Predicting the Top Prospect at Every Position in the 2019 NBA Draft
There is an exciting prospect at each position for the 2019 NBA draft.
The strength of this projected class is fueled by its wings and forwards. Duke's starting lineup includes a stud at three different spots.
Point guard and center should stir up the most debate.
Even though the following five players can all play multiple positions, there is one who's best suited for each based on his strengths and weaknesses.
Center: Bol Bol, Freshman, Oregon
Biggest challenger: Naz Reid, freshman, LSU
An obvious scouting target for his measurements (7'2" height, 7'8" wingspan) and genes, Bol Bol has already started cranking the hype machine heading into the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
Oregon has only faced Eastern Washington and Portland State, but the suspect competition hasn't diminished his totals of 35 points, 24 rebounds and seven blocks through just 52 minutes.
He's looked unusually fluid for a player his size, both in terms of coordination and skill execution.
A unique finishing weapon capable of reaching high above traffic and the rim, Bol has also flashed some wiggle off the dribble and shot-making. His bag contains specialty shots like fallaways and pull-ups, plus a developing three-ball that connected against Eastern Washington.
Bol's defensive upside then sets him apart from LSU's Reid, a stud scorer but mostly a one-way impact player. Bol contests shots defending on and off the ball. Signs point to a disruptive rim protector and an obstacle to shoot over one-on-one.
Assuming his lack of strength doesn't become too worrisome and he continues to pull off the two-point moves and spot-up threes, teams should favor Bol over Reid as the greater potential difference-maker.
Power Forward: Zion Williamson, Freshman, Duke
Biggest challenger at PF: Jalen Smith, freshman, Maryland
Some didn't anticipate this type of dominance so fast, particularly against No. 2-ranked Kentucky, when he debuted with 28 points on 13 shots.
His mix of power, explosion, quickness and coordination represents uncharted scouting territory. It's translating to unbelievably easy separation from defenders, frequently resulting in uncontested, high-percentage finishes without Williamson having to tap into any advanced skill.
However, he has demonstrated impressive ball-handling for a 285-pounder, showing the ability to blow by with crossovers or in-and-out dribbles. And though his jump shot remains the biggest question mark regarding his NBA fit and upside, he's looked competent on his attempts, even converting a three-pointer and pull-up two on opening night.
Regardless, Williamson is playing with enough athleticism and energy to make plays at both ends and have a game-changing impact.
There is an ocean between him and Maryland's Smith, a skilled stretch 4, 70 pounds lighter than Duke's star forward.
Williamson is gaining steam as the new No. 1 overall favorite, with the eventual lottery winner likely to become too enthralled by unicorn potential that, if reached, could propel him into the category of NBA mismatches who are the toughest to contain.
Small Forward: Cam Reddish, Freshman, Duke
Biggest challenger at SF: Nassir Little, freshman, North Carolina
Part of the appeal to Cam Reddish is his versatility to play and guard multiple positions. But with a Paul George-like physical profile and skill set, Reddish projects to work mostly from the wing alongside a more traditional point guard.
At 6'8", he's smooth off the dribble, capable of initiating transition plays and passing on the move. So far, he's distinguished himself by burying 10 threes in two games. Against Army, he knocked down jumpers off the dribble, a screen and jab step—not just spotting up.
Through two games, he's taken 21 threes to 14 twos, a reflection of his confidence from deep but also the third-wheel role he has to play behind RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson. Teams may wind up feeling that Reddish isn't being fully unleashed at Duke.
Still, he has to improve scoring off the dribble and finishing around traffic. But between his ball-handling, shot-making and tools, it's worth betting on his development as a scorer.
Defensively, Reddish has always been a mixed bag with flashes of smart reactions, playmaking and questionable effort. For a teenager, however, the lapses shouldn't be problematic enough to significantly impact his final draft evaluation. His offensive upside should appear more attractive than Little's at North Carolina.
Shooting Guard: RJ Barrett, Freshman, Duke
Biggest challenger at SG: Kevin Porter Jr., freshman, USC
RJ Barrett looks as strong as advertised since first exploding onto the scene in 2015. He's gradually padded his resume from the FIBA U18s to the Nike Hoop Summit and now Duke, having already hung 33 points and six assists on Kentucky.
With solid 6'7", 2-guard size and athleticism, he'll be a top-three pick for his mix of scoring and killer instincts.
Barrett is an innovator, always improvising and countering with ball-handling, footwork and finishing adjustments.
Despite the uptempo pace of a fast break, the game appears to slow down for him in transition. He's special in the open floor with his nose for the rim and body control.
In the half court, he has to work on his pull-up off two feet, but his runner game is advanced. And though not a three-point specialist, he's looked dangerous shooting off the catch early, making six threes in two games.
A fierce competitor, Barrett's intensity comes to life at both ends of the floor, whether he's playing through contact or pressuring the ball.
USC's Porter, though an obvious talent, won't have enough production to compete with Duke's star in prospect rankings.
Barrett lacks Zion Williamson's explosion and Cam Reddish's perimeter firepower, but his lengthy track record, scoring versatility and competitiveness hint at the safest pick in the draft.
Point Guard: Ja Morant, Sophomore, Murray State
Biggest challenger at PG: Darius Garland, freshman, Vanderbilt
After finishing as one of two players in the country last year to average at least 10.0 points, 6.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds, per Sports Reference, Ja Morant entered his sophomore season on breakout watch. He responded by opening with 26 points, 11 assists and five rebounds against Wright State.
Compared to Vanderbilt's Garland, another point guard expected to create first-round buzz, Morant is far more explosive. He blows by and splits defenders with bursts on hesitations and change of direction.
He's the more threatening playmaker, last year ranking in the 82nd percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Synergy Sports.
Morant puts pressure on defenses off the dribble, even if he tends to play out of control. And he gets serious elevation around the basket, leading to hang time and finishes in traffic, plus tough rebounds for a guard.
His shooting development will help determine his draft stock and how close he comes to reaching his potential. Morant only hit nine pull-ups last year and 27 of 88 threes. But he's off to a promising start, appearing more confident in his jumper based on the pair of triples he hit (one from deep, the other a step-back) on opening night.
While he needs to become a more committed, hard-nosed defender, Morant should build a case as the draft's top point guard with elite athleticism, across-the-board production and flashes of improving skill that suggest more is coming.