2019 NBA Draft Prospect Breakdown: The Lead Guards

Let’s fill a sorely-needed space in the NBA Draft landscape: video breakdowns.

Instead of thousands of words thrown at a reader to illustrate a point, showing those key points visually can be so much more effective.

Plus, there is a clear absence of thorough and nuanced video breakdowns for each top prospect, creating an over-reliance on the same folks and information being spun around in circles.

So we’ll fix that by highlighting a few prospects at a time with in-depth, targeted video reports. The prospects in one post will be tied together by some thematic element, be it positional similarity, the volatility of their draft stock or the spot on a key skill that they share.

The first group are the top prospects who have the potential to be a lead creator within an NBA offense: Jarrett Culver, Darius Garland, Ja Morant and Coby White. You’ll see their games broken down and draft position analyzed for these four prospects who have heard their names mentioned for the Top Ten—some rising late or faster than others. With so little time left before the draft, we’ll begin to dismiss some of the noise around them.

It’s important to remember our NBA Draft mission and Ten Commandments, which drive our conversation and how we view prospects. In sum: Positions are different and based on defense, we hit on “improvement areas” instead of “weaknesses” and we recognize our inability to capture the entire picture on prospects based on a limited vantage point. That won’t stop us from studying all that we have access to in order to determine the best fit and talent of these players.

From the start, you’ll see that the top lead guard on my Big Board already is a surprise and against the conventional draft conversation.

Darius Garland, Vanderbilt – PG

Oct 17, 2018; Birmingham, AL, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores guard Darius Garland talks with the media during the SEC men’s basketball media day at Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

A shifty, deep-shooting point guard, Garland may be the draft’s best ball handler and most effective long-range bomber. But his draft stock is severely impacted by his health after missing all but five games of his only season at Vanderbilt due to surgery for a torn Meniscus.

An average athlete to begin with, does Garland find his way in the top half of the lottery due to his tremendous offensive upside, or are the questions surrounding his size going to keep him pinned outside the top ten?

Strengths:

The shooting range and effectiveness are hallmarks of elite offensive guards these days. Garland’s ability to score from way behind the three-point line will force NBA defenses to defend him differently.

As we have seen with players like Stephen Curry and Trae Young who are not elite athletes, extended defenses can provide more room to be crafty and creative when breaking that first line. Garland may actually be quicker than both Curry and Young in straight lines. so he’s going to thrive when surrounded by good players at the next level.

That’s why his pick-and-roll and assist numbers from Vanderbilt do not bring cause for alarm.

Extended defenses, better screeners and shooters flanking him could unlock his potential to be an elite creator. He’s already demonstrated an elite hesitation dribble and change-of-pace that appears as explosiveness against stronger and better athletes. As far as lead guards go, Garland is as offensively versatile as the 2019 class has to offer.

Improvement Areas:

A player of Garland’s size often struggles with the physicality of playoff basketball and becomes a target worth hunting. Even now, veterans like Curry and Kyrie Irving are picked on just because of their physical profile.

That may scare a few teams away from Garland on its own, but it does not disqualify a correctly-built team from winning. It will take some time before he learns to fully maximize his ability to play amongst the big boys, but Garland has demonstrated a high-IQ and general craftiness that is hard to match.

Garland must improve finishing with his left hand, however. He is currently better as a driver when going right and doesn’t yet possess an ability to absorb contact and adjust left-handed finishes mid-air.

The scary part is that four of his five games in college came against mid-major or low-major opponents, albeit a fairly strong batch of them. Garland struggled most in his one game against USC, the longest and most similar to an NBA group. Evaluating a small sample like this can be difficult, but there’s no doubt his performance in that game with a 1:6 assist to turnover mark will cause some to pause.

Draft Prediction:

Based on the rest of the lottery talent outside of Zion Williamson, only RJ Barrett and Ja Morant also have an offensive portfolio that allows them to take over a game. Garland’s shooting range should be sincerely valued, especially by a team that won’t need him to be their sole or even primary creator.

Concerns over his pick-and-roll passing are a bit overstated, which is why Garland actually enters the draft as the best backcourt prospect on my draft board. He likely goes in the top-eight.

Ja Morant, Murray State – PG

Dec 22, 2018; Auburn, AL, USA; Murray State Racers guard Ja Morant (12) watches the ball during the second half against the Auburn Tigers at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The easy-to-love underdog from mid-major Murray State, Morant burst onto the scene this season with his diverse offensive game, highlight-reel plays and a strong performance in the NCAA Tournament.

He flashed it all: elite scoring in isolations and ball screens, solid shooting from deep, flashy passes and a love for playing fast.

Morant has flaws with his attention to detail and ability to make an impact when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. Playing at Murray State masked those to some degree, which makes evaluating his potential NBA impact a tad challenging.

Strengths:

There’s little doubt about what Morant can do with the ball in his hands. He’s an unbelievable passer, perhaps the one trait that gives scouts most confidence he can make an immediate impact.

He feels the game so well and thrives in transition or broken-down scenarios. He also scores at the rim, has developed a reliable pull-up from three and a step-back in isolation and is tremendous with both hands.

Seriously, his left-handed snap passes are phenomenally impressive.

Morant is undoubtedly an NBA-caliber athlete. While the vertical, above-the-rim athleticism only comes in small bursts, he has an ability to hang in the air and make decisions that should allow him to find effectiveness against next-level athletes. There are so many obvious and eye-popping strengths that it’s easy to fall in love with his game.

Improvement Areas:

For such an impressive body of work, there is still a good deal to improve.

Morant attempted only 45 catch-and-shoot jumpers all season, according to Synergy, the vast majority of which came against zone defenses. His frequent ball dominance can cause some worries about how he’ll fit in next to other players that demand the ball. Plus, he was only a 37.8 percent shooter in catch-and-shoot situations.

If his off-ball impact on offense is anything like it is on defense, Morant will have a long way to go as well. He will frequently fall asleep away from the ball and lose track of his assignment. Whether due to lack of interest, energy conservation or basketball IQ, those lapses are inexcusable.

He stands out as one of the worst off-ball defenders in this draft class and could claim that same designation next season in the NBA.

Draft Prediction:

Morant is likely the first lead guard off the board due to his consistent body of work and athletic upside. He’ll likely go somewhere between the second and fourth picks, depending on the roster makeup of his new franchise.

Morant is around the top-five on my prospect list, but the improvements needed on the defensive end are severe handicaps to his draft stock.

Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech – CG

Apr 8, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Jarrett Culver (23) shoots the ball against Virginia Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome (11) during the second half in the championship game of the 2019 men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Culver’s coming out party occurred during the NCAA Tournament when he rose from a dark horse lottery prospect to a borderline top-five selection. Helping lead Texas Tech to the national championship game on both ends, Culver’s offensive creation and upside quelled doubts that he can be more than just a defensive stopper at the next level.

There’s a lot to like about his physical profile, but Culver’s ceiling revolves around how he can develop into the focal point of an offense and gain a consistent jump shot.

Strengths:

With how well Culver defends and passes, his ideal role is in a situation similar to that of a young(er) Andre Iguodala: Surround Culver with a lot of scorers and he will blend into that complementary role. But if he is the best option on his team, there’s no reason he cannot average 18 points and seven assists per night.

My favorite thing about him is that he plays off two feet at all times, rarely getting out of control or forcing himself into trouble.

Most similarly to Iguodala, Culver can be an elite on-ball defender and guard spots 1 thru 3. With some added muscle and weight, he can expand that list to 1 thru 4.

His wingspan allows him to be a nice mismatch option with his versatility, and he can operate out of the post on offense without much trouble. Culver is an outstanding defensive prospect, something no other lead guard in this draft can claim.

Improvement Areas:

Many of Culver’s improvement areas are fairly easy fixes, especially his body and overall strength (adding 15 to 20 pounds of muscle is relatively simple), as well as his shooting form.

The latter comes through repetition and working with elite shooting coaches, something almost all NBA teams possess.

For Culver to really reach his potential, he’ll need to turn solid facets of his game into strengths. For example, he is a little turnover prone for a solid passer. He’s great at drawing contact and getting to the free throw line but doesn’t always convert. He’s a good finisher but may struggle to create his own shot against drivers.

How Culver responds to perimeter defense from elite athletes will be a real test, and one I’m frankly not too optimistic about.

Draft Prediction:

Culver has likely played his way into being a top-five or six selection. The passing ability gives me confidence he can be a high-level pro for years to come, but I’m still not sold on his individual scoring ability and shooting consistency.

Culver’s best value comes in the bottom half of the top ten. Snatching him in the top-five should only be done by a team that has a specific need for his strengths and position.

Coby White, North Carolina – PG

Mar 29, 2019; Kansas City, MO, United States; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Coby White (2) passes the ball against the Auburn Tigers in the semifinals of the midwest regional of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The late riser of the group, White has a chance to crack the top ten of the draft.

He plays at an incredibly fast pace and is able to beat defenses before they set up, much like the Sacramento Kings’ De’Aaron Fox. A clutch shot-maker from a program with a history of developing successful pros, White’s allure has to do with his ability to shoot and create in transition, two coveted skills in today’s game.

Strengths:

White is instant offense and the perfect point guard for a team that wants to push the pace. He’s experienced in transition, where he can handle the ball and put pressure on the rim.

He is an elite shooter as well, sniping from far behind the line with a lightning quick release. The combined ability to lead an offense in tempo and space the floor in the half-court makes him a versatile point guard that can play alongside many types of players.

Hopefully, whatever franchise he winds up with will not try to shackle him, instead allowing him to live in transition.

Improvement Areas:

White is still transitioning to playing as a lead guard, so there are some bumps on the road in terms of creation.

He can speed himself into trouble, picking the wrong situations for when to push the tempo. He routinely shrinks in the lane and doesn’t quite have the deceleration or mid-range game required yet. He’s a tad erratic once he gets into the lane if he doesn’t have a clear path to the rim.

Defensively, White must work very hard to change his reaction time to actions and his help defense. He’s got the makings to be a solid, non-negative defender. With a little time and further teaching of help-side rotations, he is going to be fine.

Draft Prediction:

White is in the mix with this group due to his speed and scoring acumen. He may even sneak into the top ten as a result of his three-point ability and the league’s influence on the skill.

But White likely does not have the upside of Garland or Morant on offense, nor the ability to impact the game on both ends like Culver. Some team may value his skill sets above the other lead guard prospects, but he’s more of a safe back-end lottery pick than anything.

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