After grinding high school, AAU and FIBA tape since June 21st, I’ve finally compiled my preseason big board. This draft is extremely flat after the top end talent, and there’s probably 60 guys that could end up in the 10-30 range. Because of that, there’s no real consensus, which made the big board process even more fun. I look forward to all the banter, and remember, this is DEFINITELY subject to change…
1. Anthony Edwards (Georgia)
Simply put, Edwards’ game is effortless. Listed at 6’5” 225, he’s an absolute tank that still knives through defenses like an All-Pro running back. His ability to change directions laterally and explode off of one or two feet is very elite. Once the Georgia Bulldog gets going downhill, there’s basically no stopping him. While there are still some questions about how valuable his catch and shoot three ball is, his pull up game is more than NBA ready. Edwards’ improved footwork and comfort pulling up with either hand not only generates a lot of buckets, but also creates a ton of gravity. How aware Edwards is of that gravity and his ability to capitalize on playmaking opportunities that arise from it, will determine if he’s still at the top of my board in June.
2. Cole Anthony (North Carolina)
The race for number one between the Anthony’s was neck and neck for about three months, and it still is. Unfortunately, someone has to be on top. While Cole landed at two, it shouldn’t be viewed as a slight to him. Other than Zion, (who we know was an anomaly on many levels) the Naismith award doesn’t usually go to the best prospect. With that being said, I think it’s plausible for Cole Anthony to check both boxes. As a lead guard, Anthony is a very functional athlete in terms of speed and explosion. He’s no stranger to poster dunks, and finishes where he goes straight at shot blockers and maintains his base while finishing through contact are far from uncommon. While his mechanics are definitely unorthodox, the numbers don’t lie, Anthony will be a reliable shooter for the Tar Heels from deep. My biggest questions surround his decision making and defensive engagement, but I have no doubts about Cole Anthony being an absolute beast in Roy Williams’ system.
3. Deni Avdija (Maccabi Tel Aviv)
Avdija is no Luka Doncic, so let’s just get that out of the way. On the other hand, Avdija is definitely not Dragan Bender. Deni Avdija is a unique international prospect who does a lot of good things on the basketball court. Obviously, if he shoots it like he did at the FIBA championships, I’ll probably end up moving him down a couple spots. However, everything else he did during the FIBA tournament is why I like Avdija so much as a prospect. While he often played the role of primary initiator for Israel, I think his long term position in the league is the four. Throughout his role on the ball, he showcased a great understanding for the game and impressive playmaking creativity at his size. My favorite part of his game might be his tenacity. While some international prospects just get pegged as soft (which is a very invalid assumption), Avdija will quickly prove that doesn’t apply to him. His passion and fire is contagious, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz even noted in his profile piece that Avdija acknowledged he takes it too far sometimes and can be harsh on teammates. While that is definitely visible on film, you have assume that improves with maturity and respect his will to win. His tenacity and IQ also popped on film as a secondary rim-protector. Avdija consistently made the right rotation, and didn’t back down from anyone at the rim. While the shooting is concerning, his mechanics aren’t broken, and his creation, IQ, team defense and passion are very encouraging.
4. Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky)
The Kentucky Wildcat needs a lot more love from mainstream draft sites, simple as that. In a league where young combo guards are flourishing, Maxey could be next in line. While he’s only 6’3”, he is far from limited to the one on either side of the ball. On offense, his NBA range off the catch and dribble will be a key to Kentucky’s floor spacing this season. While attacking the rim, Maxey is slippery and creative when avoiding rim protectors. Without elite explosion, he uses his top tier touch to compensate. Maxey is a floater savant, and high arching shots around the rim that clip the top of square are also common. On defense, he’s an absolute menace on the ball. He has quick hands and feet that allow him to lockdown anyone in the backcourt. Off ball, Maxey has great instincts, often jumping passing lanes and baiting opponents into steals. He also rarely overhelps, which speaks to his understanding of the game. The South Garland product is a versatile guard who straps up, makes shots and impacts winning.
5. Nico Mannion (Arizona)
I wrote about Mannion very extensively back in August, and to this point, he’s still my favorite prospect in the class (VERY different from best). His mature approach to the game and firey competitiveness are contagious to his teammates. In my opinion, Mannion is the best Pick & Roll ball handler in this entire class. His ability to truly read the help and react with live dribble skip passes with either hand is really impressive at this stage. While he isn’t the greatest lateral athlete and sometimes might struggle to create separation in a 1 on 1, Mannion changes speeds like a season vet and has a lethal hesitation that nearly always shakes his defender. While I profiled this in depth in my piece, Mannion’s hesi is so effective due to his pull up gravity. He is one of the best pull up shooters in this class (mid range and three), and he has put countless hours into perfecting his hesitation rise up. The dribble fake is basically identical to his real pull up, so it forces defenders to react. While I probably just spent way too many words describing one of Mannion’s dribble moves, it supports the precision he approaches the game with. He’ll certainly have some defensive questions to answer, but I think Mannion is a better athlete than he gets credit for and he showed some impressive anticipatory flashes on tape.
6 LaMelo Ball (Illawarra Hawks)
If you look up “Divisive” in the dictionary, there’s a good chance you’ll find a picture of LaMelo Ball. But, the hard truth is, he really shouldn’t be all that polarizing. While he certainly has questions about shooting consistency and defense, it’s irrefutable that he has elite passing creativity, impressive touch, good size for a lead guard and a savant-like understanding of the game. The division about LaMelo Ball truly stems from the people that can’t separate the half court-chucking, cherry-picking curly-headed 15 year old they saw on YouTube years ago from the current point guard of the Illawarra Hawks. But like most people who were once 15, LaMelo Ball has matured. During his short time in the NBL, LaMelo has already shown some very encouraging signs. While his defense is still ineffective in the majority, he has definitely leveled up his effort which has been great to see. Also, the only downside of his touch is his tendency and willingness to settle instead of getting all the way to the rim. Ball has a great floater, but getting more rim attempts and free throws would definitely increase his overall efficiency. Those settles aren’t extinct from his NBL film, but Ball has had some really impressive and-ones where he finishes through contact. He seems to be aware of his flaws and has been making positive progress, I wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes higher than this in June.
7. Theo Maledon (ASVEL)
As a Knicks fan, seeing a French point guard is this range of the draft can be a little scary (it’s a joke lol). However, contrarily to Ntilikina, I believe that Maledon is a safe bet to have a long career in the NBA. When watching his film, it’s impossible to not see a hint of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. I’m really hesitant to use SGA as a player comp because his ability to improvise is very distinctive, but Maledon shares some of the IQ and physical traits that allow SGA to be so effective. Listed at 6’5”, Maledon has encouraging size for a point guard and he knows how to use it on the court. While he doesn’t have the deepest bag in terms of isolation moves, he is very effective in the P&R and knows how to leverage the scoring gravity that he has. Maledon is very effective when changing speeds, and while his pull up game is still in progress, he is pretty solid finishing around the rim. Maledon has shot it well from deep in the Jeep Elite League, and his mechanics certainly aren’t broken, I definitely think he’s a good bet to be a decent shooter in the NBA. While international prospects often get the “Boom or bust” label, like Avdija, I think Maledon is a good basketball player that has a bright future in the states.
8. Matthew Hurt (Duke)
Hurt is someone I’m significantly higher on than mainstream sites, but I think it’s only a matter of time before that changes. With the direction the league is going, shooting bigs come at a premium, especially if they can hold their own on defense. A true stretch four, Hurt is probably one of the best shooters in this class, regardless of position. His quick flick release and insanely high functional release point allows him to shoot over anyone with ease. His shot prep is very encouraging, as he is always ready to let it fly. However, Hurt isn’t just a shooter. His touch from the outside translates to the paint, Hurt has a decent post up game and consistently hits floaters around the basket. On defense, he often bites on pump fakes a little too often, and he could probably add some muscle to fare better in the post. But, his perimeter defense deserves a lot more credit. Throughout last summer’s FIBA U18 Championships, Team USA was switching everything. Opposing guards often viewed Hurt as a mismatch, but he more than held his own. While Vernon Carey is a poor frontcourt partner for Hurt on defense, I still expect him to show his true value.
9. Issac Okoro (Auburn)
While I can’t get as high as others on Okoro, I definitely see value as a lockdown wing who’s extremely coordinated with elite athletic tools and a consistently increasing offensive arsenal. He has funky mechanics and is a career low 60s FT shooter, Okoro has great touch around the rim. I don’t think Okoro has star potential, but I’m very confident he can be a solid NBA player. He’s the best defender in this class by a landslide, I truly believe he can guard anyone on the court. His loose hips and quick change of direction combined with his frame create a brick wall on defense. Opponents visibly start to settle after being guarded by Okoro, because they know how hard it is to get a good shot off, let alone score. On offense, he’s a good cutter and has flashed some playmaking. Ultimately his money will be made on defense, but if he can continue his offensive progress, he could end up even higher for me.
10. James Wiseman (Memphis)
(Sigh). This is definitely where I expect to catch the most heat, but the film doesn’t lie. While Wiseman has the physical traits that NBA front offices dream of, his lack of motor and self awareness often negate those freakish gifts. Since being named the number one player in his class, the expectations have gotten too high. Wiseman was neither the best prospect or most productive player in his high school class, so when people tuned in to the “number one player in the country” they were usually left underwhelmed. I’m not fully out on Wiseman like some others, if he can look in the mirror and realize who he is as a basketball player, I might actually be optimistic about his median outcome. However the current disconnect between who James Wiseman is as a basketball player and who James Wiseman thinks he is as a basketball player is just too much for me to look past right now. His film has flashes for sure, sometimes Wiseman will flash his freakish wingspan with a putback or weak side block, but more often than not, it’s filled with ill-advised step-back jumpers, slow rotations and overdribbling. Maybe at the next level Wiseman will play more within himself, but until then, I can’t go higher than this.
11. RJ Hampton (New Zealand Breakers)
Hampton is a tough evaluation for me on a couple of levels. First, he’s a high school senior playing against grown men halfway across the globe. Because of his age and lack of experience playing against this size, it’s hard to decipher which mental mistakes can be chalked up to youth versus which ones showcase his potential lack of understanding for the game. Second, I’m not super confident he can become a point guard, but he’s most effective with the ball in his hands. I have a lot of questions about his draft profile, and NBL isn’t exactly the easiest way to find answers. Hampton stayed in the lottery for me because of his spicy dribble combos and comfort pulling up. I still have doubts about his defense and playmaking, hopefully they get answered throughout his season in New Zealand.
12. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova)
The “Do-it-all” forward is one of my favorite players in this class. On the court, he just gets it. Robinson-Earl is super skilled and he always seems to make the right play, usually a result of his extremely diverse skill set. Listed at 6’9”, he’s most likely a true four at the next level. While some will say the old school power forward is extinct, JRE brings so much to the table. It’s fair to think of him as a Bon Jovi song that just got remixed by David Guetta. That might sound ridiculous, but Robinson-Earl has an 80s foundation with his perfected fundamentals, precise footwork and confident post moves. On top of that, he’s added current pizzaz with his slick dribble combos, extended range and creative playmaking. On defense, he isn’t the best athlete, but he brings a ton value with his high-IQ team defense. One aspect that I hope Jay Wright highlights this year is his passing ability. Because of his playmaking ability and touch on floaters, Robinson-Earl should be very effective on the short roll. Another aspect that is critical for his NBA projection is the three ball. For the past couple of years, Robinson-Earl has been consistently extending his range, if he can continue that at Villanova then I’m truly all in.
13. Jaden McDaniels (Washington)
After being thrust into the number one pick conversation by an ESPN mock draft that surfaced last winter, some will say that McDaniels has fallen off. While it’s undeniable that he was underwhelming on the all-star circuit, I’m not ready to sell any stock just yet. McDaniels is still a project, and his ceiling is still very intriguing to me. When it’s going well, McDaniels game is extremely smooth and he appears to be unguardable. However, his lowlights are rather concerning. Throughout HS, he often struggled as a result of his slender frame. I don’t want to make any assumptions off a couple of photos on twitter, but it definitely looks like McDaniels has added some muscle. He’s a quiet kid, but that shouldn’t get turned into a knock on his passion and drive for the game. Jaden McDaniels still has work to do, but if he puts it all together, it’s going to be very scary.
14. Tre Jones (Duke)
Sometimes, for better or for worse, you just can’t unsee what you saw at lower levels. I’ll never forget watching Tre Jones dice up California Supreme for 30 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers, EYBL Tre was something else. While I don’t expect Jones to put up those scoring numbers, I do expect him to shoot the ball much better than he did last season. When Tre has the keys to a team, he plays with a certain confidence and swagger, last year he was overshadowed by three top 10 picks, but this year it’s his team. He’s one of the best on ball defenders in the country and can pick up full-court against anyone. While he isn’t a crazy athlete by any means, Jones knows how to get to his spots effectively. I might be a little high on Jones considering his ceiling is probably a starter, but I think he can be a good consistent piece that helps you win.
15. Killian Hayes (Ratiopharm Ulm)
Hayes is another French point guard that has often found his name in the lottery conversation, however, I have my reserves with him at this point in the process. The lefty lead guard definitely shows some shades of D’Angelo Russell with his change of pace and creativity with his dominant hand. Watching Hayes throw live dribble skips and manipulate professional defenses can be wildly entertaining, however, his point of attack defense and shooting woes are too much for me to put him in the lottery. His defensive stance is awful, and he’s very stiff and reluctant to crossover from slide into run. Hayes consistently gets blown by when guarding beyond the perimeter, and with the level of guard play in the league right now, it’s just not going to be sustainable. His shooting percentages from three have been very discouraging (19% from three last year) but he is a good free throw shooter and the mechanics aren’t broken. While there’s hope he improves, until I see the numbers consistently improve, I can’t get any higher.
16. Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia)
The West Virginia Mountaineer is about as unique as they come. Standing at 6’9”, he’s also undersized for the five, but Tshiebwe is a freak athlete in every single aspect. On the boards, he’s an absolute menace, using his endless motor and abundance of strength to overpower opponents. While his basketball skills might still be a little raw, his coordination as an athlete is unteachable. When rim running, Tshiebwe looks extremely fluid and covers an insane amount of ground in such a short time. He’s still a little bit of an open canvas, his skill development and decision making will play a big part in where he ends up in June, but I’m very intrigued at the moment.
17. Isaiah Stewart (Washington)
As much as I respect Stewart’s approach to the game, I’ve definitely cooled on him throughout the process. Maybe it’s just my positional values, as I tend to not get very excited about bigs who don’t project as dominant on either end of the floor. Stewart will be worth a top 20 pick, but I’m just not sure what he does well enough to warrant the top 10 hype. While Stewart is absolutely jacked, he isn’t a huge presence as a rim protector, and can sometimes be a little too inefficient on offense. I think he projects as a solid shooter who leaves everything out on the court, but I’m not sure how many of the defensive questions we’ll be able to answer with him playing in a zone.
18. Tre Mann (Florida)
Mann isn’t getting anywhere near the draft hype he deserves. Whether it’s due to his situation (Nembhard returning at 1) or his skills, Mann isn’t even considered to be a one-and-done by most sites, and that’s just wrong. During my trip to Atlanta for last year’s McDonald’s All-American Game, I fell in love with Mann’s game. Sporting a slender frame, he was extremely crafty and really knew how to pick his spots. Mann’s biggest asset is his pull up game. With “In the parking lot” range, he must be picked up and respected as soon as he crosses the timeline. Mann already has an advanced understanding of how to leverage this, often fooling defenders with head fakes and hesitation moves. Because of his frame, you might assume he has trouble finishing around the rim. But, as I mentioned above, Mann really knows how to pick his spots. All throughout the week, he successfully caught elite shot-blockers off guard with his live dribble scoop. He is comfortable attempting it with either hand off either leg. Not only will it help him get buckets in the SEC, but it speaks to his awareness and touch which will help him a lot down the line.
19. Bryan Antonie (Villanova)
There are a lot of questions surrounding Antonie and his health, but this ranking assumes he makes a full recovery at some point during the season and shows flashes of who he was in high school. Bryan Antonie gets buckets, in a variety of ways. He has elite pop which allows him to excel in transition while finishing around and above defenders, it also allows him to rise up over his defenders when pulling up. While there’s still doubts about his catch and shoot ability and decision making, Antonie is a first class athlete who knows how to put the ball in the basket. I hope he gets healthy as soon as possible and wish him a speedy recovery.
20. Scottie Lewis (Florida)
Lewis can either be mind-blowing or head scratching, it all depends on which clip you see. There aren’t many athletes (if any) like him in this class, he has the physical profile that’s beyond ideal for a wing in today’s NBA, but the concerns about his creation ability and decision making are very real. On defense, however, Lewis is a beast. This past winter, he locked up 6’11” Jaden McDaniels using his length, quick-twitch movements and anticipation. On the other end, he made multiple jump shots and had an efficient performance, but I realized this isn’t always the norm. His offensive film is filled with forced contested pull-ups and confusing decisions. If Lewis can acknowledge his role as a lockdown defender who is effective straight line driving in space and can knock down catch and shoot threes, then I’m comfortable with him in the top 20. Another one of his biggest advantages is character. He is the most passionate and intellectual player I’ve interviewed and it translates to the court. Lewis is always the most vocal on the floor, and I can guarantee he will positively impact the culture of wherever he lands, from day one.
21. Tyrese Haliburton (Iowa State)
There aren’t many players I enjoy watching more than Tyrese Haliburton, and I’m willing to move him up as the season goes on, but he has serious questions to answer. Haliburton is as unique as they come. If there was a general IQ test for basketball, I’m pretty confident that Haliburton would be classified as a genius. Last season, his stats were mind-boggling, in both positive and negative ways. On the bright side, Haliburton averaged less than one turnover per game while playing 33 minutes a night, he also shot 43% from three and always seemed to make the right winning play. However, there is a lot to be reserved about. In the NBA, if you can’t get to the rim and don’t carry any gravity around the rim, how successful can you be as a distributor? That’s a question that will apply to Haliburton if he doesn’t attack the basket more. The Cyclone only had 14 shots at the rim, which is wildly concerning and unorthodox for a first round prospect. While Haliburton was very efficient from three, his unique mechanics and slow release made it difficult to get off a lot of attempts. He visibly put in a ton of work, and his release looked much improved during the FIBA Championships this past summer. I’m a huge fan of Haliburton’s game and I can’t wait to see how he handles increased usage, but he definitely has some questions to answer.
22. Josh Green (Arizona)
The Australian is another highly touted piece of Arizona’s 2019 recruiting class that looks to get them back on track. Green absolutely looks the part of an NBA wing with his frame, but questions about offense impact leave him outside the twenties. He’s a crazy leaper which makes him really effective in transition and slashing in the halfcourt, but funky shooting mechanics and discouraging percentages raise concerns. I love everything Green does on defense and think he’ll cause a lot of problems in the Pac-12, he has great instincts and can guard multiple positions. Green brings a contagious energy to the game and if he can shoot the ball consistently, I’ll have no problems moving him up.
23. Wendell Moore (Duke)
The Duke Blue Devil does a little bit of everything on the court. Listed at 6’6” he has good height for a true two guard. Moore is very crafty with how he attacks and knows how to get to his spots on the floor. Defensively, he’s versatile and plays true to his frame when guarding all over the floor. My two biggest concerns surround his three point shooting and handle, which are both critical to projecting his offensive potential. While he has good touch and FT%, his lack of confidence from beyond the arc is worrisome. On multiple occasions, I’ve seen Moore pass up a wide open three to take a mid-range pull up, and that is not going to fly in the NBA.
24. Harlond Beverly (Miami)
If you read my profile on Beverly back in September, you know I’m a huge fan. I’ve already written a ton him so I don’t want to go too in-depth, but I really like Beverly as a sleeper in this class. Coming off a huge year with Montverde, he just gets it done and plays to his strengths. He is an elite defender with unbelievable awareness and anticipation. I would like to see his shot diversity improve, but there’s no doubt he’s a very reliable three point shooter off the catch. The next steps in his game revolve around playmaking and creating his own shot, but for now, I love his 3&D potential.
25. Isaiah Joe (Arkansas)
The Arkansas Razorback sophomore is an absolute nuclear shooter, there’s no other way to say it. Shot diversity is no problem for Joe, as he’s shown he can drain shots off the catch (spot up and off movement) and off the dribble. He’s very comfortable using side-steps and step backs to create the sliver of space he needs to get the shot off. As a freshman last year, Joe shot 41% from three on eight attempts per game, which is out of this world. His shot prep and follow through are second to none, if he can improve his handle and decision making while being neutral on defense, there’s definitely room to move up.
26. Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama)
Last year, other prospects Lewis’ age were playing in tiny HS gyms against kids who would pay for their autographs. Meanwhile, he was going toe to toe with two lottery picks in front 23,500 screaming fans in Rupp arena. Lewis didn’t turn 18 until Alabama’s season was already over, so it’s no surprise that the game appeared to move a little too fast for him at times. Now as a sophomore, Lewis is still young for this draft class and he’s already had a year of SEC basketball under his belt. To be fair, Lewis was no scrub last year, earning All-SEC Freshman honors. I think he’s ready to take a huge leap this year, that will translate to W’s for Alabama and his draft stock increasing.
27. Patrick Williams (Florida State)
Leonard Williams loves size, standing at 6’8” with a smooth outside stroke, Patrick Williams fits the bill. It’s unclear if Williams will play the 3 or 4 for the Seminoles, but he is going to be extremely active. Williams is very engaged on the glass, ultimately resulting in putback dunks and extra possessions for his team. He does a good job of attacking closeouts and can get to his spots. I don’t have a great grip on his athleticism or defense just yet, and those are obviously two big skills for his archetype (this ranking even more than others is subject to change). I think he is a great fit in Tallahassee and a productive freshman year could secure his spot in this first round.
28. Aaron Henry (Michigan State)
Henry does a little bit of everything on the floor, and if he can flourish under higher usage, I can definitely see him becoming a top 30 mainstay. I was expecting Henry to take a big jump as a sophomore, but now with Josh Langford’s injury, his development will be even more crucial to the Spartans. Henry has good size and can guard multiple positions, he shot the ball well from deep last year but again, it was on very low volume. The draft is about projecting forward, and based on the flashes he showed last year, I expect Henry to have a good year in East Lansing and make a strong case for the NBA.
29. Xavier Tillman (Michigan State)
In this range of the draft, winning teams are often looking for players that can play a role and help them win immediately. Xavier Tillman is just the guy those teams are looking for. I saw Tillman play one of his best games in person, he went for 19 points on 12 shots and made Zion Williamson work for everything while helping Sparty reach the Final Four. I’m hoping that he becomes more consistent as a three point shooter and provides some positive floor spacing for Tom Izzo, but even if that doesn’t fully come around, I still love Tillman’s defensive versatility. He plays the angles extremely well and uses his thick frame to wall off opposing players. Tillman projects to be a winning forward who can impact the game with his switchability and wide skill set.
30. Amar Sylla (Filou Oostende)
While Sylla might not have played his best at the FIBA U19 tournament this past summer, it must be noted that the team construction of Senegal was the opposite of ideal for him to show his strengths. The team was filled with length, but featured very little creation and shooting. Sylla ended up guarding on the perimeter sometimes because he was playing the 3, while he is certainly capable of switching, one of (if not his biggest) strengths is rim protection. For all those reasons, the FIBA tournament was a bad evaluation spot for Sylla. Last season, he showcased his functional freakish athletic gifts with the Real Madrid youth team, if the shooting and playmaking come along, expect him to jump a couple spots.
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