The 2019 NBA draft is quite far away, that’s a given. The 2018 NBA draft just finished and the Summer League is underway. However, it’s never too early to take a look at the crop of prospects that will be the talk of the draft season next year. This 2019 draft may not be as stacked as 2018 but it’s close. If 2018 was the draft of the big men, this is the draft of the wings and guards. In fact, I don’t even have one center in my top 10 prospects. With the NBA getting smaller by the year, wings and guards are a premium and this draft is full of them. Of course things will change drastically with rankings over the season but for now, here are my top 10 2019 NBA draft prospects.
1. R.J. Barrett, G/F, Duke (Freshman)
Barrett seems to be the consensus number one pick among scouts at this point and for once in a blue moon, I 100% agree with the consensus. It isn’t a stretch to say that Barrett is the best non-NBA basketball player in the world. Besides an inconsistent three-point shot, Barrett does everything right. He’s ultra-competitive and is everywhere on the floor. Players as skilled as him don’t typically play with the energy and motor he has.
R.J. Barrett’s footwork is impeccable, dare I say Kobe-esk. He gets to his spots with ease and scores in every way, from tough finishes to post fadeaways to touch floaters to mid-range shots. He’s an explosive athlete despite not being that fluid and is a very good playmaker. On defense, Barrett’s competitiveness, his 6’7″ frame, along with his quickness gives him lockdown potential at multiple positions. I fully expect Barrett to be the top player throughout the year and can’t wait to see him play at Duke.
2. Sekou Doumbouya, F, France (Intl.)
During the FIBA U18 championships, New York Knicks guard, and top 10 pick Frank Ntilikina led France to the European championship. However, I’d argue that the best player on that team was the then 15-year-old Sekou Doumbouya. He is an athletic freak at 6’9″, 230 and is still growing. On the defensive end, he uses his athleticism, quickness, and strength to be a lockdown defender. Despite his immense physical tools, Doumbouya is a cerebral defender and understands spacing and rotations better than any 17-year old I’ve ever seen.
His jump shot is improving and he’s shown enough flashes to project him as a plus floor spacer in the NBA. His rebounding is great and his handle and vision aren’t there yet but he’s shown great progression over his career. From everything I’ve read, Doumbouya seems to be very mature, a dedicated, motivated, driven hard worker, and an excellent teammate. These are rare traits for a European kid so young. Playing at the highest French division this year, Doumbouya will have a chance to prove himself to the world. He’s close behind Luka Doncic as the best European prospect in a while and should be a top pick come draft time.
3. Cameron Reddish, G/F, Duke (Freshman)
Duke’s wing trio will be tough to stop if Cam Reddish plays to his potential. His individual talent is absolutely comparable to that of R.J. Barrett. He’s an explosive, violent athlete and is more fluid than Barrett. He is very difficult to stop when going downhill into the lane and finishes with both power and touch with both hands. He’s acrobatic and controls his body very well, making him a menace in transition attacking the defense. He has a great feel for the game and displays solid playmaking ability along with an adept handle. He’s a great rebounder, can get hot at any moment from deep, and has the tools to be an exceptional defender.
However, there are legitimate concerns about Reddish’s effort and mentality. He’s been knocked for being nonchalant times and seeming to not take much interest in defense. Reddish is an inconsistent three-point shooter whose mechanics could use improving. Duke will boast a stacked trio of Barrett, Reddish, and Zion Williamson, all who will demand touches and would be Alpha dogs on other teams. If Reddish plays well along two other stars and takes interest in defense, he could see himself as a top three pick next year.
4. Nassir Little, F, North Carolina (Freshman)
Little’s stock drastically improved on the All-American high school circuit. He put his skill set on full display for the world to see. The 6’7″ combo forward is a powerful and imposing athlete with great versatility. He’s a glass cleaner at the forward position and could be one of the best rebounders at his position in the country. His handle and three-point shot aren’t where he’d like them to be but if Little could develop those skills, he could be a devastating scorer. Nassir Little is going to give you energy and give you 100% every time he steps on the floor in Chapel Hill.
Playing under esteemed coach Roy Williams at North Carolina, Little won’t be asked to do everything right away and will have ample time to develop. By the end of the season, don’t be surprised if Little is the Tar Heels’ best player. If he shoots well in college and his defense is dominant, expect Little to push for the number one draft slot come next Summer.
5. Zion Williamson, F, Duke (Freshman)
Due to the prevalence of social media-driven highlights, Williamson may be the most popular non-professional athlete in the country, if not the world. Everybody knows about Williamson’s highlight reel dunks. He is a runaway freight train coming down the lane, using his 6’6″, 270-pound frame to outmuscle every single player at his level. What most don’t see on the highlight tapes are Williamson’s passing and ball-handling abilities, which are more advanced than you might think. A player with as much gravity as Zion will get his teammates open and Williamson will find them. His defensive upside is immense; Williamson already loves the improbable weak-side blocked shot. He could be a top defender in the NBA if everything goes well.
The obvious concern with Williamson is his jump shot, which, despite improving, still is below average. I expect him to struggle mightily shooting anything beyond the college three-point line. Playing with Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett, two players who aren’t knock-down shooters, spacing could be scarce for the Blue Devils. Expect many teams to zone the trio to hope to keep them out of the paint. If Zion, of one of the other two, can become a consistent three-point shooter, Duke will be very difficult to contend with this season.
6. Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt (Freshman)
Garland will be plagued by the same criticisms that plagued Trae Young, whether they’re justified or not. The 6’2″ point guard will be questioned for his size and his defensive ability. However, his strengths outweigh his weaknesses for me. He’s not an explosive athlete but Garland is lightning quick and has a first step that compares to some of the top NBA point guards.
He effortlessly beats defenders off of the dribble and finishes well at the rim with touch. Garland’s three-point shooting is excellent and his pull up jump shot is a flamethrower. Ball handling is a strength of Garland’s; he may be the best ball handler in the draft. Garland is comfortable initiating the offense and has excellent vision and a great feel for the game. Darius Garland should shine at Vanderbilt, raising his draft stock amongst the populous.
7. Romeo Langford, G, Indiana (Freshman)
Romeo Langford elected to stay home, signing with his hometown school Indiana. He will be the guy who lights up Bloomington night in and night out, along with the rest of the NCAA. Langford is a 6’6″ guard, a pure bucket getter. He is my early prediction to lead the nation in scoring, doing it similarly to Trae Young last season. Langford is a fluid athlete and an effortless scorer. He has a good handle, shoots the ball very well from all over the floor, and looks like he’s playing in slow motion. Everything Langford does looks so slowed down, so effortless. Yet, he routinely gets by defenders and finishes with touch at the rim.
However, his defense also seems to be in “slow motion,” and not in a good way. Along with not giving exceptional effort on defense, his lack of elite quickness and athleticism hurts him when trying to stay in front of high-level offensive players. If he can improve his quickness, Langford’s frame could allow him to defend very well. I’ll have to see once the season starts. I’m also not sure if Langford will be able to be able to create for his teammates or be much more than a very high-level volume scorer. His year at Indiana will be crucial for his draft stock, more than many other players on this list. If he reaches his ceiling, Langford could be a 25+ points per game scorer in the NBA.
8. E.J. Montgomery, F, Kentucky (Freshman)
Montgomery’s rare skillset makes me value him as a top 10 prospect in this draft for me. He combines two skillsets that are rarely combined, a great stretch big and a passing big. When you unleash NBA players with these skillsets, you get guys like Nikola Jokic. Montgomery has an excellent feel for the game and great court vision. His shooting forces defenders to stick tight to him and he is solid off of the dribble, getting into the lane and finding open teammates. His back to the basket game is quite advanced, not only in scoring but in finding cutters and shooters from the post. He’s 6’10”, athletic, and plays the boards well.
Montgomery’s motor is questionable and his defensive effort is absolutely lacking. He often falls asleep on the defensive end or neglects the importance of help defense. He could be a great weak side shot blocker if engaged but he rarely is. His wiry, near 200-pound frame will have him struggle to guard any big with any semblance of strength. Montgomery will be playing competing for minutes in a stacked Kentucky frontcourt but I believe he will earn minutes and shine as one of the Wildcats’ best players in 2019.
9. Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga (Junior)
The first non-freshman on this list, the Japanese-born Hachimura had a very good sophomore season for the Zags and very well could have been a first-round pick in this past draft. He is an ideal modern wing player in the NBA. Hachimura is versatile, with a 6’8″, 225-pound frame and 7′ wingspan. He gives excellent effort and is an excellent rebounder for his size. Last season, he averaged 11.6 points and 4.7 boards, shooting 56.8% from the field. He was a non-factor from three (19.2%) but his free throw percentage (79.5%) could bode well for his shooting future. His defensive prowess and finishing inside will have NBA teams drooling to pick up a guy like Rui Hachimura next year.
10. De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia (Sophomore)
Like Hachimura, Hunter could have been a first-round pick this season after a solid freshman season. He averaged splits of 9.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists, shooting 38.2% from deep. He is a prototypical three and D wing, which are invaluable in the modern NBA. Improving his overall scoring ability will be key in his sophomore season, as he didn’t create his own shot much last season. If Hunter can expand his offensive skillset enough, he could find himself climbing higher on this board.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.