Hard-core college basketball fanatics likely know the score. Casual observers diving in deep this week with the start of the NCAA Tournament may soon learn.
Just like the current season of college basketball, the 2019 NBA Draft is Zion Williamson’s world and everybody else is just living in it.
Everyone is aware that Duke’s mega force freshman is the best player in college and poised for number one overall selection status come June’s draft. Yet the long-running narrative stated Williamson’s Duke teammates, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, were not far behind. Murray State point guard Ja Morant turned the trio into an interesting quartet during the season. Surely, other high-impact prospects loomed.
That’s now how many analysts size up the 2019 class.
“I think its Zion and then everybody else,” NBC Sports college basketball insider Rob Dauster told NBC Sports Washington.
This isn’t just about the player who puts the power in power forward even if Williamson is arguably the most exciting prospect since LeBron James.
“In (2018) we knew the top five picks were all going to end up being good players. Then you got 6-10 and you knew there would be some useful starters and maybe there’s a guy who could be an All-Star,” Dauster said. “This draft Zion Williamson is the one guy we know is going to be a really good player. At (picks) 2-8 is normally what you’d see in a 6-11 (range) in a typical year.”
Barrett and Reddish certainly had heady moments during their respective freshman seasons, but more questions remain than expected at this point. While Barrett remains the no. 2 overall prospect on most public draft boards, Reddish dropped to six in the latest ESPN big board.
The two players jumping Reddish in the ESPN rankings highlight the class’ lowered ceiling. Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland rose in the rankings this season despite missing much of the season with a knee injury. Virginia forward DeAndre Hunter’s versatility and skills suggest high-end NBA role player upside. This year that means the fifth overall prospect.
“Zion makes [the class] feel better than it is,” an NBA front office executive
Understand nobody suggests the draft won’t produce helpful players. Identifying those talents is simply much trickier this time.
That’s today. The NCAA Tournament won’t suddenly turn David’s into Goliath’s but projections could certainly shift or solidify depending on how players handle the madness of March. There are NBA draft lottery prospects and other interesting players in each region for NBA fans to consider.
“I think there are maybe 3-4 other guys who have a chance to be an All-Star in this draft after Zion,” Dauster said.
The Wizards currently have the eighth best odds for the no. 1 overall pick (6 %) and a 26.3% chance for a top-4 selection.
Player: Zion Williamson, PF, Duke, Fr.
Stats: 22.1 ppg, 8.9 rbg, 69.3 FG%
ESPN ranking: 1
Rob Dauster, NBC Sports: “I think Zion is unbelievable and I don’t want to put a ceiling on what he could end up being. There are some things about his game that are not perfect, especially his shooting. He makes a lot of defensive plays, but he can also get beaten pretty easily. He’s a great playmaker defensively, but I don’t know if he’s a great defender yet. He can get there, but he’s not there yet. So he does have some flaws, but I think he’s a guy who can be an NBA All-Star…
“I just don’t know what Zion is going to be in the NBA, but I didn’t know what he was going to be on the college level and he’s turned into an absolute freak of nature monster. I don’t want to put a ceiling on him. He has to go number one. Anybody who would consider somebody else is foolish and should be fired. … I would not be surprised to see him a top 10 player in the league three years down the road.”
Player: R.J. Barrett, SG, Duke, Fr.
Stats: 22.9 ppg, 7.5 rbg, 30.4 3FG%
ESPN ranking: 2
Dauster: “I don’t think he’s a great shooter. I don’t think he’s a great athlete. He came into college billed as this great all-around combo point guard, and he’s not really a great passer, a takeover guy. RJ is wired differently. People close to him will tell you that he’s got some Kawhi Leonard in him. Not in the sense that they are the same player, but that they are going to will themselves into being great.”
Player: Cam Reddish, SF, Duke, Fr.
Stats: 13.7 ppg, 3.7 rbg, 32.7 3FG%
ESPN ranking: 6
Dauster: “I think Cam Reddish has a very high ceiling, but there’s going to be a learning curve for him when he gets to the NBA, let’s put it that way.”
Others: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, F, Virginia Tech (20); Tre Jones, PG, Duke (27); Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland (31)
Player: DeAndre Hunter, SF, Virginia, Soph.
Stats: 15.1 ppg, 3.7 rbg, 32.7 3FG%
ESPN ranking: 5
Dauster: “The way the NBA is heading and where it is now, having a guy who is a versatile player who can guard from point guards to 4’s and maybe even small-ball centers, a guy that create in isolation, has 3-point range. He is somewhat understanding that he is something of a role player, which in that Virginia system you have to do, DeAndre Hunter to me just screams 12-year pro. He’s basically OG Anunoby to me. He’s a perfect as a role player in the NBA.”
Player: Ty Jerome, PG, Virginia, Sr.
Stats: 13.0 ppg, 5.4 apg, 39.7 3FG%
ESPN ranking: 30
Dauster: “Ty Jerome might be the most underrated point guard in this (draft) class. I rate him the same way I rated Jalen Brunson and Fred VanVleet. He’s got some of the athletic limitations, but I think he’s a good enough defender to be able to make up for it. He’s a knockdown shooter. He can get to the rim a little bit, can create some space for his jumper. Smart player. What I like about him most is he’s super competitive. I think he’s tough as hell. I want him being my backup point guard in the NBA. He can play off the ball too.”
Player: Grant Williams, PF, Tennessee, Jr.
Stats: 19.0 ppg, 7.6 rbg, 3.1 apg
ESPN ranking: 26
Dauster: “I like him. He’s become a better shooter, better passer. There’s a little bit of versatility in terms of what positions he can guard. Smart, heady player.”
Others: Eric Paschall, F, Villanova (33); Admiral Schofield, F, Tennessee (34)
Player: P.J. Washington, PF, Kentucky, Soph.
Stats: 14.8 ppg, 7.5 rbg, 41.9 3FG%
ESPN ranking: 13
Notes: Washington didn’t begin the season as the Wildcats’ top draft prospect, but he surged throughout the season. The grinder scored at least 20 points eight times during a 10-game stretch during the SEC regular season.
Malik Monk, Hornets guard and former Kentucky standout: “He’s a dog. He’s been there before. He knows what it takes (to win). He’s the leader on this team.”
Player: Coby White, G, North Carolina, Fr.
Stats: 9.4 ppg, 4.6 rbg, 29.3 3FG%
ESPN ranking: 11
ESPN: “A shot-maker by trade… White is having a strong statistical season and has become a first-round favorite among some scouts, but he has his drawbacks. White was more of a catch-and-shoot guard at the high school level, and that's really where he has found success this season, not yet showing that he is the most savvy pick-and-roll player.”
Player: Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina, Fr.
Stats: 9.4 ppg, 4.6 rbg, 29.3 3FG%
ESPN ranking: 16
Dauster: “I don’t really know if he understands how to play. I get the appeal of what he could end up being. He’s got the same kind of build as a DeAndre Hunter. He’s got the length. He’s 6-foot-7. He’s switchable. In theory, he became a better scorer over the year, but I’m not convinced he really understands basketball. I would probably lean toward not taking Nassir Little either, although I do believe he’ll probably get drafted very high based on people saying Roy Williams didn’t trust his freshman.”
Others: Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky, (17); Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky (19); Cameron Johnson, PF, North Carolina (21)
Player: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State, Soph.
Stats: 24.6 ppg, 10.0 apg, 32.7 3FG%
ESPN ranking: 6
Dauster: “With the way that point guards are used in the NBA and his athleticism, his ability to read the floor, his basketball Ix, his passing ability, he’s a guy who has the ceiling of a John Wall kind of player. I don’t expect him to get past the top three.”
Player: Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech, Soph.
Stats: 18.5 ppg, 6.3 rbg, 3.7 apg
ESPN ranking: 7
Dauster: “He is a really intriguing player. He’s listed at 6-foot-5, but may have grown. He’s got pretty good length. He’s not shooting it great right now, but you watch him shoot and coaches around the Big 12 believe he’s better than what the numbers show. He can really operate in ball screens, is a good passer. I think he’s an above average defender, but he’s not an elite athlete. There are some questions there.
Player: Shamorie Ponds, PG, St. John's, Jr.
Stats: 19.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 2.6 spg
ESPN ranking: 46
Villanova head coach Jay Wright: “Ponds can be a poor man’s version of Allen Iverson. So dynamic and creative. As much of a scorer as he can be he can get teammate shots.”
Others: Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga (15); Brandon Clarke, SG, Gonzaga (22); Luguentz Dort, SG, Arizona State (29)
Click here to join NBC Sports Washington’s NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge and compete against Wizards analysts Drew Gooden and Jimmy Patsos for a chance at great prizes.
Grand Prize: if you have the highest-scoring bracket in the NBC Sports Washington Bracket Challenge, you will win a 3-night trip for four people to Universal Resort, including round trip airfare, lodging, admission to Universal Studios and tickets to Blue Man Group.
Secondary Prize: If your bracket scores higher than both Drew Gooden and Jimmy Patsos, you win a coupon code for a free Jersey Mike's sub!