SALT LAKE CITY — Amid the swirling rumors of impending free agency decisions, a similarly crucial offseason checkpoint has passed and brought jaw-dropping and potentially pivotal results.
The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns all entered the draft lottery in mid-May with the highest hopes to land the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. But the Knicks were the only team of those three to remain in the top three as the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies took spots one and two, respectively.
Given the lottery results, the first key event of the upcoming offseason has some intriguing possibilities. With the draft scheduled for June 20, here is a look at an initial 2019 first round mock draft:
1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, F, Duke. Zion Williamson is the overwhelming favorite to be selected No. 1 overall. He was dominant at Duke during his only season in college, and averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He also led Duke to an Elite Eight appearance. A rebuilding Pelicans team will most likely select the most hyped draft prospect since Lebron James in hopes of building the future of the team around him.
2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, G, Murray State. Morant was one of the most electrifying players in the country last season. He averaged 24.5 points and 10.0 assists while leading mid-major Murray State to a first-round upset of Marquette. Morant has often been compared to Russell Westbrook with his eye-popping athleticism, but already has a jump shot that appears to be more developed than Westbrook’s. The Grizzlies have some interesting possibilities by selecting Ja Morant as they could trade an older Mike Conley for some decent young pieces or extra draft picks, or hang on to him to mentor this electrifying rookie. Utah Jazz fans should keep an eye on Memphis as Conley may become available.
3. New York Knicks: RJ Barrett, G, Duke. This pick might be the most intriguing of the draft. While the Knicks didn’t land the No. 1 pick as they had hoped, they are still in great position to grab a gifted scorer in Barrett. Barrett averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebound and 4.3 assists in his lone season at Duke, one of the best seasons in Duke freshmen history. The Knicks could hang on to this pick and get a great young scorer or they could use this pick and a couple of their young players and future picks to package to New Orleans to trade for Anthony Davis. If this trade were to happen, Barrett could be paired with his college roommate and phenom Zion Williamson in New Orleans.
4. Los Angeles Lakers: Darius Garland, G, Vanderbilt. Garland is a guard who can score the ball. He didn’t play much last season due to injury but scored more than 16 points per game in the games he did play. With Lonzo Ball’s injury issues and Rajon Rondo’s expiring contract, the Lakers may draft Garland in hopes he can be a playmaker to help Lebron James. This pick, however, could be another interesting trade piece if the Knicks don’t trade theirs. The Lakers may try to trade this pick and other young assets for either Anthony Davis or Bradley Beal from Washington.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia. Hunter was a great defender and capable scorer for the Virginia Cavaliers. He just may remain a Cavalier but move to Cleveland and help the Cavs on the defensive end. If he expands his shooting range and scoring ability, Hunter could be a productive player.
6. Phoenix Suns: Coby White, G, North Carolina. White was a pleasant surprise for North Carolina in his freshman season and showed a promising ability to lead a team. He averaged over 16 points and four assists per game. He is a 6-foot-5 guard with the ability to defend and make plays on the perimeter. The Suns desperately need a point guard and may select White in case they can’t find a developed point guard in the trade market.
7. Chicago Bulls: Jarrett Culver, W, Texas Tech. Culver led Texas Tech to the national championship game his sophomore season and showed the ability to score the ball from almost anywhere. He is a capable defender and may not be a star-potential player, but the Bulls need any help they can get and Culver could be a great role player for any squad.
8. Atlanta Hawks: Cam Reddish, W, Duke. Reddish was known as a shooter going into his freshman season at Duke but was inconsistent from the 3-point line. He still has potential and could fit well in today’s NBA if he can be more consistent. With a great young playmaker in Trae Young and a budding star forward in John Collins, Reddish could be a great fit in Atlanta.
9. Washington Wizards: Bol Bol, C, Oregon. Son of Manute Bol, Bol played only nine games at Oregon last season before an injury; but in those nine games, he averaged 21 points, 9.6 rebound and nearly three blocks per game. Bol showed he can step out an knock down the three, where he shot 57 percent from deep. Drafting him this high may be a gamble, but the Wizards don’t have much choice. They need a big man following the Dwight Howard failure; and if a healthy Bol Bol plays as great as his potential, he could be a gem for the Wizards.
10. Atlanta Hawks: Jaxson Hayes, PF/C, Texas. Hayes is 6-foot-11 and could slide into the center position, which would allow John Collins to be more effective at his natural power forward position. Hayes hasn’t played a ton of basketball and is raw, but he can protect the rim and is athletic. He might be a project to develop, but this young Atlanta Hawks team could be dangerous in the next few years with the incredible potential they’ve collected.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves: Sekou Doumbouya, F, France. Doumbouya is a raw talent who played in Europe. He shows potential as a good defender — something Karl-Anthony Towns is not — and can handle the ball well enough to be a scoring threat as well. The Wolves already have talent but may need to find a diamond in the rough, and Doumbouya would be an interesting development project that has great upside.
12. Charlotte Hornets: Brandon Clarke, F, Gonzaga. The Hornets could use some fresh faces in the front court, and Brandon Clarke is a very promising player out of Gonzaga. He can defend and is extremely athletic. If he develops as more of an offensive threat, and if Kemba Walker stays in Charlotte this offseason, Clarke could be an interesting pick-and-roll mate with Kemba.
13. Miami Heat: Romeo Langford, W, Indiana. The Heat have a few options here and may decide to go the big man route; but they still have Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside, so it seems more likely they go with a playmaking wing. Langford could be a good scorer if he can be a more consistent shooter.
14. Boston Celtics: PJ Washington, PF, Kentucky. Boston needs some front court depth. Marcus Morris will be a free agent and Al Horford could opt out (unlikely). They don’t have a ton of great depth at power forward, so someone like Washington could stretch the floor and score. Washington fits well into today’s style of basketball.
15. Detroit Pistons: Kevin Porter Jr., W, USC. Detroit has plenty of talent in the front court and desperately need a playmaker in the backcourt. Porter Jr. has a lot of talent and potential as a scorer/playmaker. He can handle the ball and take some of the bucket-getting load off Blake Griffin.
16. Orlando Magic: Nassir Little, W, North Carolina. The Magic could really use wing depth and a guy with the ability to handle the ball. They don’t have a great point guard and there aren’t many great choices at this spot in the draft, so Little could be the best fit. He can handle the ball and create offense with his athleticism, but struggled a bit last season at North Carolina. However, if he continues to improve his jumper, Little could be a steal in this draft.
17. Brooklyn Nets: Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga. Hachimura was phenomenal for Gonzaga last season. He can be a versatile defender and has the ability to score, shoot and rebound. Hachimura could very well be the steal of the draft and the Nets could use a guy like him at power forward.
18. Indiana Pacers: Tyler Herro, W, Kentucky. With Bojan Bogdanovic and Wes Matthews becoming free agents, the Pacers may look to replace that shooting by adding Tyler Herro. Herro made some big shots in the NCAA Tournament this spring and isn’t a bad playmaker as well.
19. San Antonio Spurs: Goga Bitadze, C, Georgia (Europe). The Spurs have Lamarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl in the front court, but Bitadze could learn under Aldridge as he has a fairly similar game: efficient from the midrange and an overall offensive threat. Of course, who knows who the Spurs will take this year; we probably have never heard of him.
20. Boston Celtics: Grant Williams, F, Tennessee. The Celtics have plenty of wings so they may go with another forward here. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year each of the last two seasons and is a heady player who is physical and versatile as a small-ball big man.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Cam Johnson, W, North Carolina. The Thunder desperately need shooting on their roster and Johnson is a good fit here. He is a lengthy 6-foot-9 and could defend a variety of positions while being an offensive threat at the same time — something OKC hasn’t had for a long time at the other wing position.
22. Boston Celtics: Dylan Windler, W, Belmont. With their third first-round pick, the Celtics may look to take a capable shooter if they pursue an Anthony Davis trade that would likely require moving Jayson Tatum and/or Jaylen Brown. Windler shot well from three for Belmont and may be a good fit here.
23. Utah Jazz: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, W, Virginia Tech. The Jazz could use a playmaker to help out Donovan Mitchell on the offensive end. They have plenty of defense but need some offense to help them get to the next level. Alexander-Walker can play a combo-guard-like role, is a decent shooter and can create a shot for others.
24. Philadelphia 76ers: Luka Samanic, F, Croatia. The 76ers could use someone to stretch the floor that is cheap on the salary books. Samanic, a young European prospect that can stretch the floor and play the center position, could be helpful when Joel Embiid has health issues.
25. Portland Trail Blazers: Keldon Johnson, W, Kentucky. Johnson is extremely athletic and the Blazers could use a playmaker off the bench with Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood becoming free agents. He can also defend well and step out a hit a three.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers: Talen Horton-Tucker, W, Iowa State. Horton-Tucker has a lot of talent and potential as a wing who could also occaisionally play as a forward. There are some concerns with his discipline, but Horton-Tucker could get some minutes on a rebuilding Cavs team.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue. D’Angelo Russell will be a restricted free agent and the Nets will pursue Kyrie Irving in free agency. If the Nets lose Russell and miss out on Irving, they will need another guard who can score the ball. Edwards was incredible in the tournament this spring and has amazing range as a shooter.
28. Golden State Warriors: Luguentz Dort, W, Arizona State. If Kevin Durant does indeed leave the Warriors, they will need a cheap wing to fill in some of those minutes left over. Dort is incredibly strong and athletic and could be a perfect role player for the Warriors. He can defend at a high level and doesn’t need the ball to make an impact on the game.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Matisse Thybulle, W, Washington. Thybulle is a savvy defender and has great length and offensive potential. He seems like the type of player Greg Popovich would be great at developing into a solid role player.
30. Milwaukee Bucks: Mfiondu Kabengele, PF/C, Florida State. Kabengele is a big who can stretch the floor and protect the rim. Brook Lopez was great for the Bucks this season at an incredible bargain of a price, but Lopez may get too much money for the Bucks to afford to bring him back. Kabengele could be an interesting pick on a Giannis-led team that is already one of the longest in the league.
Ryan Ball-Sports contributor, Podcaster (Ball Don't Lie podcast), Analyst