When NBA commissioner Adam Silver took the stage Thursday, the first names he called were generational athlete Zion Williamson and pass-and-attack wizard Ja Morant. The draft, it seemed, was appropriately going chalk. Until it didn’t.
The Duke Blue Devils became the second team in the modern draft era to produce three top-10 picks, while the 7-foot-2 Bol Bol plummeted into the second round, much later than most expected the green room invitee would go. And while the night lacked a blockbuster trade, dozens of picks swapped hands like trading cards well before the draft officially began.
Here are some of our primary takeaways from the 2019 NBA draft.
RJ Barrett, No. 3, New York Knicks
Our model: Fifth-highest upside
Out of high school, there was no bigger prep star than Barrett, the consensus top pick. Out of college, he was among the most polarizing players in the draft, despite being a consensus first-team All-American.
Worth noting: At 18, Barrett led one of the nation’s powerhouse programs in scoring. The high-usage, low-efficiency wing seemed to be heavily criticized after every loss, which no doubt was amplified by the expectations that came with playing alongside a historic recruiting class. Barrett has a deft touch around the rim and can take opponents off the dribble with relative ease, skills that will be abetted by the additional spacing at the professional level.
Also worth noting: The Knicks finished dead last in offensive rating and fifth-worst in defensive rating, and they would be improved by just about anyone. If nothing else, Barrett gives David Fizdale a de facto scorer and someone to plaster on the marquee at the Garden.
De’Andre Hunter, No. 4, Atlanta Hawks
Our model: 14th-highest upside
Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk traded up in the draft for the second consecutive year, this time to nab Virginia Cavaliers swingman De’Andre Hunter with the fourth overall pick. The pick came by way of New Orleans, who acquired it in last week’s Anthony Davis deal.
Last year, the Hawks selected Trae Young as the point guard of the future, and while Atlanta overperformed relative to expectation, its bottom-three defense led it to showcase likely its worst team in 15 years.
Hunter is the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a 6-foot-8 switchblade suited to guard multiple positions at the next level. There was no better individual defender, nor one more versatile, in the draft. And as the 21-year-old showed in a 27-point effort in the national title game, his offensive skill set is more than serviceable. On a team that hoisted — and made — a ton of threes, Hunter’s 43.8 percent clip will be another arrow in the quiver.
There’s no doubt that Hunter can contribute immediately on a team devoid of any true defensive presence on the wing.
Coby White, No. 7, Chicago Bulls
Our model: Sixth-highest upside
The Chicago Bulls were no doubt sore when the reward for the fourth-worst record was the seventh overall pick. However, after Kris Dunn underwhelmed in year three, picking up a speedy, offensive-minded floor general out of North Carolina topped the franchise’s to-do list.
That’s precisely what landed in the Bulls’ lap.
With a core of Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter, Zach LaVine and Otto Porter, Chicago needed a facilitator in a bad way. Dunn ranked 33rd in potential assists, and the Bulls posted an effective field-goal percentage south of 54 percent on his passes, which ranked 89th among all players, according to Second Spectrum.
White certainly doesn’t have the vision nor the gaudy stat line of Morant, but he’s a sparkplug in transition and can jumpstart an offense that has been lethargic for years. Last season, the Bulls barely ranked in the top half of the league in percentage of time spent running fast, according to Second Spectrum. It’s a safe bet that White alone will provide an uptick.
Jaxson Hayes, No. 8, New Orleans Pelicans
Our model: Fourth-highest upside
A 7-foot rim-runner in a draft featuring smaller frontcourt players, Hayes is relatively new to the spotlight. He seemingly exploded overnight into a lottery pick, ranking seventh in offensive rating (133.7) and shooting better than 72 percent from the floor last season. As his height would indicate, the Texas freshman defends the rim well, ranking 19th in block rate (10.6), according to KenPom.com.
This isn’t some plodding big from yesteryear; Hayes runs the floor with ease and, as Nate Silver noted, Hayes is precisely the guy to dangle alongside or stagger with Williamson.
And while his rebounding abilities are suspect, being paired with Williamson and an ultra-strong rebounding backcourt in Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball should alleviate some of that burden.
Chuma Okeke, No. 16, Orlando Magic
Our model: 17th-highest upside
Okeke won’t contribute much next year as he recovers from a torn ACL. But Kevin Pelton’s No. 2 overall prospect in the class is a strong perimeter shooter, having scorched the nets on at least 38 percent of his 3-point attempts in both of his college seasons at Auburn. His passing ability is well above average, and he knows when to attack the rim with or without the ball.
Should the Magic deal Aaron Gordon or disassemble the frontcourt logjam in place, Okeke can subsidize Orlando on both ends of the floor.
Rui Hachimura, No. 9, Washington Wizards
Our model: 36th-highest upside
The Wizards need any help they can get. And yet they settled on a below-average defender who will likely need time in the incubator before he delivers on a nightly basis.
Our model projected his upside to be that of a second-round selection, so his top-10 status was the surprise of the opening round.
Cameron Johnson, No. 11, Phoenix Suns
Our model: 38th-highest upside
The Suns have not only a relatively small scouting department but also a pretty atrocious recent track record around the college game.
Seems about right with this pick.
Johnson was a second-round pick by upside, according to our model, so naturally Phoenix turned the Tar Heel into a lottery selection. Johnson is 23, so the idea of upside is a bit of a misnomer here. Devin Booker is entering his fifth season and he’s 22.
Romeo Langford, No. 14, Boston Celtics
Our model: 20th-highest upside
To be fair, the Celtics are positively reeling. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are all but gone. That made Thursday night crucial for the future of the franchise.
Langford’s shot was dodgy in his one year at Indiana: He hit just 27.2 percent of his looks from the perimeter and 53 percent inside the arc. He struggled mightily to take care of the ball, ranking 486th in turnover rate (14.2 percent), according to KenPom.com. It’s not going to get any easier to do either at the next level.
From ABC News: