By Kay Ajibade
Duke freshman Zion Williamson, the consensus player of the year, officially declared his eligibility for the NBA draft. Williamson ranked by many as the No.1 prospect made his announcement on Instagram, saying playing for Duke had been the “best year” of his life.
6-foot-7, 285-pound Williamson became the face of college basketball with his freakish, once-in-a-generation athleticism; his energy at both ends of the floor, routinely coming up with at least one highlight-reel play or show-stopping dunk per game.
On May 14th, the NBA will hold its lottery to determine which team will draft Zion. New York, Phoenix and Cleveland hold the best odds, followed by Chicago and Atlanta, however the rest of the draft remains uncertain with March Madness producing winners and losers likely to dictate NBA front office decisions on May 14th.
Ja Morant, Murray State Racers (Winner)
Not many players were better than Ja Morant this year. Zion Williamson was, and a case could be made for RJ Barrett. That’s it. Murray State’s lead man put up 24.5 points, 10.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals forcing his way into the top-three in most mock draft boards.
Morant’s performances blindsided most because unless you live in Kentucky or shell out $5 per month for an ESPN+ subscription, you barely got to see Morant. Prior to March, the Racers only played four nationally televised games. Fans had likely heard of Morant with a handful of his athletic highlight plays doing the rounds on social media, but the NCAA tournament was probably the first time a lot of people would have watched the majority of a Murray State game.
To put it bluntly, the boy has game.
Earlier in the season against Auburn (final four participants), Morant put up 25 points, seven assists, eight rebounds and against Alabama 38 points, five assists and nine rebounds.
In the blowout loss to Florida State in the second round, Morant was impressive and finished with 28 points. He’s held his own against elite NCAA competition. As a runner up in the Zion raffle, Morant is more than a worthy consolation prize.
Projection: Top 3 pick
NBA comparison: DeAaron Fox (With a better jump shot).
Carsen Edwards, Purdue Boilmakers (Winner)
Ja Morant aside, Carsen Edwards is quite probably the biggest winner in the 2018 – 2019 season and probably the biggest winner as a result of the NCAA tournament.
Coming into his sophomore year, Edwards was the only notable name on the roster and the Boilmakers were very much an Edwards or bust team. Fast forward to the end of the season and that prediction holds true, Edwards took 37.5% of Purdue’s shots while he was on the floor.
Edward’s ability to convert those shots during the tournament have seen his draft stock sky rocket. He was not considered a first round pick before the start of the season, however after shooting 45.9% from three-point range and averaging 34.8 points in the tournament, the general consensus has changed.
In four games, Edwards had 139 points almost finishing with more points than Kemba Walker (141 points) did in six games in 2011. He did finish well ahead of what Stephen Curry (128 points) produced while leading Davidson to the 2008 Elite Eight.
Projection: Late first round
NBA comparison: Patty Mills (with a little less playmaking)
Cam Reddish, Duke Blue Devils (Loser)
Cameron Reddish is one of the more overall talented players in this year’s draft, but he’s yet to fully capitalize on all of his gifts up to this point in his career. He has games where he looks like a star player followed by 1/11 field goal shooting performances. Reddish still has some development/maturing to do on a mental level as his confidence comes and goes. It appears to be the Achilles heel that’s holding him back from being all he can as a prospect.
Reddish in theory is someone who can shoot, defend, play-make in P/R, finish over the top, etc. All of which he does in flashes, but you’d like to see more consistency from him on a nightly basis.
With that said, he has shown that he can compliment other star level talents as he’s done a nice job being the talented 3rd option alongside Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett at Duke. Reddish may prove to be a late bloomer who rounds into his game after a few developmental seasons in the league. His team situation, much like many other one and done prospects, will be critical for his long-term outcome.
He’s in the fragile stages of his game where he’s still figuring out how much talent he has and how to maximize it. A stable organization who won’t demand too much from him too soon and could surround him with attention/veteran players would do him well. Overall, Reddish is a lottery pick based on his physical tools and the immense talent he teases us with. While he has star potential he’s more likely a starter/rotation player in the NBA.
NBA comparison: Rodney Hood (Yes, just as streaky)
Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga Bulldogs (Loser)
Hachimura made obvious improvement from his sophomore to junior year. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward is a consistent scorer with a strong mid-range game and good ability to get to the foul line. Hachimura hit 41.7% of his 36 three point attempts this season after making just 22.5% in his first two seasons.
He also proved able to get up and down the court better than opposing big men, allowing the Bulldogs to run a high-octane offense that sat in the top 20th percentile in pace while ranking No. 1 in points scored per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference. A potent mix.
However, despite his improvements, he was rather disappointing in the NCAA tournament. At times during Gonzaga’s tournament run, Hachimura looked raw, lacking a natural feel for the game when a play broke down or the shot clock was expiring which hindered Gonzaga when up against higher calibre opponents.
Projection: Lottery/ Late first round
NBA comparison: Antwon Jamison (Who? Yes, that’s the point)
The Common Sense Network Mock draft lottery
- Zion Williamson, PF, Duke
- Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
- RJ Barrett, SG, Duke
- De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia
- Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech
- Coby White, PG/SG, North Carolina
- Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
- Sekou Doumbouya, PF/SF, Limoges CSP (France)
- Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
- Cam Reddish, SF, Duke
- Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga
- Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
- Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina
- Bol Bol, C, Oregon
- PJ Washington, PF, Kentucky