Every year around draft time, I identify a number of players who fit my only criteria: They don’t suck. The 2019 draft has proved a much tougher task than last year’s. I cannot tell you how many times I talked to talent evaluators who told me that this is not the year to do this article, Chris. Last year’s list included some of the biggest no-brainer prospects in the draft, but this year, we’re doing it a bit differently. I have an incredible brain, and I needed a challenge. So I threw out all the most highly regarded prospects in this year’s class. I wanted to find guys further down the mocks to spice things up. In the face of such great adversity, I still found five players whom I would bank on outperforming many players chosen before them. THESE PLAYERS WILL NOT FAIL (and, as always, if they do, I will absolutely blame the situation and the coaching).
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech
I love players who play hard and have all of the skills required to be a fantastic all-around player. Guys that play for Buzz Williams have to play hard, and I’ve seen some of his guys greatly outperform where they were drafted (Wes Matthews, Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder). Alexander-Walker has a good chance to be the next in that line. At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, he has great size and can play both guard positions. He is a great passer, and he can drive and finish with both hands. His cousin is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and that pick certainly worked out for the Clippers. He has a great built-in nickname and headline possibility when he makes a game-winning play: NAW. I’m positive that Alexander-Walker will be in the league for a long time. Too much in the toolbox.
PJ Washington, Kentucky
“He will be in the NBA for a long, long time.”
“That is a tough kid, I love him.”
“He got way better and has a crazy motor.”
“Whatever his ceiling is, even if it might not be the highest, he will reach it.”
These were quotes I got from people who will be involved in making decisions in the upcoming NBA draft. Still, Washington will be drafted behind surefire busts. He is by all accounts a smart kid who plays with a crazy motor and has serious skill. I did not come across one person who thinks he will fail. At the absolute worst he’ll become a solid NBA player, and allow me to remind you that David West made an All-Star team. Washington could be even better with NBA spacing. I know he can defend multiple positions, and on offense he will be able to post up mismatches. He goes hard as hell and still smiles all the time, which is an extremely rare combo; usually that type of player has a scowl on his face. He enjoys this game. Playing hard as hell is a skill, and PJ has that skill. He will not fail.
Ty Jerome, Virginia
Jerome is the best example of why I keep this list. Every single NBA exec, scout, college coach, media member, animal, and grandmother whom I talked to loved Ty Jerome. So what the hell is going on? How on earth are there going to be 20-plus guys drafted ahead of Ty Jerome? It is ridiculous. He’s tall, he’s tough, and he has off-the-charts basketball IQ. He is a bona fide winner, a leader, and a big-time competitor. Your team will screw up in the draft because they look at Ty Jerome and concede that he’s good, but then end up gushing over a 19-year-old who was worthless in college and wondering what that kid is gonna look like when he is 22. The answer, 95 percent of the time, will be: not as good as Ty Jerome. Earlier this month, Jerome shot 100 3s at a Celtics workout, and he hit 84 of them. Of course he did. Everyone seems to agree that Jerome is good, that he is going to be good, and that he will go too low. It is appalling. I’m appalled.
Admiral Schofield, Tennessee
There were more than a few talent evaluators whom I talked to who tried to talk me out of Admiral. No chance! I love him. I love that he got better every year. I love that he was the heart and soul of an awesome Tennessee Volunteers team. I love that his dad was a naval officer, that he has a brother who won a Super Bowl, and that he has another brother named General. I love that he can dribble, pass, and shoot. I love that he went from doughy to all ripped up by changing his diet and working out like a mad man. I love that Rick Barnes said he works as hard as any player he has ever coached. I love that he attempted a guitar rendition of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” I never have to worry about Admiral Schofield. He will be a favorite teammate, a fan favorite, and any coach will love him. He went through the draft process last year, saw what he needed to improve, and went back and did it. You want guys who are willing to do anything to win when it matters most. You want guys who will do anything they can to improve. Those guys don’t fail.
Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
Brooklyn, stand up! I just don’t understand why Ponds’s draft stock is as low as it is. I don’t see how he won’t be good in the NBA. I was told about Ponds early, during his sophomore year in the 2017-18 season, and started to pay attention to him. There was a four-game stretch that season in which he played against Xavier (6), Duke (4), Villanova (1), and Marquette, and these were his point totals: 31, 33, 26, 44. And his team went 3-1. I was blown away by the kid. Earlier in the season, he had another matchup against Villanova (which was one of the greatest college basketball teams ever, in case you needed a reminder), and he dropped 37 in a seven-point loss. Ponds flat out gets buckets. In a crap draft like this one, I simply do not understand how a guy who has shown the ability to score the way he has can be considered a second-round pick. Ponds could score anywhere, at any time. He will pull up, he will drive and draw contact; you name all the ways a player can score and he does it. I know exactly what he can do and what kind of role he’ll play in the league.
Inaugural Landry Shamet Award Winner: Chuma Okeke, Auburn
Last year I was talked out of Landry Shamet by some evaluators because of medical concerns, though I was positive he was going to be good. I took him out of the article, and so when he hit a 3 to win a playoff game a couple of months ago, I died a little inside. I knew it! So this year, and from here on out, I will give an honorable mention to a player who will not fail but who will get drafted way too low because of medical concern. This year’s award goes to Chuma Okeke from Auburn. I would absolutely have him among my players who would not fail. Okeke is perfect for the NBA today. Very skilled. Fantastic defender. Good athlete. He is the total package. There is a zero percent chance Okeke would not go in the first round if he had not torn his ACL in the NCAA tournament. I think he could have gone in the lottery.
If your team takes one of these players, get excited. Vernodamus has given them his blessing.