That special night of the basketball calendar is upon us once again, as the 2019 NBA Draft is set to take place in a few hours. With a generational talent in Zion Williamson in the mix (heard of him?), as well as a particularly unpredictable landscape shaping up shortly after his selection, it could be one of the most entertaining drafts in recent memory.
Now what exactly is a ‘fantasy’ mock draft, per se? Well, since all mocks are essentially crap shoot guesses at outcomes that at almost always made obsolete shortly after the real draft starts, that could be seen as a double entendre. But in this case, it was simply a take on the real facts at hand, mixed with the logic of TSFJers Johnathan Tillman and Matt Whitener, who went back-and-forth in making selections. However, not only did they make picks, they also proposed trade scenarios to mix things up based on the real-life situations of the teams involved.
So, take the journey of Till and Whitener as they joust their way through the draft board and take a crack at sifting through the NBA’s draft day intrigue. (For the writer that is picking, MW = Whitener, JT = Tillman).
- New Orleans Pelicans (MW): Zion Williamson, PF (Duke)
As if there was any other choice? Zion is in the handful of the most consensus top picks of the last 30 years, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis in regards to draft night positioning. And he will immediately be handed the torch as the Pelicans franchise player, alongside the returns for the recently departed Davis in NOLA.
- Memphis Grizzlies (JT): Ja Morant, PG (Murray State)
This is the other obvious choice. Morant brings an excitement and explosion to a Memphis team that needs some flash, as well as him having a chip on his shoulder from being under-recruited coming out of high school. Two South Carolina AAU teammates should go back-to-back in this year’s draft.
- New York Knicks (MW): R.J. Barrett, SG (Duke)
The offseason is still young, but things already haven’t gone exactly to plan for the Knicks, have they? With both Anthony Davis headed to L.A. and Kevin Durant’s Achilles throwing his immediate future off trajectory, the Knicks are already onto, at best, their third best possible outcome of the summer. Getting Barrett here ensures that the year’s not a total loss. He’s got the alpha dog mentality needed to take the lead and could still fit in next to a potential upgrade at point guard, whether it be Kyrie, Kemba or otherwise.
- Atlanta Hawks (via Pelicans from the Lakers) (JT): DeAndre Hunter (Virginia)
Here is where everybody anticipates business picking up tonight, and we are no different. In the first of our individual liberty moves within this mock, a three-way deal is being tossed into the mix to spice things up:
- New Orleans Pelicans get: Andre Drummond & the 17 pick
- Detroit Pistons get: Kent Bazemore, 2019 overall 8th pick and 2020 Lakers pick (from NOLA)
- Atlanta Hawks get: Solomon Hill & the #4 pick
Here’s the housecleaning on this one: the Pelicans desperately need size and some veteran presence, while the Pistons wouldn’t mind getting away from Drummond’s deal. Meanwhile, the Hawks want to move up to land an impact player, who this scenario we peg as Hunter. Bazemore (who was nearly moved last season) and Hill are put in to make the money make sense, and the domino rally of draft night gets underway.
Regarding Hunter, he’s a 6’8″ wing that adds a necessary offensive piece on the perimeter. With Trae Young and John Collins already there, there needs to be length and stability with them. I believe Hunter will be a better pro than he was a college player because of the added space the NBA game brings.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (MW): Jarrett Culver, SG (Texas Tech)
The Cavs are really in best player available mode here, which would really be Darius Garland. But with Collin Sexton already in tow, it makes sense to get him a suitable running mate in the backcourt that fits alongside his style of play. With that being said, Culver makes all the sense in the world. His versatility and natural scoring skills instantly give the Cleveland backcourt one with extremely exciting upside.
- Phoenix Suns (JT): Darius Garland, PG (Vanderbilt)
Missing out on getting Morant hurt Phoenix more than any other team. But as stated in our NBA Draft Avenue series, Darius Garland is more than a consolation prize. The former Commodore is coming off a knee injury, but should be ready to have a stellar rookie campaign. Let’s hope they don’t trade him like they did every other point guard they’ve had for the past five years.
- Chicago Bulls (MW): Coby White, PG (North Carolina)
This is a great land for the Bulls at this point, who need a booster shot in the arm at point guard. White fits in nicely next to Zach LaVine and is the type of offensive-minded wing who could potentially share the backcourt with Kris Dunn in shifts as well. The Bulls could be another team that could be a target for teams looking to consolidate picks and rise, but if they stand pat, White is a great pick as he adds a completely new element to this Chicago team.
- Detroit Pistons (via Atlanta) (JT): Jaxson Hayes (Texas)
He’s the best big man prospect and the Pistons have a rather large hole to fill in the interior, with Drummond leaving the picture. Much like every player in the draft, Hayes is still unpolished. But his energy and defensive prowess will contribute right away.
- Washington Wizards (MW): Sekou Doumbouya, SF (France)
The footage that is out there of Doumbouya is eye-popping. He’s got the size, athleticism and hunger to finish that today’s game is all about. If he had been granted more exposure stateside, his stock would likely be much higher. The Wizards are in a bit of a purgatory-like stage right now, with Bradley Beal being their only dependable asset, but going for Doumbouya’s considerable upside is a worthwhile gamble at this point.
- Atlanta Hawks (JT): Cam Reddish, SG (Duke)
Atlanta needs size and shooting on the wings. Duke’s Cam Reddish fits both those criteria, as he’s widely believed to have the best touch from outside in the entire draft. At 6’8″, his measurements and athleticism are higher than expected and he should stand out more in the pros after being a bit overshadowed by Williamson and Barrett at Duke.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (MW): Brandon Clarke, PF (Gonzaga)
As already chronicled in the T-Wolves Draft Avenue entry, this could be the best pure fit of the entire draft. Clarke does a lot of things right and fits in nicely next to KAT. He also has the ability to step in immediately for Taj Gibson and be a day one upgrade. Good grab outside of the top 10 for a guy that could have top five impact.
- Charlotte Hornets (JT): Romeo Langford, SG (Indiana)
What do the Charlotte Hornets do? It’s not so much about whether or not to pick a player, but I think more than any other team in the lottery, they need their stars to be homegrown. Picking 11th doesn’t necessarily keep them from acquiring a future All-Star, but the chances are slimmer than if they were selecting in the top 5. To me, the player with the most star potential at this spot in the draft is Indiana’s Romeo Langford. He’s a big combo guard at 6’5″ and comfortable with or without the ball.
- Miami Heat (MW): Nassir Little, SF (North Carolina)
His freshman season with the Tar Heels didn’t live up to its billing as a whole, but by the end of the year he had begun to more regularly show the promise that had made one of the most buzzed about freshman in county heading into the year. He fits the bill as a high-energy perimeter threat that can log minutes at the two or three.
- Boston Celtics (JT): Rui Hachimura, PF (Gonzaga)
The 14th pick is the final selection in the lottery. But for what Boston needs–athleticism and defensive prowess on the interior–no sensible player is available since Brandon Clarke was just taken. I think that if Ainge can’t pull off another trade, one that will only happen if Ainge looks like he won in the deal, the Celtics may have to take the best available. I believe that player is Hachimura. He’s versatile and doesn’t operate in the same spaces Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown do. At the very least, he can fulfill the offensive role left by Marcus Morris.
- Detroit Pistons (MW): Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Guard (Virginia Tech)
Alexander-Walker is the perfect fit for the Pistons in the entire draft. He’s a combo guard who is capable of being a crafty scorer and smart creator with the ball in his hands. He offers a successor for Reggie Jackson down the road, but also can learn off the ball as well. Although the Pistons have added Kent Bazemore already in this mock amid the earlier three-way deal with the Hawks and Pelicans, there is still room for NAW to make an impact.
- Orlando Magic (JT): Ty Jerome, SG (Boston College)
It’s time for a team to reach a bit for a player, and I think Orlando should do that with Jerome. Size in the backcourt is becoming quite the necessity, and Jerome can play either guard position. He’s a very heady player who won’t make many mistakes when he has the ball.
- New Orleans Pelicans (from ATL) (MW): Goga Bitadze, C (Montenegro)
Size continues to be needed in NOLA, even after landing Drummond earlier in our scenario here. Bitadze is the best European prospect in the draft this year and has plenty of upside as a rim protector, something the Pelicans have to replace plenty of in the post-AD days. Although he may be a bit of a project, there is a clear fit and need here in the middle with the 6’11, 245-pounder.
- Indiana Pacers (JT): Cameron Johnson, SF (North Carolina)
Brother Whitener and I agree that Indiana should have found a way to snag Mike Conley Jr. away from the Memphis Grizzlies, and abandoning this pick altogether in the process. But with that option now off the table, they need to find the best fit for what’s in place again. The Pacers have a lot of solid pieces and an injured budding superstar in Victor Oladipo. Johnson is better than where this draft position has him placed. He’s got good size at 6’8″ and in his second year in Chapel Hill after transferring from Pitt, he proved to be a tremendous shooter.
- San Antonio Spurs (MW): PJ Washington, PF (Kentucky)
This ends what could be seen as a bit of a slide for Washington, who could realistically be taken 10 slots higher. The Spurs have crafted a legacy around landing such players that fall through the cracks however, and Washington would represent an immediate coup for Pop and the boys. He can fill in next to LaMarcus Aldridge and do the dirty work required and instantly be a rotational contributor with plenty of upside from day one.
- Boston Celtics (JT): Carsen Edwards, Guard (Purdue)
It seems the Celtics will look very different come Opening Night 2019. With Kyrie Irving’s likely departure, point guard becomes a need, something Edwards can aid in filling. He is another player who shot up the draft boards after a remarkable NCAA Tournament run. Edwards is capable of leading a team and filling the scoring role of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown still require another year before reaching stardom.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (MW): Tyler Herro, SG (Kentucky)
The Thunder need to add complimentary outside shooting badly. Herro would be an instant upgrade in that department, after hitting 35.5% of his threes and 93% of his work at the charity stripe with the Wildcats last year. The top-heavy Thunder has to find cheap, precise upgrades this summer and Herro checks all of those boxes.
- Boston Celtics (JT): Bol Bol, PF (Oregon)
Surely, they keep somebody from this draft, right? And surely, somebody pans out for them, right? Well, with Al Horford and the Celtics agreeing to mutually part ways, there is an immediate need for help in the paint. Oregon’s Bol Bol, another freshman who had his line college season cut short due to injury, makes sense here. Yes, he’s thin. But he’s also very nimble and skilled. Bol fits because he’s a pick in the latter third of the draft. There won’t be much expectation for him to produce quickly.
- Memphis Grizzlies (from Utah) (MW): Kevin Porter Jr, SG (USC)
With the pick return from trading off Mike Conley, the Grizz bet on the talent of Porter Jr. The red flags that came from a suspension at USC caused his stock to slide, but his talent-level is that of a top 10 pick. Guys like that only slide so far, especially for a team that has already added the draft’s most dynamic guard already in Morant and could (keyword) hit another home run with an added pick 22 slots later.
- Philadelphia 76ers (JT): Keldon Johnson, SG (Kentucky)
Ben Simmons, like most unique talents, present quite the conundrum. Because of his height and skill, he adjusts the Sixers’ lineup, playing as the primary ball handler on offense but defending forwards on defense. This, along with JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris being free agents, leaves the wing position open for someone to come in and play right away. Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson can be plugged into Brett Brown’s rotation without the expectations of having to replace a player the caliber of Butler. He’s an athletic guard who will help with perimeter defense and could develop into a consistent three-point shooter to space the floor for Simmons and Joel Embiid. For Johnson personally, it’s a bit of a drop from his early projections, but this may be better for his career.
- Portland Trailblazers (MW): Grant Williams, PF (Tennessee)
With the future of Jusur Nurkic currently up in the air follow his nasty leg break late in the year, the Blazers have some uncertainty around the rim. Enes Kanter filled in admirably down the stretch, but with both him and Al-Farouq Aminu headed towards free agency, the Blazers need to get better in as many ways as possible on the front line. Williams is a smart player that is comfortable with having the offense run through him, but also has the grit to mix it up and throw his body around as well. He’ll work to get better and get in where he fits in.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (JT): Dylan Windler, SG (Belmont)
He may not be something most fans are familiar with, but Dylan Windler absolutely belongs in the first round of this draft. He is an outstanding shooter and compares to Gordon Hayward in terms of skill set. Cleveland needs help in many areas, but they have a lot of money invested in the frontcourt with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love. Windler would fit nicely next to Collin Sexton as a space-maker.
- Brooklyn Nets (MW): Nic Claxton, C/PF (Gonzaga)
The Nets have lost a lot of size since the end of the season, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Demarre Carroll, Ed Davis and Jared Dudley all hitting the open market. This opens up a need for a versatile front court player such as Claxton to get into the mix here. He is a great upside add at this point in the draft, who can work nicely next to Jarrett Allen. He is a capable ballhandler for a big man as well and fits well into the Nets position-less approach.
- Golden State Warriors (JT): KZ Okpela, SG (Stanford)
Last year’s Western Conference champions need shooting and creating from the forward position. Okpela makes sense here for both of those reasons. In college, he grew three inches and along with his height, his three-point shooting percentage increased. Rebounding needs to improve but he fits in with the Warriors’ interchangeable schemes.
- San Antonio Spurs (from Toronto) (MW): Matisse Thybulle, SG (Washington)
A plus defensive presence that has the versatility to guard small forwards through point guards with similar ease. While being a plus athlete, he also has strong fundamentals that make him a great shot blocker for a guard. Has upside as a shooter as well and could be the prototypical ‘glue guy’ for a contending team relatively early in his career. Yet another great Spur type here.
- Milwaukee Bucks (JT): Talen Horton-Tucker (Iowa State)
If the Eastern Conference Finals showed any concern with the likely MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, it’s the fact that he was unable to generate offense in the close games with Toronto. Now I fully believe he’ll develop into that kind of player in halfcourt settings, but it never hurts to have help. All-Star Khris Middleton has decided to test free agent waters, so that may open up a void in perimeter scoring. Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker is a great value pick. Young, talented and not caring much expectation allows him to develop that natural scoring ability alongside the Greek Freak.
Top second round prospects: Mfiondu Kabengele (Florida State), Chuma Okeke (Auburn), Darius Bazley (High Schooler), Louis King (Oregon), Luguentz Dort (Arizona State), Luka Samanic (Croatia)
I’m a firm believer that the closest I’ve gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I’ll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’.