A superstar, injuries, and flawed greatness — that is the story of the 2019 NBA Draft so far.
Seldom has there been a stronger consensus on the No. 1 pick than there was in the 2019 NBA Draft. That was the year of Zion Williamson. He blew minds at Duke. He expanded horizons and changed how we talked about NBA prospects. No one in college basketball has ever looked quite like that.
The Pelicans were the team lucky enough to select Williamson with the first overall pick. It has been anything but smooth sailing since. Williamson missed most of his rookie season, emerged on the precipice of superstardom in his sophomore season, then missed his entire third season. Injuries have plagued him at every turn, as have rumors of discontent. He butted heads with the Pelicans’ medical staff, and at one point it sounded like he might try to force his way out.
It just goes to show: there’s never a truly safe bet in the NBA Draft.
Who would go No. 1 overall if the 2019 NBA Draft were held today?
Williamson has since signed an extension. He’s probably going to make several All-Star appearances in New Orleans before all is said and done. But the Pelicans, deep down, have to be second-guessing their decision to draft Williamson. He’s not the only superstar or superstar-adjacent player to emerge from the class of 2019. Ja Morant earned MVP votes last season and Darius Garland is a full-blown offensive star in Cleveland.
The 2019 NBA Draft proved deep on talent, if a little shallow in terms of all-around reliability. There are a lot of one-way players and injury-tainted careers on the docket. Let’s see how the order might have played out with the benefit of hindsight.
Darius Bazley has kicked it into high gear defensively for the up-and-coming Thunder. His positional versatility, ability to space the floor, and flashes of raw athletic talent earn him first-round status.
John Konchar is the quintessential NBA role player. He plays smart, unselfish basketball, competes on defense and is an absolute sniper spotting up behind the 3-point line.
Jaylen Nowell is an excellent heat-check scorer who can handle the basketball and roast defenses with his pull-up jumper. He needs to expand his ancillary skill set, but the scoring repertoire is hard to deny.
Coby White is an intriguing combo-guard with plenty of long-term appeal because of his positional size and ability to score in bunches.
Cody Martin doesn’t have the same job security as his twin brother at present, but he’s a similarly versatile defender who occupies the increasingly valuable 3-and-D niche so many contenders covet.
A former top recruit with plenty of brute strength and a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Nassir Little’s defensive versatility should keep him on the NBA radar for a while. He’s also getting better from 3-point range with each passing season.
A lanky, explosive athlete who gobbles up space in the middle of the floor, Jaxson Hayes faired well in extended minutes last season. He has the potential to be a monstrous shot-blocker and efficient rim-runner.
It’s probably best to take Luguentz Dort’s raw scoring numbers with a grain of salt given his extreme inefficiency and the unique volume of opportunities he receives as part of OKC’s rebuild. That said, his dogged on-ball defense is very real. He should carve out a future on the strength of his defense alone.
Daniel Gafford has played important minutes over the last few years in Washington. He’s another bouncy athlete who can play above the rim, inhale rebounds, and block shots.
Caleb Martin has worked his way into starting minutes for the Heat. His versatile defense on the wing, combined with knockdown shooting beyond the arc, makes Martin a poster child for 3-and-D wings.
Rui Hachimura’s scoring profile is starting to look better. He made 44.7 percent of his 3s last season. The first couple years of his career felt very much like empty calories, but we’re starting to see the upside of Hachimura’s physically imposing play style.
Naz Reid was an endlessly fascinating prospect coming out of LSU. It’s safe to say his many quirks and specialties have translated to the NBA level. Reid can use his strength to pummel smaller defenders at the rim, but he’s also an avid runner in transition with real floor-spacing ability.
Terance Mann’s Swiss Army Knife attributes have found a comfortable home in the NBA. He can operate as a floor-spacer and play finisher, or he can run a little backup point guard. His variety of skills and two-way versatility at 6-foot-5 make Mann an ideal modern wing.
Matisse Thybulle has made two All-Defensive teams despite limited minutes, which is no small feat. His athleticism, activity level, and instincts are off the charts. Unfortunately, he’s one of the absolute worst offensive players in the NBA right now.
Kevin Porter Jr.’s natural talent has never been in question. He’s a slippery scorer with ample craft and flair. That said, “attitude” concerns plagued him early in his career and his role within the Rockets’ offense doesn’t always feel sustainable. Does Porter’s current play style translate to winning, or is he putting up empty calories for the loss-hungry Rockets?
Max Strus came out of nowhere last season. He rose swiftly from relative unknown to starting wing for the 1-seed Miami Heat. Now he’s entrenched in that role, providing Miami with critical spacing and connective tissue on the offensive end.