A Far Too Early Grade of the 2019 NBA Draft
After watching Zion Williamson and Ja Morant clash on primetime television, to the beat of 31/7/6 and 28/7/8 respectively, it was not just the stat lines which marked the emergence of two of the game’s most sensational young talents. It is that both are already leaving an indelible mark on the league. They possess unique styles of play and a new brand of athleticism that draws on some of the aspects of the veterans who paved the way, but also displays a refreshing originality. When you zoom out, these players are far away from taking their teams to imagined heights, with both the Grizzlies and Pelicans sitting under .500. It’s easy to get absorbed solely in the happenings of contenders and forget about just how many emerging players are ascending. Some, like RJ Barrett, are as the team around him too finds their way as well, others such as Deandre Hunter are excelling, while the team around them stalls, and another other in Tyler Herro found his way on a championship runner up and has continued to expand his game this season.
So what about those assortment of 5 names in the first paragraph is so compelling? Well the are all members of the 2019 draft, one that just a year and a half into it’s running is showcasing what appears to be an abundance of the next generation of NBA stars. So let’s do an annoyingly early assessment of the 2019 draft. To be fair the NBA draft success rate is a lot sharper than the MLB or NFL draft. Part of this is the condensed format, another being the more straightforward eye test basketball provides. However, an early review of the 2019 NBA draft still impresses. Many of the selections have already been justified by remarkable performances of these second year talents, a cast that has thrived while filing into the roles of the most glaring weaknesses of their given landing spots.
Beyond singing the praises of the players of the 2019 class, issuing a fair assessment requires a degree of comparativism. Here are some top 10 selections from the last 5 years that stress just how difficult it is for a lottery pick to be a guaranteed lock. The following are not necessarily underperformers/busts, but their merits in the league have not justified a top selection.
2015: Jahlil Okafor (3), Mario Hezonja (5), Willie Cauley Stein (6), Emmanuel Mudiay (7), Stanley Johnson (8), Frank Kaminsky (9), Justice Winslow (10)
2016: Draggan Bender (4), Kris Dunn (5), Marquese Chriss (8), Jakob Poeltl (9),
Thon Maker (10)
2017: Markelle Fultz (1) Injury Related, Josh Jackson (4), Jonathan Isaac (6) Injury Related, Frank Ntillikina (8), Dennis Smith Jr. (9), Zach Collins (10)
2018: Bamba (6), Carter Jr. (7) Maybe too early, Knox (9)
Have you had time to digest this? Let us all allow ourselves a collective “YIKES”. For some of those listed, it might be curtains on assuming their top status ever in the league. For others, it was a fit issue, and those such as Markelle Fultz and Josh Jackson have begun to show renewed promise after switching franchises. The serious injuries on the list, difficult to decipher/assess any trends due to the circumstantial nature of such, but nonetheless must be factored in. Now how does this compare to the 2019 Draft Lottery Picks?
Green: Hit, Yellow: Tentative Hit, Red: Draft Miss
- Pelicans draft Zion Williamson
- Grizzlies draft Ja Morant
- Knicks draft RJ Barrett
- Lakers draft De’Andre Hunter >> officially traded to the Hawks, after first being dealt to the Pelicans
- Cavaliers draft Darius Garland
- Suns draft Jarrett Culver >> officially traded to the Timberwolves
- Bulls draft Coby White
- Hawks draft Jaxson Hayes >> officially traded to the Pelicans
- Wizards draft Rui Hachimura
- Hawks draft Cam Reddish
- Timberwolves draft Cameron Johnson >> officially traded to the Suns
- Hornets draft PJ Washington
- Heat draft Tyler Herro
Culver, inconsistency in rotation and some knocks, still should be a solid NBA player, but the jury is out. Jaxson Hayes, decent but raw in his first NBA season has seemed to take a step back and lost his confidence. Cam Reddish, still should be a lethal NBA scorer, but has taken a step back, especially shooting the rock, so will have to see if that is something he can recapture.
As for the rest, Green Green Green! Ya ahhhh that will play. What a draft. Almost everyone on this list proved to be the right guy in their first season, but guys like RJ Barrett, DeAndre Hunter and Cam Johnson have taken major strides in year two to further buttress their franchise’s faith in them. This doesn’t even make mention of emerging guys such as Matisse Thybulle (20th), Brandon Clarke (21st), Keldon Johnson (29) who have high ceilings as well. I know the tradition is to give each team an NBA draft grade on the night itself, a place where some of the Earth’s worst takes are often exposed. But now, a year and a half removed from this 2019 draft, this one gets an “A” and barring injury, the trajectory of the players in this draft should leave NBA fans drooling for what’s to come.