By: Lucas Vargas (Twitter: @lucasvargas44)
The NBA Draft takes place this week on June 20th and underclassmen have chosen whether or not to remain in the draft or return to school. This draft may not have the deep star power of other classes but there are several players that can make an impact as role players to help teams immediately. Dylan Windler and Carsen Edwards are two names that stand out to me who could go late in the first round with chances to meaningfully contribute to playoff ready teams. With franchises concluding their prospect workouts and finalizing their draft boards, here are my predictions:
1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, Duke Blue Devils, Age 18
There’s not much that needs to be said for the top pick in this year’s draft. Zion combines size and athleticism like few ever have while playing at an intensity level that often goes unmatched. I think he still has room to improve on his ball handling foundation and jump shot that once fully developed will allow him to potentially operate out of pick and rolls and punish teams that switch matchups. This pick, combined with a potential trade package for Anthony Davis, could establish the future of the New Orleans Pelicans.
2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, Murray State Racers, Age 19
Morant won over everyone in the NCAA tournament with a 17-point, 16 assist, and 11 rebound triple double performance in a 19-point win over Marquette that represented his season as a whole. Morant sees the floor better than anyone else in the draft and plays under control with a stellar basketball IQ. He possesses speed that is dangerous in transition or half-court offense. It has been an incredible journey so far for the under recruited point guard who will have the opportunity to learn from Mike Conley before taking over an NBA offense in the near future.
3. New York Knicks: RJ Barrett, Duke Blue Devils, Age 19
Barrett was viewed as the likely number one pick at this time a year ago, but the two names listed above are rightfully where they are at the present. Barrett averaged 22.6 points per game on 18.5 shots a game as the focal point of the Duke offense at least usage wise. He can handle the ball with the size of an NBA wing. His shooting numbers will continue to improve along with his efficiency and feel for the game as many believe Barrett’s game will better translate to the NBA thanks to the floor spacing that he wasn’t given in college. He has the potential to be a star in the league depending on if he can fit in and be featured in New York.
4. New Orleans Pelicans: DeAndre Hunter, Virginia Cavaliers, Age 21
The Pelicans land another top five pick through the Anthony Davis trade and now have a chance to select DeAndre Hunter, the top NBA prospect for the National Champions. Hunter averaged 15.2 points per game this season which doesn’t jump off the page until you consider that Virginia only averaged 71. Hunter was a key contributor to an efficient offense, but Virginia is known for its defensive prowess. Hunter, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, will be able to guard at least 1-4 in the NBA with an improving jump shot that creates two-way versatility. Similar to Malcolm Brogdon’s effect on the Bucks, Hunter will do all the little things well and be reliable on both ends.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Age 20
The first pick in the John Beilein rebuild should be used to take one of the players responsible for defeating him in his last game for the Wolverines. Culver scored 22 points to eliminate Michigan in the Sweet 16 and was the focal point of the Red Raider offense all season. Culver contributed to the Elite 8 run as a freshman before breaking out and leading Texas Tech to a National Championship appearance. Despite other team’s keying in on him due to the lack of returning scorers, Culver averaged 18.5 points per game and was named the Big 12 Player of the Year. His shot making and defensive abilities will fit in nicely with the aggressiveness of Collin Sexton to form the backcourt of the future in Cleveland.
6. Phoenix Suns: Darius Garland, Vanderbilt Commodores, Age 19
Garland is a mystery in the draft class after only playing in 4 full games for the Commodores but came into college as one of the top ranked point guard recruits. In very limited action, Garland seemed to look more for his own shot, but Vanderbilt wasn’t stocked with talent by any means. Assuming he is healthy and can improve as a passer, Garland has potential to be a playmaking point guard that Phoenix needs to match with a core of Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, TJ Warren, and DeAndre Ayton after years of being irrelevant.
7. Chicago Bulls: Coby White, North Carolina Tar Heels, Age 19
Chicago can take White to play either guard spot with his 6’5” height. White ran one of the fastest paced teams in college basketball and could go off at any time. His scoring was up and down over the season, but he had games scoring 33 points against Texas and Miami with a career high 34 against Syracuse displaying great change of pace and shooting range. He must get stronger to realize his full potential but could fit with Zach LaVine and rest of the frontcourt the Bulls have already assembled.
8. Atlanta Hawks: Cam Reddish, Duke Blue Devils, Age 19
Cam Reddish probably saw his value take a big hit over the course of the season as he never looked to fit into the Duke offense dominated by RJ Barrett isolation or Zion attacking the rim. Reddish was touted as one of the best shooters in his recruiting class but only shot 33% from deep and 35.6% from the field on the season. There wasn’t much efficiency or peripheral stats to speak of but standing at 6’8”, the Hawks will value the potential to draft a wing with size that may be able to recapture his reputation as a lethal shooter alongside Trae Young.
9. Washington Wizards: Sekou Doumbouya, Limoges CSP (France), Age 18
Doumbouya is very young but has been competing and holding his own against professionals in Europe. He is very raw now but looks like he could fit in with recent Europeans who can handle, pass, shoot, drive, and defend as versatile NBA forwards. Drawing Pascal Siakam comparisons following recent draft workouts, the Wizards finally have the chance to reshape the direction of their franchise. Washington only has John Wall, Bradley Beal, Troy Brown, Ian Mahinmi, and Dwight Howard under contract plus Jabari Parker with a team option for next season.
10. Atlanta Hawks: Jaxson Hayes, Texas Longhorns, Age 19
Jaxson Hayes didn’t have the same recruiting hype that most recent Longhorn lottery picks have had but looks to find himself in the same position. Hayes is just scratching the surface of his potential. He plays with great effort and energy as a rim runner and shot blocker. Hayes shot 72.8% from the field by shooting almost exclusively from the paint. He possesses no shooting or ball handling skills but has a ceiling almost as high as he can jump.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves: Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Age 22
Brandon Clarke averaged 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game on 68.7% shooting. Clarke plays with an incredible motor as a mobile big man with defensive versatility and a highflyer that can protect the rim. His offensive game outside the paint is somewhat limited but the Wolves need players that can maximize the talent of Karl Anthony-Towns and Clarke brings a toughness inside that would fit well.
12. Charlotte Hornets: PJ Washington, Kentucky Wildcats, Age 20
Washington made a rare move for a Kentucky prospect and decided to return for a second year of school, and it paid off. He was difficult to matchup with and really asserted himself in the second half of the season with an NBA ready body that shot 52% from the floor. He’ll be able to guard either forward spot and showed significant improvement as a 3-point shooter in his sophomore season. After taking Miles Bridges in last year’s first round, the Hornets would have two physical and athletic forwards to form their future frontcourt.
13. Miami Heat: Kevin Porter Jr., USC Trojans, Age 19
Porter Jr. never had the chance to display his talents at USC and remains a question mark in the draft class. An athletic wing with NBA size, Porter ranked among the top of his position in several categories at the NBA combine. The Heat are a well-run organization that can take a prospect with potential at the back of the lottery to someday make an impact.
14. Boston Celtics: Nassir Little, North Carolina Tar Heels, Age 19
Nassir Little never quite stood out for the Tar Heels, but the former McDonald’s All-American Game MVP has positional versatility and the physical foundation to find a role in the NBA. With the possible departure of Marcus Morris, Little could step into a similar role for a Celtics team disappointed with a second round playoff exit.
15. Detroit Pistons: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech Hokies, Age 20
The leading scorer for Virginia Tech this season, Alexander-Walker showed he could score from all three levels and averaged 4 assists a night. A 6’5” player with potential two-way skills, the Pistons need playmaking to help Luke Kennard be effective. He is a player that could help Detroit with or without the ball in his hands.
16. Orlando Magic: Romeo Langford, Indiana Hoosiers, Age 19
Romeo Langford averaged an inefficient 16.5 points per game but after the season announced he was playing through constant pain from a thumb injury in his shooting hand. The Magic are looking for scoring guards to help their frontcourt and Langford could become one of those. He must help himself by moving better off the ball to get better looks but if injury was partially responsible for his poor shooting numbers, then Langford could emerge as an answer for the Magic.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Goga Bitzade, Buducnost VOLI (Montenegro), Age 19
The second European I have going in the first round, Bitzade is a 6’11” center with inside and outside aspects to his game. The Hawks would use their third first round pick to select an NBA ready big man that would provide a nice contrast to their other bigs like John Collins and Omari Spellman.
18. Indiana Pacers: Keldon Johnson, Kentucky Wildcats, Age 19
Johnson could be a 3 and D prospect for the Pacers who struggled after Victor Oladipo went down with an injury in January. Indiana can lose many of the other wing players that replaced Oladipo to free agency and he could also replace the role of Tyreke Evans who was recently dismissed from the NBA. Acquiring depth at the wing should be a goal in the draft.
19. San Antonio Spurs: Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Age 21
I am very high on Rui Hachimura as a prospect. Hachimura improved significantly each season at Gonzaga to the point where he averaged 19.7 points per game on 59% shooting. Gonzaga loved to get out and run and could do so because of Hachimura’s ability to push the ball himself off a defensive rebound. His jumper is brought up as a weakness, but he showed flashes from the mid-range and with the trajectory he has been on since arriving from Japan, Hachimura could be a high value pick for an organization that has proven it can get the most out of its prospects.
20. Boston Celtics: Bol Bol, Oregon Ducks, Age 19
Bol Bol saw injury derail his college season and take his draft stock down too. He’s 7’2” with a jump shot but along with the injury concerns he only weighed in at 208 pounds at the combine. The Celtics can afford to take on the risk associated with so many first round picks at their disposal and hope his upside emerges.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Tyler Herro, Kentucky Wildcats, Age 19
The Thunder need shooters. While Herro didn’t shoot the ball statistically well at Kentucky he is one of the better pure shooters in the draft. The Thunder won’t need him to be a playmaker, they’ll value him as a catch and shoot floor spacing threat. He’s tall enough to get his shot off at 6’6” and should make an instant impact.
22. Boston Celtics: Ty Jerome, Virginia Cavaliers, Age 21
Ty Jerome was one the most composed point guard in college basketball apart from maybe Ja Morant. Even then, Jerome was the steady hand behind Virginia’s success. He averaged 13.6 points, 5.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 39.9% from deep as a junior. The Celtics are bound to lose at least one point guard this offseason and Jerome could fill in immediately with production in every area.
23. Utah Jazz: Carsen Edwards, Purdue Boilermakers, Age 21
I have seen Carsen Edwards play since his junior year of high school and there is no place on the floor that he can’t score from. He’s slightly undersized by strong and explosive enough to make up for it. Edwards willed Purdue as far as he could despite receiving criticism at times in the regular season for taking bad shots. In the NCAA tournament, he averaged 34.8 points per game and set the record with 28 made 3-pointers in only 4 games. When he was locked in, he was simply unguardable. He’ll score points for whoever takes him.
24. Philadelphia 76ers: Dylan Windler, Belmont Bruins, Age 22
Windler is unfamiliar to most but features a rare all-around game. He averaged 21.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 3 made three pointers a game in 33 minutes. He shot 54% from the field, 42.9% from deep, and 84.7% from the free throw line. At 6’8” and 200 pounds, Windler played as one of Belmont’s bigs and showed he could compete against the Maryland front line led by Bruno Fernando with 35 points and 11 rebounds in that NCAA Tournament game. He will probably play on the wing in the NBA, but he can play minutes as a stretch forward. The 76ers could use floor spacing and Windler provides that plus much more.
25. Portland Trail Blazers: Cameron Johnson, North Carolina Tar Heels, Age 23
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum did everything possible to carry the Blazers. What could a little more help look like at pick 25? It could come in the form of an experienced 6’9” wing that shoots the three-ball at 45.7%. The Blazers need to make picks that maximize the prime of their star’s careers.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers: Grant Williams, Tennessee Volunteers, Age 20
Williams is a tough player with a high IQ that can play either forward spot and maybe even run as a small-ball center. He can stretch the floor and rebound with anyone. A proven winner at Tennessee and two-time SEC Player of the Year, this is a perfect fit for John Beilein’s culture.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Matisse Thybulle, Washington Huskies, Age 22
The best pure defender in the draft, Thybulle was named the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. It’s hard to find players that take as much pride on the defensive end as he does and that alone could help him stick in the league. If he can make NBA threes his value can only go up.
28. Golden State Warriors: Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State Cyclones, Age 18
Viewed as a “positionless” player, Horton-Tucker is built like PJ Tucker. The Warriors do a great job of finding players who fit their scheme and culture at the end of the first round and could get that plus a player with room to grow as he gets older.
29. San Antonio Spurs: KZ Okpala, Stanford Cardinal, Age 20
Okpala is another player the Spurs could develop for the future with a 6’ 10” frame, 7’2” wingspan, and raw athleticism. As the Spurs second pick in the first round and with Dejounte Murray returning from injury and expected contributions from Lonnie Walker next season, Okpala can shape his all-around game at the G-League level before being called upon to make an impact.
30. Milwaukee Bucks: Chuma Okeke, Auburn Tigers, Age 20
Despite tearing his ACL in the NCAA Tournament, Okeke could find his way to Milwaukee as a talented two-way forward that fits the mold of their previous draft picks. The Bucks shouldn’t need Okeke right away with their current roster and the development of players like DJ Wilson expected to make an impact which should give them time to get him fully healthy.
31. Brooklyn Nets: Bruno Fernando, Maryland Terrapins, Age 20
32. Phoenix Suns: Daniel Gafford, Arkansas Razorbacks, Age 20
33. Philadelphia 76ers: Kyle Guy, Virginia Cavaliers, Age 21
34. Philadelphia 76ers: Luka Samanic, Petrol Olimpija (Slovenia), Age 19
35. Atlanta Hawks: Jalen McDaniels, San Diego State Wildcats, Age 21
36. Charlotte Hornets: Jared Harper, Auburn Tigers, Age 21
37. Dallas Mavericks: Admiral Schofield, Tennessee Volunteers, Age 22
38. Chicago Bulls: Kris Wilkes, UCLA Bruins, Age 20
39. New Orleans Pelicans: Luguentz Dort, Arizona State Sun Devils, Age 20
40. Sacramento Kings: Nicolas Claxton, Georgia Bulldogs, Age 20
41. Atlanta Hawks: Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan Wolverines, Age 20
42. Philadelphia 76ers: Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State Seminoles, Age 21
43. Minnesota Timberwolves: Eric Paschall, Villanova Wildcats, Age 22
44. Atlanta Hawks: Miye Oni, Yale Bulldogs, Age 21
45. Detroit Pistons: Louis King, Oregon Ducks, Age 20
46. Orlando Magic: Terance Mann, Florida State Seminoles, Age 22
47. Sacramento Kings: Isaiah Roby, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Age 21
48. Los Angeles Clippers: Kenny Wooten Oregon Ducks, Age 21
49. San Antonio Spurs: Naz Reid, LSU Tigers, Age 19
50. Indiana Pacers: Juwan Morgan, Indiana Hoosiers, Age 22
51. Boston Celtics: Charles Matthews, Michigan Wolverines, Age 22
52. Charlotte Hornets: Darius Bazley, Age 19
53. Utah Jazz: Jontay Porter, Missouri Tigers, Age 19
54. Philadelphia 76ers: Jalen Lecque, Age 19
55. New York Knicks: Tacko Fall, UCF Knights, Age 23
56. Los Angeles Clippers: Zach Norvell, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Age 21
57. New Orleans Pelicans: Terence Davis, Ole Miss Rebels, Age 22
58. Golden State Warriors: Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Age 22
59. Toronto Raptors: Aubrey Dawkins, UCF Knights, Age 24
60. Sacramento Kings: Cody Martin, Nevada Wolfpack, Age 23