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My 2019 NBA Draft Big Board, Part 2: Making sense of an unusually shallow top 30

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Counting down from No. 30 down to No. 1 in my final preview piece for the 2019 NBA Draft.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

As I mentioned in the first installment of my big board, the 20-40 range in this class is stronger than in many other years and you will continue to see why I believe teams drafting in that range can come away with solid talent. This is why we are already hearing rumors regarding the Sunsinterest in sending TJ Warren to a playoff competitor in exchange for another pick in this range, as well as other teams like Detroit who have taken on salary to get another bite at the apple here.

“Being at six and having 32 and having an opportunity to move up if we need to, we’ve been able to get a more competitive and more balanced group (in for workouts),” said James Jones in late May after the Suns’ first pre-draft workout.

The four trades we’ve already seen in the lead-up to this draft, as well as comments like that from the general manager of a team with pick flexibility, show just how intriguing this group will be on draft night and beyond. We like to use “eye of the beholder” as something to make a draft class seem worse, but it could present a situation in which teams are forced to do more homework and the smartest (and luckiest) franchises will come away with undervalued talent.

TIER SIX

30. Terance Mann, G/F, Florida State

Mann is someone I fell in love with over the course of the year, and his performance in the NCAA tournament cemented his two-way potential for me. Defending Ja Morant in the second round presented an awesome opportunity, and Mann showed how his length and low center of gravity can make him a useful multipositional defender.

Mann is incredibly tough to screen, using mobility and long arms to stay attached to ball-handlers. He is less effective as a team defender, but was part of a good defense at Florida State and made the necessary rotations to help at the rim and smush out passing lanes.

There is also upside here as a secondary playmaker even though Mann will be 23 as a rookie after four years at Florida State. Mann can make filthy passes off a live dribble deep in the paint, using his own downhill gravity as an athlete and finisher (64 percent at the rim this season) to create space on the outside for his teammates. He was in the 73rd percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Synergy.

Someone who can make plays off the dribble, post an effective field goal rate above 60 percent on spot-up shots and play good on-ball defense is worth a look in the first round.

29. Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga

There were just too many mistakes from Hachimura over the course of this year that expose a crushing lack of understanding of simple basketball plays. He is already 21 and though he was a late-bloomer after playing high school hoops in Japan, he is at such a disadvantage from a feel standpoint that the physical and athletic gifts are less valuable.

If Hachimura can tap into some of the weak-side rim protection he showed in the Duke game, for instance, his fit as a modern 4 is better. Believing in Hachimura to space the floor and make winning plays on either end is just too much of a stretch based on how slow he is to react to rotations even when reading the same scheme repeatedly.

28. Bruno Fernando, F/C, Maryland

I got to see Fernando take some NBA threes in warmups during the draft combine, though he did not scrimmage at the event. Despite only 13 three-point attempts across two college seasons, I would bet on his jumper translating. Even if he can just make spot-up corner threes or stretch to mid-range, his elite rebounding ability and decent rim protection instincts in drop coverage would make him a low-end starter or high-end backup big man.

27. Keldon Johnson, G/F, Kentucky

Johnson and I have had a difficult relationship over the course of the season. Anyone who plays as hard as he does is going to improve at the NBA level, but his lack of positional size compared with NBA wings as well as severe struggles finishing at the basket (just 59.6 percent this year) and poor shooting touch make it hard to bet on his shooting.

He was in the 83rd percentile or higher coming off screens or shooting from a standstill according to Synergy, so there is some upside if he becomes less streaky by taking fewer heat-check types of shots, but NBA range will challenge him (attempted just 71 threes from that deep this year), as will guarding NBA wings at 6-6 with a 6-9 wingspan and small frame.

26. Ty Jerome, G, Virginia

You can’t expect Jerome to ever become an above-average athlete. Taking him is a bet that his feel in the halfcourt, passing vision and dead-eye shooting ability translate.

I’ll buy all of that stock. You could make the case Jerome was the best spot-up shooter in the country this year, with an 81.1 effective field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot jumpers according to Synergy and elite feel for when to cut versus sprint through the screen to catch and shoot. He is the toughest kind of player to grade, considering the eternal question of how to value surefire role players versus high-upside lottery tickets.

TIER FIVE

25. Nassir Little, F, North Carolina

As with Hachimura, it’s extremely difficult for me to project much growth for someone who sees the game a step or two behind consistently. Little wasn’t given much of an opportunity to flash the playmaking or off-the-bounce game he developed in high school, but that’s in part because of how often he got lost as a help defender, lost silly turnovers or got into foul trouble. Little is a likely top-20 pick who could severely outperform his stock if his high character and work ethic allow him to develop rapidly as a pro.

24. Talen Horton-Tucker, G/F, Iowa State

Along with Sekou Doumbouya, Horton-Tucker is one of the absolute youngest players you can find in any draft. Born just six weeks before the cut-off date for 2019 draft eligibility, Horton-Tucker still flashed incredible at-rim finishing, pull-up shooting and playmaking ability thanks to his athleticism, functional length and mature skill. However, he measured at just 6-4 at the combine and weighs 235 lbs., making his defensive position and conditioning a question mark heading into the NBA, even if he reaches his prolific offensive ceiling.

23. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech

FanSided draft analyst Jackson Frank touches on a lot of my concerns about Alexander-Walker in this piece. Alexander-Walker will get compared to his cousin, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander because they are family and physically look and play the same way. However, Gilgeous-Alexander’s fluid athleticism, next-level playmaking feel and elite team and man defense put him in another class, highlighting several reasons to feel nervous about the far less athletic Alexander-Walker.

22. Chuma Okeke, F, Auburn

Few in this class combine elite functional physical attributes with all-around feel for the game, which is why Okeke quickly became a “draft Twitter” favorite this year. No one should really worry about a torn ACL in 2019, and only Zion Williamson and former Cincinnati standout and Rockets draft pick Gary Clark can match Okeke’s shooting efficiency, playmaking production and defensive event creation.

21. Matisse Thybulle, G/F, Washington

Thybulle will probably become an All-Defense defender, meaning one of the 10 best in the NBA, by the end of his rookie contract. His incredible length and fluid mobility make him an on-ball beast, and when he plays in control and gets help from his teammates, his team defense is incredible as well. The gambling on defense will lessen when he’s in an NBA infrastructure, and Thybulle is a toss-up bet to shoot around league average from deep.

Someone will need to teach him how to dribble, but Thybulle could become a better on-ball defending/worse-shooting version of Danny Green.

20. Tyler Herro, G, Kentucky

He is the second-best shooter in this class, has incredible touch from all three levels, and is an elite change-of-speed and direction player. Herro will be an awesome off-ball shooter and showed some upside as a secondary playmaker late in the year. So long as he continues to compete on defense, his size will help him, and he will have strong gravity off the ball in the halfcourt.

19. Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas

Hayes is a great functional athlete and patient rim protector, with a certain nuanced feel on defense that can’t be taught, especially impressive considering he played football most of his life. However, I don’t buy nearly as much into the creation or passing upside as others.

18. Bol Bol, C, Oregon

Bol is a pure gamble who probably has a claim to a top-five standing as a shooter in this class, but brings concerns about attitude and health as well as whether he will ever be able to defend at the NBA level. Maybe he’s the perimeter version of Boban Marjanovic — which would mean Bol is a guy can’t really play in the playoffs.

17. Cameron Johnson, F, North Carolina

Maybe it’s unfair to put this on him, but Johnson gives me Klay Thompson vibes with his high-level intelligence moving off the ball to create space for himself to shoot. Johnson has great touch from a standstill or off movement at all three levels and can handle the ball enough to make good decisions attacking after the catch. He’s also smart leaking out in transition, which explains most of his 73 percent efficiency at the rim.

Johnson may never be more than an average defender, but at 6-9 with a 6-10 wingspan, he moves well enough to guard some starting forwards in the NBA. Maybe he’s a high-level bench player, but comparisons to players like Jonas Jerebko completely undersell Johnson’s shot versatility.

It’s also worth noting Johnson had hip surgery last year, which if it lingers could obviously limit his mobility and NBA ceiling.

16. Romeo Langford, G, Indiana

There is an excuse for just about every one of Langford’s perceived weaknesses, which makes him a difficult prospect to evaluate. Shooting just 27 percent from three is tough to stomach if you buy his ability as a No. 2 or 3 offensive option, but a thumb injury is thought to have bothered him all season. However, his shot release is high and his dominant hand is heavily involved, making the arch and trajectory inconsistent. The Hoosiers also had no real perimeter talent aside from Langford and coach Archie Miller was slow to put the ball in his hands.

When Miller finally let him loose, Langford helped Indiana make a late-season run. Even then, Langford’s lack of straight-line burst showed up in frustrating ways, as he really never developed a pick-and-roll playmaking game, instead looping around the defense with quickness and dribble moves.

That said, Langford is a high-level on-ball defensive prospect with a 6-11 wingspan and above-average athleticism. As a freshman guard, he blocked nearly 3 percent of opponent shot attempts while on the floor. Two-way wing prospects like this are worth a flier even if there are offensive warning signs.

TIER FOUR

15. Kevin Porter Jr., G, USC

This is as high as I felt comfortable going with Porter, whose character and work ethic has already become a hot topic even among NBA executives. Not only was he suspended early this year by USC, he never was put into the starting lineup and got fewer plays run for him on offense as the season went along. He disappeared for games at a time.

It has to be noted he only just turned 19, but Porter feels like the type of teammate who would suck to play with right now. He constantly waves for the ball a la Dion Waiters, and tends to be a score-first black hole when he gets it.

Now, it’s tough to blame him for his confidence considering his incredible self creation ability as a scorer. Porter shot 69 percent at the rim and 41 percent from 3, though only 52 percent from the free-throw line. By my eye, however, the form on his jumper improved over the course of the season as his leaping motion became more compact and he stopped tilting backward so much. And defensively, Porter actually competes pretty consistently, makes smart rotations, including as a rim protector, and brings athleticism and length that could one day make him an above-average on-ball defender.

14. Nic Claxton, F/C, Georgia

Read my thoughts on Claxton here.

The big man more than held his own at the combine, swatting more than 10 shots over the course of both scrimmages. I believe in his jump shot as well as his ability to one day become one of the 10 or so best big man switch defenders in the league.

13. Sekou Doumbouya, F, France

Doumbouya brings just about everything you want from a modern NBA forward. He can shoot, including off the dribble, rebounds pretty well, has functional size and physical ability as a defender, and reads the game at a high level for his age (he’s the youngest prospect in this class). Comparisons to Pascal Siakam are setting the bar too high, as the reason I can’t quite put Doumbouya in the top 10 is his complete lack of ball-handling ability in traffic in the halfcourt. Siakam can create a bucket in isolation — Doumbouya looks unlikely to do so for right now, but his ceiling is tremendous considering his physical gifts and youth.

12. Coby White, G, North Carolina

It’s incredibly difficult for me to buy into White as anything more than a secondary scorer/playmaker and one-position defender. He will continue to learn the point guard position with the help of NBA player development coaches and his competitiveness maybe makes him an average defender, but his relative lack of athleticism hurts him as a finisher, a skill that I see as nearly a must-have for starting-caliber NBA playmakers.

11. Goga Bitadze, C, Republic of Georgia

Bitadze is the prospect I’m least familiar with in the first round, but his versatility in the screen-and-roll and screen-and-pop make him an ideal modern offensive big man. His foot speed and length look right now to be just good enough to hold up as a defender and stay on the court, with the potential to improve from there. Anyone worried about the lack of a modern skill set in Hayes or Daniel Gafford should take a hard look at Claxton and Bitadze.

10. Grant Williams, F/C, Tennessee

Read my thoughts on Williams here.

9. PJ Washington, F/C, Kentucky

Another big man whom I trust to stay on the court, potentially even as a playoff player. His floor is helped by his ability to at the very least make spot-up corner threes or in simple motion situations above the break in roll and replace situations. He can also make plays and handle double teams just well enough that I believe he has some upside as a post scorer against mismatches and is an above-average athlete who finished 67 percent of his looks around the rim this season. Basically, he has enough of a modern skill set to stay on the floor offensively even if he doesn’t have much hope of being a self-creator.

One of the bigger improvements from his freshman to sophomore season was his rim protection ability. His fluidity of motion improved, as did his help defense instincts, and I believe in him as an impactful team defender at the next level who has some upside as a switch defender as well thanks to his length and mobility.

Perhaps there’s not an All-NBA ceiling here, but that speaks more to the weak part of this class than Washington’s lack of intrigue as an NBA player.

8. Cam Reddish, F, Duke

Projections for Reddish now must account for the freshman’s lack of explosiveness, which was exposed in a big way this year at Duke. Coach K deserves some blame here, as Reddish mostly ran off side screens or handled the ball in second-side pick-and-rolls, rarely the centerpiece of the offense as he was in high school.

Reddish is overqualified for that role, which should have made it easy for him to dominate. Instead, it revealed his relative lack of value as ball-handler and athlete and gave him few opportunities to playmake for teammates.

I do still believe in Reddish as a three- or potentially four-position defender in the NBA because he is 6-9 with long arms and did pretty defending smaller guards at Duke, and he is a fine team defender. Unfortunately, he looks more like a role player with upside now than the primary creator he was advertised as coming out of Pennsylvania as a high schooler.

TIER THREE

7. Darius Garland, G, Vanderbilt

Garland’s quick, high-release pull-up jumper is one of the best single skills in this class. His high-level handle and footwork allow him to get to it quickly, and there is a built-in value for that type of self-creation. Garland rarely had to pass off a live dribble in the halfcourt because of his shot creation ability, but showed he could at least make good reads to the roll man or to an outlet on the perimeter. He’s a hesitant finisher, likely partially because of his smaller frame. His touch could allow him to absorb contact and still maintain balance in mid-air like Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose, even with his relatively low athletic upside compared to Westbrook or Rose.

There’s actually reason to believe Garland can be a decent point guard defender, as he rotates fine enough and is bigger than he looks (listed at 6-2).

6. Brandon Clarke, F/C, Gonzaga

I got to see Clarke in-person in one of his best games of the year in Phoenix against Tennessee and speak with him at the combine, and his thoughtfulness and competitiveness are big parts of evaluating him. It’s flat-out difficult to know what he will be at the NBA level, but as Cole Zwicker puts it in this piece, the players who are often undervalued in the draft are those with outlier skills and uncommon physical attributes who can create their own archetype in the NBA. This is why it feels right to note Clarke’s incredible improvement, intelligence and competitiveness at the top.

Though his weight and wingspan leave much to be desired, his leaping ability and mobility made him an elite rim protector as Gonzaga’s center this season. Those skills also give him some upside as a possible 1-5 switch defender at the next level, as he locked down wing scorers often as a redshirt senior.

Despite being 23, Clarke continued to improve this season, especially on offense. He entirely reconstructed his jumper during his redshirt season in Spokane, and his free-throw efficiency spiked from 57 percent to 69 percent. His touch around the rim, as seen most notably against Baylor in the NCAA tournament, is elite, and he can handle the ball in transition and from the high post as well.

Few combine functional athleticism on both ends with elite skill like Clarke.

5. De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia

Maybe there’s nothing fun about Hunter, but I believe there is an outside chance he can defend 1-5 against some matchups in the NBA thanks to his functional strength and long arms, and has untapped scoring upside, particularly attacking in space and against mismatches in pick-and-pop situations.

Hunter looked more athletic as a freshman and fell off a bit this year, as evidenced by fewer defensive events created. A smaller role should help him there, and even if his slow release brings down his ceiling as a dynamic jump-shooter, he have at least some halfcourt gravity if he can be above-average in spot-up situations.

TIER TWO

4. Ja Morant, G, Murray State

I worry that Morant won’t have the same success with his low-release jumper at the next level and his struggles on non-dunk finishes will hurt him. That said, he is one of the fastest guards you’ll watch and that raises the floor considerably on his self-creation in the halfcourt. Add in his elite passing vision and effectiveness with one hand off a live dribble in the halfcourt or in transition, and Morant could explode with NBA talent around him.

The scrawny Morant will probably always be below-average on defense, but in the right infrastructure should be able to defend point guards in traditional pick-and-roll coverage and at least be at the Kemba Walker/Steph Curry level of effort on that end.

3. Jarrett Culver, G/F, Texas Tech

Culver is, in my opinion, the best perimeter defender in this class, despite perhaps lacking the versatility to defend bigs that you might want in a team’s top defensive player. His hip rotation, long legs and low center of gravity make him an MFer to screen and allow him to stay attached, contest from behind, and make big plays off the ball.

Culver also brings elite basketball intelligence coming out of the Red Raiders’ bizarre halfcourt offense in which players sort of just ran around screening for each other and cutting until something opened up.

While it was bizarre to see Culver go to his mid-range jumper so consistently when it’s one of the weaker parts of his game as he continues to rebuild his shot, those repetitions have to give you confidence about his playmaking upside in the NBA. Culver is a legit secondary NBA playmaker who can also be a team’s best wing defender. Sign me up.

2. RJ Barrett, G, Duke

The numbers hate Barrett. His overaggressive nature, combined with Williamson’s deferential attitude and Reddish’s underperformance and Coach K’s lack of creativity offensively made it a miserable year from an efficiency perspective for Barrett. Several times during the season, including in the loss to Michigan State that ended the Blue Devils’ season, Barrett’s alpha dog mentality hurt Duke dearly.

There’s a chance he brings that with him to the NBA. Barrett shot just 31 percent from deep this year, 66 percent from the free-throw line, and 51 percent on half-court 2s. Yet I believe in his shooting more than most, if he can consistently get his feet set and either stop taking or get more comfortable with pull-ups going to his right. That’s an incredibly tough shot that hurt his efficiency and the team’s rhythm consistently all year. He can’t make it right now.

More realistically, those shots should become passes. Barrett showed a lot as a passer in the NCAA tournament, finally beginning to use his positional size to pass over the top of the defense and use his gravity to manipulate teams in the halfcourt. He could be a guy who averages 5 or more assists per game in the NBA, particularly as he cuts down on silly turnovers resulting from his score-first attitude.

As a defender, Barrett’s functional strength and athleticism make him a better bet than most to handle switches onto bigger players, and he often defended point guards for Duke when Tre Jones was on the bench or injured.

It’s hard for me not to bet on Barrett considering the winning, hard-working reputation he built up as a high-schooler in Canada and the incredible scoring production he piled up as a freshman.

TIER ONE

1. Zion Williamson, F/C, Duke

No 18-year-old I’ve ever watched combines functional athleticism, elite skill and fiery competitive spirit like Williamson, and he came at just the right time, as the league is embracing positionless players rather than pigeonholing them.