The 2019 NBA Draft is just a little bit over a month away (June 20th) and the Eastern and Western Conference Finals are still in full swing. We have yet to crown a champion for 2018-19 but for teams not in the Final Four, their sights are already locked and set on the future – the NBA Draft.
The NBA landscape is primed for dramatic shifts, especially considering that there are a lot of high-tier free agents hitting the market. That said, not all teams have the luxury of vying for those free agents. For some, if not many teams, their route as far building towards a roster that can eventually compete for an NBA title will through the upcoming draft.
So, what can we expect to happen on June 20th? First, considering that this is expected to be a shallow draft, expect more than a few teams to get on the phones and make some moves with the intention of moving up the draft. Also, expect at least several trades to take place on draft night as teams look to either solidify their positions or to improve their collection of young assets for the future.
For over several months now, Duke’s Zion Williamson has been touted as the consensus top pick in the draft. He is a unique physical specimen with an intriguing skill set to match. He’s an undersized, seemingly overweight power forward, but has the genetic gifts of athleticism that allowed him to dominate the NCAA in his freshman year. With the right guidance and grooming, Williamson can be molded into one of the game’s more dynamic stretch fives. Despite having just, a six percent chance to get it, the New Orleans Pelicans won the NBA lottery and have the first overall pick in the draft. Their All-Star center, Anthony Davis, requested for a trade from the team as early as January 2019. Even with the Pelicans winning the lottery, the big man has not changed his tune and has likely seen his last days in a Pelicans jersey despite meetings with the newly installed head of basketball operations David Griffin. At this rate, the Pelicans are probably headed for a fresh start and will hold onto their first pick and rebuild around Williamson.
The Memphis Grizzlies have the second pick and have all but dowsed all speculation by making it known that they would pick Murray State’s Ja Morant, a standout who made a significant leap in his sophomore year, including a triple-double performance against Marquette University in the NCAA tournament. The Grizzlies already traded away Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors at the 2018-19 trade deadline and are fully expected move on from incumbent starting point guard, Mike Conley Jr. Morant, who has touted as a future and possibly more efficient Russell Westbrook, would fit in nicely into that role and should make for an intriguing pairing with the fourth overall pick in 2018, Jaren Jackson Jr.
It’s been argued and rightfully so that the first three picks of the draft are pretty much cut and dry. The New York Knicks, who had one of the highest chances to win the lottery will have to settle for the third pick, which all told, isn’t too bad at all. The left-handed Canadian guard from Duke, R.J. Barrett, who is the hands-down best player available at this spot and the Knicks are not likely going to pass up on someone who has already drawn comparisons to former Most Valuable Player awardee, James Harden. The Knicks are starting 2019-20 with a clean slate, so to speak, having traded away Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks this season. They’ve maneuvered to give themselves a wide berth to sign a big-ticket superstar, or two, in the upcoming free agent market. Depending on whether they’re offered a deal they can’t refuse, the third pick (Barrett) may just be something that they’re not married to just yet. They’ll want an optimal situation where they can best rebuild as quickly as possible.
Now that the “Three Kings” of the draft have been all but crowned, things are a lot more muddled, especially considering that the Los Angeles Lakers are the holders of the fourth pick of the draft. The team is at a crossroads. They have living Legend in LeBron James, who they signed before the 2018-19 season but have a considerable number of young assets in the form of Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram. That said, they’ve been the biggest suitors in the trade market for Anthony Davis, as they hoped to align his already-developed game and timeline with that of James. Magic Johnson also stepped down as president of basketball operations, putting the team in an even greater state of flux. As of now, owner Jeannie Buss and GM Rob Pelinka are steering the Lakers ship. They could package this fourth pick with any combination of young players for a more established star. Predicting where the Lakers will lean on draft day is almost impossible at this point – consider their situation to be very fluid. In a vacuum, assuming they keep their pick, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver and Virginia’s DeAndre Hunter are both considered as solid options for the team, depending on their roster makeup after the dust settles on draft day.
Here is a complete look at the lottery teams and where they
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Memphis Grizzlies
- New York Knicks
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Phoenix Suns
- Chicago Bulls
- Atlanta Hawks
- Washington Wizards
- Atlanta Hawks
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Charlotte Hornets
- Miami Heat
- Boston Celtics (Via Sacramento Kings)
As you can see, the Atlanta Hawks have two picks in the top-10, the eighth and 10th picks. They are in a unique position to draft their way to a bright future. They already have John Collins, Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Taurean Prince. If they play it smart and pick well, the Hawks could rebuild a playoff contender via draft picks alone.
One thing’s for sure, expect the league to be buzzing with activity come June 20th.