Predicting 2019 NBA Draft's Biggest Boom-or-Bust Prospects

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 9, 2019

Predicting 2019 NBA Draft's Biggest Boom-or-Bust Prospects

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Boom-or-bust NBA draft prospects represent players who are perceived to have both great upside and low floors. 

    They offer high reward and high risk relative to where they're projected to be drafted. 

    The bar is naturally set higher for the projected top picks, who can be labeled as busts even if they last 10 years as a role player. 

    Those prospects projected outside the lottery or first round could have floors that lead to the G League or overseas. 

    It's time to sort out the players who could make front-office execs look like geniuses or have those decision-makers second-guessing themselves.

Ja Morant (Murray State, PG, Sophomore)

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Draft projection: Top 10

    Boom

    Duke's Zion Williamson appears locked in at No. 1 overall, but after that, Ja Morant has emerged as a legitimate candidate to go second. His explosive athleticism and production scream upside and fuel comparisons to NBA point guards like Russell Westbrook and De'Aaron Fox.

    A high-flyer, Morant is also on track to finish as the only NCAA player in the last 27 years to average at least 20 points and 10 assists.

    He's a layup and playmaking machine with speed, handles, vision and passing ability, plus exciting bounce around the basket.

    Like shooting is for many guards, it will be a swing skill. And Morant is starting to flash encouraging signs of improvement, having just hit four three-pointers Thursday night and 22 over Murray State's last 11 games. 

    If his jumper keeps trending upward, and his decision-making tightens playing with better pros, the team that drafts Morant lands its franchise ball-handler. 

         

    Bust

    Drafting Morant could require having a top-five pick. And taking a point guard that high means expecting eventual star-level production at that position. 

    If Morant goes that early and only develops into a mid-tier starter, it will lead to a disappointed front office and fanbase.

    And there are bold questions about whether he can be the NBA's next star lead guard.

    While his jumper is the most obvious concern—he's shooting 29.3 percent on pull-ups and 33.3 percent from deep—Morant can also be careless and nonchalant. He's averaging a whopping 5.2 turnovers, often appearing overly casual handling the ball against pressure or wild with certain driving and passing attempts.

    He's also 2-of-14 on runners, a shot that's practically become essential in today's game with all the length around the basket.

    Defensively, his 175-pound frame has been easy to screen and take out of plays. And Morant's effort has fluctuated, as he's been caught jogging back or playing a step behind defending off the ball.

    Worst case, he's still a change-of-pace spark, but that's not what the team that drafts him will want.

Bol Bol (Oregon, C, Freshman)

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Draft projection: Nos. 10-20

    Boom

    A boom results from Bol Bol staying healthy, being able to execute his unique skill set and strengthening his defensive IQ.

    He'll need to first prove the stress fracture to his foot, which will sideline him for the rest of the season, is an isolated injury. Durability questions aside, Bol has one of the draft's highest ceilings, propped up by 7'2" size, shooting range, scoring fluidity and a 7'8" wingspan for rim protection. 

    Before going down, Bol had hit 13 of 25 three-pointers and ranked in the 87th percentile out of post-ups. A best-case scenario has him continuing to stroke triples and score one-on-one around the key while gradually improving his ability to use the dribble and attack closeouts. Because there aren't many 7-footers nimble enough to comfortably defend away from the basket.

    Between his length and mobility, Bol also has enormous defensive potential, though maximizing it will mean adding muscle and raising his awareness and urgency. 

         

    Bust

    Bol busts if the foot problems persist or he struggles with physicality, execution and effort. 

    His legs are incredibly skinny, which raises questions about how well he'll take contact or create separation.

    Is he strong enough to work in the paint? Is he skilled and decisive enough to consistently shake off the dribble and shoot over NBA bigs? Kristaps Porzingis is the only pro with similar measurements to Bol who can operate as a second- and third-level scorer. And KP is far more explosive.

    Bol could also have trouble playing switch defense, and too often at Oregon, he was caught flat-footed or easy to move inside. He's only playing center in the NBA, and his value plummets if he struggles to anchor his team's defense as strictly a 5.

Kevin Porter Jr. (USC, SG, Freshman)

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    Draft projection: Nos. 10-30

    Boom

    Kevin Porter Jr. is averaging just 9.2 points, and it's still possible he draws interest from lottery teams.

    Upside manages to shine through the lower usage and inconsistent impact. He pops with 6'6" size and athleticism but mostly flashes of advanced creation and shot-making.

    Crossovers into pull-ups, behind-the-back dribble step-backs, acrobatic finishes around the basket—Porter is scoring in NBA fashion, and he's doing it with a pro's physical profile and a noticeable level of comfort.

    His situation slightly resembles Zach LaVine's at UCLA, when he averaged 9.4 points, came off the bench and still went No. 13 overall. 

    Through the long-term lens, Porter has stood out in similar style. His ceiling shows a 20-plus-point scorer and an isolation weapon for baskets during stalled possessions or late in shot clocks.

         

    Bust

    Though coveted for his scoring potential, Porter hasn't topped 15 points in a game all season. 

    He's taken 23 total free throws, often choosing to settle for the lower-percentage jumper. He's shown the ability to create and make the tough shot, but can he get himself easy ones? A loose handle and hero-jumper urge have kept him from getting to the basket, where he's made six shots through the 12 games he's played.

    Porter has already been injured and suspended by his team for personal conduct issues. He's made little impact on a 10-loss USC team.

    While it's possible he develops into a microwave scorer, it's also possible it winds up being in the G League. 

KZ Okpala (Stanford, SF/PF, Sophomore)

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    Cody Glenn/Getty Images

    Draft projection: Nos. 10-30

    Boom

    At 6'9", 215 pounds, KZ Okpala's mix of physical tools/athleticism and wing-like scoring ability hints at NBA-mismatch potential.

    He's averaging 17.9 points and 6.0 rebounds on 48.5 percent shooting with an improved three-ball up to 41.9 percent. 

    With power forward size, he's generated 45 points as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and recorded 25 field goals by attacking out of spot-ups and finishing using a floater, layup or dunk.

    Okpala appears closer to raw, meaning he shows enormous room for improvement, yet he's still scoring in volume. And a big jump from his freshman (10.0 points, 3.7 rebounds) to sophomore year suggests he's one to continue making adjustments each season.

         

    Bust

    Okpala is missing a bankable skill scouts can count on translating. 

    He's not the sharpest shot-creator. He leans more on his quickness, bounce and improvisation. Okpala has raised his three-point accuracy, but the sample size is small (26-of-62) and he's only made six dribble jumpers while shooting 69.9 percent from the free-throw line.

    Okpala has more turnovers (60) than assists (48), plus his 10.5 rebounding percentage (7.3 per 40 minutes) raises questions about his reaction to physicality and contact. 

    If his shot-creation and shooting don't keep improving, Okpala won't have enough to offer NBA rotations.

Naz Reid (LSU, PF/C, Freshman)

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    Sam Wasson/Getty Images

    Draft projection: Nos. 20-60

    Boom

    An immediate standout for his 6'10", 250-pound frame, Naz Reid then sparks imaginations with his ball-handling and shooting.

    With the body of an NBA center, Reid has flashed the ability to separate into step-back jumpers and one-legged fallaways. He's a big man with shot-creating moves and touch, having hit eight runners, 21 of 54 threes and 75.8 percent of his free throws.

    And he's a threat to grab a rebound off the defensive glass and take it coast to coast.

    His combination of size, agility and skill points to enticing scoring potential, particularly for a player who isn't a projected lottery pick.

         

    Bust

    Why isn't Reid a projected lottery pick? 

    Despite his strong build, Reid ranks in the 22nd percentile working out of the post. He averages just 9.9 rebounds per 40 minutes with 21 blocks in 22 games.

    More of a finesse player than a power one, Reid isn't a major presence around the basket. 

    Away from it, he's capable offensively but not sharp enough to live out there. And he lacks the lateral quickness, as well as the awareness, to add defensive versatility or value.

    Throw in poor decision-making (58 turnovers, 22 assists) and a questionable motor, and Reid may enter the draft with too much bust potential to draw first-round interest.

         

    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and Basketball Reference.