The 2019 NBA Draft Lottery provided excitement, promise and agony for several teams and will have longstanding implications going forward. Although the San Antonio Spurs were not directly involved with the lottery, the team is in a unique position with three picks in the upcoming draft.
The Zion Williamson sweepstakes is officially over.
With the passage of the NBA Draft Lottery teams now have a better sense of clarity heading into the draft. And it looks like the coveted Duke phenom will begin his career with the New Orleans Pelicans, who had just a 6 percent chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick.
In the first year of the new rules there was no shortage of drama for the teams scheduled to pick in the lottery. An unlikely trio, the New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers were the biggest risers in the lottery, securing three of the top four spots.
On the other hand, the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns, who all posted a 14 percent chance of receiving the top pick after securing the three worst records during the regular season, were the obvious “losers” after the results were revealed.
Knicks fans across the globe saw their fantasies of Zion Williamson fly out the window when Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum held up the infamous card that indicated that the Knicks had received the third pick. However, the Cavs and Suns did not fare much better, locking in the fifth and sixth picks, respectively.
Although there would have been a variety of intriguing storylines had the lottery yielded the chalk results and Zion ended up in the Big Apple, the lottery’s outcomes still created a myriad of talking points and rumors that will persist until the draft in June.
The Spurs were not directly affected by the results of the lottery, having made the playoffs for the 22nd consecutive season, but the potential implications (say an Anthony Davis trade) could have long-lasting ramifications for the Western Conference and the rest of the league.
The Spurs, accustomed to picking at the end of the first round most years, are in a rare position this off-season as they will enter the draft with not one, but two first round picks.
Barring any trades, the Spurs will be making three selections, at 19, 29 and 49. San Antonio General Manager R.C. Buford and the Spurs front office have been adept at identifying talent through the draft process so it’ll be interesting to see what they have up their sleeves this year.
Last year, the Spurs lucked up and were able to snag Lonnie Walker IV with the 18th pick, whose rookie season was derailed during the preseason when he tore his meniscus. Despite that setback, Walker made significant strides in the G-League as he recovered and he looked good in the limited court time he saw in San Antonio.
Let’s take a look at who the Spurs and the rest of the teams in the first round will be selecting in Air Alamo’s latest mock draft.
Next: Picks No. 1 and 2
There are truly no more words, superlatives nor syllables that can be written or spoken that haven’t already been used to describe Zion Williamson. But somehow, despite just having a 6 percent chance of getting the first pick, the New Orleans Pelicans stunned everyone, securing a generational talent and easily the most insanely dominant college prospect since Anthony Davis, who will coincidentally be his future teammate in NOLA (but it’s tough to say for how long that will be the case).
The numbers speak for themselves: 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per game during his lone season at Duke. Not to mention converting a ridiculous 68 percent of his field goal attempts, trailing only Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke (68.7) for the best mark in college basketball.
Obviously the physical traits are all there, but it will be interesting to see how Zion fits on this roster and especially who he’s going to be playing alongside with by the time the season starts. Regardless, Williamson screams showtime and looks to be the key to ushering in a new era of Pelicans basketball as they simultaneously attempt to distance themselves from this tumultuous last season.
The selection of Ja Morant most likely means the end of the Mike Conley era in Memphis. Reports have been circulating that the Grizzlies are locked into taking Morant with the second pick. Hard to say if that’s just posturing on the part of the franchise, but Morant is a genuinely great fit for this Grizzlies team. The Grizz seem to be moving in a younger direction, shipping Marc Gasol, the team’s longest tenured veteran, to the Raptors during the season and Conley, who turns 32 this year, will also likely have a new home before the season starts.
They’ll struggle at first, but a new tandem of Morant and Memphis’ first round selection last year, Jaren Jackson Jr., will be among some of the more exciting young duos in the NBA. Morant’s Russell Westbrook, De’Aaron Fox-like up-tempo style of play will coalesce nicely with Jackson’s rim-running and floor-spacing abilities.
Next: Picks No. 3 and 4
Although the New York Knicks missed out on the big fish with Zion, R.J. Barrett is a damn good consolation prize. Widely regarded as the best prospect in college basketball coming into the season, Barrett was forced to play Robin to Zion’s Batman while at Duke, where he flourished in that role, to the tune of 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
With an array of offensive skills in his utility belt, leading many college basketball analysts to compare him to James Harden, Barrett will contribute from the jump. One knock against Barrett was his susceptibility to fall prey to tunnel vision, due in large part to his teammates’ inability to knock down shots. However, with a better cast of teammates, Barrett’s ability to facilitate will only improve as he continues to develop as a gifted scorer and play-maker.
The Lakers were one of the biggest winners during the draft lottery, jumping from their projected position at 11 to the 4th overall pick. With that pick, the Lakers will choose to play it safe and select De’Andre Hunter. While not the sexiest pick, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year is the best defender in this draft class and has a knack for doing all of the little things.
This pick may ultimately be bundled in a trade package to lure Anthony Davis away from the Pelicans, but should Hunter remain on the Lakers he projects as being a quality 3-and-D wing. Hunter is far from a microwave scorer, but you wouldn’t know that if you saw his performance in the NCAA Tournament Championship game, when he dropped 27 points and drained four three-pointers, including the game-tying corner three that sent the contest to overtime, to help the Virginia Cavaliers claim the title.
Next: Picks No. 5 and 6
With the 5th pick the Cavs will take Jarrett Culver, the versatile swingman out of Texas Tech who was named Big 12 Player of the Year as a sophomore. Culver will round out the backcourt as he joins Cleveland’s first round selection last year, Collin Sexton, who posted very solid numbers during his rookie campaign despite the Cavs’ atrocious record.
The former Red Raider can pour it on when he gets going but struggles at times against long and athletic defenders, evidenced in the NCAA Championship game when Culver was rendered ineffective by De’Andre Hunter, who held Culver to an abysmal 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) shooting performance. Cleveland doesn’t project as a team that’s poised for success any time soon so Culver will probably have plenty of opportunities to see the court and work through those rookie mistakes as he plays under new head coach John Beilein.
Remember that time when the Phoenix Suns had too many point guards? Those days are far behind them as the Suns enter this draft with one mission: draft or trade for a point guard.
Their main target, Ja Morant, will be off the board already but they’ll still have the option to choose between Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and UNC’s Coby White. They’ll swing for the fences with Garland, who only played five games as a freshman before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Reports have been trickling out from the NBA Draft Combine surrounding Garland, who removed himself early in the process. Most signs would indicate that he received a promise from a team that they’d select him. Assuming he’s fully healthy, which appears at least one team believes is the case, there’s no reason why the Suns shouldn’t pull the trigger at No. 6 and hope they found a future star to pair with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
Next: Picks No. 7 and 8
The Chicago Bulls will also be in the market for a point guard coming into the draft. The Kris Dunn experiment hasn’t panned out, but the Bulls will look to North Carolina’s Coby White to join an exciting young nucleus consisting of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
With White’s 6’5″ frame he’s able to play both on and off of the ball, allowing him to split ball-handling responsibilities with LaVine and still make a significant impact. He’s an offensive spark plug who loves to get out in the open court and push the pace, but he’s also an excellent catch-and-shoot guard. Plus, things worked out pretty well the last time the Bulls drafted a guard from UNC.
Cam Reddish is easily one of the biggest enigmas in this draft class. The talent is obvious, but Reddish always seemed to take a backseat to Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett while at Duke.
Although he showed flashes, delivering the dagger three-pointer to defeat Florida State as well as knocking down several big buckets to fuel an improbable come-from-behind victory against Louisville, those performances were too often coupled with inexplicable disappearing acts on the court. As such, Atlanta would be a great fit for Reddish.
The Hawks already have an exciting duo with Trae Young and John Collins, as well as other young pieces like Kevin Huerter, Omari Spellman and Taurean Prince so Reddish wouldn’t be asked to shoulder too much offensively. Rather, Reddish would be able to showcase his strengths, knocking down three-pointers, playing strong defense and using his 6’9″ frame to glide through the lane.
Next: Picks No. 9 and 10
Bol Bol is the marquee boom-or-bust prospect in this draft class. But the Wizards, with John Wall already lost for the 2019-20 season, are stuck in an unfortunate cycle of mediocrity. Therefore, Washington may be more inclined to take a risk with the 9th pick and hope they hit a home run with Bol Bol.
The upside is clear- Bol Bol measured in at 7’2″ with a 7’7″ wingspan, which ranked second longest at the NBA Draft Combine, and he averaged 21 points and 9.8 rebounds while connecting on 52 percent of his three-point attempts in just nine games at Oregon.
However, Bol Bol missed the remainder of the season after needing surgery to repair a foot injury. A young big with foot problems already? That’s going to be a major red flag for many teams. The Wizards aren’t in an immediate position to win now so they might be a likely candidate to take a chance on Bol Bol and pray he’s healthy enough to live up to his potential.
With the Atlanta Hawks’ second pick in the top 10 they’ll be selecting another raw but promising prospect that oozes upside in Jaxson Hayes. Hayes is following a Texas lineage of one-and-done bigs (Ex: Mohamed Bamba, Jarrett Allen and Myles Turner), and will join Cam Reddish for the youth movement taking over in Atlanta.
Hayes is another prospect with several question marks revolving around his game. He can fly out of the gym and was a sensational shot-blocker (2.2 per game), but he failed to record a single double-double through 32 games and only averaged 5 rebounds.
But the Hawks will look past this as they provide Trae Young with another explosive big to complement John Collins. Once Hayes grows out of his slender frame and develops an NBA body he’ll be a load to contend with on both sides of the court.
Next: Picks No. 11 and 12
A transfer from San Jose State, Brandon Clarke broke onto the scene this season with the Gonzaga Bulldogs, earning Western Coast Conference Rookie and Defensive Player of the Year honors as a junior. Clarke led the NCAA with a 68.2 field goal shooting percentage, while averaging 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and a whopping 3.2 blocks per game.
The Timberwolves will be getting a freakish athlete who registered a 40.50 max vertical leap at the draft combine and will bring a defensive intensity to the game on a nightly basis. Clarke’s versatility on defense as well as his rim-running and rim-protecting prowess will be an interesting fit alongside Karl-Anthony Towns.
During combine interviews Clarke told reporters that he had been working diligently to improve his shooting stroke after attempting just 15 and making only 4 three-pointers this past season. He claims people won’t recognize his jump shot when they see it next. If that’s the case, the Timberwolves may have found themselves a tantalizing 3-and-D specialist with the 11th pick in the draft.
And with the 12th pick, the Charlotte Hornets will take another Gonzaga big, Rui Hachimura. The Japanese All-American made monumental strides during his three seasons, going from playing just 4.6 minutes per game as a freshman to averaging 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds in his final year.
Although he wasn’t introduced to basketball until he was a teenager, he’s shown tremendous promise and only has room to continue growing. Kemba Walker’s future in Charlotte will be up in the air this off-season, but Hachimura is an experienced prospect who can come in and make an immediate impact on a team as a floor spacer at either the small forward or power forward position.
Next: Picks No. 13 and 14
For the most part, Romeo Langford failed to live up to the hype that he garnered coming into the season. While his calling card is as a shooter, his percentages wouldn’t give you that impression.
Langford averaged 16.5 points on 44.8 percent shooting from the floor and 27.2 percent from downtown during his freshman year at Indiana. It would not be revealed until after the season, but Langford played the majority of the season with a torn ligament in his hand, which would explain those pedestrian percentages.
But, Langford is a big and versatile guard at 6’6″ who can make plays and ignite an offense. Depending on what Goran Dragic does with his player option, Langford and Justise Winslow could be tasked with running Miami’s offense next season.
With the last pick of the lottery and the first of Boston’s three first round picks in the 2019 draft, the Celtics will be tapping into the international talent pool, selecting Goga Bitadze. A native of Georgia, the 19-year-old, 6’11” center made impressive leaps in the Adriatic League that caught the eyes of NBA scouts.
Despite his youth, Bitadze already has a very strong feel for the game and the opportunity to learn from veteran Al Horford, should he pick up his player option, would be invaluable as he continues to develop. The Celtics also hope to be in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes this summer so it’s entirely possible that this pick ends up being packaged in a potential deal.
Should he remain in a Celtic uniform, Boston may have drafted a game-changing big who can help them change their fortunes in the Eastern Conference.
Next: No. 15-16
Sekou Doumbouya is the youngest draft eligible prospect in this class, not turning 19 until December. Doumbouya spent the last season playing in France for CSP Limoges, but was hampered by a hand injury that prevented him from posting gaudy numbers that other players might have this early in the first round.
Despite his youthfulness, Doumbouya has an NBA-ready skill set and the physical traits necessary to come in and make an impact right away for a squad, especially on the defensive end. He’s still working on his shot mechanics but he’s bouncy athlete who has surprisingly nice handles for a 6’9″ forward.
Kentucky’s Tyler Herro was one of the more surprising risers throughout the year but he’s solidified himself as one of the best combo guards and pure shooters in this draft pool. He only shot 46.2 percent from the floor and 35.3 percent from three-point range, but his shooting stroke is as fluid as you’ll find.
At 6’5″, Herro can operate effectively on or off the ball, in the pick-and-roll and as a distributor. With Terrance Ross hitting the free agent market and Evan Fournier coming off of a disappointing season, selecting Herro at 16 makes a lot of sense for the Magic who will be in the market for shooting this off-season.
Next: No. 17-18
Somehow, the Brooklyn Nets will find a top-5 talent with the 17th pick in the draft. After dominating the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic, Nassir Little and R.J. Barrett were regarded as 1-A and 1-B coming into the regular season.
However, Little joined a senior-laden North Carolina squad and struggled making the adjustment with just a limited allotment of minutes. All of the physical tools are present with Little. He’s a bruiser with a 6’6″ frame who can yam on your head or knock a jumper down in your face, but he just needs to fall to the right team where he can round off the edges and develop into the menace of a two-way player he has the potential to be.
The Nets coaching staff hasdone an incredible job of molding young players and Little could easily be the steal of the draft when we look back at it.
Off-court issues will prevent USC’s Kevin Porter Jr. from being a top-10 pick, but with the 18th pick it’ll be hard for the Indiana Pacers to pass on a player like him. Porter had a rocky freshman season with the Trojans, getting suspended from the team for two weeks in January.
He didn’t put up spectacular numbers, 9.4 points and 4 rebounds per game, but his size (6’6″) and length (6’9″ wingspan) will be enticing. With a good chunk of Indiana’s backcourt/wing depth set to hit the free agent market, including Wesley Mathews, Bojan Bogdonavic, Cory Joseph, Darren Collision and not to mention Tyreke Evans, who was just banned from the league for two years, picking Porter here makes a good bit of sense for the value he could bring.
Next: No. 19-20
PJ Washington dabbled with the idea of going pro after his freshman season at Kentucky but elected to come back for his sophomore year. This gamble paid dividends as Washington transformed into one of the best bigs in the country on a loaded Kentucky squad.
Washington’s a high-flying athlete who can knock down the three-ball, bang in the post and rebound well, which is why he’d fit in nicely with the San Antonio Spurs. With the exception of LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl, the Spurs’ frontcourt was very shallow.
The addition of Washington would give the San Antonio a versatile forward who plays with a toughness and grit that’ll check all of the boxes for General Manager R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich.
With Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier set to hit the open market this summer, it would be prudent for the Boston Celtics to consider drafting some replacements in the backcourt should they lose those two in free agency.
Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker made a solid jump from his freshman to sophomore season, bumping his scoring average from 10.7 to 16.2, while also establishing himself as one of the team’s go-to creators. Alexander-Walker isn’t the most explosive athlete in the world but he’s a steady and consistent player who’s reliable on both ends of the court and can knock down shots.
Next: No. 21-22
There’s no getting around it: OKC needs scoring and they need it now. Enter: Cameron Johnson. The Pittsburgh graduate transfer spent his final two seasons playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels and used an impressive senior season to vault himself into first round consideration.
Johnson led UNC in scoring with 16.9 a game and held the ACC’s best three-point shooting mark at 45.7 percent, knocking down 2.7 three-pointers per game. Johnson is already 23-years-old, which limits his upside, but his size, length, and quick release will provide the Thunder with a player they can plug and play immediately.
With their third and final pick of the first round, the Celtics will select Keldon Johnson. Similar to Boston’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker selection, Danny Ainge will look to the former Kentucky guard to preemptively fill a potential void at the guard position next season.
Although Johnson was not Big Blue Nation’s best player, he was a vital cog that made the whole team operate efficiently. The 6’6″ guard averaged 13.5 points for the Wildcats while canning 38.1 percent of his three-pointers. He’s not a great play-maker at this stage of his career, but with the 22nd pick he’s a great value choice for the Celtics and may have the chance to get his feet wet sooner rather than later depending on how things shake out during the free agency period.
Next: No. 23-24
The Utah Jazz hold a team option for Derrick Favors, so it’s possible they could move on from him and be in the market for a new power forward. Grant Williams dominated at Tennessee, leading the team in scoring with 18.8 per game while winning SEC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season as a junior.
At 6’7″, Williams is undersized at the power forward position but that never stopped him from being productive at the collegiate level. The biggest question mark regarding Williams will be his shooting ability. While he’s capable of hitting from downtown, converting 32.6 percent of his threes during his junior season, he’ll need to prove to teams during workouts that he’s worked on expanding his range.
If Philly’s playoff series against the Toronto Raptors was any indication, they need a viable backup center for Joel Embiid and Maryland’s Bruno Fernando fits that bill. Fernando averaged a double-double (13.6 points and 10.6) and shot 60.7 percent from the floor during his sophomore season with the Terrapins.
The bulky 6’10” center also recorded nearly 2 blocks per game so that defensive energy and rim-protection will still be present on the court even when Embiid isn’t in the game. While Fernando still has plenty of room to grow, the 76ers will be more than happy to expend a late first round pick to secure a solid and reliable athlete who addresses an obvious need.
Next: No. 25-26
Talen Horton-Tucker’s strong freshman performance at Iowa State will pique the interest of the Portland Trail Blazers, who could be losing Seth Curry and Rodney Hood in free agency. Horton-Tucker’s physical makeup is extremely unique, measuring at just 6’4″ but posting the longest wingspan among the guards at the draft combine (7’1.2.5″). Further, Horton-Tucker will be the youngest college player taken is this year’s draft so he’s far from a finished product. He still needs to develop offensively and perhaps that will come with time, but the Trail Blazers will be banking on the prospect of Horton-Tucker’s defensive versatility at the outset.
The Cavaliers will need all the help they can muster from this draft, which is why they’ll tap into the services of Washington wing Matisse Thybulle and pair him with their 5th pick selection Jarrett Culver. Thybulle made a name for himself with his gritty and staunch defense, racking up 2.3 blocks per game and leading the NCAA with 3.5 steals per game. The Washington product took home Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors his junior and senior seasons, further cementing his case as the best defender is all of college hoops. The Cavs, who finished with one of the three worst records in the NBA, unsurprisingly also ranked at the bottom of the league in most defensive metrics. As such, drafting a defensive virtuoso this late in the first round is a no-brainer.
Next: No. 27-28
Florida State’s Mfiondu Kabengele was one of the biggest risers throughout the course of the college basketball season. What’s most impressive about Kabengele is that he did all of his damage off the bench, not recording a single start over 71 games for the Seminoles.
Kabengele tallied 13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 block per contest with roughly 22 minutes of court time. He’ll be a great value pick for the Nets who could shore up their frontcount with the strong 6’10” athlete. Further, given his efficacy producing with the second unit, he’ll fit right in with a Nets team that generated 55.2 bench points (2nd in the NBA) a season ago.
Whether the Warriors win their fourth NBA title in the last five years or not, it’s safe to say that veteran point guard Shaun Livington’s days in the league are numbered. As such, it would behoove Golden State to find a suitable backup. Recently minted NCAA champion Ty Jerome is about as fundamentally sound a player that you’re going to find out there. The 6’5″ guard to do just about everything right while making minimal mistakes.
Jerome’s ability to knock down the trifecta, which he did at a 39.9 percent clip during his junior season, will be as alluring to the Warriors as his unselfish play-making skills. An gritty and intelligent player with a great basketball IQ and underrated athleticism will be just what Steve Kerr is looking for with the 28th pick in the draft.
Next: No. 29-30
Historically, the 29th pick has been very kind to the Spurs, who have selected Dejounte Murray and Derrick White with penultimate pick in the first round of drafts past. This year they’ll attempt to address an obvious need at the forward position with Stanford’s KZ Okpala.
While he’s still a bit raw and suffers from bouts of inconsistency, the Spurs have shown they are adept at molding these players into key rotational pieces. The 6’9″ forward fits the prototype of a 3-and-D player and averaged 16.8 points and 5.7 rebounds, while connecting on 36.8 percent of his three-pointers during his sophomore season.
Pop will love Okpala’s promise as an offensive Swiss army knife and once he matures more from a physical standpoint expect him to be a well-rounded contributor every night.
With the final pick in the 2019 NBA Draft the Milwaukee Bucks could go in a variety of different directions, but they’ll opt to select Luguentz Dort, the stocky, athletic shooting guard from Arizona State.
The Pac-12’s Rookie of the Year averaged 16.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Although his percentages don’t leap off the page, hitting 40.5 percent from the floor and 30.7 from long distance, Dort is still an impressive scorer who can get buckets in a variety of ways.
The Bucks already have a deep grouping of guards, ranging from Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, George Hill and last year’s first round selection in Donte DiVincenzo, but Dort’s defensive versatility as a two-way guard will be worth taking a shot on as they continue to try and surround Giannis Antetokounmpo with a legion of shooters.