Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Zion Williamson and Other Top 2019 Prospects
As the NBA draft approaches, front offices across the league will forecast best- and worst-case projections for the prospects they're evaluating to assess the potential risk and reward. How high is Zion Williamson's ceiling compared to that of league MVP candidates? What happens if his skills never catch his athleticism? How good will Ja Morant be if his shooting improves? What if it doesn't?
Based on their physical tools, athletic ability, skill sets and weaknesses, we created ceiling and floor projections for 2019's consensus top NBA prospects, presented in alphabetical order.
RJ Barrett (Duke, SG/SF, Freshman)
Best case: All-star reserve
RJ Barrett made history books with his scoring this year, joining Zion Williamson, Trae Young, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Michael Beasley and Markelle Fultz as the only power-conference freshmen to average at least 22 points.
At 6'7" and 202 pounds, he should have the size and athleticism to continue scoring at a high level, though his methods may need fine-tuning. He does lean more on improvisation than calculated moves for high-percentage shots.
Still, between his physical tools, special instincts and shot-making ability (73 threes in 38 games), Barrett has enough in his bag to average 20-plus points in his prime. And though he's not known as a playmaker, his 4.3 assists per game reflect his potential to drive and kick or toss lobs to screen-and-rollers.
At best, he's another version of DeMar DeRozan—a flawed but highly productive former All-Star.
Worst case: Quality/productive starting wing
Questions persist about how Barrett's game will translate after he ranked in the 51st percentile in half-court offense, 59th percentile out of isolation and the 49th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler.
He also shot just 52.5 percent at the rim, where a lack of vertical explosion could lead to inefficiency against NBA rim protection.
Barrett will produce—his knack for putting the ball in the hoop remains too strong. The question is whether the production will be impactful or empty.
At worst, he still scores 15 to 20 points per game as a long-term starter—just one who might require a lot of shots while struggling to make the game easier for teammates.
Goga Bitadze (Georgia, C, 1999)
Best case: Quality/productive starting center
On the radar since 2015, Goga Bitadze established himself as a legitimate first-rounder this season by expanding his scoring versatility inside and out. The 6'11" 19-year-old has impressed through 13 Euroleague games—the best possible test for evaluation purposes since he's been relatively dominant in a weaker Adriatic League.
His improved shooting range has been a key development, as Bitadze has made 23 of his 59 three-pointers against all competition in 2018-19. He's also become a tough cover in the paint who demonstrates more decisive footwork and soft hands.
Bitadze lacks defensive upside because of his slower speed on the perimeter and limited switchability. Unless he evolves into a difference-making rim protector, which his lack of strength and length suggest could be a long shot, being limited to guarding one position at an average level brings down his ceiling and value.
Best case, he's a top-three scoring option teams can feature around the block or key and in the pick-and-pop game.
Backup center: Backup center
Worst case, Bitadze has trouble adjusting defensively, and his shooting plateaus. Centers who play one position and don't add defensive value or stretch the floor are typically relegated to bench roles.
His size, mobility and offensive game are convincing enough to project a floor above G League level. With the right team, he'll find his way into a rotation with his size, scoring moves and touch inside 12 feet.
Bol Bol (Oregon, C, Freshman)
Best case: All-star reserve
Bol Bol has one of the draft's higher ceilings, but he also has a low floor due to the risk caused by physical and durability concerns.
His All-Star upside is fueled by unique 7'2" size and rare skill, as Bol shot 13-of-25 from three through nine games while ranking in the 90th percentile on post-ups. He even flashed ball-handling acumen when he put the ball down and scored off the dribble.
He executed shots with Kristaps Porzingis-like fluidity, particularly around the perimeter. And though his effort came and went defensively, his remarkable 7'8" wingspan can still be disruptive around the basket.
If Bol adds strength and continues to tighten his ball skills and shot creation, not many centers will be able to match up evenly.
Worst case: Bust
Bol couldn't make it to Christmas before he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot. Given his size and skinny limbs—plus the injury history of big men with foot trouble—lottery teams may be hesitant to draft him.
Since high school, Bol's tendency to prove he has guard skill away from the basket has created some concern. He isn't physical around the basket, and his defensive impact fluctuates with his sense of urgency even though he blocked 2.7 shots per game at Oregon.
He could fall within the top 10 on some draft boards and rank between 20th and 30th on others due to his high bust potential.
Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga, PF/C, Junior)
Best case: Star role player
Though Brandon Clarke won't be a star scorer, he can thrive in a supporting role the way Pascal Siakam did for the Toronto Raptors this year.
But Siakam still has more upside left to unlock, while Clarke's ceiling isn't as high. Maximizing his potential means developing into a top transition weapon, finisher, putback machine and defender—and also building on the promising flashes of post play and line drives he showed at Gonzaga.
In his best-case scenario, he's a team's most impactful defender with rim protection and switchability. Despite limited shot-creating ability, he finds a way to add offensive value with extreme finishing efficiency off rim runs, rolls, cuts and crashes, plus the occasional post-ups and drives past closeouts.
Worst case: Bench energizer
His bounce and motor should translate to activity and production at the rim, where he shot 74.3 percent and blocked 4.4 shots per 40 minutes.
But if the 6'8" Clarke can't create or shoot and isn't as disruptive protecting the basket as he was at Gonzaga, he'll be reduced to a reserve role. At the least, he could come off the bench to bring energy and off-ball plays.
Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech, SG, Sophomore)
Best case: Quality/productive starting shooting guard
The national championship game raised doubt over Jarrett Culver's star potential after he struggled to create quality looks against projected top-10 pick De'Andre Hunter. A lack of burst suggests he could have trouble serving as a volume scorer or top-two option for a winning team.
However, the appeal to Culver's game stems from his well-roundedness. An eye-test standout for his size, length and fluidity, he also improved in key areas this season, including his finishing, pull-up shooting and playmaking.
And though his three-point mark dipped to 30.4 percent, he flashed enough shot-making skill for scouts to remain optimistic about his eventual accuracy.
Worst case: Reserve shooting guard
Worst case, Culver remains an average shooter while also struggling to create his own looks.
He'll still find ways to score inside the arc using his physical tools, long strides, changes of speed and finishing instincts. He should also be a fine 2-guard defender given his length, foot speed and effective defense at Texas Tech.
Even if he struggles to reach 35 percent from three, he should still be capable enough to remain a threat as a spot-up shooter in rhythm.
Culver's floor is a role player who checks boxes but doesn't specialize in any one area.
Sekou Doumbouya (France, SF/PF, 2000)
Best case: Star role player
Only 18 years old, Sekou Doumbouya is playing 17.7 minutes in France's top league and flashing enough glimpses of three-point shooting, drives and finishes for teams to feel optimistic about his skill development.
He's still too raw as a creator and scorer to earn a projection with All-Star upside. But at 6'9", 230 pounds—a physical profile similar to OG Anunoby (6'8", 232 lbs)—Doumbouya will be valued for his defensive versatility, potential to stretch the floor and ability to make plays at the rim.
Best case, he's a star role player who converts a high percentage of his threes, slashes and cuts while defending opponents' top options and switching.
Worst case: Reserve forward
Doumbouya's tools, athleticism and age, plus the promising eye-test results on his set shot, theoretically create a high floor.
Worst case, he gives a team defensive versatility and operates as a catch-and-score player who'll only take high-percentage shots on offense.
Darius Garland (Vanderbilt, PG, Freshman)
Best case: Middle-tier starting point guard
Despite tearing his meniscus in November, Darius Garland made a compelling case with enthralling shot-making and ball skills during his only four full games at Vanderbilt.
He's already sharp with a pull-up jumper (13-of-23) like the ones that have made most of the NBA's top point guards difficult to defend. Garland also shot 6-of-9 on catch-and-shoot threes before he went down, padding his case as a versatile shooter and scorer on or off the ball. In that tiny sample size, his 1.44 points per possession on jump shots would have ranked in the 99th percentile.
Shifty off the dribble, Garland also has enough handles and wiggle to create. How he uses that ability to shake free could determine his ceiling. He's more of a scoring ball-handler than a passing playmaker.
He seemingly prefers off-the-dribble jumpers over layups, and he finished with 15 turnovers to 13 assists, which raises questions about whether he's a lead guard coaches will want to initiate the offense.
Worst case: Reserve guard
For a 6'2" guard with quickness, Garland's ball-handling and shot-making are convincing enough. Worst case, teams use him for instant offense off the bench. He has the potential to knock down jumpers in bunches when hot and, though not known for his facilitating, is a capable set-up man when positioned to execute a pass.
Playmaking inefficiency and defense—he can only guard one position against most teams—could lower his NBA value and make him tough to start.
Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga, PF, Junior)
Best case: Quality/productive starting forward
By averaging 19.7 points on 59.1 percent shooting from the field, Rui Hachimura spent the season dominating offensively, mostly against inferior competition in the WCC. His points won't come as easily at the next level unless he develops more shooting range.
Hachimura only averaged 0.4 threes in 30.2 minutes per game. He took 29 percent of his jumpers from between 17 feet and the three-point arc. At 6'8", he lacks the size and explosion to maintain his elite effectiveness inside.
But he's still developed into a dangerous enough scorer around the key, particularly when facing up with quick rip-through drives and short jump shots, whether balanced or falling away. Hachimura does have mid-range touch, an impressive first step, a versatile post game and strong finishing ability.
His body and skill set resemble an idealized version of Jabari Parker. Hachimura's flaws could also make him resemble the Parker who's fallen out of favor over the past few seasons.
Worst case: Reserve forward
Hachimura will use his strength, quickness, footwork and inside skills to score. That package should keep him productive.
But coaches may hesitate to hand him big minutes if he can't stretch the floor or add value defensively. On defense in college, he was a mixed bag in terms of effort. Historically, his low playmaking numbers (1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per 40 minutes) raise concerns for a mid-major first-round pick.
He lacks typical role-playing strengths, specifically three-point shooting, passing IQ (9.3 assist percentage) and rebounding prowess (12.1 total rebounding percentage).
At worst, he'll come off the bench strictly for his offense inside the arc.
Jaxson Hayes (Texas, C, Freshman)
Best-case: Quality/efficient starting center
Jaxson Hayes comes off as a safe play with 6'11" size, impressive mobility, coordination and tremendous numbers that showcase his offensive efficiency and defensive activity. He shot 72.8 percent from the field and blocked 3.8 shots per 40 minutes.
He's limited offensively without any bankable scoring skill, which lowers his ceiling. But the 18-year-old's tools, athleticism, effort and production point to effective rim running, finishing and defense.
A rim-protecting center such as Clint Capella, who produces strictly by running and jumping, sets the ceiling for Hayes.
Worst case: Backup center
Worst case, Hayes struggles against stronger 5s and never develops a post game or jump shot. In that situation, he'll likely come off the bench but still hold value as a high-energy backup.
At the very least, Hayes' finishing will still translate, particularly with better point guard play in the pros. He ranked in the 96th percentile as a cutter and the 95th percentile as a roll man.
Talen Horton-Tucker (Iowa State, SG/SF, Freshman)
Best case: Star role player
The youngest NCAA prospect expected to be eligible, Talen Horton-Tucker created intrigue with flashes over consistent production. A best-case scenario has those flashes eventually turning into regular occurrences.
An out-of-the-box guard/wing standing 6'4", 238 pounds, Horton-Tucker's heavier frame and lack of explosion aren't synonymous with upside. He struggled to finish in the paint, making 6-of-20 runners and just 52.5 percent of his attempts around the rim.
But he's skilled and surprisingly quick enough to create as a shooter and driver. Though he only made 30.8 percent of his threes, he hit plenty of tough jumpers, including a handful from NBA range.
Horton-Tucker also brought it on defense, and given his foot speed, 7'1" wingspan, toughness and 1.9 steals per 40 minutes, a best-case scenario shows a two-way wing who's capable of checking boxes and applying pressure at both ends.
Worst case: Reserve wing
He'll play three NBA seasons before turning 22 years old, so it's likely he improves enough in that time to crack a rotation.
But never blowing up will mean Horton-Tucker struggles finishing in traffic without any explosion. And his shooting inconsistency and wild decision-making continue to frustrate.
In a worst-case scenario, he's used to bring streaky offense and defensive activity off the bench.
De'Andre Hunter (Virginia, SF/PF, Sophomore)
Best case: Star role player
When evaluating De'Andre Hunter, teams will value his high floor as opposed to his ceiling. The combo forward's game doesn't scream upside given his lack of advanced shot-creation and explosiveness. But it does point toward him being a low-risk prospect who could be valuable in a role-player capacity.
The likelihood of his elite defense (ACC Defensive Player of the Year) carrying over appears high based on his 6'7", 225-pound size, quickness and awareness. Helping hold projected top-10 pick Jarrett Culver to 5-of-22 shooting in the national title game only strengthened his defensive reputation.
And after he shot 43.8 percent from three and 78.3 percent from the free-throw line as a sophomore, he's flashed enough touch to generate confidence in his marksmanship.
Three-point consistency, along with the extent of his off-the-dribble development, will determine the height of his ceiling. Chances are good, however, that Hunter won't be getting plays called for him late in possessions. Unless he dramatically evolves, he projects as more of a complementary player.
Worst-case: Reserve forward
Hunter's floor, which is propped up by shooting and defense, remains his most attractive selling point. He passes the NBA eye test right now, whether his ball skills improve or not.
He should be able to defend multiple positions as a rookie. At worst, he's a defensive specialist with enough offensive ability to capitalize on open jumpers and driving lanes.
Romeo Langford (Indiana, SG, Freshman)
Best case: Productive starting shooting guard
With a textbook physical profile for an NBA 2-guard, Romeo Langford averaged 16.5 points by scoring from all three levels.
However, he was notably inefficient from beyond the arc (27.2 percent), and maximizing his potential will mean significantly improving his shooting range and mechanics. Then again, Langford did go 16-of-31 on two-point jumpers beyond 17 feet, and he's shown an ability to create his own shot with pull-ups and step-backs.
Langford was one of the nation's top pick-and-roll scorers (90th percentile), able to stop and pop before traffic or slice into the paint, where he flashed an impressive runner and layup package (63.6 percent at the rim).
Realistically, Langford lacks the explosion, three-ball, playmaking skills and alpha-dog mentality to present himself as a future All-Star guard. But a best-case scenario could still see him average between 15 and 20 points as a starter.
Worst case: Reserve
Langford's physical tools, ball-handling, shot-making and finishing instincts should work well enough, at least in a backup capacity.
Worst case, he settles in as a top option for a team's second unit. In that scenario, Langford would likely struggle with shooting consistency while adding little as a passer or defender.
Ja Morant (Murray State, PG, Sophomore)
Best case: All-Star reserve
On top of Ja Morant's record-breaking production as the only player to average at least 20 points and 10 assists, he possesses explosiveness that traditionally hints at NBA upside for a point guard. It will continue leading to free throws and easy scoring chances at the rim.
But his passing is still the skill that will drive his NBA value. Between his ambidexterity, vision and breakdown ability, Morant could be a playmaker who eventually challenges for the league's assist title.
The key scouting question focuses on his distance shooting and scoring potential. Given his 34.3 percent clip on jumpers and questionable form, shooting seems unlikely to become a strength anytime soon. But he did make notable progress as a sophomore, averaging 1.9 threes per 40 minutes (up from 1.0) and finishing above 80.0 percent from the free-throw line for the second consecutive season at Murray State.
Worst case: Middle-tier starting point guard
Morant's playmaking and passing seem guaranteed to carry over, creating a high floor that keeps him valuable at the most competitive position. Regardless of how little his shot improves, his ability to collapse defenses and create shots for teammates will translate.
A worst-case scenario has the 175-pound ball-handler struggling to finish both at the rim and around the key, where he only went 10-of-32 on runners.
It's also possible his shooting and decision-making (5.2 turnovers per game) remain inconsistent, creating issues for a ball-dominator who can only play one position. Morant's lack of strength and effort on defense could likewise become problematic for his team.
Kevin Porter Jr. (USC, SG, Freshman)
Best case: Productive starting guard/wing
Kevin Porter Jr. averaged just 9.5 points in college, but size, athleticism, youth and advanced scoring skills still point to star-caliber upside long term—similar to what Zach LaVine flashed out of UCLA after he only managed 9.4 points per game in college.
Porter will still enter the NBA near his floor, however. A best-case scenario has him following in LaVine's steps, gradually building confidence and comfort each season to the point where he's a lead scorer around age 24.
A 6'6" guard/wing, Porter has distinguished himself with the ability to create off nifty ball-handling moves and convert tough jumpers. Successful development would mean Porter becomes consistent around the perimeter and he learns to put more pressure on defenses by attacking.
He also must figure out how to play within an offense as opposed to waiting for isolation chances to dance and launch a hero shot.
Compared to LaVine, Porter should have more defensive upside based on his lateral quickness and physical profile.
Worst case: G League
If Porter struggles to assert himself, plays too much one-on-one and has trouble scoring off the ball, coaches may be reluctant to use him.
He only shot 11-of-33 on catch-and-shoot jumpers, and a worst-case scenario includes him never improving as a spot-up shooter. It also has him struggling to efficiently generate his own offense while offering little as a passer.
Porter has one of the draft's widest ranges.
Cam Reddish (Duke, SG/SF, Freshman)
Best case: Quality/productive starting wing
Once he finds some consistency, Cam Reddish figures to have more professional success than he experienced in college. A 6'8" wing, he buried 2.5 threes per game at Duke, creating enough scouting confidence that he might eventually become a high-volume three-point shooter.
Though he didn't receive many chances to create in a lineup featuring Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Tre Jones, Reddish, a point-forward in high school, did flash the ability to play off the dribble by generating 1.11 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (44 possessions, 96th percentile).
His defensive potential is another selling point, as Reddish has the tools to guard positions 2-4 and showcases some promising anticipation.
A 39.4 two-point percentage highlights the severe issues he had executing inside the arc, and it makes realistically projecting All-Star potential difficult. But between his positional size, perimeter game and defense, a best-case scenario still sees Reddish putting up Kelly Oubre Jr.-like numbers near his second NBA contract.
Worst case: Reserve wing
The threes and defensive versatility should keep him afloat, even if he continues to struggle as a scorer in traffic. Reddish made just four of his 14 runners (17th percentile) and 47.3 percent of his shots around the basket (29th percentile).
He also finished the season with 96 turnovers to 70 assists.
Worst case, he's used to stretch the floor as a spot-up shooter, release in transition, guard the perimeter and nothing more.
PJ Washington (Kentucky, PF, Sophomore)
Best case: Star role player
PJ Washington made notable improvements as a sophomore that will earn him an invite to the 2019 green room.
He still doesn't have an All-Star ceiling due to athletic and shot-creation limitations. But a best-case scenario has Washington starting in the league for years to come and giving his team a reliable post option who can stretch the floor and defend positions 3-5.
Washington flashed a balanced attack this season, scoring 45 baskets out of the post, 43 from spot-ups, 29 off cuts, 26 off putbacks, 20 in transition and 12 as a roll man. But other than returning in better shape, the key to his draft-stock spike was going from five made threes in 2017-18 to 33 on 42.3 percent shooting in 2018-19
Worst case: Reserve big
Washington may not be dominant or proficient enough in any of the following areas: athleticism, scoring, shooting, passing and defending.
But at the least, his over-the-shoulder game, touch and physical tools should still translate to points in the paint, rebounds and mid-range jumpers. Worst case, he's a backup big who'll take what the defense gives him, whether it's room to operate in the post or space to take an open jump shot.
Zion Williamson (Duke, PF/C, Freshman)
Best case: All-star starter
Zion Williamson's mix of power, foot speed and explosion will create one of the Association's great advantages.
Even at NBA standards, his first moves and jumps are executed with elite quickness and force. They suggest Williamson's paint scoring should carry over from Duke, where he racked up more points around the basket than any player in the country, per Synergy Sports.
He's also flashed enough ball-handling wiggle to create easy-basket opportunities off his own dribble. Best case, he continues to evolve as a creator from both face-up and back-to-the-basket positions, and he becomes a capable set shooter when left open after he made 24 threes through 33 games with the Blue Devils.
Realistically, his ceiling falls short of the MVP level at which LeBron James and current/future candidates Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis play. A lack of height, length and perimeter skills will make it too challenging for Williamson to be as dominant in the half court.
All-star starter is a more realistic projection—one any lottery winner should gladly take.
Worst case: All-star reserve
Even a worst-case scenario for Williamson should result in at least one All-Star appearance. No defense or scheme will limit his easy-basket chances, particularly in transition or off lobs and putbacks.
Given his tools, athleticism and motor, he's still going to eat inside as a low-post threat, finisher and offensive rebounder, regardless of how much his skill develops.
But his potential impact won't be as great if his jump shot and one-on-one game don't continue improving. Williamson does rely more on athleticism and strength for offense. He shot just 2-of-12 on pull-ups and 32.5 percent on half-court jump shots. Can he follow Antetokounmpo by dominating without scoring away from the hoop? Williamson isn't nearly as tall or long.
Worst case, picture a more commanding and effective Julius Randle who's also a greater defensive presence.
Coby White (North Carolina, PG, Freshman)
Best case: Middle-tier starting point guard
Ranking in the 97th percentile for pick-and-roll passing and the 94th percentile in spot-up shooting, the 6'5" Coby White could spend time at both backcourt spots. But can he be an All-Star lead guard?
A lack of athleticism and strength creates problems when White tries to separate and finish around the basket, forcing his perceived ceiling to level off at productive starter.
He'll get there by continuing to bury jumpers at a high clip and compensating for limited explosion with skill and improvisation.
White also shows excellent passing vision in transition and off screens. He's not a traditional facilitator, but he can offer a similar mix of scoring and playmaking as Jamal Murray—another combo who starts at point guard.
Worse case: Reserve guard
White figures to settle in as a change-of-pace, uptempo bench spark if his athletic limitations hold him back and his defensive struggles continue.
His ball-handling, shot-making and size create a high enough floor for him to stick if his worst-case scenario plays out.