Periodically, over the course of the rest of the season, we will be posting an updated mock draft here on College Basketball Talk.
This will be different than other mocks, mind you. We’re not as much projecting who is going to be picked where — that is impossible to do right now, as the NBA season is just past the halfway point and the NBA changed their lottery rules to flatten out the odds of who gets the first pick — as much as take a look at where, in a vacuum, a player should be picked.
With that in mind, one of the objectives of this mock will be to take a deeper dive into a handful of the most intriguing prospects in the mock each and every time we update. This isn’t meant to be just a place to rank prospects, the goal is to open up the floor for some discussion about the players that need the most discussing.
Oh, and one other note: We’re only talking about the college kids here. I could sit here and pretend like I know something about Sekou Doumbouya beyond what I Googled and found on YouTube, but the truth is I don’t know a damn thing about him.
I’ll stick to what I know for now.
And that is these prospects:
1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
Zion is going to end up being the No. 1 pick, and he’s probably going to end up being the National Player of the Year as well. Because of that, the conversation around has gotten somewhat stale. We know what he is. I’m just going to enjoy the final three months of his college career.
2. CAM REDDISH, Duke
For my money, Reddish is the most interesting and, arguably, the most difficult evaluation that NBA teams are going to have on their hands at the top of this year’s draft.
On paper, he is everything that NBA teams want out of a wing. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and plus athleticism. He’s proven to be, at the very least, a capable catch-and-shoot floor-spacer. He can be a positive force on the defensive end of the floor when he is locked in. He’s can guard wings, he has the size to play some small-ball four and he spent his entire career before he got to Duke playing as a lead guard — he’s more than capable of making plays with the ball in his hand, can attack close-outs and should have success playing in isolation:
The problem is that Reddish — who committed to Duke before R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson announced where they would be playing their college ball — has been forced into playing a role as the fourth-most important player on the floor. He committed to Duke with visions of being the next Jayson Tatum, or Jabari Parker, or Brandon Ingram, or Justise Winslow, and he’s spent the year being asked to essentially be Duke’s 3-and-D wing.
And to his credit, he hasn’t complained. We haven’t heard from “sources close to Reddish” how unhappy he is, or that he is upset with his playing time, but what we have seen is Reddish struggling to really make a major impact in this role. Some of this is understandable — he’s being asked to do something that he’s never done before — and some of it plays into the previous narratives that surrounded him: That he is not a player that impacts winning.
This is why you see him getting compared to players like Rudy Gay and Andrew Wiggins, athletic marvels that put up big (scoring) numbers but that in a total of 17 seasons have played 17 playoff games combined. Neither has ever won a playoff series.
That’s where two factors come into play:
The interview process and any intel that teams can dig up on what motivates Reddish.
The games that Duke plays without one of their other star freshmen available.
The latter point is going to be the most fascinating part in all of this. In the six games prior to Saturday’s win at Florida State, Reddish was averaging 7.7 points and shooting just 28.8 percent from the field and 18.4 percent from three. He had seven points in the first half, but with Williamson going out for the second half, Reddish scored 16 and hit the game-winning three at the buzzer.
Now Tre Jones appears to be out for an extended period of time. Will this mean that more of the offense flows through Reddish? Will this give him a chance to play on the ball as a lead guard to keep Barrett off the ball? Will he step up and embrace the larger role, keeping Duke at or near the top of the ACC standings without the guy that is, arguably, their most irreplaceable piece?
We shall see.
In a month’s time, maybe I will be convinced that Barrett should actually be the No. 2 overall pick. Or maybe Reddish will shine and the rest of the world will join me in saying that betting on Reddish reaching his ceiling is the optimal move at No. 2.
3. R.J. BARRETT, Duke
Much has been made of Barrett’s 8-for-30 performance against Syracuse and the fact that he was 4-for-17 from three in a game where Zion Williamson had 35 points and couldn’t get a touch in overtime. He’s been called selfish because he took 30 shots, but that is missing the forest for the trees. Barrett had to take those shots. The Orange packed in their zone, did not even pretend to care if Jack White shot threes and sold out to stop Williamson by daring Duke to shoot.
The concern with Barrett as a prospect wasn’t that he took 30 shots and 17 threes, it’s that he missed 22 shots and 13 threes. If he wants to be a primary ball-handler in the NBA, it is not a good sign that the way to beat Duke is to dare Barrett to make jumpers.
4. JA MORANT, Murray State
He’s the best point guard prospect in this draft. He has the positional size, he’s an explosive athlete, he has the vision to be an excellent passer and playmaker at the NBA level and his handle is tight enough that he should be able to create off the bounce at the next level. He’s turnover prone and is up-and-down defensively, but this can be chalked up to the load he’s carrying for the Racers this season. The real concern is his jumper, but his stroke isn’t terrible and there is some hope he can become a threat from three with some work.
And while we’re here … wow:
JA Morant's earth-shattering poster dunk…
… as called by Gus Johnson. pic.twitter.com/YKYxULkLs5
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) January 11, 2019
5. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia
I may be higher on Hunter than anyone else. He checks all the boxes for what NBA teams are looking for these days — he’s a well-built, athletic, 6-foot-7 wing that can guard up and guard down while being an uber-efficient offensive weapon that makes threes (44.4 percent) and can attack closeouts and get to the rim. He’s already 21 years old (a redshirt sophomore), but I do think he’s better than his numbers indicate. He’s the third option for Virginia offensively right now with Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy on the roster, which is also a sign that he’ll be willing to accept a role on a team where he’s not the No. 1 option. My guess is that he’ll fall to the back end of the top ten, if not the back end of the lottery, and whoever ends up with him will be getting a steal.
6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech
Culver is one of the highest floor prospects in this draft. I believe that any team taking him is more or less locked into getting a starting-caliber NBA wing. He’s listed at 6-foot-5 (and might be closer to 6-foot-7) and has added some strength to his frame. He’s been terrific as a pick-and-roll option this year and he can really shooting the ball from the perimeter. I’m not sure he’s great shooting off the dribble, and I think he’s ceiling defensively is lower than some will realize, which limits his upside. I don’t think he’s an all-star, but I do think he’s one of the safest picks in the draft. In a year with so much uncertainty, that has value.
If you’re curious, I went much deeper on Culver and why he’s so promising here.
7. NASSIR LITTLE, UNC
If Reddish isn’t the most difficult evaluation in this draft, Little is.
Here is a player that entered college basketball as, according to some rankings, the No. 2 prospect in the class and has yet to break into the starting lineup for a UNC team that has yet to hit their stride more than halfway into the season. On the season, Little is averaging 9.8 points and 4.4 boards, which is not as bad as it looks when you consider that he is only playing 19.8 minutes per game. His per-40 numbers are not all that bad when compared to other prospects in this range.
The bigger issue is that in nine games against Tier A or B competition, according to KenPom, Little is averaging just 6.8 points while shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor as his three-point shooting drops from 20.7 percent to 12.5 percent.
The question that NBA teams are going to have to ask themselves is whether or not this is because of the player and prospect that Little is, or if this is a direct result of the situation in which Little finds himself in Chapel Hill.
Let’s start with the reason he’s not seeing the floor, because that part is easy: He’s stuck behind Cam Johnson (who is having an all-american season) and Luke Maye (who was a preseason all-american) on North Carolina’s forward depth chart. The way that Roy Williams wants to play is to have two bigs on the floor, two wings on the floor and a point guard, and since that essentially locks one of Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks or Brandon Huffman into the five-spot, Little has to fight with Maye and Johnson for minutes.
And since he hasn’t been great, that’s been a losing battle, especially in league play.
But this is where the questions about fit come into play.
For starters, while I am wholly unqualified to question the coaching methods of someone as successful as Roy Williams, I do think there is some room for criticism here in the way that he has used this roster. Their best five features a front line of Maye, Johnson and Little, and he has not gone to that lineup nearly enough. It’s becoming a problem.
The bigger picture issue, at least when it comes to projecting Little to the NBA, is that he really doesn’t fit anywhere in UNC’s system. In an ideal world, Williams has a frontcourt that looks like the one he rode to the 2017 national title — with Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks — and Little certainly is not that kind of a player. But he isn’t an ideal fit on a wing, either. He’s not a jump-shooter, he’s not a playmaker on the perimeter, he’s not Marcus Paige or Justin Jackson or Theo Pinson. He is a prototype NBA small-ball four — or big wing, or whatever terms you want to use to define it — and that player doesn’t really fit with what the Tar Heels want to do.
So are Little’s struggles a result of what he is as a prospect, or is it because he joined the roster of a wildly successful 68-year old Hall of Famer who wants to do things his way?
8. ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana
I’m torn on what to think of Romeo Langford as a prospect. The physical tools are there. He has the prototype frame for an NBA wing, and more than anything throughout the season, I’ve been impressed with the toughness he displays on the defensive end of the floor. Archie Miller has used him as a stopper, putting him on an opponent’s best scorer, whether they are a big wing or a point guard. At 6-foot-6 with a sturdy frame, there’s even some potential for Langford to play the four in small lineups.
Offensively, he’s terrific at getting to the foul line and is an unbelievable finisher around the rim, but the concern for me is his shooting ability, which is pretty surprising when discussing one of the greatest scorers to ever come out of the state of Indiana. He’s shooting 23.8 percent from three this season and he has some weird wrist action on his release that leads me to believe that he will one day need to retool his shooting stroke. But with everything else that he brings to the table, it might be the smart move to bet on him figuring that out in time.
9. KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky
Johnson is a tough, competitive wing that is a plus athlete with the physical tools he needs to play the wing in the league. He’s a capable three-point shooter, although he tends to be streaky on that end. He can really defend and he’s shown flashes of being a good scorer as a slasher. He profiles as a high-floor, relatively low ceiling prospect in that regard, something of a Miles Bridges without as many windmills.
10. KEVIN PORTER JR., USC
Red flags are starting to pop up for Porter. It took him six weeks to return from a mysterious thigh bruise, long enough that it had people speculating that an agent had gotten in his ear and told him to shut it down for the rest of the season. He returned to play 25 minutes against Oregon State, but managed to get himself suspended indefinitely three days later. Add all of that to concerns that NBA teams already had about him, and it makes the pick risky.
Personally, I think his ceiling is enormous. If he gets his jumper worked out, there is a very real chance that he could end up being the best scorer to come out of this draft class. But if he doesn’t get drafted into an organization that can provide him with structure and veteran leadership, this could end up going the wrong way.
11. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt
I really feel for Garland. After a promising start to his freshman campaign, he saw any hope of trying to play his way into the being the first point guard drafted go up in smoke after tearing the meniscus in his left knee and undergoing season-ending surgery. That’s tough. But Garland was impressive in flashes — particularly in the first half of Vandy’s win at USC — and not only should he be healthy by the time NBA teams can start bringing players in for workouts, meniscus tears are not considered to be career-altering injuries.
12. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech
Alexander-Walker’s development has been fun to watch. After entering last season with some one-and-done buzz, it took him a year to acclimate to the college level. This year, he’s been asked to play much more of a lead guard role, teaming with Justin Robinson to form arguably the best backcourt in the ACC. His assists are up, he’s running ball-screens more than he ever has before and he’s still a knockdown three-point shooter. With positional size and plus-length, he’s a guy that profiles as a defensively versatile wing that can be a creator in the NBA. He’s a perfect fit for the way the league is heading.
We dove deep into Alexander-Walker in the last mock draft.
13. DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas
Gafford has all the tools you want out of a rim-running, rim-protecting, vertical-spacing five in the modern NBA. He’s 6-foot-10, he has a ridiculous wingspan, he’s super-athletic. Put all that together, and what you get is a player averaging 17.0 points, 9.3 boards and 2.1 blocks for Arkansas this season. His production is way up from last season, but the concern is that he does not look fully engaged. His motor doesn’t always run, he’s gets pushed around on duck-ins and battling for position and despite his athleticism, he’s not as good as you would hope defending on the perimeter — he’s stiff, not limber. Playing armchair psychologist, he looks like he regrets the decision he made to return to Arkansas for another season.
I’m still buying on the potential Gafford provides in the same way that I bought on the potential Robert Williams had last season.
14. TRE JONES, Duke
Let’s just get this out of the way now: Tre Jones needs to become a better shooter for this pick to payoff value. I think he will. He’s a worker, he has NBA bloodlines and he’ll put in the time in the gym to get it done. And while he’s not shooting it great right now — 28.6 percent from three, 58.3 percent from the foul line — he has shown nice touch on floaters and pull-ups in the lane.
The rest of his game is what intrigues me so much. It starts with his on-ball defense, which is a game-changer for Duke this year. I’m not sure there is a better defender in all of college basketball, and Jones has the strength and athleticism to be able to do the same at the next level. His leadership qualities are exactly what you would expect from Tyus Jones’ brother — all the point guard cliches, he has them — and he’s proven that he doesn’t need the spotlight; if he can fit alongside the Big Three at Duke, he can fit in an NBA locker room.
15. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova
I’m still in on Paschall becoming a capable role player in the NBA, but that’s because I’m buying that he can extend his shooting stroke out to the NBA three-point line. Everything else makes sense: He’s a chiseled 6-foot-8, he’s an explosive athlete, he can defend on the perimeter and, playing in that Villanova offense, he’s proven he can accept a role and be a guy that attacks closeouts. I’m not sure he’s an NBA starter, but Jay Wright has a significant track record of sending players to the NBA ready to contribute immediately. His ceiling is nowhere near some of the players I have ranked behind him, but I do believe there is real value for a team drafting late in the first round knowing they can get a 22-year old that will be able to contribute right away.
16. JAXSON HAYES, Texas
There is no player in the country that has improved their draft stock more than Hayes, who did not even start a high school basketball game until his senior season. He’s very, very raw, but he has the size, the build, the length and the athleticism that you want out of an NBA five — his dad was an NFL tight end, and Hayes is built like someone that would have followed that path, but he didn’t stop growing until he hit 6-foot-11. He’s mobile, he had sensational hands and he’s been unstoppable at times as a roller in ball-screen actions.
And he’s raw, which means that he has a long way to go but that he can be developed however an NBA team sees fit. Sometimes a blank canvas is better than a player that already has bad habits ingrained.
17. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga
The ideal for Hachimura is to be what O.G. Anunoby is — a versatile defender with three-point range that can finish above the rim and guard anyone from wings to centers. The problem is that Hachimura has the physical tools to be a really good defender but that it hasn’t all come together for him on that end just yet, and while he’s proven to be a good midrange shooter, he was an awkward release and is shooting just 28.7 percent from three in his career.
18. BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland
Fernando has been a force through the early portion of Big Ten play. He’s physically dominant and has taken over games with his ability to crash the glass and finish in the paint. He’s a good post scorer and can pass out of double-teams. He’s not the most mobile or dextrous perimeter defender, but he’s not the worst, either.
19. BOL BOL, Oregon
There are myriad red flags with Bol Bol — Is his tough enough to handle the NBA game? What position is he guarding at the next level? Does he actually love basketball? — and that was before he became the latest in a long line of seven-footers with foot problems. His ceiling is massive. Players with his shooting and shot-blocking ability don’t come along that often. But if I’m an NBA general manager, I let someone else take the risk.
20. ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky
In the five games since Hagans burst onto the scene with eight steals in a win over North Carolina, he’s averaged 15.8 points, 4.4 assists and 3.6 steals while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor. Like Jones, he’s far more advanced defensively than he is offensively, but he’s a total game-changer on the defensive end and, frankly, I think that his shooting touch is closer than people might think.
Ashton Hagans up to 17 points at Georgia after this filth. I think he hears those Georgia fans getting on him. Hes going to mess around and play his way into the first round. pic.twitter.com/2GtL5P0eKn
— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) January 16, 2019
There’s an added layer here — Hagans is uber-competitive. He’s jawing with someone every game. He put up a career-high 23 points at Georgia, his home-state school where he was previously committed, after the fans in the arena spent the day all over him. You have to love that in a player.
21. TY JEROME, Virginia
Jerome is a 6-foot-5 guard that has the shooting ability to play off the ball — he thrives running off of screens in Virginia’s blocker-mover offense the same way that Malcolm Brogdon did — but can handle the ball and has the leadership qualities of a point guard. He’s not an elite athlete, but he’s stronger than he gets credit for and has a crafty way of creating separation and getting into the lane. Plus, playing in Virginia’s system likely means that there’s little chance he’ll be a liability defensively against NBA backups, which is the role he projects to play. Like Jalen Brunson, or Fred VanVleet, or T.J. McConnell before him, Jerome has ten-year NBA backup written all over him.
22. KZ OKPALA, Stanford
Okpala fits the mold. He’s a 6-foot-8 wing with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a solid frame that can shoot from the perimeter and operate ball-screens. He’s shooting 47.9 percent from three this year, up from 23.8 percent last season, although he’s only taken 48 threes this year. He’ll be a rotation player, possibly a starter, in the NBA for a long time.
23. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
This stat from Sam Vecenie of The Athletic says it all: Since 1992, there are just six high major players that have averaged at least 18 points, eight boards and three assists while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, and all six (Tim Duncan, David West, Jared Dudley, Evan Turner, Ben Simmons and Caleb Swanigan) ended up being first round picks. Five of the six have, or will have, long and successful NBA careers. He’s smart, he’s tough, his length allows him to play bigger than he is and he’s a better shooter than his numbers indicate. He’s a pro.
24. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga
Is Clarke the best athlete in this draft? Is he the best frontcourt defender in all of college basketball? He might be both. He’s a rim-protector and a vertical spacer that is switchable enough to guard on the perimeter. He isn’t much of a threat offensively beyond finishing around the rim, but neither is Jordan Bell.
25. ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD, Tennessee
You know what you’re getting with Schofield if you are an NBA team. He’s a 6-foot-5 wing that’s built like a wrestler, that has a 7-foot wingspan, that is shooting 41.2 percent from three the last three seasons (294 attempts) and that is a virtual lock to be a plus defender in the NBA. He’s a perfect 3-and-D role player with defensive versatility that will be adored in an NBA locker room for the way that he plays the game and carries himself professionally. He will make a playoff team better in the late first round.
26. JORDAN POOLE, Michigan
Poole is a streaky shooter, but this year, the nights where he gots 5-for-6 from three have far outweighed the 1-for-8 nights. He’s shooting 44.8 percent from beyond the arc while shooting more than five per game, and perhaps most impressive is that many of those threes come off the dribble. His jab series is lethal, as is his step-back jumper going left:
He’s averaging 2.2 assists per game this season, and at 6-foot-5, he has the size to play the two in the NBA. The question with Poole is going to be whether or not he can guard in the NBA, and after spending two years playing with this Michigan program, I tend to believe that he’ll be fine, not quite an average defender but not a full-blown liability, either. That should be enough for him to become the next Nick Young.
27. SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s
Ponds is among the biggest risers for me in this draft class. The 6-foot-2 junior is averaging 20.6 points, 6.0 assists, 4.7 boards and 2.7 steals while shooting 40 percent from three this season. His efficiency is through the roof this year, but more impressive has been the fact that he’s made it a point to get his teammates involved.
“He is passing a lot more than he ever has, especially early, to get his teammates going,” one Big East coach told me. That said, Ponds has absolutely taken over games, but it tends to be when his team needs him to the most. St. John’s has played six games this season that were single-digit games. They are 5-1 in those games, and Ponds scored at least 32 points in four of those five wins — 37 points and six assists at Georgetown, 37 points vs. Georgia Tech, 35 points and seven assists vs. VCU, 32 points and five assists vs. Cal. That doesn’t include the 26 points and five dimes he had in the win over Marquette, their biggest win of the season.
It’s that willingness to be a passer — A newfound trust in his teammates? — that has changed things for the Johnnies this season. “We were more concerned with his paint touches, [keeping] the floor tight,” said another coach that scouted St. John’s last season.
You can’t play that way against them this season, and the result hasn’t just been a more efficient season for Ponds, it has meant that the Johnnies now look like the best team in the Big East. I’m in on him at the next level.
28. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
I’m also in on Howard in the NBA because he is such an incredible shooter. Prior to playing just three minutes on Tuesday night do to back issues, he was averaging 25.8 points and shooting 44.4 percent from three on 9.4 attempts per game. He’s only 5-foot-11, which is a concern defensively, and his limited wingspan makes me wonder if he’ll be able to get his shot off against NBA defenders. That said, he’s an unbelievable tough-shot maker that has proven the ability to create space with step-backs and dribble moves. He’ll probably get picked in the second round, but that will be good value for whoever hoovers him up.
29. LUGUENTZ DORT, Arizona State
Dort is a powerful, athletic combo-guard that shot up draft boards early in the year before coming back down to earth in recent weeks. His inefficiency is the concern, and while he’s a star defender, he’s nowhere near the creator that his best comparison — Marcus Smart — is now or was in college. The question that NBA teams are going to have to ask when deciding about drafting Dort is whether his inefficiency stems from who he is as a player, or if it is simply the result of playing on a team that doesn’t have many other offensive options.
30. P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky
When Reid Travis committed to Kentucky, P.J. Washington liked a tweet of mine where I said Travis is a better player than Washington. I wonder if he’ll like this mock draft, where I’ll admit I got that wrong. Washington looks to be much-improved this year. He’s stream-lined his body, he’s moving better on the perimeter, his rebounding numbers are up and he’s shooting 37 percent from three and 68.7 percent from the line. We all miss sometimes.
SEVEN PLAYERS I WISH I COULD HAVE INCLUDED IN THE TOP 30
CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan: Matthews might be the best wing defender in this draft. The way he moves on the floor it looks like he’s gliding. Effortless. If he shot 40 percent from three and/or 75 percent from the line instead of 32.7 percent and 62.7 percent, respectively, he’d probably be a top 20 pick.
JONTAY PORTER, Missouri: The talent is there, the health, at this point, is not. At 6-foot-11, he’s much more skilled offensively than people realize, but this is a pick that needs to be made by doctors.
QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas: I’m still in on the potential of Grimes in the longterm, but I’m starting to think he’s more of a two or three year college player than one-and-done. What does he do at an NBA level right now? He shoots 30.3 percent from three, he has fewer assists than he does turnovers and he hasn’t been anything special defensively.
IGGY BRAZDEIKIS, Michigan: I’m not quite sure where Brazdeikis plays in the NBA. He’s not quite a wing and he’s not quite a four, but he does shoot 38.5 percent from three, he’s tough as nails and he’s more athletic than you think. It is worth noting that he’s older than a typical freshman — he’s eight months older than Jaren Jackson.
COBY WHITE, North Carolina: White might have played his way into being a one-and-done freshman. He’s proven to be a microwave scorer, he’s got good positional size and he doesn’t turn 19 until February 16th. I get it, but there are a handful of point guards that I rate over him, personally.
CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards was a monster in a win at Wisconsin, scoring 36 points in overtime, but that came just days after an abysmal, 3-for-16 performance against Michigan State. We know what Edwards is at this point: A backup point guard that will put up points against NBA backups. Can you say microwave?
JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State: The intrigue with McDaniels is that he’s 6-foot-10 with perimeter skills. The problem with McDaniels is that his jumper is still inconsistent at best (28.1 percent from three this season) and he weighs just 195 points. If he can make threes and he can’t defend fives, then where will he make an impact in an NBA game?