The 2019 NBA Draft kicks off at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday at 7pm EST and will be broadcast in more than 200 countries around the globe. RT Sport brings you the five most interesting storylines.
His name is Zion Williamson. Coming out of high school last summer, the 6ft 7in (201 cm) power forward from Spartanburg, South Carolina, was regarded by many as a kid who could throw down spectacular, thunderous dunks. The label stuck, but a year later, with an NCAA season behind him and almost every imaginable individual award in college basketball under his belt, he has proven there is more to his game than just powerful slams. A lot more. Williamson can shoot, pass, dribble, rebound, block shots, stretch the floor, score three-pointers, run a fast break, bulldoze his way to the basket, and play some excellent defense. In other words, he’s a difference maker. And in two weeks he’ll turn only 19!
Since LeBron James entered the league in 2003, the NBA has been waiting for another megastar, the one that could take up the torch lit by the likes of Russell, Chamberlain, Robertson, West, Abdul-Jabbar and later passed from Bird and “Magic” to Jordan, from Jordan to Bryant, from Bryant to James. Sixteen years later, it seems that the wait was worth it – Williamson is the unanimous, uncontested number one pick in this draft and his impact is going to be felt immediately everywhere – on the floor, at the box office, in souvenir stores, television networks, you name it. It is not far-fetched to predict that over time he could become the game’s next billionaire as he’s not only a top athlete, but also an affable, articulate young man with a disarming smile who could just as easily nail eight-figure endorsement deals as he does long threes.
In his single season as a Blue Devil, he won the ACC Tournament. An NCAA title would have iced his “one-and-done” stint at Duke, but it wasn’t meant to be as the five-time champion and the tournament’s top-seeded team was handed a painful, single-point loss in the Elite Eight stage by a hungrier Michigan State squad. That hurt a lot, but new challenges are looming as Williamson embarks on his NBA journey. As his college career has proven, he will steal the headlines even when he’s not on the floor – whether it’s a torn sneaker mishap that sidelined him for nearly a month with a knee injury or his alleged reluctance to join the New Orleans Pelicans, fans and media won’t stop talking about Zion.
DUKE’S ONE-TWO PUNCH
If it weren’t for the exceptionally gifted Murray State sophomore point guard Ja Morant, Williamson and his former Duke teammate R.J. Barrett could become only the second same-school duo in NBA draft history to lock the top two spots. The precedent was set in 2012 when Anthony Davis and fellow Kentucky Wildcat Michael Kidd-Gilchrist got picked by the New Orleans Pelicans and Charlotte Bobcats respectively. Canadian freshman forward Barrett had an outstanding 2018/19 season, leading the ACC in scoring with 22.9 points per game and creating havoc on the offensive end as Williamson’s “partner in crime”.
However, it’s almost 100 percent sure that the Memphis Grizzlies will spend their #2 pick on Morant, a ball-handling wizard and a terrific scorer, regarded as a perfect fit to boost the struggling franchise’s offense. Last season, Morant was the best passer in NCAA, while also logging 24.5 points per game. His selection by the Grizzlies would bump Barrett to #3, straight into the hands of Memphis’s fellow strugglers, the New York Knicks. Should the Grizzlies for whatever unbelievable reason pass up on Morant, we’ll witness history again – Barrett is simply too good to be overlooked as a potential #2 on this list.
Add here another ex-Blue Devil freshman, swingman Cam Reddish, who is also projected as a top 15 pick, and you will understand why the program led by Mike Krzyzewski over the last 39 years has been one of the NCAA’s finest.
COACH CAL’S CONVEYOR
Since John Calipari took over as head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats back in 2009, the team from Lexington has been regularly churning out NBA material. Over the past decade, Coach Cal has seen a fair share of his “one-and-done” prospects make a leap to the pros. Twenty-five so far, to be exact, with the centerpiece of this week’s blockbuster NBA trade, Anthony Davis, leading the pack of former Wildcats who became household names in the pro league.
This edition of the NBA draft won’t be any different as three former Kentucky players feature among the prospects, including two freshmen – shooting guard Tyler Herro, a scoring threat from almost any spot on the floor, and small forward Keldon Johnson, an athletic wing and the SEC Freshman of the Year. However, the biggest chances to go as high as a top-15 selection are given to sophomore power forward P.J. Washington, a physical presence in the paint, and a versatile defender, who has dramatically improved his range and shooting percentages over the past season.
PELICANS’ #4 PICK
The Anthony Davis saga is finally over – the Pelicans superstar was not happy in New Orleans and will now don purple and gold, playing sidekick to LeBron James in the King’s effort to reclaim the NBA throne with a revamped Lakers team.
The long-awaited trade has sent Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart (at 24, the eldest of the three) and three draft picks in the opposite direction. That’s a lot of skill and talent and this year’s number four pick is definitely a “deal sweetener”. Williamson may have created a chasm between him and the rest of the 2019 class of NBA prospects, but this draft is very deep in talent, and whoever the Pelicans select at #4 is likely to cement the profoundly talented young core forming around Zion.
Most mock drafts forecast that the Pelicans are likely to pick either former Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland or the man who led the Texas Tech Raiders to their first-ever NCAA championship game, small forward Jarrett Culver. Whatever player ends up in New Orleans, he will definitely add depth to the roster and make the Pels an even more exciting team to watch.
The talent-rich class of 2019 abounds in exciting players, and we have picked five whose playing styles and skillsets suggest they could definitely make their mark in the NBA.
Coby White, PG, 6ft 3in (191 cm), North Carolina – A whirlwind speed is the trade mark of the former Tar Heels playmaker. When a fast-breaking White breezes past the opponent’s defenders at breakneck pace, the only thing you can actually get a glimpse of is his giant Afro. Besides being an excellent ball handler, he is also a prolific scorer with a soft touch. Bottom line – he’s likely to be drafted in the top 10.
Rui Hachimura, SF/PF, 6ft 8in (203 cm), Gonzaga –The tall, athletic forward from Japan who kept improving in each of his three seasons at college, is sure to be an asset for any franchise looking for a dominant force in the paint, a rebounder and a scorer. Last season, he was a starter on the Gonzaga Bulldogs team that eventually made it to the Elite Eight. He eventually won the Julius Erwing award as the best small forward in NCAA, and was elected into the Consensus All-America first team along with Williamson, Barrett, Morant, and Grant Williams of Tennessee. He is now bound to make history as the first Japanese player to be drafted by an NBA team.
Kyle Guy, SG, 6ft 3in (191 cm), Virginia –Alongsidepoint guard Ty Jerome and small forward De’Andre Hunter, Guy is the member of the Cavs’ trio representing this year’s NCAA champion in the draft. Hunter, dubbed the “Swiss Army Knife” for his versatility, defensive toughness and all-round skills, is projected to be the highest pick of the three. However, it’s equally interesting to see where goes Guy, a tough-nosed sharpshooter with ice in his veins, who punched Virginia’s ticket to the NCAA finals after making three free throws with 0.6 seconds left to play as the Cavs trailed Auburn by two points.