Introduction to the 2019 Big Board

Four notes:

  • I only scouted and projected players who played at least one season in college. I have no opinion on Doumbouya, Bitadze, Samanic, Bazley, and other players who did not play in college.

  • Major conference prospects in bold, mid-major prospects in italics, low major prospects in plain text. Mid-major and low major prospects have a wider range of outcomes and less certainty regarding those outcomes.

  • The sections are not ordered within tiers and the players are not ordered within sections. The tier numbers are used to compare sections and do not map on to tiers from my previous years’ big boards.

  • Many of the concepts here were covered in previous Draft Theory articles. The answers to many questions can be found there:

Tier 1: The Elite Prospects – High chance of being a star, chance of being a superstar

Zion Williamson Bol Bol

These should be the first two players off the board.

Zion’s game needs refinement in practically every area. He’s 6’6″ 285, which is insane. It’s not clear what his NBA position is. And none of that matters. Zion is a complete freak. He just put up one of the greatest college seasons of all time. He will likely be a two-way force on day one in the NBA. Figure it out as you go along.

I did a full write-up on Bol Bol already. He is the most skilled offensive player in the draft by a mile. The injury concerns are overblown. Draft him, develop him for 2-3 years, be rewarded with a stud. Pretty simple.

Tier 2: The High Quality Prospects – High chance of being a starter, chance of being a star

Ja Morant Brandon Clarke Matisse Thybulle

These three prospects are all uniquely talented in their own way and placed above the rest below them.

Ja Morant is a great distributor. I feel very confident saying that. He is a good enough distributor that he will be a starter based on that skill alone. The rest of his game is much more difficult to project due to the lack of quality opponents. I am concerned about his ability to get to the rim and finish against legitimate NBA rim protectors. I am very concerned about both his defensive ability and his defensive effort. Still, his passing ability and vision is top notch, and that’s where it starts for a PG.

I really urge people to watch a full game or two of Matisse Thybulle just playing defense. His defensive metrics literally break the scale – as in, there is nobody in NBA or NCAA history who has ever put up the numbers he did over a full season. I’ve seen allegations that his numbers are inflated due to the system. He is the system. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a player play defense like him. He will be in the league for over a decade just on the strength of his D alone. If he can hit a corner 3 at 35-37%, he’s an ideal #3 guy.

I have done a full write-up on Brandon Clarke already. He is an elite help-side defender at PF and his shot form is so nice and so consistent that it’s hard to see him not developing a passable 3 pointer within a year or two.

Tier 3: The Potential Stars – Chance of being a star, but high risk on multiple levels

RJ Barrett Cam Reddish Darius Garland Jontay Porter

This group of players all have star upside, but come with multiple risks. If you need a star, these are the guys to look at, but be aware of both the patience necessary and probability involved.

RJ Barrett’s path to being a star is obvious. He’s a tall wing with ball-handling and creation ability for both himself and others. He just turned 19, so he was one of the youngest players in college basketball this year. Given five years of development, it is very reasonable to expect that his efficiency, decision-making, and shooting will all improve. The two massive red flags here are his defense and his offensive ceiling. He was a poor defender (sub 1.5% STL) who struggled in every facet of defense. That really limits his overall upside. On offense, he is the classic volume scorer. If he can’t boost his efficiency massively, those players are team killers. Approach with caution.

Cam Reddish needs to answer one question: can he shoot? He was a quality defender who has the total package to be a high quality defender at the next level. He shot 33.3% on over seven 3PA and 77.2% from the line, which are decent indicators. He shot a mind-numbingly bad 39.4% from two. He was a poor finisher at the rim. He was abysmal on mid-range jumpers. Those are awful indicators. His shot form looks fine, but the results obviously weren’t there. There is a universe where Reddish’s shot improves as he gets older and he turns into an elite 3-and-D wing. There is also a universe where it doesn’t, and he’s pretty much useless. Anybody who says they know which outcome it will be is lying. Check back in on him in four years.

Darius Garland played four games in his college career and only one against a major conference team. That’s not much of a sample. Here’s what we know about Garland. He has the best shot release in the draft, especially off the bounce. He also lacks pretty much every other skill. Drafting Garland is committing to 4-6 years of developing a super raw player who looks to have the single most important offensive skill in basketball and not much else to go with it. This is not a short term project, and results are not guaranteed.

Jontay Porter requires a voracious appetite for risk. He is a unicorn, a 3-and-D center with athleticism and everything needed to be a star. Except health. “Injury risk” is thrown around far too much, but Porter is the type of guy the label should be reserved for. His brother can’t get healthy. His sisters both retired because they couldn’t get healthy. If his health wasn’t such an issue, he’d probably be in the Elite Prospects tier. But it is. He will probably never play, and if he does, he will probably get injured. He arguably belongs down a tier or two because of that. But man, if he can stay healthy…

Tier 3: The Glue Guys – No real star upside, likely to be rotation players or quality starters within three years, fail chance is lack of single elite quality

PJ Washington Chuma Okeke Jarrett Culver
Coby White Nickeil Alexander-Walker Jaxson Hayes

Some teams don’t need to swing for a star, they need to get somebody who will be able to supplement the stars they already have. These are those guys. There is a bust chance, but not nearly as high as The Potential Stars.

PJ Washington and Chuma Okeke are the same player for all intents and purposes. They are both do-it-all 4s who do everything well on both ends. Neither has any stand-out skill, but they also don’t do anything poorly. Okeke is a little safer assuming full recovery from the ACL tear because he’s a little better defensively, but Washington showed a little more scoring chops. Can’t really go wrong with either.

Jarrett Culver, Coby White, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are all well-rounded combo guards. I’ve already done a full write-up on Alexander-Walker. Jarrett Culver can do everything but shoot. Which is kinda a big deal. Despite rebuilding his shot between his freshman and sophomore seasons, it still appears broken. He may have to transition to point guard eventually if the shot never develops, but his floor appears to be good backup point guard because of his quality in all other facets. Coby White is a little further away, but has the best offensive game of the group. He turned 19 in February. If he can develop the point guard aspects of his game over the next 4-6 years, he could be a quality starter, but his floor appears to be shooting combo guard. Not a bad fall-back.

Jaxson Hayes…doesn’t really fit in this category, but I’m not sure what category to put him in, so here he is! Hayes is tall, long, athletic, and really raw. Still, within a few years, his athletic gifts should allow him to at least provide rim protection and pick-and-roll offense off the bench. He really needs to put on weight and improve his rebounding, but those are the types of things that are typically addressed over time. I don’t really know how much a non-stretch big can be a star anymore, but he has all the tools necessary to be a good starter.

Tier 4: The Limited Roleplayers – Starters or backups, these players could be good as long as they are put in a specific position to succeed, but they may just not be good enough regardless

Rui Hachimura Tyler Herro Daniel Gafford Bruno Fernando Nic Claxton

Each of these players has one or more major limitations that ultimately cap them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help.

Rui Hachimura is a gifted scorer. Nobody will be able to take that from him. He doesn’t have a three point shot yet, but there’s no reason to believe it won’t come along within the next few years. But he can’t defend anybody, and his awareness on both ends is lacking. Still, as a backup power forward used to help carry bench units while the primary scorer is on the bench, Hachimura could bring a ton of value. Every team needs a 6th man scorer, and Hachimura could fill that role nicely.

Tyler Herro is a shooter. That is what he does. I have already done a full write-up.

Gafford, Fernando, and Claxton are all just guys. Every team needs at least two centers. These guys all project to be backend starters or decent backups. It’s just hard to point to a notable thing any of them do. They’re decent offensive players, decent rim protectors, but they just don’t bring anything special to the table. Those players have value, but there’s just a lot of them out there.

Tier 4: The Oddities – These guys lack…something. If they can overcome it, they could be real steals as early as their first season

Ty Jerome Grant Williams Dedric Lawson
Mfiondu Kabengele Jeremiah Martin Shamorie Ponds

I’ve already done a full write-up on Jerome. Why is he in this category instead of with The Glue Guys? After I did the write-up, the combine happened and his measurements were worse than I expected. I also watched more tape, and I think I was a little too dismissive of his athletic limitations. I still think he can succeed, but I think he will need to be on a team that can help him contain dribble penetration, because I don’t think he can do it on his own. His team defense is great. His man defense will determine whether he can stick.

Grant Williams was one of the top 5 most productive players in college basketball this season in my database. He has good feet and bull strength. He is a good passer, good handler, finishes at the rim, finishes at the midrange, and even hit a few open threes. On defense, he has good hands and doesn’t give up position easily. What’s his problem? He measured in at just 6’5.75″ w/o shoes. It’s hard to find successful players at that height. And going to the tape against Okeke and PJ Washington, what you see is a player that taller guys just shoot over. It also limits his rim protection ability on help defense. I have major concerns about his ability to both defend and get his shot off at the next level, but if he can answer those concerns, he could be a very good starter.

Dedric Lawson was a top 10 player on my board after his sophomore season at Memphis. He transferred to Kansas rather than enter the draft, and he was the best player on the team. He shot well and put up 20 points on 47/48/90 shooting in the second half of the season. He was a board monster, defended well, and looks like everything you want out of a power forward. What does he lack? Base level athleticism. He was near the bottom in pretty much every agility and jumping test. He makes up for it with a huge wingspan and the second longest hands in the draft behind Tacko Fall, but will it be enough? He played Washington to a stalemate, outplayed Okeke and Williams, and seriously outplayed Paschall. He could easily be with the Glue Guys up a tier. Some team is likely to get a real steal on him late, but he still needs to prove he can hang at the next level.

Mfiondu Kabengele played center, had a BLK% over 8, and shot 37% from three. 3-and-D center, high upside, buy buy buy! Well, not quite. He was a backup for a reason. He’s not really tall enough to play center at the next level and doesn’t really have the ability to defend away from the rim, so it’s not clear that he has the ability to play either at the next level. On offense, he is a black hole. When the ball hits his hands, it’s his ball. While he was a very efficient scorer at the college level, if that efficiency drops at the next level, it’s bad news. Still, he was highly productive as a backup scorer and shot-blocker, and he can very much succeed in that role at the next level as long as his team keeps it simple for him.

Jeremiah Martin is my highest rated unknown player, which means that he probably won’t get much of a chance to prove he belongs, but that won’t stop me from saying he deserves one. What is Martin’s big flaw? Getting stuck at the wrong school at the wrong time. Three coaches in four years led to a complete collapse of the talent around him and being forced to play out of position, plus just a lack of consistent coaching. Martin is a PG. He measured at 6’1.5″ at the Portsmouth combine. He was the third tallest player in the starting lineup and played SF, where he survived thanks to his 6’ 9″ wingspan. Martin was elite at getting to the line in his junior and senior seasons, and his shooting really came on in the second half of his senior year. He generates a ton of steals, can operate on or off the ball, and does everything you want. Can he make the jump to the higher talent level? Will he get a chance to? We’ll see.

Shamorie Ponds is your classic quality veteran PG. Good shooter, good passer, good defender against smaller guys, struggles against bigger guys. He measured in at 5’11.5″ w/o shoes and tested as an average athlete for a guard. I don’t have much to say about Ponds – he’s probably too small to be a starter at the next level, but he has the skills to play backup PG as long as he can make it work at his size.

Tier 4: The Longshots – So you’re saying there’s a chance…

De’Andre Hunter Kevin Porter Jr. Moses Brown

The chances of these players hitting a middle outcome is low. The chances of these players hitting a great outcome is low. The chances of these players floundering for some number of years and washing out unmemorably is high. But hey, people play the lottery, right? Here are some tickets.

I think many people will be shocked to see De’Andre Hunter listed as one of the least safe players in the draft. It basically comes down to how you feel about his defense. Hunter is routinely listed as an elite defender, and he in fact won ACC Defender of the Year. But on tape, he’s just brutally bad. His 1.2% STL this year puts him in the Devin Booker range as a defender. His off-ball defense alternates between lazy and lost. His sense of spacing and angles is pretty much non-existent. His on-ball defense was okay but was largely helped by Virginia’s pack line. I just don’t see it. Maybe he’s the elite defender everybody seems to think he is, and if he is, he’s a valuable player. His offense is rudimentary but more than functional for a defensive specialist. But it’s nowhere near good enough if his defense is as bad as the stats and tape look. I think betting on Hunter to become the first player in recent memory to be an above average defender with a STL% that low is a bad bet.

Kevin Porter Jr. needs far less explanation. He missed a bunch of games due to injury and another set of games due to a “personal reasons” suspension. He couldn’t crack the starting lineup for a team that finished 16-17. But his numbers were actually not terrible other than his FT% and midrange FG%. He played offense, he played defense, he rebounded, he has NBA athleticism. He was 18 all season, not turning 19 until May. Most likely, whatever team takes Porter will still be trying to figure out what they have with him after his rookie contract. But maybe he puts it all together, and if he does, he has legitimate star upside. For many teams, the risk and opportunity cost will outweigh the reward, but at some point, it’ll be worth taking a shot and seeing what happens.

Let’s not bury the lede: Moses Brown is so raw Gordon Ramsay is cursing just looking at him. Anybody who watched him this year probably went, “Him? NBA player? Lol,” and moved on. Look, Brown shouldn’t see an NBA minute until the third year of his contract. At the earliest. But once you move past that, what you’re left with is a legit 7’1″ reasonably athletic center who already showed an ability to score, rebound, and block shots despite having no idea how to actually do those things. It may take him six years to get there, but there’s a history of guys like him struggling to figure it out and then just having a light come on in the mid-20s. For a team at the beginning of a rebuild, he’s at least an intriguing piece to stash away just to see what he becomes.

Tier 5: Better Than G-League? – I would bet that 1-3 of these guys end up being productive NBA players. Which ones? Your guess is as good as mine

Cam Johnson Robert Franks Chris Silva Ky Bowman Jaylen Hands
Zach Norvell Jr. Dylan Windler John Konchar Mike Daum  

Cam Johnson was a 5th year, 23 year old senior. He wasn’t draftable as a 22 year old senior. He wasn’t draftable as a 21 year old junior when he left Pitt. You would expect a 23 year old to absolutely dominate college, but Johnson didn’t. He was a relatively low usage role-player who contributed very little outside of shooting. It’s really hard to find something he does better than a G-Leaguer such as BJ Johnson, Marcus Derrickson, or Cam Reynolds. Now, all of those guys each got a cup of coffee in the NBA this year, but they’re just nothing more than backups at best, and there’s guys like that available every year. Johnson might be a fine bench player, but that’s his upside.

Robert Franks is a perfect example why. Quite frankly (pun intended), Franks is already a better shooter than Cam Johnson despite being nine months younger. He’s a better rebounder. He’s a better passer. He was much higher usage. Johnson can play SF while Franks is limited to PF. And just like with Johnson, Franks is very much the type of guy who stands out in the G-League but struggles to find his way in the NBA. Again, has the chance to be a nice bench player, but that’s it. Maybe it’s just that Johnson got to play for a better team, but it’s just really hard to explain why Johnson is considered a first round pick and Franks couldn’t even get a combine invite when they’re cut from such similar cloth.

Chris Silva is a potential 3-and-D PF. He was one of the best players in the SEC two years running. If I had more confidence in his shot translating, he’d be up a Tier, but it’s a real limiting factor. Other than that, there’s not much to say here – he’s a quality player who probably just has the exact wrong limitation. For teams with a stretch 5, he’s worth a look for sure.

For teams looking to find an undervalued ready-now backup PG in the second round, they could do worse than giving Bowman a look. Despite standing 6’1″, Bowman rebounded at the level of a SF. He hit over 37% of 3s despite shooting around 60% of them unassisted. He played decent defense. If he can distribute at an NBA level, he’ll be a steal in the second round. Unfortunately, playing at Boston College, he didn’t get to demonstrate whether that’s the case or not.

Jaylen Hands is one of the best athletes in the draft. He’s a good distributor, though his overall decision-making could use work. His athleticism didn’t always translate to his defense as much as you’d like to see. Still, he was already good as an 18 and 19 year old in college and just turned 20 in February. Point guards who are as good as he was at his age tend to develop well. He lacks the type of elite skills needed to establish yourself as a starting PG in the NBA, but he could have a very long career as a stabilizing force for teams that need it.

Zach Norvell has a full write-up. His truly poor athleticism may prove too much of a limiting factor for him to overcome, even if his skill level is there.

The three low majors are harder to project, just because of the competition gap.

One of the hardest things to judge at the low major level is whether a player is athletic compared to low major players or is just athletic. Dylan Windler answered that question about as strong as you can at the combine. He struggled against high major competition in his senior year, but sometimes it’s hard to adjust in just one game. If he can adjust to NBA level competition, his mix of shooting and rebounding could get him 20 minutes a game for a long time.

John Konchar is one of the most interesting prospects in the draft. Measuring in at a legit 6’4″, he can shoot, he can rebound, he can pass, he can defend, and his play against high major competition didn’t seem to suffer at all. He is sneaky athletic (read: he is an average athlete but he’s white so it’s sneaky instead of average, and I can say it because even he called himself sneaky athletic). He is the only player in NCAA history to hit 2000 points, 1000 rebounds, 500 assists, and 200 steals in a career. He was more efficient this season than Ja Morant and Ty Jerome. He could easily be up a tier. This is where the uncertainty of low major prospects comes in. Some team should give him a chance though.

Mike Daum has been a South Dakota State stud for three years. He can score. He can rebound. He can’t defend. He probably even more can’t defend at the next level. But hey, sometimes there’s room at the back of the bench for a PF who can make a second unit interesting, and backup PF might have the lowest defensive bar in the NBA.

Tier 5: Vaguely Interesting Young’uns – These guys might be decent NBA players, just not for the team that drafts them

Nassir Little Talen Horton-Tucker Romeo Langford Luguentz Dort Jaylen Nowell

If you’ve followed my draft series, this is the group of players most subject to the issue of value. If this big board was just a matter of who will have the best career, many of these players would be ranked higher. But the fact that they are unlikely to generate value on their rookie contract and unlikely to re-sign on a good contract for the team that drafts them means it’s difficult to justify drafting them as high as their overall potential would otherwise dictate.

Nassir Little was a good rebounder. The rest of his game sucked. But he’s a fantastic athlete with a highly ranked pedigree, so he’ll get plenty of chances to stick as a classic SF.

Talen Horton-Tucker was a good defender and showed potential but is super young and super raw.

It’s actually hard to point to anything Romeo Langford did particularly well, but he was apparently playing with an injury and has a highly ranked pedigree like Little, so he’ll get every opportunity to succeed.

Lu Dort has a very good chance of becoming a nice 3-and-D guard down the road. Needs some time to get the shot going, that’s really it.

Jaylen Nowell is a good scorer who should also make a nice SG down the road, but remains a few years away from being able to play regularly.

Again, some of these players could be ranked higher, but their young age and unrefined games just make them questionable players to draft. I can’t say more about them because there’s not more to say yet – you’re drafting a bag of parts, assembly required.

Tier 5: The Low Upside Oddities – They’re like the Tier 4 Oddities, but they have lower upside and more flaws

Carsen Edwards Sagaba Konate Nick Ward

Carsen Edwards is the dreaded high volume, questionable efficiency scorer, and it’s hard to see that efficiency getting better against better competition. Coming in under 5’11″ and without elite athleticism, it’s just hard to see Edwards succeeding at the next level. Maybe if he develops his PG skills, he could survive as a backup PG, but right now he’s a SG, so even that isn’t going for him. His path to success is his offense translating to the next level enough to overcome his other limitations.

Sagaba Konate is a weird story. After a very promising sophomore season, he returned to school, developed a mysterious knee injury, and then shut it down under shady circumstances. Another good season could have had Konate in the top 40 conversation. Instead, we’re left to wonder what to make of him. He’s a shot-blocking PF who showed off a three point shot in his limited time this season. If he’s physically and mentally healthy, he’s worth taking a look at in a backup role. But when the local beat writers are writing, “Sagaba Konate is headed for a cliff and all we can do is sit back and wait for him to plunge into the abyss below,” …Yeah.

Nick Ward is a max effort, very undersized center who could never play major minutes due to foul trouble and play style. If teams start carrying a small backup center and a big backup center to deploy in different match-ups, he could find a home. I don’t think he can stick at PF, so his only real chance of success is as a center against smaller centers. Given the current NBA trends, he could be entering the NBA at just the right time.

Tier 6: The Rest – We’ve reached the point where separating these guys into their separate sections is unnecessary – these guys are unlikely to be more than deep bench guys at best, but 60 guys get drafted, so here we are

Ignas Brazdeikis Keldon Johnson Naz Reid Tremont Waters
Jessie Govan Tacko Fall CJ Massinburg Nick Mayo

Iggy Brazdeikis turned 20 in January despite being a freshman. His shooting is good, but he just brings so little else to the table that he really isn’t better than any number of G-League shooters, and I don’t see where the upside is.

Like Brazdeikis, Keldon Johnson is a good shooter. He also lacks secondary skills, and he’s far away from being anything if he ever becomes anything. Let him earn his way to the big leagues in a few years if he can.

Naz Reid isn’t a good enough defender or shot-blocker to be a center and doesn’t have the footspeed or shooting to survive as a PF. I don’t know how he’ll develop, but drafting him without knowing what his NBA role will be or when he’ll be good enough to execute it is too big an issue to overlook.

Tremont Waters is 5’9.5″. He’s not an insane enough athlete to have a chance of overcoming that. Good distributor, but more likely to find success somewhere in the world where his height will not be as much of an issue.

Jessie Govan is a center who shot 41% from three. His numbers all ticked down from his junior to senior season, though there’s no clear reason why. He’s probably just not good enough, but a stretch center is enough to get a nod from me here.

Tacko Fall is a massive individual who looks like he belongs on a basketball court, which is an impressive feat. As mentioned with Ward, the NBA may be moving in a direction where teams carry two different backup centers for match-up purposes. Fall could punish teams who play undersized non-stretch centers, I guess.

CJ Massinburg was the leader of the 32-4 Buffalo Bulls. I was concerned about his size, but he’s got passable height for a SG. It’s a big jump from a mid-major to the NBA, and I don’t think he can make it, but maybe he can stick as a bench microwave.

Nick Mayo is a stretch 4 who was a really good player for Eastern Kentucky. Almost definitely not good enough in many ways, but will probably get a chance to earn his way up from the G-League.

Tier 7: Unlisted Players

There are a lot of draft eligible players. By sheer quantity, a few players not listed here will get drafted and given enough opportunities to eventually earn a job, or will go undrafted and eventually work their way onto NBA rosters. One of them may even be really good. I could keep listing guys in Tier 7, Tier 8, Tier 9, but the difference between Tier 6 and Tier 7 is already tiny, and the distinctions just get tinier with each passing tier. Again, a few unlisted prospects will pan out by sheer quantity, so if a prospect you like did not make this board, they could still be good! I just don’t think they will be.