1 Surprise 2019 Draft Prospect Every NBA Lottery Team Could Target
Imagine that Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett are off the board in the 2019 NBA draft. Front offices would have to look elsewhere for value.
In this particular draft, for which there won't be a consensus next tier of prospects after the first three, teams are bound to target surprise names that may not align with media projections.
We highlighted a player each lottery franchise could unexpectedly select if the obvious top options were unavailable.
New York Knicks: Sekou Doumbouya (France, SF/PF, 2000)
The New York Knicks have a far greater chance of landing a pick in the No. 2-5 range than No. 1, where—like everyone else—they'd select Zion Williamson. The Knicks will find out after the lottery how deep they'll have to expand their prospect search.
With Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett presumably the top three options on most draft boards, the biggest predraft question is who New York would target with the No. 4 or No. 5 pick.
Drafting Sekou Doumbouya might incite immediate disapproval from Knick fans. Boos from the Barclays Center would be heard across the Brooklyn Bridge. But over the past two years, and particularly over the previous two months, the 18-year-old Frenchman has been making a compelling case overseas.
The Knicks could play it safe with De'Andre Hunter (21 years old) or Jarrett Culver, given the team scouts' presumed familiarity with two of college basketball's top players. Or New York could grab the draft's youngest prospect, not turning 19 until Christmas, whose 6'8", 230-pound frame, defensive versatility, improving shooting and competitiveness hint at an easy NBA fit.
There is a case to be made that he can quickly offer what Hunter can—the ability to guard 3s and 4s and make open shots. Only Doumbouya is roughly three years younger producing against pros in France's top league.
The fact is, after Williamson, Morant and Barrett, no prospect stands out as an obvious choice. With Doumbouya, the Knicks could see limited risk based on his NBA-physical profile and jump shot that keeps getting better (38.5 percent 3PT since November 17). But they could also see upside, given the enormous window he'll have to develop, plus the flashes of drives, finishes, shot-making and defense.
It may make sense to try to trade down a few spots, but there is also the chance that Doumbouya will be top seven on other teams' boards. He's becoming a sneaky backup option for New York if bad luck strikes the Knicks at the lottery.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Cam Reddish (Duke, SF, Freshman)
Assuming the consensus top three (Williamson, Morant, Barrett) are off the board for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cam Reddish could be the target, even if it sparks an outcry from the fanbase after he shot 35.6 percent in his one season at Duke.
While the 19-year-old wasn't blameless, he underwent an extreme role change, from No. 1 scorer and point-wing in high school to spot-up role player standing around the arc.
In Cleveland, where the team could use help at the 2 and 3, Reddish would receive a lot more touches and chances to build in-game rhythm.
Despite an inefficient freshman season, Reddish still buried 2.5 threes per game while flashing encouraging defensive quickness and anticipation. He even had success when give the chance to make plays with the ball, finishing in the 96th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler on 44 possessions.
A bigger role and extra spacing should ultimately help unlock talent that many felt was worthy of top-three consideration out of high school. At the least, Cleveland can figure it's getting a three-and-D wing between Collin Sexton and Kevin Love.
Phoenix Suns: Darius Garland (Vanderbilt, PG, Freshman)
The Phoenix Suns will presumably enter the draft targeting Morant as Plan B to Williamson. Could Darius Garland be the better fit or even the superior long-term prospect?
If Morant is gone by the time Phoenix picks, drafting Garland becomes an easier decision. Either way, his shooting and versatility could be better suited next to Devin Booker than Morant's ball-dominant style, limited range and tendency to become careless at both ends.
The Suns ranked No. 30 in the league in three-point shooting, and though Garland only lasted four full games (five total) before injuring his knee, making 11 of his 23 threes only confirmed the scouting report on him out of high school. Able to make shots on and off the ball, Garland hit 13 of 23 dribble jumpers and six of nine triples off the catch.
He isn't a dynamic playmaker, but he can make the basic point-guard passes next to Booker, or he could work off the team's leading scorer and stretch the floor as a spot-up threat.
Chicago Bulls: Coby White (North Carolina, PG/SG, Freshman)
The plan is always finding the best player available, but the Chicago Bulls will inevitably think hard about this year's point guards.
If the Bulls wind up outside the top three like the odds say they will, Coby White could be a surprise target, whether it means reaching or trading down.
Ranking in the 97th percentile as a pick-and-roll passer and the 95th percentile out of spot-ups, the 6'5" guard played well on and off the ball at North Carolina, something the Bulls could value given Zach LaVine's need to dribble and dance.
Compared to Kris Dunn, White would give the Bulls a stronger pop of shot-making (2.3 3PTM) and playmaking. He'd fill a need in a lineup already set at positions 2-5. Depending on where Chicago picks, the Bulls could also make a case for White as the best player available.
Atlanta Hawks: Bol Bol (Oregon, C, Freshman)
What if Bol Bol's foot checks out fine by medical reports and doctors?
He was making a top-five case before the fracture, having averaged 21.0 points while shooting 13-of-25 from behind the arc.
The Atlanta Hawks could have two top-10 picks, owning the Dallas Mavericks' top-five protected first-rounder. With one of those selections, it could make sense for Atlanta to gamble on the upside tied to Bol's 7'2" size, effortless shooting range, post scoring fluidity, finishing and shot-blocking.
John Collins could enjoy the space Bol creates by stretching the floor from the 5 position. He'd also give Trae Young an enormous target off pick-and-rolls, pops and penetration.
And though Atlanta's coaching staff would have to work on his defensive effort and reads, Bol's monster 7'8" wingspan would be useful in rim protection.
Washington Wizards: Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech, SG, Sophomore)
The Washington Wizards front office has been dealt a tough hand, with John Wall expected to miss most of next season (ruptured achilles) while collecting at least $37 million every year until 2022-23 (player option).
Meanwhile, Bradley Beal has developed into an All-Star at 25 years old.
In spite of his rise, the Wizards still won just 32 games, and they'll continue having a difficult time climbing the Eastern Conference standings, particularly given the uncertainty regarding Wall's effectiveness once back. Instead of wasting Beal's prime years during losing seasons, it may make sense to trade him and rebuild, since they won't be competitive any time soon.
That would make Jarrett Culver an attractive target. The blossoming shooting guard could replace Beal, who management could swap for multiple young players and picks to develop through this upcoming period of inevitable struggles.
Culver took a notable step forward this season, leading Texas Tech to the national title game. He flashed a full package of three-level scoring and secondary playmaking, and with a textbook physical profile for the position, he looks like a surefire NBA starter.
New Orleans Pelicans: Kevin Porter Jr.
Assuming the New Orleans Pelicans will be losing Anthony Davis at some point, they might be enticed to gamble on upside in the draft instead of settling on a lower-ceiling role player at their projected No. 7 draft spot.
That could draw them to Kevin Porter Jr., a 6'6" explosive leaper whose scoring skills may have been masked at USC, where he came off the bench behind a veteran group.
Equipped with flashy moves for shot-creation, including nifty step-backs and crossover pull-ups, Porter also has the shot-making ability to connect from all over, including downtown (41.2 percent 3PT).
He'll be more of a long-term play for New Orleans, as opposed to a quicker fix that an older player like De'Andre Hunter could give them. But the Pelicans won't be competing for playoff seeding anytime soon.
Porter could be like Zach LaVine, who was held back in college before developing into a high-octane scorer with added confidence and polish.
Memphis Grizzlies: Jaxson Hayes
Team needs suggest the Memphis Grizzlies could use a guard or wing. But is it wise to grab one just to plug a hole?
Based on where Memphis is projected to select (No. 8), it may find that Jaxson Hayes is the best prospect available. He could also be attractive for his potential to pair with stretch-big Jaren Jackson Jr. and form one of the league's toughest defensive frontcourt duos.
Between Jackson and Hayes, the Grizzlies could have two rim protectors, both also capable of switching out to the perimeter. Hayes, a mobile, quick-footed 6'11" center, blocked 3.8 shots per 40 minutes at Texas.
He'll add enough value offensively as well by rim running and finishing, having shot an outstanding 72.8 percent from the floor as an 18-year-old freshman.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga, PF, Junior)
Prospects over 21 years old aren't typically considered with top-10 picks. Brandon Clarke could be an exception for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who'd value his defense and off-ball activity next to or behind Karl-Anthony Towns.
He averaged 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals during the 2018-19 season, flying around and fearlessly making plays on the ball.
Instead of chasing another scorer for the lineup, the Wolves could see a star role player in Clarke, capable of impacting games without needing plays run for him or touches on offense. He finished the season shooting 68.7 percent, mostly by running (90th percentile in transition), cutting (82nd percentile), crashing the glass (98th percentile on putbacks) and rolling to the hoop (78th percentile).
Los Angeles Lakers: Tyler Herro (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
Expected to pursue another star to pair with LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers could target shooting in the draft.
Only the Phoenix Suns shot worse from behind the arc than L.A. this season.
Tyler Herro would be a fitting addition for his ability to knock down jumpers off spot-ups, screens, transition and pull-ups. James and whoever the team adds via trade/free agency would benefit from floor-spacers in the lineup, while Herro can be optimized alongside superior scorers, playmakers and shot-creators.
The NBA's more open floor should ultimately be better suited for one of the draft's top perimeter shot-makers. Herro may never be used as an isolation or ball-screen weapon, but his off-ball shooting can prove valuable in the right role, which the Lakers can create.
Charlotte Hornets: Goga Bitadze (Georgia, C, 1999)
Kemba Walker's impending free agency shouldn't affect the Charlotte Hornets' draft. Their only criterion for making the pick should be best player available. That could lead them overseas to Goga Bitadze, whose 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks would have looked good for a NCAA freshman, never mind a 19-year-old in Euroleague.
A 6'11" center, Bitadze has developed into a versatile scorer, sharper off post-ups and rolls to the basket while expanding his range out to the three-point arc.
Between the Euroleague and Adriatic League, he's shooting 38.3 percent from three, enhancing the intrigue surrounding his development and NBA fit. He could easily wind up being the draft's top offensive big man outside of Williamson.
Miami Heat: Talen Horton-Tucker
Talen Horton-Tucker may look like a reach for the Miami Heat, but the No. 13 player on Bleacher Report's big board could be an appealing option for a lottery team that isn't super-young.
He deserves a semi-pass for the freshman inefficiency, since he won't turn 19 years old until Thanksgiving. There were still games when Horton-Tucker went off with volume scoring outputs fueled by nifty moves and streaky shooting.
He's also an intriguing defensive prospect with a uniquely built 238-pound frame, quick feet and a giant 7'1" wingspan.
It may ultimately take a season or two for Miami to see results from Horton-Tucker, the draft's youngest NCAA prospect. But the Heat need to be thinking long term with Goran Dragic (age 32) and Hassan Whiteside potentially entering the final years of their contracts (player options).
Boston Celtics: Chuma Okeke
With the Sacramento Kings' pick, likely at No. 14, the Boston Celtics won't be looking at any obvious sure things. And with two more selections later in the first round, they can afford to gamble.
The draft case for Chuma Okeke was getting stronger by the week until he tore his ACL in the NCAA tournament. He's No. 22 on Bleacher Report's big board, but for the right team and situation, taking him 14th would be acceptable.
He'd benefit from having a long time to recover for a team that wouldn't need rookies to immediately contribute. In the long term, though, Okeke would be a fit for both the NBA and Boston, with power forward or small-ball 5 size (6'8", 230 lbs), three-point range (38.7 percent) and the versatility to switch onto wings around the perimeter.
Boston could always target him at No. 20 with the Los Angeles Lakers' pick. But unless someone unexpected slipped to No. 14, Okeke has a case in the best-player-available conversation.