At the end of the day, basketball is a fairly simple game. It’s about getting buckets.
There are a few names in the draft class of 2019 that are more adept at putting up points than others and may be able to make an impact as scorers at the NBA level. Some are bulk-scorers that transform an entire offense with their well-rounded acumen. Others are specialists that score in one important and specific way, such as shooters or post scorers. Good teams need some of each.
So let’s meet some of the top scoring prospects. Some stretch defenses. Others bang on the interior. All project to have stronger offensive impacts than most.
RJ Barrett – W, Duke
Most draft pundits (and likely, scouts) consider Barrett as a shoo-in top-three selection and one of the draft’s only “can’t miss” prospects. The upside to a player like Barrett is clear due to his shooting and playmaking combinations, ability to score on three levels and winning pedigree.
I found Barrett to be the most frustrating player in college basketball last year, however, though not because of his skills. It’s how he chose to utilize them.
From a purely decision-making standpoint, I have a tough time anointing Barrett as an elite franchise cornerstone. But in a draft class like this one, the lack of other options almost masks that pessimism and points attention to the superstar he could be if he puts all the pieces together.
Barrett is the most well-rounded wing scorer to come through the draft since Kevin Durant over a decade ago. He’s got very few holes in his offensive game, although he does favor some move more than others. He’s already proven to be fantastic at creating his own shot in isolation, finishing at the rim and making quick decisions off screens.
There’s also a great deal of upside as a creator for others. Barrett’s an accurate passer in flashes, a very solid ball screen facilitator and has accuracy with both hands. A team that believes it can turn his passing upside into reality will certainly vault Barrett to the number two spot on its draft board, as that near seven-foot wingspan is a rare gift for a 2 or 3.
For as talented of a scorer as he is, Barrett is still really left-hand dominant in terms of his effectiveness. Per Synergy Sports Tech, he was 16-22 (72.7 percent) when he drove left from isolations; Driving right, he was 10-33 (30.3 percent).
Those numbers hold up in ball screens: He was 6-10 coming to the middle with his left, while he took zero attempts at the rim when driving middle with his right.
Such an imbalance would not be overly troubling if Barrett was an effective playmaker. He seems to probe defenses and looks to pass when bouncing to his right, whereas he’s a more aggressive scorer going to his strong hand. More than anything, RJ goes through spurts where the ball sticks.
He kills ball movement, over-dribbles into isolations and is inconsistent with how he wants to involve others. So many of his assists were from passes to Zion Williamson where the big fella did most of the work, making it difficult to trust those assist metrics as indicative of his creative ability.
Are the raw tools there? Definitely. So these are all incredibly nit-picky areas for improvement, but they are all necessary to vault him into becoming a playoff-caliber offensive weapon—and this is without even mentioning his lackadaisical effort on defense.
Look, if Barrett does not go in the top three, it’s a surprise. His scoring ability and upside does not come often, and the risks of all his improvement areas never panning out are worth the rewards.
If landing to the New York Knicks (No. 3) or Memphis Grizzlies (No. 4), I’d have a difficult time passing on Barrett, despite my own objections. He’s the clear top wing and top scorer in this class despite his flaws and trajectory to be more of a volume scorer than an efficient one.
Cam Reddish – W, Duke
How does a player that shot 35.6 percent from the floor in college make his way into the discussion for a top-five pick? Despite being in a draft without a deep pool of elite talent, Cam Reddish showed in glimpses of all the skills that made him a top-level high school recruit.
He is long and lean, has a great deal of defensive upside and is bar none the best shooter in the draft class. Will an unusual and uneven year at Duke cause his stock to fall?
Let’s start with the shooting, which is tantalizing for a prospect with a seven-foot wingspan. Reddish has a smooth release and quick trigger, although his results were inconsistent at Duke. His mechanics are such that it’s hard not to label him a shooter.
Reddish was playing out of position all season long, serving as the fourth ball-handler behind Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Tre Jones. He’s a guard that is a solid playmaker and needs the ball in his hands more. That rhythm helps his jumper and opens up other facets of his game. There’s a great deal of untapped potential here for the former high school point guard.
Now onto the ugly. The numbers at Duke showed legitimate flaws in Reddish’s offensive efficiency.
His finishing near the rim, which is unaffected by volume, was putrid for a player of his size. There’s some smoke surrounding the numbers, but a trend certainly exists in his inability to score against size and verticality. Part of that comes from his lack of strength and vertical athleticism right now, and part from his low finishes.
Drafting Reddish in the top-six means some team has faith that he’ll be a primary creator or scorer some day. Nobody would take a floor-spacing catch-and-shoot guy with his track record for only that role in the high end of the lottery.
Reddish has a long way to go before he reaches top option territory though, as he struggles to create his own shot and separate from defenders.
Teams draft players based on who they believe they will become, not who they are today. Reddish underwhelmed during his lone collegiate season, but there are also rational explanations for why his role was thrown off.
The physical tools, combined with the outside shooting upside, make him an intriguing prospect. The fact most of his improvement areas are easily correctable as learned skills give credence to that intrigue. Reddish may be knocking on the door of a top-five selection, and based on his profile within this draft class, that’s exactly where he should be.
Tyler HerRo – CG, Kentucky
Another one of my favorite prospects in this draft, Herro is a specialty sniper cut from the same cloth as Wayne Ellington and Marco Belinelli. Upside at Devin Booker or Klay Thompson levels of success doesn’t exist, but there comes a time in the draft when taking a very good player at one specific skill becomes the right value.
Herro won’t blow anyone away with flashiness or physique, but he has a bright future ahead of him. In a draft short on high-caliber athletes, he’s one guy that many teams will have their eye on.
Herro is smart and combines many of the great shooters’ strengths with an ability to finish, despite his lack of size.
A quick-release shooter, Herro’s best trait is his ability to move without the ball in order to create offense. He’s excellent at reading screens and gets his feet set quickly. There’s a JJ Redick-like element to his game and his off-ball movement, combined with quick decisions once he catches the ball. Although a complimentary piece within any offense, his role is one that many teams can utilize and pair well with so many types of players.
Some of what holds Herro back are incorrectable areas, such as his short wingspan, uninspiring athletic burst and separation with his first step. He can add minor tweaks and training regimen to help cover up those but cannot compensate for them completely. That limits his upside, particularly on the defensive end, where he’s already proven to be a liability by allowing straight-line drives to the basket.
Herro is a player that likely won’t scratch the top-twelve, so he is better served as a “fit” prospect—meaning his success is more directly tied to the environment he ends up in than most.
Herro is a sniper and great mover, but he’s not a 3 and needs to be next to a 1 that can take top defensive assignments. If that means falling to the 15-to-20 range, so be it. His offensive acumen is so valuable that it’s hard to imagine him slipping too far outside the lottery. Several teams in that range can offer him the right type of supporting system to reach his potential quickly.
Grant Williams – F, Tennessee
A strong, husky interior scorer, Williams has added a jump shot that boosts his NBA stock. Now an inside-outside threat, there is serious potential for him to be a mismatch forward that punishes any type of 4-man.
Unfortunately, the game is played on both ends, and questions around Williams’ defensive upside limit the appeal of a scorer that does little to create his own shot off the bounce.
Williams is super strong and a polished scorer within fifteen feet. He does his work before the catch, is efficient on either block and uses both hands well. He’s also a good passer out of the post and double-teams. However, if there’s one area that’s least valued in the game, it is finding a back-to-basket scorer that does not defend the 5-spot well.
Thus, Williams’ strengths are clear and delineated, just not incredibly valuable.
He’s the ultimate mismatch scorer in the frontcourt if he continues to be effective with his jump shot. The mechanics are solid, but adding it as a staple of his game is a big “if”. Without certainty thanks to the low volume of jump shots taken at Tennessee, it’s hard to add the inside-outside threat he potentially provides as a positive attribute of his draft profile.
Few draft outlets have been as pessimistic on Williams as I have been, mainly due to the defense issues and my belief that closeouts are the largest, most important indicator of success. Grant is a plodding thick body with slow feet, and many of his closeouts led to direct drives to the rim and provided little resistance. What NBA perimeter players is he expected to defend?
Offensively, Williams must continue to improve that jumper and clean up some decision-making on the move.
He’s not necessarily a high-turnover guy at the next level since he won’t be drawing a ton of double teams in the post, which is where he struggled most. But Williams has not exhibited skills as a perimeter playmaker despite a few pieces of evidence that point to upside as a passer off the short roll.
Williams is a bit difficult to peg. He’s a “love him or hate him” type of prospect, and one whose stock is heavily going to depend on workouts. There’s an outside chance he plays his way into the top-twelve if the right team falls in love with him, but he’s probably closer to the twenties thanks to that stunted defensive potential and questions around his jump shot.
Adam is a TBW staff writer and college basketball coach at Dickinson College. He loves watching for offensive schemes while specializing in individual skill development, shooting technique and coach-speak. Born in New Hampshire, Adam grew up as a Celtics fan but now claims to just love “good basketball”, which does not include mid-range jumpers.