On opening night of college basketball, the young stars shined bright and established their already-firm status as likely top picks in next year’s NBA Draft.
Duke standouts RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson combined for 83 points — one fewer than Kentucky’s entire team — in a 118-84 blowout in the Champions Classic nightcap. In the opening game, between Kansas and Michigan State, Quentin Grimes hung 21 on the tenth-ranked Spartans by knocking down six of his 10 3-point attempts on the evening.
There are still dozens of games yet to be played for 2019 draft hopefuls and room to improve or worsen draft stock before next June’s annual selection, but let’s take a look at where things stand with a rundown of my first mock draft of the season with the draft order determined by SportsLine’s NBA regular-season projections .
RJ Barrett | Duke | SF | 6-7
Barrett is going to be a stat monster on a Duke team chock-full of NBA talent. Standing at a built-out 6-foot-7 with a smooth lefty stroke, he’s got all the physical assets teams crave in an NBA wing, with athleticism to boot. His game overall is well-developed for his age, and yet he’s still just scratching the surface of the superstar he could eventually become. His 33-point outing against NBA-level athletes defending him for Kentucky is a foreshadowing of the season he’s going to have. Cleveland would be wise to do everything it can to make sure its positioned to snatch him up.
Zion Williamson | Duke | PF | 6-7
There are lingering questions about Zion Williamson’s overall skillset and whether or not he’s got an offensive arsenal worthy of such a high selection, but even if he’s inconsistent this season — and way-too-early indications are that he won’t be — I simply don’t see how the Bulls let him slide by. He’s a 6-7, 285-pound monster-of-a-man who could contribute immediately with his versatility on defense and rim-rocking ways. If he’s able to show he can consistently knock down jumpers all the way out to the 3-point line during his presumably short stay at Duke, teams are going to be itching to move up the board to grab him.
Cam Reddish | Duke | SF | 6-8
Reddish may be among the most talented prospects in this class, and at 6-8 with his scoring acumen, it wouldn’t shock me to see him land inside the top 3. But Reddish is an enigma; questions about his inconsistency both with effort and with his production will need to be answered definitively before he works his way into that top tier. Nonetheless, his scoring abilities in spot-up situations and off the bounce are impressive, as he showed Tuesday by casually dropping 22 in Duke’s blowout of Kentucky. In Phoenix, he could be a star alongside Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and Deandre Ayton if he puts it all together.
Romeo Langford | Indiana | SG | 6-6
The Magic have a bevvy of young, long and versatile forwards, so the Indiana star, who will be best known as an elite offensive prospect, would be an ideal addition to boost a team that ranks in the bottom five in the NBA in 3-point shooting this season. Langford has limitless range as an outside scorer, can slice-and-dice his way to the bucket and finish consistently at the rim using his athleticism and speed, and has good awareness and vision as a ball-handler. He’s shown flashes of being a capable two-way player, too, and has good mobility and lateral quickness to develop into an above average NBA defender.
Nassir Little | North Carolina | SF | 6-6
Pick via Kings. Even if Gordon Hayward returns to his former self in Boston, the Celtics shouldn’t pass on the best available player on the board at No. 5 when their time comes. Thus, Nassir Little makes sense. He would be an excellent wing piece to put around an already promising core that mans one of the East’s most lethal roster. Little was the best player at the McDonald’s All-American game by a noticeable margin, yes, slightly ahead of Barrett and Williamson, and is developing rapidly into a more all-around player as both as an offensive playmaker and initiator. He will need to tighten his handle and his outside stroke to realize his full potential, but his tools are useful enough now to be considered here.
Quentin Grimes | Kansas | SG | 6-5
Grimes is a quintessential NBA ready-guard who can do a little of everything at a high level: Scoring, assisting and handling. He’s an explosive finisher around the rim who finishes with force and has wiggle to get around players, but also has some finesse that’s legitimately jarring. His handle and vision suggests he could be a quality playmaker no matter where Kansas — and eventually, one NBA team — decides to place him in the system. The Hawks make sense as a landing spot here, and he has the tools to be a nice piece alongside Trae Young.
Bol Bol | Oregon | C | 7-2
Pick via Mavericks. Bol Bol, the son of former NBA player Manute Bol, may have the most volatile stock among all the one-and-done prospects entering the season. But even if the questions about his jumbo body and college production loom after his presumably brief time in Eugene, Oregon it’s hard to imagine he slips out of the top 10. A 3-point shooting, rim-rocking big of his stature comes around only once in a blue moon. Atlanta should feel like it’s getting away with theft if he falls to them at No. 7.
Sekou Doymboya | International player | SF | 6-9
Let’s face it: the Wizards need upgrades at more than one position. But as the roster is currently constructed, adding a talented forward in Sekou Doymboya, a forward from France, may be the smartest bet. Doymboya can complement the Wizards’ cupboard with a 6-9 presence who, in international play, has impressed both as a shooter and playmaker. He’s a willing slasher and attacker without the rock and knows how to be productive without the ball. On a team that has two capable on-ball playmakers in Bradley Beal and John Wall, both of whom are going to possess the ball often, Doymboya may be a seamless schematic fit.
Keldon Johnson | Kentucky | SG | 6-6
Keldon Johnson is in line to be just the latest wing to go one-and-done from Kentucky, joining the likes of Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo and others before him. Like the others, Johnson passes the eye test with an impressive 6-6 frame that’s already built out and ready to produce. He’ll produce eye-popping highlight reel dunks and flash plenty of athleticism while in Lexington, but he’s a streaky shooter on the whole and likely needs to improve his skills on the ball to warrant a top-10 selection. Nonetheless, his competitive streak and fiery on-court attitude is an X-factor that gives him an edge. He fits as a potential glue guy in L.A. with 3-and-D potential if his stroke levels off.
De’Andre Hunter | Virginia | SF | 6-8
Pick via Grizzlies. After a season-ending injury cut short what may have been a breakout in the NCAA Tournament, Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter should finally be a household name for the Cavaliers and their hopes of getting back to No. 1-seed status in the NCAA Tournament this season. Hunter is a 6-8 forward who can knock down 3-pointers, body opponents up as a defender down low, and flush dunks with ease. His big selling point as a prospect is his two-way versatility, and he’s among the most adaptable in this class.
Jarrett Culver | Texas Tech | SG | 6-5
Keenan Evans was the star for Texas Tech last season and Zhaire Smith was the freshman who wound up building up his stock into lottery status. Jarrett Culver, meanwhile, flew under the radar as a flashy shooting guard who has translatable NBA skills with his defensive prowess and smooth outside stroke. The 6-foot-5 sophomore may soak up a feature role with the Red Raiders this season and work his way into the same territory his former fellow freshman in Zhaire Smith did last season.
Daniel Gafford | Arkansas | C | 6-11
With an aging frontcourt led at power forward by Taj Gibson and Anthony Tolliver, Minnesota may look to pit another talented big man alongside Karl-Anthony Towns. Arkansas big Daniel Gafford would give the Wolves a stellar, athletic and explosive option to upgrade the spot with youth. Gafford can play either big man spot and thrives as both a shot-blocker and lob-finisher, which may allow for Towns to play more freely on offense. This pick may be a luxury selection, however, if Jimmy Butler ends up leaving the team or gets traded before free agency.
Darius Garland | Vanderbilt | PG | 6-2
Darius Garland may be the one-and-done prospect you’re not yet aware of, but he’ll absolutely get some pub this season for a Vanderbilt team that’s juiced with young talent. Garland is a 6-2 point guard who has a quick twitch and near-flawless ball-handling ability. His court vision and see-it-before-it-develops spidey senses are next-level. In Brooklyn, he could perhaps be an intriguing developmental prospect to invest in.
Jalen McDaniels | San Diego State | PF | 6-10
The Rockets could use an injection of talent at power forward, and San Diego State star Jalen McDaniels could give it to them. A 6-10 sophomore who averaged 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, he flashed as an NBA prospect often with his freakish athleticism. When he’s on the court, he plays as if he’s packing minipogo sticks inside his sneakers. If he can develop a more steady game on offense, teams may find it hard to let him slip past the lottery.
Ja Morant | Murray State | PG | 6-3
As a freshman at Murray State last season, Ja Morant averaged 12.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists. He does a little of everything from the point guard position, and plays inches taller than his measured 6-3 frame thanks to his outstanding athleticism. He’s a solid finisher at the rim, but his offense outside the paint is where he can most improve as a prospect. He shot only 30.7 percent from 3-point range.
Rui Hachimura | Gonzaga | PF | 6-8
Gonzaga may only have one season left with its under-the-radar NBA talent in Rui Hachimura. Hachimura is a 6-8 forward who is still more on the raw side offensively, with no outside game on the horizon, but his defensive versatility and athletic gifts are enviable. He should go from a bench player to a starter for Gonzaga this season which should allow him to develop his sometimes hit-or-miss decision-making on the whole. He averaged double he amont of turnovers last season as he did assists per game.
Kris Wilkes | UCLA | SG | 6-8
Kris Wilkes put himself on the NBA radar by averaging 13.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game while shooting 35.2 percent from the 3-point line as a freshman last season. He’s got ideal size to play the forward spot, and his true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage both ranked inside the top-20 in Pac-12 play last season according to KenPom. He’s going to have a huge uptick in production as a sophomore this season where his talent to get shots off in a hurry off the bounce and off the pass will draw him plenty of eyes. The Pelicans could use more shooters to surround Anthony Davis, and Wilkes fits the bill.
Eric Paschall | Villanova | PF | 6-8
Paschall didn’t crack 30 minutes per game last season for title-winning Villanova, but that should change this season with Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman off to the NBA. Last season he put up 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds, and came on late as an NCAA All-Tournament performer. The combination of his scoring ability, 6-8 frame, and efficient 3-point shot (he hit 35.6 percent of outside shots last season) will get him buzz as a potential lottery pick. The Heat could use him and his versatility in a number of ways, which will be his most appealing asset coming out.
Charles Bassey | Western Kentucky | C | 6-11
Conference USA isn’t going to be able to handle Charles Bassey’s bullying style that accompanies his 6-11, 245-pound frame. He’s going to dominate the league with his rebounding and punishing play around the rim. While he doesn’t fit the profile of a modern day NBA big man, his talent is undeniable. What he lacks in overall mobility he may be able to make up for in his passing/playmaking. The Spurs could take those underappreciated skills and put them to good use in their system.
Jaylen Hoard | Wake Forest | SF | 6-8
The Hornets may be in a tough spot here with a need to grab a point guard but no option but to reach from this position. If they simply go best prospect available and bet on upside, Wake Forest forward Jaylen Hoard will certainly catch their eye. He’s a 6-8 versatile freshman with a near 7-foot-long wingspan. With Wake’s top three scorers from last season gone, Hoard will have opportunities to flash his NBA potential from day one in Danny Manning’s system.
Jalen Smith | Maryland | PF | 6-10
JaVale McGee isn’t L.A.’s long-term answer at center for the LeBron-led Lakers. Investing in a big in this next draft seems reasonable to expect. Maryland product Jalen Smith may be a candidate to watch in this range. He’s 6-foot-10 and plays with gobs of energy that could replace the energizer bunny that is McGee. While he doesn’t have the same versatility as other bigs in this class, he’s going to be excellent at what he does: Rebounding, scoring around the rim and protecting the paint.
Kevin Porter | Southern California | SG | 6-6
The 76ers drafted — then traded — sharpshooting wing man Mikal Bridges on draft night, snatching up an extra draft pick and Zhaire Smith in the process. But The Process needs an immediate jolt of shooting alongside Ben Simmons, one that Bridges may have been able to provide. USC product Kevin Porter, in theory, could give them that. At 6-6 with sound shot mechanics, his left-handed delivery and quick release is promising. This season will be telling about whether or not his shot holds up against higher level competition.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker | Virginia Tech | SG | 6-5
Oklahoma City needs shooters like a fish needs water, and drafting Virginia Tech product Nickeil Alexander-Walker could be a simple solution. He put up 10.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game as a freshman last season, and knocked down 39.2 percent of his 3-point attempts. (Per Bleacher Report, 65.1 percent of his offense came from spot-ups and transition opportunities, which suggests he’d be an ideal fit alongside slashing All-Star Russell Westbrook.)
PJ Washington | Kentucky | PF | 6-8
Pick via Nuggets. Early returns on Kentucky product PJ Washington returning for a sophomore season have been promising. He averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 boards per game on the team’s preseason trip to the Bahamas, and appears to have slendered down from a year ago. His new look may give UK the option to unleash him at multiple positions, which is both good for UK and better for Washington, who can sell his inside-out versatility to NBA scouts.
Ashton Hagans | Kentucky | PG | 6-3
Depth behind All-Star Damian Lillard remains a question mark for the Trail Blazers. Neither Seth Curry nor Wade Baldwin IV appear to be long-term backup solutions capable of running a strong second unit. Enter Kentucky product Ashton Hagans, a young point guard prospect who reclassified from 2019 to 2018 to become draft eligible in June. Hagans is a flat-out competitor on both ends of the court, reminiscent of former Alabama star Collin Sexton, though his shot may be more advanced at this stage. He may not be an immediate starting-level ball-handler, but Portland has the luxury of thinking long-term with this pick. If he can run competently the offense for one of the top teams in college basketball and prove he’s capable of knocking down shots consistently, he’s worth a late first-round gamble to potentially run Portland’s second unit.
Jontay Porter | Missouri | C | 6-11
Missouri sophomore Jontay Porter was on track to likely hear his name called inside the top 20, and he may still work his way into that position, but a preseason ACL and MCL tear put a damper on what may have been a breakout second season with the Tigers. He may still be a top-30 pick, though, with his unique shot-blocking and shooting that should translate to the modern NBA.
Lindell Wigginton | Iowa State | PG | 6-2
Eric Bledsoe is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, and backup Malcolm Brogdon is on pace to hit the restricted market. With looming question marks at the position, Milwaukee would be wise to invest in a youngster like Iowa State’s Lindell Wigginton, an athletic ball-handler who averaged 16.7 points as a freshman last season. Wigginton’s decision-making will need to improve overall before he’s handed the keys to an NBA offense in Milwaukee run through Giannis Antetokounmpo — he averaged more turnovers per game (3.0) than assists (2.8) last season — but his upside as both a scorer and playmaker is enticing for a team like the Bucks who can gamble on potential at No. 27.
Coby White | North Carolina | PG | 6-4
White’s an X-factor for an underrated North Carolina team, and he’s being slept on largely because his freshman teammate, Nassir Little, is a near lock to go inside the top 5. But White’s an electric talent and may work his way into the first round with a strong season. His skillset is largely based off an elite offensive arsenal and smooth stroke, but by showing he can run a college offense with more on-ball duties at UNC on his plate, his versatility to play at either guard position will be a trait the Celtics will have a hard time passing on.
Herbert Jones | Alabama | SG | 6-7
Pick via Raptors. A 6-7 wing who was buried on a talent-rich Alabama roster last season, Herbert Jones has the skillset to be among the SEC’s breakout stars this season. He wasn’t a stat-padder as a freshman, but he did have a coming out of sorts on the national stage when he helped limit former OU guard Trae Young to just 14 points using his lockdown defense. Jones could really improve his stock by displaying consistency on offense — he shot only 40.8 percent from the floor and 26.9 percent from 3-point range — but his defensive versatility and 7-foot wingspan makes him a potential plug-and-play NBA perimeter player when he comes out. With the Spurs, who are known for developing lackluster shooters into consistent offensive threats, Jones could be a perfect match.
Shamorie Ponds | St. John’s | PG | 6-1
Despite an uptick in production last season, St. John’s star Shamorie Ponds saw his efficiency take a hit as his 3-point shot and field goal accuracy both fell. He’s due for a course correction as a junior, though. With Auburn star transfer Mustapha Heron joining the Johnnies, Ponds will benefit from less attention and, in turn, more open looks. He can use this season to parlay his way into first-round consideration. He’s not suited to be the No. 1 playmaker on an NBA team, but fortunately, he won’t need to be if Golden State snatches him up at 30.
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