and to me, he is the clear-cut No. 1 pick in this draft.
2. CAM REDDISH, Duke
3. R.J. BARRETT, Duke
This may be a bit of a controversial take, as Barrett has been the go-to guy for Duke through the first three weeks of the season while Reddish has been forced into a complimentary role. It’s something of an odd dynamic. Reddish has spent the majority of his basketball playing life as a lead ballhandler, and now he is being asked to play as the floor-spacing jump-shooter on a team with three other stud freshmen that can operate as lead ballhandlers.
What sets Reddish above Barrett for me is that I think Reddish fits seamlessly into the NBA while Barrett projects more as a guy that might have a tough time finding a position. Reddish, at 6-foot-9, is bigger with better physical tools. He’s a much better shooter and scorer in isolation — as the saying goes, he’s got some sh** to his game — and, as I mentioned, he’s played as a primary ball-handler. I can picture exactly what role he’ll play at the next level.
With Barrett, I’m not so sure. He’s not the shooter that Reddish is. He’s “only” 6-foot-7. The intrigue with him is the idea that he can play as a secondary point guard, if not a primary point guard, but he hasn’t shown any consistency with his ability to make reads and correct passes. Barrett is nearly a full year younger than Reddish, and he’s been dominant at every level of basketball to date. I don’t think you can go wrong either way, but I’d rather have the guy I know can shoot, all things considered.
4. KEVIN PORTER JR, USC
Porter is a guy that I will likely be higher on than most, and the reason for that is pretty simple: I think that he is going to end up averaging 20 points in the NBA, if not more. I don’t think that it is a stretch to say that he is the best offensive weapon in this draft. He’s got it all in his bag. He’s 6-foot-6, he’s an explosive athlete, he has the frame to be able to handle the weight that comes with an NBA strength and conditioning program and he knows how to use that strength already:
That’s all well and good, but what sets him apart from other guys in this class is his ability to create on his own. There is not a player in this draft class that is as good as Porter when it comes to getting his own shot. He’s got it all. The amount of space that he can create in isolation is ridiculous. His balance, his footwork, his handle. It’s all at an elite level right now.
I mean, just watch this:
There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to be a weapon as a scorer in the league.
The question with Porter has more to do with maturity, both on the floor and off it. The latter really depends on where he ends up and the support he gets from his organization. The former, however, manifests itself in how he operates in a team setting offensively and defensively. I think the truth of it is this simple: He’s never really been coached on how to do that stuff. In high school and AAU, he was always a ball-dominant lead guard. He didn’t need to know how to work off the ball. Defensively, he wasn’t being asked to make defensive rotations or drilled on how to help off the ball the way he will be in the NBA.
Put another way, in the right situation, those flaws can be coached out of him.
And given what his ceiling is with that scoring ability and athleticism, it’s worth the risk to reach and take him.
5. NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina
Little is an interesting case. The 6-foot-7 wing has yet to play his way into the starting lineup for the Tar Heels, averaging just 19.5 minutes per game. He’s been productive in those minutes — 11.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg — but he has not yet been able to join fellow frosh Coby White in the starting five. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- He’s playing behind a pair of potential All-Americans at the forward spot in Luke Maye and Cam Johnson.
- Roy Williams has, to date, steadfastly refused to go all-in on the small-ball movement, meaning that Garrison Brooks remains a starter.
- And, most importantly, Little is still working through how to be a team defender and learning what Williams wants out of him on the offensive end — more to the rim, less settling for deep threes.
I’m not too worried. North Carolina was torched at Michigan on Wednesday night after losing to Texas last week, and part of the reason is their inability to guard teams that spread them out. I don’t believe the issue is Williams insistence on not playing freshman — look at the leash he’s given White — as much as it is Little’s learning curve being steeper at a position where there are veterans in front of him.
6. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia
I love De’Andre Hunter. I’m probably higher on him than anyone else that will put out a mock draft. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He can play the three, the four or even work as a small-ball five if you’re feeling frisky. You know he can guard since he played for Tony Bennett. He’s a career 39.7 percent three-point shooter and hits 76 percent of his free throws. He may not have the ceiling of younger guys that will get drafted over him, but he’ll start in the NBA for a decade and be ready to contribute the day you draft him.
7. KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky
I don’t see Johnson becoming a star in the NBA, but I think his floor as a role player at the next level is really, really high. He reminds me a bit of Miles Bridges in the sense that he is a perfect complimentary piece. He’s a versatile defender, he’s athletic, he can make a jumper, he can attack a closeout, he can play a role on a team. I don’t know if you want him being your best player or your go-to guy offensively, which isn’t good for Kentucky but helps to make him a better fit in the NBA.
8. JA MORANT, Murray State
Morant is the latest lottery point guard to come through the mid-major ranks. At 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, he’s is a high-flying athlete that has been unbelievably productive through four games as a sophomore: 27.8 ppg, 9.0 apg, 7.5 rpg and 2.0 spg. The last two games that he has played have been ridiculous. He had 29 points, 13 boards and 12 assists against Missouri State before following that up with 38 points, nine boards and five assists (plus ten turnovers) in a six-point loss at Alabama with seemingly the entire NBA in attendance.
Barring a run to the NCAA tournament, that was one of just two games that Murray State will play against high-major competition this season; they’re at Auburn in December. He fared well. The turnovers are not a major concern, as he is carrying an unbelievable load offensively for a team that doesn’t have all that much talent, and a handful of them came in the final minutes, as the Racers were rushing to try and comeback late.
What pops about Morant initially is his athleticism. He has the quicks to get into the paint just about whenever he wants, he’s really good at reading ball-screens and he’s an explosive finisher off of two feet. His body control is impressive, and he’s shown a knack for being capable of finishing around (and sometimes over) the big bodies in the lane:
I’ve also been really impressed with his passing ability. He does have a habit of trying to get too flashy, but he can make those highlight reel plays along with making the right reads in ball-screen actions. He could have had 12 assists against Alabama if his teammates were able to finish at the rim.
There are still concerns about his jumper. He made 6-of-12 3s against Missouri State. He’s made two other 3s this season and has just 35 made in his college career. I also wonder about what he’ll be defensively in the NBA. He’s athletic and does have impressive anticipation in passing lanes, but he needs to get stronger and has some bad tendencies when it comes to losing track of his man off the ball and dying on screens.
Some of that can be coached out of him, and some of it will be fixed when he gets stronger and is no longer asked to expend so much energy offensively. He’ll be viewed as something of a boom-or-bust prospect, given what happened with Cam Payne coming out of Murray State after his sophomore season.
9. ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana
Langford has mostly lived up to the hype for Indiana, becoming one of the best scorers in the Big Ten, but it’s worrisome that his jumper has not yet gotten more consistent and that he struggled as much as he did against the athletes of Duke. He has also gotten lost defensively more often than would be ideal, but freshmen will be freshmen. The big concern is the jump shot. The rest of his game is limited enough that if he’s not an efficient scorer and shooter, there isn’t much appeal.
10. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt
I really feel for Garland. After a promising start to his freshman campaign, he saw any hope of trying to play his way into the being the first point guard drafted go up in smoke after tearing the meniscus in his left knee and undergoing season-ending surgery. That’s tough. But Garland was impressive in flashes — particularly in the first half of Vandy’s win at USC — and not only should he be healthy by the time NBA teams can start bringing players in for workouts, meniscus tears are not considered to be career-altering injuries.
11. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech
Culver is a guy that has stood out to me as much as anyone early on this season. A 6-foot-5, 195 pound guard, Culver was not ranked among the top 300 in the Class of 2017, according to 247 Sports. As a freshman, he averaged 11.2 points, but that number has jumped to 18.8 points through six games this season.
What’s more notable, however, is that Culver has developed into a guy that can play the point for the Red Raiders. The expectation heading into the season was that he would replace the role vacated by Zhaire Smith. That hasn’t been the case. He’s the new Keenan Evans. He is the guy that Chris Beard runs his offense through. As a sophomore, nearly 25 percent of his offense is coming through ball-screens, according to Synergy, and that number bumps up to 32 percent when passes are factored in. When he was a freshman, those numbers were 9.8 percent and 14.5 percent, respectively. He’s currently in the 95th percentile in points-per-possession in ball-screen actions.
So let’s put it all together.
We have a 6-foot-5 guard that can play on the ball and operate in ball-screens. He’s shooting 39.6 percent from three on more than 160 attempts through two seasons, meaning he can play off the ball. He’s coming from a program that preaches toughness and defense, and he is a late-bloomer that is still growing into his frame.
To me, Culver is a guy that is going to continue to climb up draft boards as people realize just how good Texas Tech is this season and just how influential he is in that success.
12. DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas
Gafford has all the tools that a player needs to really thrive as a five-man in the modern NBA. He’s a rim-protector defensively that is athletic enough where becoming a switchable defender is a real possibility. He’s a vertical-spacer offensively that will be a lob target both in transition and as the roller in ball-screen actions. He can rebound. He’s even knocking down the occasional jumper this year.
13. BOL BOL, Oregon
For my money, the son of the late Manute Bol is going to be the most difficult player to project in this draft. He is a unicorn in the sense that he is a super-skilled, 7-foot-2 center (with a 7-foot-8 wingspan) that was, quite literally, the best three-point shooter in the EYBL during his final year on the circuit. Seeing him block a shot, go coast-to-coast and knockdown a pull-up 15-footer is just not something we see people his size do. He’s also an elite shot-blocker when he is engaged, the kind of athlete that is going to be able to chase smaller defenders off of the 3-point line.
He is what I like to call a layup line scout. You don’t have to do any more than watch him during warmups to see what his potential is and what his potential can be.
The problem is that there are some very real concerns about whether or not Bol actually likes playing basketball, and if he has the toughness — or, given his slight frame and incredibly high hips, the strength — to ever be something more than an interesting physical specimen and complimentary piece.
He also has a habit of being a statue defensively. For a player that, when engaged, is one of the best shotblockers I’ve ever seen in the high school ranks, he is a horrid defender:
Bol is going to make a lot of money playing basketball. If he ever reaches his ceiling, he will be an incredible weapon. The question that teams drafting him are going to have to ask is whether or not the risk of Bol ending up being a total bust is worth the reward of the lottery ticket being a winner.
For me, the risk would be worth it at the back-end of the lottery, and if I am an NBA GM, I let someone else take that shot.
14. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech
Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been a sleeper in NBA draft circles since his senior season in high school ended. He’s an ambidextrous, 6-foot-5 combo-guard that shoots it at nearly 40 percent from three. The cousin of current Clippers point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil has all the tools to be a really effective complimentary piece in an NBA backcourt.
The physical tools are there to guard wings. He’s up to 205 pounds, according to Virginia Tech’s official site, and reportedly has a wingspan of 6-foot-9. He can play off the ball, as evidenced by the fact that, you know, he plays off the ball for the Hokies and is a career 39.3 percent 3-point shooter on more than 175 attempts.
The difference this season, and the reason that he is starting to intrigue NBA teams, is that he’s fulfilling his potential as a lead guard. Last season, less than 10 percent of his offense came in pick-and-rolls, and he averaged all of 0.657 points-per-possession in those actions.
This year, 36.4 percent of his offense has come in ball-screens — a number that jumps to over 44 percent when you factor in passes, according to Synergy — and he checks in at the 96th percentile with 1.278 PPP. He’s averaging 4.2 assists this year, up from 1.5 a season ago.
We’ll need to monitor this as Virginia Tech starts to play better competition, but the early returns are very promising for Alexander-Walker longterm.
15. QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas
Grimes scored 21 points in his first college game, hitting six of his first seven threes, notching four assists and becoming the star of Kansas’ season-opening win over Michigan State. Since then, he’s shot 3-for-12 from three, scored a total of 24 points and got benched against Tennessee for K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore. I think this is as much about Grimes figuring out what his role is with Kansas as much as anything, but we haven’t seen him look confident as a shooter, driver or penetrator since, really, the first half of his first game. I think he’ll get there.
16. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga
Rui has been one of the breakout stars of college basketball this season, averaging 21.9 points for what is now the No. 1 team in the country. He was awesome in the win over Duke, going for 20 points, seven boards, five assists and three blocks. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but there are two reasons I’m concerned about Rui at the next level: He struggles to defend in isolation and, in three years at Gonzaga, he’s 14-for-50 (28%) from 3. Those are two very important skills to have at the position we project Hachimura to play in the NBA, and it’s why I lean heavily toward Hunter over him.
17. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova
I’m still on the Eric Paschall bandwagon even if he hasn’t been as effective as he was last season. He’s shooting just 28.6 percent from 3 this season and six of the ten made 3s he has came in one game. But he’s also being asked to play a role that will be much different from the one he’ll be asked to play in the NBA. He’s Villanova’s All-American go-to guy this season, and that’s not what he does best. He’s a complimentary piece, and athletic and versatile defender that makes threes, attacks close-outs and understands where he fits in a system. You’re drafting him to be O.G. Anunoby, not James Harden, and he can do that.
18. JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State
Jalen isn’t even the best prospect in his family — his younger brother, Jaden, might end up being the No. 1 pick in 2020 — but he has developed into a player with quite a bit of potential. There’s still some work to do on his body, as he’s 6-foot-10 and just 190 pounds, but he has perimeter skills and some longterm upside. He’s a risk, but he’s a home run if it pays off.
19. LUGUENTZ DORT, Arizona State
Dort might be the biggest surprise for people that haven’t been paying attention. Arizona State’s Canadian freshman is off to a rollicking start, averaging 22.3 points, 7.3 boards, 2.7 assists and 2.3 steals while shooting 34.5 percent from three on nearly five 3s attempted per game. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he’s drawing comparisons to Marcus Smart due to his competitiveness and build. The Sun Devils host Nevada and Kansas in December. We’ll have a better feel then.
20. JALEN SMITH, Maryland
Smith is off to a productive start as a freshman, scoring, rebounding and creating at a respectable level — 12.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.1 apg. He needs to get stronger (although it was impressive to seem him big boy Virginia’s bigs) but the key to his future lies in his ability to become a floor spacer and rim protector. He’s 1-for-9 from three with just five blocks in seven games.
21. JAYLEN HOARD, Wake Forest
Hoard is a 6-foot-8 forward with impressive mobility that profiles as the kind of athletic wing that NBA teams are looking for. He’s putting up impressive counting stats for a bad Wake Forest team, so it will be interesting to see how his efficiency holds up. Can he ever become a threat from the perimeter? Whoever gets convinced that he’ll be able to make NBA 3s will likely be the team that ends up taking him.
22. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga
Clarke is just such an exceptional athlete that it is getting hard to ignore. He’s proven himself as a rim protector, blocking 4.1 shots per game for the Zags after being known as a rim protector while as San Jose State. He’s a finisher around the basket as well, shooting 78 percent from the floor on the season while averaging 15.9 points and 7.4 boards. I could see him end up doing what Jordan Bell is doing in the league.
23. TRE JONES, Duke
Jones is never going to get the attention that he deserves this season because of his vaunted teammates, but I think he’s fine with that and I also don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing when projecting his future in the NBA. He’s not going to be Chris Paul. He’s going to be piece, and as long as he continues to defend, avoid turnovers (41 assists to eight turnovers), knockdown threes (46.2 percent) and make his floaters, he should have success.
24. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
For me, the end of the first round should be a place where good teams can pick up players that will be contributors and thrive in a role on the cheap. That’s precisely what Edwards can and will do. He’s a bowling ball of a lead guard, a 6-foot-1 lightening bolt that is averaging 25.1 points and 4.1 assists this season. I think he’s a great fit as a spark plug off the bench and can operate as a microwave scorer against NBA second teams.
25. TALEN HORTON-TUCKER, Iowa State
With Lindell Wigginton on the mend, Horton-Tucker has been the Cyclone who has stood out early on this season. The weight is a bit of a concern — he’s 238 pounds at just 6-foot-4 — but he has an awkward game that might just be unique enough to work in the league. He has a 7-foot wingspan. He can play as a creator or off the ball, although it would be nice to see his shooting percentages come up. He’s tough, and he’s very young; his 18th birthday was Nov. 25th. The 26 points, 14 boards, six assists and three blocks he had against Illinois in Maui put him on the map.
26. JONTAY PORTER, Missouri
Porter tore his ACL and MCL in October, which means we won’t have a chance to see what he can be as a sophomore. What we do know is this: He’s young for his grade, he can make threes, he’s a good passer and his has the kind of high hips and slow feet that make people wonder what he’ll be defensively. Here’s to hoping he gets healthy.
27. TY JEROME, Virginia
Jerome is, to me, a guy that will play point guard for 10 years in the NBA. He has the IQ, the toughness, the competitiveness, the leadership. He’s a career 39.5 percent three-point shooter on more than 250 attempts. There are, of course, question marks when it comes to Jerome’s athleticism at the next level. He’s capable of creating space with step-backs, and he’s shown flashes of being able to get to the rim, but mostly I’m not overly concerned. Tony Bennett teaches his guys to guard, Jerome has positional size and he can play off the ball. Fred VanVleet had some of these same question marks, and he’s doing fine as a backup point guard.
28. KILLIAN TILLIE, Gonzaga
The concern with Tillie is that he is currently battling a stress fracture. The upside with Tillie is that he is a 6-foot-10 former volleyball player (read: bouncy) that shoots it at 48 percent from three. Let’s see how the ankle holds up this season.
29. IGGY BRAZDEIKIS, Michigan
Brazdeikis is just so tough. At 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, he’s built in the mold of a player that can guard up in the NBA with the perimeter skills to be able to take advantage of slower defenders. He’s a dog. I’m not totally sold on the jumper yet, but he’s making 38.9 percent of his threes and 78.6 percent of his free throws, and if he’s going to be Julius Randle lite at the next level, he’ll need to get a bit stronger. Is he a four that can guards fives or a three that can guard fours?
30. JAXSON HAYES, Texas
This pick would be entirely based on upside, but given his size, athleticism, length, hands and the simple fact that he’s a late-blooming blank canvas, he’s got a chance.