Playing 2019 NBA Draft Matchmaker, Part 1

In today’s NBA, most lottery teams draft the best player available in the available pool and then figure out the fit later on during free agency. That’s been the thinking for years, seeing as teams are scared of leaving a potential star on the board solely because his position is already filled.

That is typically the right call regardless of current roster construction, given how difficult star acquisition has become.  With that being said, fit is still a strong consideration because current teams also have current stars, and rookies don’t always pan out exactly the way you want. For this exercise, we’re trending towards fit.

That will be based on a team’s weak positions and where they need a statistical boost. If a player projects as being a mid-lottery selection, but the team drafting second needs someone of his type, that’s where he’ll go. Current draft standings will apply, and the draft will go through the first 14 selections, also known as the lottery.

1. New York Knicks – Zion Williamson, Duke – F

We’re just gonna go ahead and fast-forward through New York and Zion Williamson, seeing as the Duke freshman is such a plug-and-play type, he’d go #1 regardless of who picked. Yes, this is assuming New York winds up with the selection, but regardless of who gets it, Zion will go No. 1. Fit doesn’t matter with him, and you’ve already read so much elsewhere about his LeBron James / Shawn Kemp attributes that we’ll spend the time on the other guys—because fit matters a lot more in these other scenarios.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers – Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech – SG/SF

Mar 24, 2019; Tulsa, OK, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Jarrett Culver (23) shoots the ball over Buffalo Bulls forward Nick Perkins (33) during the second half in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at BOK Center. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavs had the worst defense in the league this season, finishing dead-last in opposing 2P% (56.1%), regular FG% (49.5%), 3P% (38.0%), eFG% (56.4%) and defensive rating (117.6). They blocked just 195 shots as a team, also last in the league, and were third-to-last in steals.

Jarrett Culver is an athletic and active defender with great size, length, and mobility. He will immediately help clean up in Cleveland.

He projects as a super switchy defender who can guard everything from larger point guards to small power forwards given his size, which is unofficially estimated in the 6’7″ range with a significant wingspan. His offense is a work-in-progress, but he gets to the basket and moves well off-ball, which theoretically should fit well alongside ball-dominant Collin Sexton, a scoring guard who needs possessions to produce.

Culver also functions as a solid rebounder (6.4 a game) and as a secondary playmaker who can initiate the offense. He’s not one to call his own number a lot and would fit in seamlessly due to his selfless nature. His athleticism would allow Cleveland to get out and run, which they’re in dire need of after finishing second-to-last in pace this year.

3. Phoenix Suns – 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

Ja Morant was the best playmaker in college basketball this season, and with the Suns having a glaring hole at point guard all year long, it’s fair to say selecting him will mean a significant upgrade.

Whether Morant will be able to fulfill his potential in a place where his teammates (more specifically Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton) will take up a ton of possessions is anyone’s guess, but he does fill a need. His 10 assists per game will help a squad that ranked 20th in that category, just as his ability to generate free throws (8.2 attempts per game) will improve Phoenix’s total of 22.7 attempts, also ranked 20th.

Furthermore, Morant is a tremendous rebounder from the point guard position, hauling in 5.7 a game this season (and 6.5 the year before), which undoubtedly would help the league’s worst rebounding squad.

Morant’s presence would allow Booker to play more off the ball, which would help lower his unassisted rate. Booker was assisted on just 36% of his field goals and became the de facto point guard for Phoenix, all while he had to carry the offense.

Morant, who averaged 24.5 points a game, will give Booker the opportunity to be more selective of his shots, which should increase Phoenix’s overall efficiency. It would also mean a great deal for Ayton’s development: A big man having a pass-first point guard to generate easy looks on the interior and off lobs is always helpful.

4. Chicago Bulls – Darius Garland, Vanderbilt – PG

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 11: Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland (10) brings the ball up the court during a college basketball game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the USC Trojans on November 11, 2018, at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Darius Garland played just 139 minutes over five games in college due to a meniscus injury. Nonetheless, certain elements of his game are easy to identify, such as his off-the-bounce shooting ability.

Garland is a highly dynamic offensive player who possess great ballhandling and the means to combine that feature with his exceptional shooting touch. He would allow Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to be the primary offensive contributors while spotting off the attention they draw. Garland’s ability to initiate the offense on the NBA level is a bit murky given his limited college run, but there’s no denying he has significant upside as an offensive player who can play with or without the basketball.

5. Atlanta Hawks – R.J. Barrett, Duke – SG/SF

Feb 9, 2019; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward RJ Barrett (5) shoots the ball over Virginia Cavaliers guard Kyle Guy (5) in the first half at John Paul Jones Arena. The Blue Devils won 81-71. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While the idea of R.J. Barrett may end up being better than the actual Barrett (see: Andrew Wiggins), the 6’7″ wing should immediately be an NBA contributor, especially offensively, due to his volume and raw talent level, which is admittedly high.

Barrett can create for himself, is wildly aggressive on drives and will force his way into the paint no matter what it takes. For an Atlanta team that’s settled in on their point guard (Trae Young), shooter (Kevin Huerter) and frontcourt (John Collins) anchors, bringing in a wing who can swing games seems like a smart next move to balance the offense.

Barrett can also play the four in smaller lineups, which would allow the Hawks to pair him with Collins in the front-court. Barrett is a decent ballhandler in his own right and could function as a secondary playmaker down the line, thus lessening the burden on Trae Young.

6. Washington Wizards – Jaxson Hayes, Texas – C

Mar 9, 2019; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns forward Jaxson Hayes (10) dunks over TCU Horned Frogs forward Kouat Noi (12) and center Kevin Samuel (21) in the second half at Frank Erwin Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest here. The Wizards are probably going to trade Bradley Beal, which puts them in a situation where they’re in need of everything.

But regardless of whether they stick it out with Beal for a bit longer and give John Wall another short look after he’s healthy, going big has to be a priority. Jaxson Hayes is a springy 6’11″ big who’ll block shots (2.2 in 23.3 minutes), draw fouls (3.1 FTA on 74 FT%) and finish high percentage looks (72.8 FG%) without demanding a lot of touches.

Hayes is extremely thin, and the Wizards will have to wait a few years for him to develop his frame as a better rebounder, but he’ll be worth the wait.

He’s clearly a late bloomer and doesn’t have a lot of minutes on his knees, which should bode well for his future outlook. He’d be able to play off Washington’s lead guards very well, minimizing the amount of defensive attention they’ll be receiving.

7. New Orleans Pelicans – De’Andre Hunter, Virginia – SF/PF

Mar 24, 2019; Columbia, SC, USA; Virginia Cavaliers guard De’Andre Hunter (12) dunks the ball during the second half against the Oklahoma Sooners in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Colonial Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

De’Andre Hunter is coming off a national championship win where he dominated in the clinching game by playing his patented brand of two-way basketball.

At 6’7″ and with with a 7’2″ wingspan, Hunter could become one of the most effective defenders at the next level, which would fare well next to Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle. Both of the latter are active and unselfish, and Holiday’s one of the better defenders in the league.

Hunter is also effective from the outside, as he hit 43.8% of his three-pointers. Granted, his volume was low (2.8 attempts in 32.5 minutes) but his release and fluidity suggest he should be able to transfer a high percentage over to an increased volume. Hunter is a guy who would genuinely fit in on most teams, but his defensive upside would be a huge asset for New Orleans specifically.

8. Atlanta Hawks – Coby White, North Carolina – PG/SG

Mar 29, 2019; Kansas City, MO, United States; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Coby White (2) shoots over Auburn Tigers guard Samir Doughty (10) in the semifinals of the midwest regional of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t confuse Coby White’s label as a point guard with him having a primarily ball-dominant game. He is a scorer who loves to play full-court basketball, take a high volume of triples (6.7 a game on 35.2% accuracy in 28.5 minutes) and who has the size (6’5″, 190 pounds) to play the two alongside Trae Young.

White would pair with Barrett as Atlanta’s primary wings moving forward, rounding out a roster that is built around Young and John Collins. White’s an effective playmaker who can initiate the offense from the off-guard spot (4.1 assists) and would become a valuable backcourt sidekick to Young, whether as 6th man or by moving Huerter to a support role.


Read Part 2 here.