NBA teams are in the process of identifying which now-former college players they want to invest in, as well as drawing pathways towards them. You can never quite plan ahead for the craziness that is draft night.
Teams will leak false reports, create smokescreens and do whatever it takes to make the draft fall in their favor—as they should. Some organizations will indeed have to settle for names further down their draft board, while others will be pleasantly surprised by their primary guy being available later than expected.
So, yes, we can never fully know what will happen until it does on draft night—and that’s not what we’re predicting here. Rather, we’re assessing talent level versus general fit amid a hypothetical domino effect. First, we look at the lottery teams:
Pick 1, New Orleans Pelicans – Zion Williamson, Forward, Duke
The home-run slam dunk of the draft, Zion Williamson is one of the most productive college basketball players in history and WILL be the first name to come off the board.
His explosiveness and feel for the game will give New Orleans either the perfect front-court running mate for Anthony Davis, or he’ll become Davis’s replacement later on in the summer. Either way, the Pelicans will walk away with the prize of the draft.
Pick 2, Memphis Grizzlies – Ja Morant, Guard, Murray State
This highly skilled floor leader is in a similar situation as Williamson, as he goes to a team with an already established star at his position – Mike Conley – meaning Ja Morant will either have one heck of a mentor, or he’ll get a chance to run the show from Day 1.
Morant is one of the best passers to ever come out of college, and his 24.6 point scoring rate will also come in handy at the next level. He’s tremendously explosive going to the basket, but he also balances his aggressiveness with playmaking. Memphis will enjoy his steadiness for years.
Pick 3, New York Knicks – R.J. Barrett, Wing, Duke
The Knicks may have missed out on the two top-tier talents, but R.J. Barrett is a decent consolation prize. The high-producing 6’7” wing is a bucket-getter (22.6 points) who has the tools to be a playmaker (4.3 assists), though he will need to fine-tune his efficiency if he wants to avoid becoming a high-volume low-efficiency chucker. (See: Andrew Wiggins.)
Thankfully, Barrett will be just 19 years old through the entirety of next season, suggesting ample potential.
Pick 4, Los Angeles Lakers – Darius Garland, Guard, Vanderbilt
The 6’2” Darius Garland has allegedly received a promise during the draft combine, which would seem to point towards either the Phoenix Suns or Chicago Bulls since both need a point guard.
However, Garland is repped by Klutch Sports, LeBron James’s agency, which means the Lakers could have made the promise. Garland’s ability to shoot the basketball, especially coming off ball-screens, is an attractive tool in today’s NBA climate.
His lack of playmaking ability wouldn’t be as magnified alongside James and Lonzo Ball, though his he’d likely be a bench contributor due to fit.
Pick 5, Cleveland Cavaliers – Jarrett Culver, Wing, Texas Tech
The Cavaliers are thirsting for talent, and Jarrett Culver has that in spades. The 6’7” wing can play three positions, guard smalls and bigs, and get to the basket at a steady rate. Culver plays the game intelligently and understands how to asserting himself defensively.
NBA coaches will love him, his versatility and his potential. Culver could find himself high on Rookie Of the Year-lists in 12 months.
Pick 6, Phoenix Suns – Coby White, Guard, North Carolina
The Suns want a point guard, and with both Morant and Garland off the board, Coby White is one left who’s worth selecting in the Top 10. White is more of a combo guard, but he’s a high-volume three-point shooter (6.6 attempts per game) who can also put the ball on the deck and get to the rim.
Offensively, he’d fit seamlessly alongside Devin Booker–who is also a ball handling playmaker now– while providing plenty of spacing for Deandre Ayton.
Pick 7, Chicago Bulls – De’Andre Hunter, Wing, Virginia
The Bulls are in dire need of a point guard but would be forced to look for something else at #7 in this scenario. If De’Andre Hunter is still available, they should be awfully optimistic about the alternative.
Hunter is a hard-nosed wing who played for a well-respected program and won the national championship – aspects the Bulls put great stock into – and his versatility should especially translate defensively.
Hunter is not all that polished on the other end, and he will need to add significant volume to his three-point shooting (2.8 attempts per game), but he’s a fundamentally sound player.
Pick 8, Atlanta Hawks – Jaxson Hayes, Center, Texas
With Trae Young and John Collins already on hand, locating a rim-rolling center who can block shots at the other end could be an attractive asset for the Hawks (though frontcourt spacing becomes an immediate concern unless Collins continues developing range).
Thankfully, Jaxson Hayes does that better than anyone in this draft. The 6’11” center has a 7’4” wingspan that he used to swat 2.2 shots at Texas this year through just 23.3 minutes of playing time. His ability to turn defense into offense will give the Hawks a chance to run, which should bring lights to the eyes of Young and Collins.
Pick 9, Washington Wizards – Sekou Doumbouya, Forward, Limoges CSP
The Wizards won’t be relevant for a few years until John Wall’s contract is off their books, and that allows them to go for a long-term project.
Sekou Doumbouya has tremendous upside but won’t turn 19 until the very end of the calendar year. His 6’9” frame and 6’11” wingspan could even grow further as time passes.
Doumbouya has a gorgeous stroke on his jumper that is bound to eventually translate into efficiency, and his 79.3 free throw percentage further suggests potential as a shooter. He’s active defensively and can get to the rim off his long strides, but it will take him a few years to tighten all of that up.
Pick 10, Atlanta Hawks – Cam Reddish, Wing, Duke
With Hayes locked up two picks before, the Hawks can afford a gamble, and is there a bigger one than Cam Reddish at this point? The 6’8” wing has a wonderful shooting stroke and a tremendous physical profile, but he struggled mightily at Duke, hitting just 35.6 percent from the floor, 33.3 percent from downtown and coughing up the ball 2.7 times a night.
Reddish has a lot to prove in the NBA, but Atlanta might be the perfect place to do it. He’d be part of a dynamite starting five if Young, Huerter, Collins and Hayes all coalesce.
Pick 11, Minnesota Timberwolves – Brandon Clarke, Forward, Gonzaga
This selection should really be called “The Taj Gibson Replacement”. Brandon Clarke is an über athletic four who can block and change shots, rebound the ball, grab steals and take smart shots around the basket. He’d make an effective long-term front-court partner with Karl-Anthony Towns, as he can cover the most difficult match-ups and won’t demand shots on the other end.
Clarke could become a strong candidate for All-Defense teams down the line.
Pick 12, Charlotte Hornets – Bol Bol, Center, Oregon
Selecting Bol Bol at #12 could eventually be considered a major steal. The 7’2” behemoth played just nine games for Oregon but absolutely beasted to the tune of 21 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and a mesmerizing 52 percent from downtown on 25 attempts. Yes, we should all be screaming about a small sample size, but Bol’s showing was still significant for someone his size.
There is a world where he becomes one of the best players from this draft class, so teams will have to gauge how high they’re willing to take him, but this very well could be a boom-or-bust pick.
Pick 13, Miami Heat – Romeo Langford, Wing, Indiana
Miami needs talent, which is difficult to attain when they’re capped out. As such, finding someone with star potential in the draft is necessary for them to improve.
Romeo Langford is a guy who could become way more than he is, at least if he fixes his jump shot. Langford was a decent scorer for Indiana (16.5 points) but had issues with efficiency from virtually everywhere else.
There is enough intrigue via his combination of driving and ball-handling ability, but his floor is fairly substantial. Langford could top out as a slashing off-ball player who can’t shoot, or he could become a long-term starter. It all hinges on his ability to improve his shot-making.
Pick 14, Boston Celtics – PJ Washington, Forward, Kentucky
The Boston Celtics have depth, but they are a bit short up front. PJ Washington could make an immediate impact as a stretch-four who isn’t afraid to mix it up inside, ironically similar to current Celtic Marcus Morris.
Washington likely won’t ever reach stardom, but he projects as a long-term stable rotation presence wherever he lands, and at #14 in this draft, that’s not a bad get.
Morten is an NBA analyst who co-hosts The NBA Podcast and has experience in both TV and radio. He’s also extremely Danish and loves liver paté.