Re-Drafting the 2019 NBA Draft Class
It's never too early to second-guess an NBA draft class, so our re-draft series runs right through the most recent iteration to reset last summer's talent grab.
Do the New Orleans Pelicans stick with Zion Williamson, or did they see enough from Ja Morant to consider making a change? Is RJ Barrett still the No. 3 choice, or might the New York Knicks consider his bumpy campaign as reason to take a different course?
We're answering those questions and many more—like, which undrafted player skyrocketed into the top 10?—in our reimagining of recent history. Since this class has such little floor time to assess, we're putting an extra premium on potential, but production still matters. We're also not worried about team needs, as the best available prospect deserves to hear his name called.
Enough with the parameters, though. Let's see how hindsight reshapes the draft board.
1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson
We can debate whether 19 games were enough for Williamson to capture the Rookie of the Year (they weren't), but it was clearly enough time for the 6'6", 285-pounder to reaffirm his status as the best prospect in this draft.
The entire month-plus was magical, from his 22 points (and four three-pointers!) over 18 minutes in his debut to the 35 points (on 16 shots!) he put on LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Watching Williamson has been a glimpse into basketball's future—and it looks blindingly bright.
If his freshman campaign is finished, he'll be only the 13th rookie to average 23 points, six rebounds and two assists. No one else in that club shot better than 53.1 percent; Williamson converted 58.9 percent of his field goals. No one else hit those marks in fewer than 36.2 minutes per night; Williamson logged just 29.7.
"I just kind of marvel at what he's doing—the way he attacks and scores," 14-year veteran JJ Redick told CBS Sports' Colin Ward-Henninger. "It looks easy at times."
If you wanted to nitpick Williamson, you could mention how his body and high-impact style might make him susceptible to injuries, but that's not nearly enough to knock him out of this spot.
Actual pick: Zion Williamson
2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant
Imagine the reaction of Grizzlies Nation if this slot said anyone other than Morant. No need to worry, Memphians, your adopted son is going nowhere.
Whenever the ROY hardware gets handed out, Morant will be the runaway winner. He leads the class in total points by more than 100 and has almost a 200-dime cushion on second place in total assists.
Moreover, he's the biggest reason the Grizzlies are in the thick of the playoff race and not the steppingstone we all expected.
"Go back through the history of the great, all-time rookies, most of the time they don't affect their teams that much," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said (via Rookie Wire's Cody Taylor). "Even LeBron as a rookie lifted the team up to respectability, but they were not a playoff team. It is very rare for a rookie to affect change so much ... in a team's outcome, and I think Ja did."
Morant is on pace to become just the ninth rookie to average 17 points and six assists. He's just the second freshman to hit those marks while shooting 49-plus percent from the field, along with Magic Johnson.
Actual pick: Ja Morant
3. New York Knicks: RJ Barrett
Run this re-draft in a year or two, and maybe someone bumps Barrett out of this spot. But for now, it's too early to assume the 'Bockers would take a different direction.
His shooting slash shouldn't be seen by the squeamish (40.2/32.0/61.4), but he's a 19-year-old trying to blossom under adverse conditions. New York's roster lacks spacing and support scoring. The franchise has changed head coaches and front office leaders since the season started. Barrett's skill set might work best playing off an elite playmaker; Julius Randle is the Knicks' usage leader (by a lot).
Give Barrett the benefit of the doubt with some of his inefficiencies, and his rookie campaign grows immensely more promising. Even amid the turmoil, he ranked fourth among all rookies in total points, assists and rebounds.
The arrow continues pointing straight up, and until that changes, he'll keep his original draft slot.
Actual pick: RJ Barrett
4. Los Angeles Lakers: P.J. Washington
The first change props up Washington for his versatility and do-it-all, glue-guy impact. Players might have higher ceilings behind him, but he has the most intriguing blend of production and potential.
He's the class leader in total rebounds, and he lands seventh in both points and assists. Shooting was supposed to be a question mark coming out of Kentucky, but that's getting harder to remember after he splashed 86 threes at a 37.4 percent clip before the campaign's suspension.
Is he a superstar-in-training? That's probably a stretch. But he can be the kind of uber-valuable role player who has very few discernible weaknesses. Already, he's shown he can shoot, post up smaller defenders, move the ball, clean the glass and defend multiple positions.
Actual pick: De'Andre Hunter (traded to Atlanta Hawks via New Orleans Pelicans)
Washington's actual draft slot: No. 12, Charlotte Hornets
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Tyler Herro
Just like the actual draft, we're going with back-to-back Kentucky Wildcats, only we're making the call much sooner. When Herro wasn't hampered by an ankle injury, he was busy giving buckets to any defender in his path.
It took him just four games to record a 29-point outburst, and he'd go on nine total 20-point outings. That may not sound like a huge number, but remember, he was playing a prominent role for a Miami Heat team jostling for prime real estate in the Eastern Conference standings, not posting empty-calorie numbers on a cellar-dweller.
He and Cameron Johnson were the only rookies with 90-plus threes and a 39 percent splash rate. While Johnson was spoon-fed those shots (98.9 percent were assisted), Herro had the handle to create his own (77.8 percent assisted) and the touch to hit them on the move (38 pull-up threes).
Between Herro's size (6'5"), sniping and shot-creation, there's too much star potential to pass up.
Actual pick: Darius Garland
Herro's actual draft slot: No. 13, Miami Heat
6. Phoenix Suns: Coby White
Depending on what happened at the All-Star break, this is either too high for White or not high enough. Did he flip a switch and suddenly skyrocket to stardom? Or was this another of his scoring streaks that would have inevitably cooled down had the campaign not been given its stay-at-home order?
His pre- and post-All-Star splits tell a tale of two seasons. The first sees modest scoring (11.1 points per game), but enough inefficient shooting (37.0 from the field, 33.8 from deep) to make it seem he'd be best served in an instant-offense reserve role. The second witnesses White become a tour de force at the offensive end, wowing with both quantity (24.7 points) and quality (46.8/40.7/89.5 slash line).
The concern is that the inefficient portion of his campaign lasted 55 games, while the sudden spike spanned only 10. But when a 20-year-old hits this kind of high (nine straight outings with 19-plus points, including three in a row with at least 33), the entire hoops world takes notice.
Actual pick: Jarrett Culver (traded to Minnesota Timberwolves)
White's actual draft slot: No. 7, Chicago Bulls
7. Chicago Bulls: Cam Reddish
Starting with his 0-of-6 debut, Reddish looked lost for the first half of this season. Even while he impressed defensively, things were so rough at the other end (32.2/25.6/76.5 slash through 35 games), it was fair to question whether he could stick as even a rotation player.
But he perked up in such an impressive manner over the back stretch of his season that he has now improved his draft position.
While still playing his versatile, disruptive brand of defense, he upped his offensive output to 14.3 points on 45.8/41.9/84.5 shooting over his final 23 contests. Not all metrics buy the turnaround—his minus-4.2 box plus/minus ranks 34th in this draft class—but between his physical tools and statistical growth, his two-way future looks bright.
Actual pick: Coby White
Reddish's actual draft slot: No. 10, Atlanta Hawks
8. Atlanta Hawks: Brandon Clarke
Advanced metrics love Clarke, and the Grizzlies coaching staff must feel the same. The 23-year-old already has the "right place, right time" instincts of a veteran, and when he couples that with hops even frogs would envy, he's basically the draft gift that keeps on giving.
He leads this draft class in win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus and value over replacement player. Real plus-minus puts him 45th overall. He's shooting 62.3 percent from the field, and even if the volume is low, his 40.4 three-point percentage is encouraging (especially when paired with his 78.5 free-throw percentage).
Clarke offers two-way versatility and seemingly inexhaustible energy. He arguably has the highest floor of anyone not named Zion or Ja.
Actual pick: Jaxson Hayes (traded to New Orleans Pelicans)
Clarke's actual draft slot: No. 21, Oklahoma City Thunder (traded to Memphis Grizzlies)
9. Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimura
A double-doubler in his NBA debut, Hachimura proved a quick study. By production alone, this is probably an undersell. He has the draft's fifth-best scoring average (13.4) and second-most rebounds per game (6.0).
His biggest hurdle is finding a fit in the modern game. There isn't exactly a major market for inside-the-arc scorers (let alone those who don't play center), especially when that player has clear defensive issues, too. That said, putting points on the board still matters, so Hachimura retains his draft spot.
Actual pick: Rui Hachimura
10. Atlanta Hawks: Terence Davis
If it seems improbable for Davis to climb from undrafted to re-drafted top 10 in less than a full season, consider this. He ascended from obscurity to the 30th overall ranking in RPM during the same time frame.
He may not have the flashiest stats—there are only so many shots to go around for the defending champion Toronto Raptors, after all—but all of them are efficient. Any team drafting now would be lured to his versatility, which would help him mesh with any kind of roster.
"Davis has the size and athleticism to guard either backcourt position, and the burst and physicality to take defenders off the dribble and finish through contact inside," The Ringer's Dan Devine wrote. "... Whether Nick Nurse needed him to run the offense, score off the dribble, spot up off the ball, or make life decidedly less pleasant for an opposing ball-handler, Davis answered the bell this season."
Actual pick: Cam Reddish
Davis' actual draft slot: Undrafted
11. Minnesota Timberwolves: Matisse Thybulle
Not even 60 games into his NBA career, Thybulle is already a special defensive stopper with positional versatility. His offensive outlook might be cloudy, but he'll be very interesting if he can keep his three-point percentage near 35.
12. Charlotte Hornets: Cameron Johnson
The 11th pick felt generous for Johnson on draft night, as his low ceiling as a specialist meant he would need to provide immediate impact to justify the selection. Hitting 91 threes at a 39.7 percent clip in 49 games feels like it qualifies.
13. Miami Heat: De'Andre Hunter
Hunter has been as advertised on of the offensive end, meaning he's a fine shooter but not much of a creator. But the draft's No. 4 pick needs his defensive to catch up to his reputation. That was supposed to be his biggest selling point, and instead he's sitting 76th at the small forward spot in defensive real plus-minus.
14. Boston Celtics: Kevin Porter Jr.
Talent and tools were never concerns with Porter, and he has proved why with a (mostly) impressive rookie season. He is one of only six rookies to log 1,000 minutes and average 15 points, five rebounds and three assists per 36 minutes.
15. Detroit Pistons: Jaxson Hayes
Hayes is a highlight-waiting-to-happen around the basket and not a big factor away from it. But he stays in his lane on offense (66.0 field-goal percentage) and anchors the interior on defense (2.0 blocks per 36 minutes).
16. Orlando Magic: Eric Paschall
The only players from this draft averaging more points than Paschall's 14 a night are Williamson, Morant and Barrett. So, why does Paschall not appear until No. 16? Because these might be empty stats on the worst team in basketball, and too much of his scoring occurs inside the arc (37 threes in 60 games, 28.7 three-point percentage).
17. Brooklyn Nets: Jarrett Culver
Culver is theoretically a do-it-all swingman, which would make him an easy fit on a roster with this much star power. The problem is he's only meeting expectations on the defensive end. It's hard to find the go-to offensive strength of a single-digit scorer with a 40.4/29.9/46.2 slash line and a forgettable assists average (1.7 in 23.9 minutes).
18. Indiana Pacers: Darius Garland
Garland figured to have a bumpy transition after missing most of his one-and-done season at Vanderbilt. It's been exactly that, as his defense is dreadful and his offensive is hit-or-miss (40.1 percent shooting). Still, the flashes of pull-up perimeter shooting and passing are worth having at some point.
19. San Antonio Spurs: Daniel Gafford
As an interior big, Gafford's role might be minimized in the modern NBA, but he checks the usual rim-running boxes. He's shooting 70.1 percent from the field and averaging 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes.
20. Boston Celtics: Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Shooting efficiency has been an issue, but Alexander-Walker still went into the hiatus as the only rookie averaging 15 points, five assists and five rebounds per 36 minutes.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Sekou Doumbouya
Doumbouya turned 19 in December, and his inexperience shows. Still, he has a ton of natural tools, and if they ever come together, he'll have a towering two-way ceiling.
22. Boston Celtics: Luguentz Dort
The second player pulled from the undrafted ranks, Dort has dazzled on his two-way pact with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The versatile defender has swiped a starting spot and made the Thunder 2.3 points better 100 possessions than they've been without him.
23. Utah Jazz: Grant Williams
Williams' defensive versatility helps him hold down the fort as a small-ball 5, but he needs to find an offensive niche.
24. Philadelphia 76ers: Darius Bazley
Bazley has yet to do anything in the NBA that's more interesting than his journey to it, but his length, athleticism and potential as a versatile defender and transition finisher make him worth another first-round look.
25. Portland Trail Blazers: Nassir Little
Despite playing 48 games, Little seems every bit as raw as when the Blazers actually selected him here. He's an active, versatile defender, but his offense needs to improve.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers: Goga Bitadze
Landing in the Circle City's overcrowded frontcourt was less than ideal, but he still showed flashes of his unique size-skill combination.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Naz Reid
Reid doesn't have 500 minutes under his belt yet, but he does have per-36-minutes averages of 2.3 three-pointers and 1.6 blocks. That combination will always get a modern center noticed.
28. Golden State Warriors: Bruno Fernando
The Hawks don't give Fernando a ton of floor time, but his per-36-minutes marks argue they should consider it. On that scale, the 21-year-old is a walking double-double (12.1 points and 10.0 rebounds).
29. San Antonio Spurs: Cody Martin
It would help if he could shoot like his twin brother, Caleb, but Cody has been a consistent source of hard-nosed defense and energy in Charlotte.
30. Milwaukee Bucks: Chuma Okeke
Okeke effectively took a medical redshirt this season, which perhaps should keep him out of the re-draft discussion. But his healthy version is fascinating—significant two-way versatility—so he's worth slotting into the final selection spot.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.