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Grading the 2019 NBA Draft

Zion has officially landed. Here’s our assessment on each first-round pick of this year’s draft.

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The 2019 NBA draft has come and gone. How did the Knicks screw things up this year? Here are our grades for every pick in the first round.

1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, F/C, Duke

The NBA is defined by superstars, and the Pelicans got the player with the best chance of being one. Zion has to be seen to be believed. It shouldn’t be possible for a 6-foot-7, 285-pound teenager to fly around the floor the way he does. Zion has the combination of size, athleticism, skill, basketball IQ, and work ethic that all of the all-time greats have. His ceiling is unlimited, and his star power should help a small-market team that was never able to generate much interest, even with Anthony Davis. Now it’s just a matter of whether he can stay healthy, and what types of players the Pelicans put around him.

Grade: A+

2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, G, Murray State

Morant made a nearly unprecedented leap from unranked recruit to no. 2 overall pick in two seasons at Murray State. His dunking ability put him on the map, but he’s also a well-rounded player with the best combination of athleticism and basketball IQ of any of the point guards in this year’s draft. The big question for Morant is how much he’ll be able to improve as an outside shooter, because a player his size (6-foot-3, 175 pounds) can’t live at the rim in the NBA. The good news for him is that he will be paired with an elite stretch big man in Memphis, Jaren Jackson Jr., who will make his life easier on both ends of the floor.

Grade: A

3. New York Knicks: R.J. Barrett, F, Duke

Barrett could determine how we’ll remember this draft. He was widely seen as the favorite to be the no. 1 overall pick coming into the season, but he was eclipsed on his own team by Zion. His shoot-first, ask-questions-later style may have allowed him to rack up big counting stats at Duke, but it didn’t really contribute to winning. Talent isn’t the issue for Barrett. He’s a 6-foot-7 wing with the athleticism to get where he wants to go on the court, and he has shown the ability to make every pass in the book. The issue is more how he’ll affect the players around him. Will he move the ball enough to make his teammates better when he’s on the ball, and will he shoot well enough to space the floor when he’s off it?

Grade: B

4. Atlanta Hawks (from L.A. Lakers via New Orleans): De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia

The Hawks move around the draft more than almost any team in the league. A year after they dropped down from no. 3 to no. 5 to take Trae Young, they jump up from no. 8 to no. 4 to grab Hunter via a trade with the Pelicans (who received the pick from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis deal). Hunter fits well as a 3-and-D swingman next to their young core of Young, Kevin Huerter, and John Collins. Atlanta needs players who can defend on the perimeter to protect Young, and Hunter and Huerter give them one of the biggest pairs of wings in the NBA. Hunter, the hero of the NCAA national championship game, is one of the safer picks in the lottery because he can contribute immediately on both ends of the floor.

Grade: B

5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland, G, Vanderbilt

The Cavs have a very different approach to team-building than the Hawks. A year after taking Collin Sexton no. 8 overall, Cleveland pairs him with another undersized scoring guard in Garland. Garland is one of the mystery men in this draft—he played only five games in college, but he’s clearly a talented scorer with the ability to shoot 3s off the dribble. The questions with Garland are more about defense and playmaking, which make him an interesting fit next to Sexton. The two will be able to put up a lot of points, but they will struggle to match up on defense and could have some issues sharing the ball. Cleveland may end up having to choose between its last two lottery picks sometime in the next few seasons.

Grade: C

6. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Phoenix): Jarrett Culver, G, Texas Tech

The Wolves traded up from no. 11 to no. 6 to acquire Culver, although they were reportedly more interested in Garland. The good news is that Culver still makes a lot of sense with the rest of the Wolves roster. The biggest concern about Culver is his ability to stretch the floor, and playing next to an elite stretch big man like Karl-Anthony Towns will allow him to attack the rim. Culver is a great shooter and versatile defensive player who will make Minnesota better on both ends of the floor. With Jimmy Butler gone and Andrew Wiggins underperforming, everything in Minnesota now revolves around Towns. Culver may never be a big-time scorer, but he will make life easier for their star big man.

Grade: B

7. Chicago Bulls: Coby White, G, North Carolina

White could be the final piece on an interesting young lineup in Chicago. They took two young big men (Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.) with the no. 7 overall picks in the last two drafts, and acquired Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr. in trades. This group could be better than the sum of its parts. White is an extremely athletic guard with great size for his position (6-foot-5, 191 pounds) as well as the ability to make plays and shoot 3s off the dribble. The big knock on him is that he’s not an elite playmaker, but he may not have to be that type of player when he’s next to so many other good passers in Chicago. His shooting ability may already make him a better fit than Kris Dunn. White makes them better next season while also giving them another chance to find a star.

Grade: A

8. New Orleans Pelicans (from Atlanta): Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas

Hayes is an interesting fit in a frontcourt with Zion. Together, they’ll be the fastest pair of big men in the NBA. Hayes, an athletic 7-footer who played his way into the lottery over the course of his freshman season at Texas, can play way above the rim, defend smaller players on the perimeter, and beat slower big men down the floor in transition. The question is how Hayes and Zion will fare when they are forced to play in the half court, since neither projects as a good outside shooter at this stage in their careers. The Pelicans could have paired Zion with more of a stretch big man who could open up the floor, but they have doubled down on speed and athleticism for the time being.

Grade: B

9. Washington Wizards: Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga

Hachimura could walk into a big role early with the Wizards. He has the ability to be a primary option on offense: He’s a 6-foot-8 combo forward who can shoot off the dribble. The question is whether he will be able to do it efficiently in the NBA. He was a below-average 3-point shooter who depended on his ability to dominate because of his size and athleticism in the NCAA. Hachimura is a bit of a project for a lottery pick; he will have to improve as a passer and defensive player to be successful in the NBA.

Grade: D

10. Atlanta Hawks: Cam Reddish, F, Duke

The Hawks end up getting the two 3-and-D wings—Reddish and Hunter—that they reportedly targeted before the draft. Reddish is one of the most interesting picks in the lottery. He was considered as good of a prospect as Zion and Barrett coming into the season, but he struggled as a third option and slipped to no. 10 overall. Talent is not the issue for Reddish. He has great size for a perimeter player (6-foot-8, 208 pounds) and one of the best-looking 3-point shots in the draft. He just didn’t make 3s all that often at Duke (33.3 percent on 7.4 attempts per game). The Hawks are gambling that playing with a passer like Trae Young should make his life a lot easier. If he clicks with Young, he could end up as the steal of the draft.

Grade: A

Iona v North Carolina
Cameron Johnson
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

11. Phoenix Suns (from Minnesota): Cameron Johnson, F, North Carolina

The Suns have suddenly become conservative with their lottery picks. A year after they traded up to no. 10 to take Mikal Bridges, an experienced wing with a proven 3-point shot, they took a similar type of player in Johnson, a fifth-year senior from North Carolina with one of the best 3-point shots in this year’s draft. Johnson isn’t as good defensively as Bridges, but his size (6-foot-9, 205 pounds) should at least allow him to survive on that end of the floor. Johnson will have an immediate role in the NBA, which means he is a pretty safe bet to give them solid minutes off the bench, even if he never ends up as a high-level starter. He hasn’t shown the ability to do much on offense beyond shoot, but he won’t need to if he’s playing with Devin Booker and D’Angelo Russell, the latter of whom they may target in restricted free agency.

Grade: B

12. Charlotte Hornets: PJ Washington, F, Kentucky

The Hornets stuck to their preferred mold from the past few seasons: an experienced player from a big-time NCAA program. Washington, a skilled 6-foot-8 forward who can score from all over the floor, can do a lot of different things on offense. He can shoot from the perimeter, score out of the post, put the ball on the floor, and create shots for his teammates. The question is whether he can stretch his range out to the 3-point line: He shot 42.3 percent from 3 at Kentucky but took only 2.2 attempts per game last season. He will need to add that to this game to be a successful power forward in the modern NBA. Washington, like the rest of the younger players in Charlotte, will be a lot better playing next to Kemba Walker, but he could also be a key part of their rebuilding process if Kemba leaves in free agency.

Grade: B

2019 NBA Draft
Tyler Herro
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

13. Miami Heat: Tyler Herro, G, Kentucky

John Calipari gets consecutive lottery picks with the selection of Herro. It’s easy to see why the Heat made the pick. They struggled to space the floor last season, and Herro is one of the best shooters in the draft. The question is whether he will be well-rounded enough to earn playing time for a defensive-minded coach like Erik Spoelstra. The reason Herro ended up going two picks behind Johnson is because he’s much smaller (6-foot-6, 192 pounds) and may not stay on the floor. The good news for Herro is that few franchises in the NBA emphasize strength and conditioning more than the Heat, who will be able to find whatever athletic potential he still has. Herro could end up carving out a role for himself in Miami, but there were more talented players on the board.

Grade: C

14. Boston Celtics: Romeo Langford, G, Indiana

The Celtics are gambling on upside with Langford. He was one of the most highly regarded prospects in the country coming into the season, but he had an up-and-down freshman season after tearing a ligament in his thumb in November. Langford has some real red flags in his profile: He’s a scorer who didn’t shoot particularly well in college, and has only average athleticism for his position. Boston is hoping that a healthy version of Langford is closer to the player he was in high school. The Celtics have never been afraid to take risks under Danny Ainge, and having as many as three first-round picks in this draft gave them the freedom to roll the dice at the end of the lottery.

Grade: B

2019 NBA Draft
Sekou Doumbouya
Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

15. Detroit Pistons: Sekou Doumbouya, F, Limoges CSP / France

The Pistons are thinking long term with Doumbouya, a talented French swingman who at 18 is one of the youngest players in the draft. He has the size (6-foot-9, 230 pounds) and athleticism to potentially guard three or four positions in the NBA. Like with many players in his mold, his ability to stick at the next level will come down to whether he can consistently knock down 3-point shots. He’s still fairly raw offensively. Doumbouya is so young that it’s easy to dream on him, but it will be a long time before he lives up to whatever potential he has. The risk for the Pistons is that he might end up doing that on a different team.

Grade: C

16. Orlando Magic: Chuma Okeke, F, Auburn

Okeke, who could miss his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL in the NCAA tournament, is an interesting value pick for the Magic. He has a great combination of size (6-foot-8, 230 pounds), athleticism, and 3-point shooting ability, as well as one of the highest basketball IQs in this draft. Orlando has needed 3-point shooting for years. Okeke, who shot 38.7 percent from 3 on 3.7 attempts per game this season, can help fill that role—whenever he returns from injury.

Grade: B

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Saint Louis vs Virginia Tech
Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

17. New Orleans Pelicans (from Atlanta): Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech

The Pelicans are now in asset acquisition mode as they start building a team around Zion. The most important ability every player in his supporting cast needs is 3-point shooting, and Alexander-Walker is one of the better shooters in this draft. He’s also more well-rounded than some of the other shooters (Herro and Johnson) who were taken ahead of him. He will probably not have as big a role in the offense as he did at Virginia Tech, but he should at least be able to attack closeouts and make plays on the move at the next level. Alexander-Walker is a safe pick who will be able to play right away in New Orleans, giving it another high-IQ player on the perimeter next to Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.

Grade: B

18. Indiana Pacers: Goga Bitadze, C, Mega Bemax / Georgia

The most interesting part about this selection is what it could mean for the rest of the Pacers’ roster. Bitadze, a 19-year-old from Georgia who played in the EuroLeague last season, is arguably the most skilled big man in this year’s draft, but he doesn’t make much sense on a team that already struggles to find enough playing time for its two other young big men, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Indiana has to decide whether it wants to sign Sabonis to an extension this offseason after extending Turner for $72 million last season, and it may not want to pay both. Drafting Bitadze could mean that one of the two will be gone soon. Bitadze’s ability to shoot midrange jumpers, score in the post, and make plays for his teammates make him a great fit in Nate McMillan’s offense. In time, he could become one of the best traditional big men in the NBA.

Grade: B

2019 NBA Draft
Silver and Luka Samanic
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

19. San Antonio Spurs: Luka Samanic, F, Union Olimpija / Croatia

The Spurs have gone back to the well by drafting an international player, and it’s hard to argue against them given their track record over the past two decades. Samanic, a 6-foot-11 19-year-old who has been on the NBA radar for a long time, is a skilled big man with the ability to play on the perimeter on offense. Most of the questions surrounding him have been about his ability to survive on defense. Samanic probably won’t be able to contribute right away for the Spurs; they can either keep him overseas and hope he’ll mature physically, or take things into their own hands and play him in the G League for a few seasons. There is no guarantee that the long-term approach will work, though. Just ask Nikola Milutinov, whom the Spurs drafted at no. 26 overall in the 2015 draft and still hasn’t come over to the NBA.

Grade: C

20. Philadelphia 76ers (from Boston): Matisse Thybulle, G, Washington

The 76ers packaged the nos. 24 and 33 overall picks to the Celtics to move up to no. 20 and draft Thybulle, one of the most interesting 3-and-D prospects in this year’s draft. Thybulle is fairly limited offensively, but he shouldn’t have to do much beyond make open 3s now that he’s playing next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and potentially Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, too, depending on what happens in free agency. His value at the next level will come down to whether he will have as much of an impact on defense playing man-to-man as he did in Washington’s 2-3 zone.

Grade: B

NCAA Basketball Tournament - West Regional - Anaheim
Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

21. Memphis Grizzlies (from Oklahoma City): Brandon Clarke, F/C, Gonzaga

Clarke could end up as one of the best selections of this draft. He’s an electric athlete with a high basketball IQ who outplayed Hachimura, his teammate and the no. 9 overall pick. Clarke will be one of the most versatile defenders in the league. The only players he can’t guard are bigger centers, and he’s playing next to a guy in Jaren Jackson Jr. who could end up as the best defensive center in the NBA. Clarke and Jackson make a ton of sense on offense too. Jackson is a great 3-point shooter who will allow Clarke to focus on scoring around the rim, where he was one of the most effective players in college. Memphis will be one of the most fun young teams in the NBA next season with those two running the break and catching lobs from Morant.

Grade: A+

22. Boston Celtics: Grant Williams, F, Tennessee

The Celtics are taking advantage of having so many first-round picks to attack the draft in multiple ways. Langford was a classic buy-low pick—a player who might have been drafted lower than he should have because of extenuating circumstances (in this case, a broken thumb). Williams is the opposite. The junior big man was one of the most dominant players in the NCAA last season, but concerns about his athleticism and lack of an NBA position caused him to slide to the end of the first round. The key for Williams, who played out of the post in college, is to become more of a 3-point shooter. He could certainly make the transition. He’s an excellent midrange shooter with a high basketball IQ and a soft touch around the basket. If he extends his shot, he has a chance to dramatically outplay his draft position in Boston.

Grade: A

23. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Memphis): Darius Bazley, F, Princeton High School (Cincinnati)

The Thunder are sticking to a familiar pattern by drafting Bazley, a raw 19-year-old. Like Terrance Ferguson, whom they took with the no. 21 overall pick in 2017 after one season in Australia, Bazley skipped college basketball. The difference is that Bazley took an internship at New Balance rather than play overseas or in the G League. As a result, there is little tape out there with which to evaluate him. There is almost no chance that he’ll play for the Thunder next season; more likely, they are counting on their player-development program to mold him into an NBA-caliber player over several seasons in the G League. Bazley has the raw tools: He’s a 6-foot-9 combo forward who can put the ball on the floor. It will just take us a few years to determine whether the investment was worth it.

Grade: C

Oregon v Virginia
Ty Jerome
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

24. Phoenix Suns (from Philadelphia via Boston): Ty Jerome, G, Virginia

It’s not hard to figure out what the Suns were trying to do in this draft. Johnson and Jerome are two of the best 3-point shooters in this draft, and they are far more experienced than many of the other players taken in the first round. There’s an obvious trade-off to selecting older players: They may not have the upside of some of their younger peers, but they should be able to contribute right away. No one questions Jerome’s skill. He has great size (6-foot-6, 194 pounds) for an elite shooter who ran point on a team that just won the NCAA championship. The issue is whether he will have the athletic ability to beat his man off the dribble and survive on defense. The good news for Jerome is that the Suns will be so bad on defense that he could hardly make it much worse.

Grade: B

25. Portland Trail Blazers: Nassir Little, F, North Carolina

The Blazers and Thunder have a lot of similarities in their draft philosophies. Both are perennial playoff teams in small markets that like to gamble on high-upside players at the end of the first round instead of targeting safer picks with a better chance of contributing immediately. Little had a disappointing freshman year after being considered a potential top-five pick coming into the season. He is one of the best athletes in the draft, with the size (6-foot-6, 224 pounds) and athleticism to defend players at three or four positions in the next level. The question is whether he is polished enough on offense to stick. Little, much like Anfernee Simons, the Blazers’ no. 24 overall pick last year, will probably need to spend a lot of time in the G League.

Grade: C

Belmont v Maryland
Dylan Windler
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

26. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dylan Windler, F, Belmont

The Cavs, like seemingly every other team in this year’s draft, clearly put a huge emphasis on 3-point shooting in their selections. The big selling point with Windler, a senior from Belmont, is his shooting: He shot 42.9 percent from 3 on 7.1 attempts per game. He can do other things, too —he has great size (6-foot-8 and 196 pounds) and rebounding ability (10.8 rebounds per game) for a shooter—but his ability to stretch the defense is what will get him on the floor early in his NBA career. The question he will have to answer, like with most prospects from mid-major conferences, is whether he will be able to handle NBA-caliber defenders.

Grade: D

27. Los Angeles Clippers (from Brooklyn): Mfiondu Kabengele, C, Florida State

The Clippers are adding to their collection of centers with Kabengele, a skilled big man who can score out of the post and space the floor. He’s slightly different from either Ivica Zubac (a restricted free agent) or Montrezl Harrell, the Clippers’ current bigs, which should allow him to earn playing time early in his NBA career. There’s a lot of Marreese Speights in his game: He hunts shots with abandon and rarely looks to move the ball. The Clippers will just have to hope that Kabengele puts in more effort on the defensive end of the floor than Speights. He may never be well-rounded enough to be a starting-caliber center in the NBA, but his scoring ability should allow him to carve out a long career off the bench.

Grade: B

28. Golden State Warriors: Jordan Poole, G, Michigan

The Warriors learned the right lesson from picking Jacob Evans last season. Evans was seen as having a high floor after three seasons at Cincinnati, but he also had a low ceiling and little margin for error at the next level. Poole is the exact opposite. He is one of the most intriguing selections at the end of the first round. He made a somewhat surprising decision to stay in the draft after two seasons at Michigan, where he was more of a secondary option on offense. But Poole has more talent than he got to show in college. He’s a great 3-point shooter who can also put the ball on the floor and make plays on the move. The big question for him is his defense, but his well-rounded offensive game should allow him to quickly jump Evans in the pecking order in Golden State. The injury-ravaged Warriors will need a lot from Poole next season. He could be up for it.

Grade: A

29. San Antonio Spurs: Keldon Johnson, G, Kentucky

Johnson is the rare Kentucky player who managed to slip under the radar in his one season of college. Unlike PJ Washington and Tyler Herro, his two more highly touted teammates, Johnson doesn’t have many defined strengths or weaknesses in his game. The Spurs have their work cut out for them to turn him into an NBA-caliber player, though. He has the outline of a 3-and-D player, but he’s an average shooter who doesn’t have great athleticism or much ability to create off the dribble. He’ll probably spend a lot of time in the G League, like many of San Antonio’s recent selections.

Grade: C

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Milwaukee via Detroit): Kevin Porter Jr., G, USC

The Cavs are tripling down on guards who hunt shots with little regard for their teammates by taking Porter after drafting Garland earlier and Sexton last year. Players as dynamic with the ball in their hands as Porter rarely slip to the end of the first round. The reason he did is because he clashed frequently with the coaching staff at USC, and never found a way to balance his ability to get buckets with playing within a team structure. New Cavs coach John Beilein will have an interesting chemistry experiment on his hands with his three young guards, all of whom are used to dominating the ball. There is definitely a risk with taking Porter, but it makes sense at this point in the draft.

Grade: B

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