2019 NBA Rookies Drafted by the Wrong Team
NBA Summer League gives us an annual look at the league's incoming rookie class in its new colors. And every year, some of those players find themselves in perhaps the wrong uniforms.
For 2019's crop, there doesn't appear to be any egregious mismatches at the outset, but a handful of first-round picks didn't find ideal landing spots.
This doesn't necessarily mean any of the following are doomed. Plenty have overcome unfavorable circumstances in the past. But each of these five will deal with some roadblocks they may not have faced if chosen by another team.
RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
Behold: the last five first-round picks by the New York Knicks:
- 2013: Tim Hardaway Jr. (didn't have a box plus/minus above replacement level till he left the Knicks)
- 2015: Kristaps Porzingis (much of his professional development was handled in the Spanish ACB)
- 2017: Frank Ntilikina (among the 1,504 players in the three-point era—since 1979-80—with at least as many minutes, Ntilikina's career box plus/minus ranks 1,456th)
- 2018: Kevin Knox (among the 1,355 rookies in the three-point era who logged at least 500 minutes, Knox ranks 1,355th in wins over replacement player)
- 2019: RJ Barrett
It's probably not fair to attribute New York's consistent failures to develop and hang on to first-rounders to the current regime, but that is a rough track record.
Barrett is walking into a situation where Knox and Ntilikina are still around. And all three are part of a hodgepodge roster that was assembled after New York missed out on all of the top-tier free agents.
Head coach David Fizdale may be able to strike an offensive balance between Barrett and Knox. He also might help Barrett with his "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality. And Barrett certainly has the talent to overcome a tough circumstance.
But there are some legitimate concerns with this match.
In 2018-19, there were 2,297 Division I players who logged at least 500 minutes. Only nine others had a usage percentage at least as high as Barrett's, as well as a true shooting percentage worse than Barrett's. Justin James is the only other player from that group who was drafted. He went No. 40 and didn't share the floor with other NBA talents at Wyoming.
That sort of inefficient volume scoring on a team that already features Knox could be disastrous. Add in the fact that many of the vets who were signed this summer are on two-year deals with team options in Year 2, and you have the potential for a half-dozen players trying to prove themselves rather than jelling as a team.
De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks took on the New Orleans Pelicans' worst contract (Solomon Hill) and gave up pick Nos. 8, 17 and 35 to move up to No. 4 and take De'Andre Hunter. Then, six picks later, they took another combo forward in Cam Reddish.
For Hunter, it's a massive haul for what FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO projection calls an "OK prospect." The numbers-only system forecasts minus-0.6 wins above replacement for Hunter in year one and 3.6 over the next seven seasons.
Hunter certainly could exceed those predictions, but there are a number of questions and concerns attached. And for a player who probably needs more time to develop than others, it would be nice not to have the pressure that comes from being on the other end of that trade package.
"Hunter struggles to create off the dribble," SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell wrote. "His shot is accurate, but it takes him so long to get it off that he won't have as much gravity against faster NBA closeouts. While his defensive reputation is excellent, he didn't force many blocks and steals at Virginia. He's also one of the oldest prospects in the lottery at 21 years old."
When he's spacing off of Trae Young/John Collins pick-and-rolls, Hunter's slow release may allow defenses to key in on the primary action a bit longer. And his inability to attack closeouts off the dribble will hurt those sets too.
For Atlanta, the bright side may be essentially getting two cracks at finding a long-term answer at combo forward. The Hawks also drafted Reddish at No. 10. And while his numbers weren't as good in college, you can see the makings of a quick-release catch-and-shoot option who can create a little in a pinch.
But that might also put more pressure on Hunter. Competition can lead to improvement. And there's reason to believe Hunter and Reddish could eventually play together at the forward spots. But if the former develops more slowly than the latter, it would call that huge trade package into question.
Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers
This one's a package deal, because both of these combo guards went to the Cleveland Cavaliers. And the Cavs already have Collin Sexton, a 6'2" guard who just averaged 14.7 field-goal attempts and 3.0 assists per game as a rookie.
Consider the freshman attempt-to-assist ratios for Darius Garland (10.8 to 2.6, though only in five games) and Kevin Porter Jr. (7.5 to 1.4).
With only one basketball to go around and Cleveland also bringing back playmaking wing Cedi Osman, one or more of these guards will need to increase their assist rate.
Now, this isn't to say Garland and Sexton can't figure out how to coexist. Both shot over 40 percent from three during their 2018-19 campaigns. And there may not be as much of an investment in Porter, considering he was taken with the 30th pick.
But this is a bit of a puzzle for the Cavs to figure out. And Garland and Porter might have been better served walking into clearer fits.
Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards' selection of Rui Hachimura at No. 9 may not have been as much of a reach as some thought on draft night.
HoopsHype's Bryan Kalbrosky aggregated mock drafts from five different sources days before the real event. Hachimura's aggregate rank was No. 12.
Still, the developing forward is heading to a team that is seemingly in disarray. With John Wall recovering from an Achilles injury, Washington's opening night starting five could be something like: Ish Smith, Bradley Beal, CJ Miles, Hachimura and Thomas Bryant.
The back end of the Eastern Conference still figures to be wide open, but it's hard to believe that lineup can push toward a playoff berth. And with Smith, Miles and Bryant on the floor, Hachimura may be counted on to do a lot of scoring.
He was able to do that at Gonzaga, largely because he could overpower fellow college players. In the NBA, Hachimura will need a more varied attack and a more reliable jump shot.
Those things may develop in time, but he's being thrown into the fire with the Wizards. If he had gone a few picks later, perhaps to a team like the Boston Celtics at No. 14, he could've been brought along more slowly. And there, he would've been able to learn from other successful wing/combo forwards like Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.