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 looked at the lottery teams. Now, we break down the picks from the playoff-bound franchises:
Pick 15, Detroit Pistons – Nassir Little, Forward, North Carolina
Detroit must swing for the fences due to a rather dire cap situation. And that means going for Nassir Little, the highly athletic and highly active forward from UNC.
Little had a forgettable season, averaging just 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds as a freshman, but questions exist about how he was used at UNC—especially how frequently he was placed in the corners as a non-shooter.
Given enough freedom and the right tutelage, Little could become a defensive stud who yearly adds offensive elements to his game. There’s a LOT of that needed, but he’s got enough tools to warrant a gamble at No. 15.
Pick 16, Orlando Magic – Kevin Porter Jr., Guard, USC
Kevin Porter Jr. had a rough freshman season at USC and didn’t test out well athletically during the combine. But his game seems tailored for the NBA in 2019, which will undoubtedly have several teams interested. (There’s even a chance the Heat take him at #13 if he’s available).
Porter Jr hit 41.2 percent of his triples this season (3.2 attempts a night), and he is able to create opportunities off the dribble by slithering into the lane. There, he can finish above the rim or step back for uncontested 12-footers. In a few years, Porter Jr can be a reliable scoring option for the Magic.
Pick 17, Brooklyn Nets – Rui Hachimura, Forward, Gonzaga
Rui Hachimura is probably best suited for the NBA power forward position, as his handles and playmaking aren’t entirely up to par for the average wing player. However, Hachimura should be an effective scorer (19.7 points in 30.2 minutes this year) who can force himself to the line (6.0 attempts) and hit the occasional three-pointer (41.7 percent on 36 total attempts).
The Nets could use more offense from their big positions, and Hachimura could be part of that solution, especially if he amps up his three-point volume.
Pick 18, Indiana Pacers – Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Wing, Virginia Tech
It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Nickeil Alexander-Walker has one of the highest floors of any wing in this year’s draft. The 20-year-old is flat-out solid production wise, and his 6’6” frame with a 6’10” wingspan adds further intrigue.
Alexander-Walker averaged 16.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.9 steals, and 4.2 FT/A this season while hitting 37.4 percent of his 4.6 nightly attempts from three. Defensively, he’s engaged and active. He’s productive enough offensively to stay relevant on a nightly basis. He might be one of the safest picks in the draft.
Pick 19, San Antonio Spurs – Goga Bitadze, Center, Buducnost
There will be competition for Goga Bitadze on draft night, and there is absolutely a world where he’s gone before the Spurs pick at #19. That makes sense, as Bitadze is simply an outstanding center prospect who’s stepped in the footprints of Luka Doncic, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nikola Mirotic to winning the EuroLeague Rising Star award.
The 19-year-old was loaned out from Mega Bemax to Buducnost during the season and made a seamless transition while leading them to the playoffs where he averaged 12.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 31.3 percent from three—down from 40+ percent in the regular season. Bitadze speaks English very well and seems to have “Spurs” written all over them.
Pick 20, Boston Celtics – Grant Williams, Forward, Tennessee
The Celtics are going into a potentially tumultuous summer, but there’d be no hoopla surrounding the potential of Gant Williams, who as solid as they come at the power forward position.
The 20-year-old averaged a very impressive line of 18.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.1 steals, plus seven free throw attempts a night (the last of which he converted at 81.9 percent). Williams will stuff the stat sheet, as he can function as a roll-man, passing hub, help-defender, rebounder and even as a spot-up shooter here or there (32.6 percent from deep). Williams is one of the most polished forwards in this draft and, much like Alexander-Walker, projects as a high-floor prospect.
Pick 21, Oklahoma City Thunder – Luka Samanic, Forward, Petrol Olimpija
While Luka Samanic is probably a few years away from being a valuable NBA contributor, he’s already got some intriguing tools that will make him a fit for GM Sam Presti.
Samanic is 6’11” and active, runs the floor at every opportunity and knows how to fill the lane. His 38-inch vertical and quick feet allows him to outrun his opponents and finish plays above the rim. He gets slower in half-court settings—especially with the ball when he isn’t allowed to get a full head of steam—but that’s where his developing three-ball and playmaking comes in. Samanic hit 33.8 percent of his 1.6 nightly attempts and has healthy passing instinct, although that never represented itself on the stat sheet. He has plenty of potential but needs a defined role to find success at the next level.
Pick 22, Boston Celtics – Tyler Herro, Wing, Kentucky
Tyler Herro is one of the most explosive players in this draft. He will dribble into jump shots, floaters and lay-up opportunities, and isn’t afraid to pull the trigger when he’s got an opening. Herro was consistent during his first year at Kentucky, hitting double-figures in scoring 29 out of 37 times and canning two or more triples in 20 games. While he isn’t long—6’3” wingspan on a 6’6” frame—he projects as a valuable scorer off the bench who can provide consistent offense in a few years, if not already.
Pick 23, Utah Jazz – Talen Horton-Tucker, Wing, Iowa State
At 6’4”, Talen Horton-Tucker doesn’t have great height for the guard position, but his 7’1” wingspan more than makes up for that. He is difficult to project offensively, as his production was highly inconsistent all year long: 16 games without a three-pointer, 11 games without a free throw attempt.
But his defensive upside and age (he won’t be 19 before late November) presents plenty of optimism. As Horton-Tucker ages and develops, there are high odds he’ll become one of the better defensive off-guards, which Utah would particularly take great interest in.
Pick 24, Philadelphia 76ers – Bruno Fernando, Center, Maryland
Bruno Fernando is big, productive, and athletic. The 6’10” center has a wingspan of over 7’3”, ran the three-quarter sprint at 3.21 seconds as the best of any center at the combine (and even quicker than Carsen Edwards) while also having a vertical leap of 33.5-inches.
Fernando posted averages of 13.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 30 minutes per game for Maryland while also hitting 77.9 percent of his free throws. This suggests further potential as a shooter.
Fernando is a high-flyer and loves to dunk while bringing a lot of energy. The Sixers would finally have a back-up big who doesn’t get run off the floor.
Pick 25, Portland Trail Blazers – Keldon Johnson, Wing, Kentucky
If he’s still on the board, Keldon Johnson seems like the perfect fit to round out Portland’s young bench core consisting of Gary Trent Jr, Anfernee Simons, Zach Collins and Skal Labissiere. Johnson is a steady wing with decent size (6’6”, 6’9” wingspan) who can hit the long ball (38.1 percent), help on the glass (5.9 rebounds per game) and become a more consistent defender as he ages. His game isn’t polished yet, partly due to him being just 19 years old, but the tools are there for him to become a solid NBA rotation player.
Pick 26, Cleveland Cavaliers – Ty Jerome, Guard, Virginia
Ty Jerome is a big 6’6” point guard who understands when and where to take his shots. He hit 39.9 percent of his 5.4 three-point attempts this year, while chipping in 13.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. His size allows him to switch onto bigger guards, just as it makes him an asset on the glass. Jerome can run an offense as well and would bring a lot of stability to the Cavaliers, which would further allow Collin Sexton to occasionally play off-the-ball.
Pick 27, Brooklyn Nets – Isaiah Roby, Forward, Nebraska
Isaiah Roby is a 6’8” combo forward who’s highly productive and score in a variety of ways, including in the post, off drives and even spotting up from behind the three-point line (33 percent). He’s most intriguing defensively, however, as he’s a highly skilled shot-blocker (1.9) who can pick up steals (1.3) and push the ball with his handle. His scoring rate of 11.8 points won’t wow anyone, but he’d make for versatile depth on Brooklyn’s bench.
Pick 28, Golden State Warriors – Carsen Edwards, Guard, Purdue
There’s no getting around the fact that Carsen Edwards is one of the most dangerous scorers in this draft, netting 24.3 points this season at Purdue.
His lack of size and defensive prowess is what mostly keeps him low on most draft boards (including this one), but there’s a chance he’s gone sooner than No. 28 simply because of his ability to get buckets. Not only did Edwards can 135 three-pointers this season, but he also got to the line and converted on 83.7 percent of his 6.1 nightly freebies. There isn’t a better player the Warriors could pick at this point, as he’d also solve many of their current bench issues.
Pick 29, San Antonio Spurs – Joshua Obiesie, Guard, s.Oliver Wurzburg
The 19-year-old Joshua Obiesie should be a long-term play for the Spurs, as he simply isn’t NBA ready yet. The 6’6” point guard has good size and feel for the game, and his percentage splits this year (44.3/31.0/73.5) indicates potential as a shooter. He reads the floor well and doesn’t take unnecessary risks.
He also constantly seeks out better shot attempts, for both himself and others, and he values possessions. He’s not a creative passer, and he’s too passive as a scorer, but a few years stashed in Europe with Spurs guidance could turn him into a worthwhile player.
Pick 30, Milwaukee Bucks – Matisse Thybulle, Wing, Washington
Defense, defense, defense. Matisse Thybulle finished the season with 126 steals and 82 blocks in 36 games for Washington and is one of the most productive young defenders in the draft.
Offensively, he’s not someone who will assert himself, but he can hit free throws (85.1 percent) and he did knock down 35.8 percent of his three-pointers over his four-year college career. At 6’5” and with a 7’1” wingspan, Thybulle has the physical tools to make the NBA transition, but he will need to hunt for his shots a bit more if he wants steady minutes.
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.