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Re-Drafting Ja Morant, Zion Williamson and the 2019 NBA Draft

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyTwitter LogoFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 2, 2022

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    Ja Morant and Zion Williamson. (Justin Ford/Getty Images)

    Today’s media landscape demands instant analysis of the NBA draft, but it takes time to have a clear idea of how every team did.

    For the 2019 draft class, we now have three seasons from which to draw some takes. If teams knew then what they know, the first round would’ve gone much differently.

    With that extra information in hand, we’ll re-draft the first 30 picks from 2019, but the order won’t be entirely based on past production.

    These players are all still in their early- to mid-20s, theoretically pre-prime. So, there’s a lot of subjectivity in play as well. Sorting through everyone requires a lot of judgments calls.

    Evolutions in the game of basketball have to be considered, too. Three years ago, the idea of positionless basketball (and by extension, the importance of wings) may not have been quite as prevalent as it is now.

    With all of the above tossed into something of an analytical cocktail, this is how the first round should shake out if it was re-drafted today (assuming an order of 30 generic teams, not the original order from 2019).

    Check out B/R’s other NBA re-drafts here: 2016, 2017, 2018

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    Nassir Little (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    30. Cam Reddish (Originally Picked 10th)

    Cam Reddish has averaged double-figures in each of his three seasons, and he offered a glimpse of hope for his outside shooting with a 35.9 three-point percentage in 2021-22. But there’s actually a case to have him out of the top 30 altogether.

    Reddish has played only 133 regular-season games in his career, and he ranks 55th among players drafted in 2019 in wins over replacement player. Among the 49 who’ve taken at least 100 shots—not including undrafted players—he’s 43rd in effective field-goal percentage.

    Still, the physical profile of a prototypical three-and-D wing, and the fact that he’s only 22 makes Reddish worth a re-draft flier.


    29. John Konchar (Originally Undrafted)

    John Konchar doesn’t have the raw scoring average or predraft hype of Reddish, but his advanced numbers suggest he should be much higher than 29th here.

    Konchar is in the top 80 among all NBA players in box plus/minus over the course of his career, with well-rounded averages of 10.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 threes and 1.4 steals per 75 possessions. He’s also hit 40.6 percent of his three-point attempts.

    Basketball is a team sport, and volume-scoring upside isn’t necessarily what you want at all five spots. Having a gap-filler like Konchar, even if he’s about as good as he’ll ever get, can go a long way toward adding up wins.


    28. Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Originally Picked 17th)

    In terms of points per possession and effective field-goal percentage, Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s scoring profile isn’t much different than Reddish’s. Alexander-Walker more than doubles Reddish’s assist rate, though, and he generally brings more pop off the dribble.

    With an obvious edge in playmaking potential, Alexander-Walker gets the nod.


    27. Nassir Little (Originally Picked 25th)

    Taking a player with a career scoring average of 5.8 in the top 25 may feel like a bit of a stretch, but Nassir Little hasn’t had many opportunities to show off his offense. Until this past season, he was on a Damian Lillard-led team focused on winning rather than the development of young players.

    After Lillard left the 2021-22 rotation with an abdominal injury, though, Little averaged 13.1 points and 2.1 threes while shooting 40.3 percent from deep. That production came in only 12 games, but his 33.8 three-point percentage over the last two seasons suggests he can become a trustworthy shooter.

    And if you’re at all worried about Little’s 6’5″ frame, bear in mind that his wingspan is 7’1¼”.


    26. Luguentz Dort (Originally Undrafted)

    Advanced numbers and his shooting percentages paint a bleak picture of Luguentz Dort’s career. He’s never been above replacement level in box plus/minus, and he’s shot only 39.5 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from deep.

    Basketball Reference acknowledges BPM’s shortcomings when it comes to measuring defense, though. And Dort is already a plus on-ball defender who still has room to grow.

    If he can become more consistent from the outside—and there’s no reason to think a 23-year old can’t improve on that front—he’ll be a legitimate three-and-D threat.

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    Kevin Porter Jr. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

    25. Coby White (Originally Picked 7th)

    Due in part to an underwhelming steal rate and a below-average true shooting percentage, Coby White has yet to post an above-replacement-level box plus/minus. A little more playmaking would be nice, too. (He has averaged 4.5 assists per 75 possessions for his career).

    However, there is some reason for optimism. The 6’5″ White has shown some potential as a high-volume floor spacer who can turn a game off the bench. Over the course of his career, White has gotten up 7.8 three-point attempts per 75 possessions while shooting an above-average 36.5 percent from deep.

    Marginal improvements in the aforementioned weaknesses could make White a high-end reserve.


    24. Naz Reid (Originally Undrafted)

    Naz Reid has quietly become one of the league’s more reliable backup centers over the last two seasons.

    During that stretch, he’s averaged 9.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 0.8 threes in only 17.4 minutes per game. (That equates to 19.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.6 threes per 75 possessions). He’s hit 34.7 percent of his threes, too.


    23. Kevin Porter Jr. (Originally Picked 30th)

    The points and assists have been there for Kevin Porter Jr. in each of the last two seasons (he’s averaged 15.9 and 6.2, respectively). What’s really encouraging about him are the career highs he posted in three-point attempts per game (6.8) and three-point percentage (37.5) last season.

    Porter’s history of “anger management issues” is a concern, but it’s hard to deny his offensive potential. If he commits a bit more on defense and continues to improve his consistency on both ends, he could be a long-term starter.


    22. Terance Mann (Originally Picked 48th)

    Three-and-D players who are willing to do the dirty work without demanding a ton of usage have never been more en vogue. That’s exactly what Terance Mann has become for the Los Angeles Clippers.

    In 2021-22, Mann spent time at the 2, 3 and 4 and averaged 10.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 0.9 threes in 28.6 minutes per game. L.A. was plus-1.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and minus-2.2 when he was off.

    Mann’s career 37.9 three-point percentage suggests he can be trusted to space the floor going forward.


    21. Chuma Okeke (Originally Picked 16th)

    Chuma Okeke checks the defense box on the three-and-D assessment, perhaps even a bit more thoroughly than Mann does.

    For a forward/wing, averages of 6.2 defensive rebounds, 2.0 steals and 0.9 blocks per 75 possessions are solid. Being an inch taller and year younger helps in the head-to-head comparison with Mann, too.

    If Okeke can improve his long-range shooting (he’s at 32.6 percent from deep in his career), he has a chance to be a fourth or fifth starter or a long time.

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    Cody and Caleb Martin (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    20. Nicolas Claxton (Originally Picked 31st)

    We haven’t seen a ton of Nicolas Claxton yet. He played a career-high 47 games in 2021-22, but he’s shown enough in the last two seasons to establish plenty of upside as a rim-running and rim-protecting big man.

    Since the start of the 2020-21 campaign, Claxton has put up 14.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per 75 possessions while posting a 65.1 true shooting percentage. In the same span, the Brooklyn Nets’ net rating has been comfortably better with him on the floor.


    19. Caleb Martin (Originally Undrafted)

    Moving Caleb Martin all the way up to the top 20 may be a bit of an overreaction to his 2021-22 breakout campaign. But if he’s that version of himself going forward, he’s the kind of gap-filling forward who could fit on any of the league’s 30 teams.

    Martin plays committed defense, and he hit 41.3 percent of his three-point attempts last season. Having a significant positive impact on the point differential of a title contender like the Miami Heat says a lot about a third-year player.


    18. Cody Martin (Originally Picked 36th)

    Like his twin brother, Cody Martin broke out this season with solid, switchable defense and a career year from downtown. (He hit 38.4 percent of his three-point attempts with the Charlotte Hornets.)

    What sets him apart is the same thing that did when both were in college and playing for Nevada. On top of the athleticism that leads to stops and highlight dunks, Cody can play some point forward.

    In today’s increasingly positionless NBA, having at least a hint of playmaking at all five spots can make for a dynamic offense.


    17. Daniel Gafford (Originally Picked 38th)

    Like Claxton, Daniel Gafford hasn’t played a ton in his three NBA seasons, but he already looks like a bona fide Tyson Chandler-type.

    During his career, Gafford has averaged 16.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks (tied for fifth in the league over that stretch) per 75 possessions, along with a 70.1 true shooting percentage.


    16. Jaxson Hayes (Originally Picked 8th)

    We round out this group of five with another rim-running big, although Jaxson Hayes has shown a hint of three-point shooting potential as well.

    All of Hayes’ biggest highlights have been ridiculous dunks, but his emergence as a possible floor spacer is especially interesting. He’s taken only 71 attempts over the last two seasons, but making 36.6 percent of them is at least encouraging.

    If that becomes a staple of his game, he’ll be far less predictable in the pick-and-roll.

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    Rui Hachimura (Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

    15. Max Strus (Originally Undrafted)

    Vaulting Max Strus into the top 15 on the back of one good season may be premature, but 2021-22 was one heck of a season for him.

    Strus averaged 10.6 points and 2.7 threes in only 23.3 minutes per game while shooting 41.0 percent from deep. Doing that for a contender is enough to establish him as one of the game’s more interesting three-point shooters, and backing it up with similar marks in the playoffs solidifies that.


    14. Grant Williams (Originally Picked 22nd)

    Grant Williams has become a strong three-and-D power forward for the title-contending Boston Celtics. He has established that reputation on a brighter stage than most of the other players detailed so far.

    Williams already has 46 playoff games under his belt, and he’s hit 42.7 percent of his three-point attempts in those contests. The Celtics’ willingness to match him up with superstars like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant shows a lot about his defense, too.

    If Williams gets a bit better off the bounce, he could become a staple in the Celtics’ starting five after Al Horford retires. But his bread and butter will likely be defense and catch-and-shoot spacing for years to come.


    13. De’Andre Hunter (Originally Picked 4th)

    A lot of the wings and forwards you’ll see from here on out lag way behind those already detailed in most advanced stats, but they get a bit of a pass due to their higher workloads.

    Take De’Andre Hunter, for example. His career box plus/minus is well below average, but he’s asked to do more than a lot of others in this class, particularly on defense. He spends significantly more time matched up against starting-caliber players, too.

    Hunter’s minuscule rebound, assist, steal and block rates are concerning, but his 13.2 points per game and career 35.9 three-point percentage as a full-time starter is encouraging.

    He can add the less glamorous stuff as he continues to develop. Scoring and being trusted to defend opponents’ No. 1 options is nothing to sneeze at.


    12. Rui Hachimura (Originally Picked 9th)

    Much like Hunter, advanced numbers are down on Rui Hachimura, but he’s also spent a lot of his playing time against starters. And over the last two seasons, he’s established himself as a potentially high-end floor spacer.

    Last season, Hachimura hit a sizzling 44.7 percent of his threes. If you’re worried about how his smaller role may have contributed to that, his 38.5 percent mark since the start of 2020-21 is still intriguing.

    But that isn’t all that Hachimura does offensively. His shot diet is spread out all over the floor, and he scored with above-average efficiency out of the post in 2021-22.


    11. P.J. Washington (Originally Picked 12th)

    Over the last two seasons, the Charlotte Hornets are plus-1.2 points per 100 possessions with P.J. Washington on the floor and minus-3.0 with him off. That impact is the result of one of the NBA’s more well-rounded (though maybe not prolific) games.

    Since the start of 2020-21, Washington has put up 11.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.7 threes, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. No one matches or exceeds all six marks in that span, and the only players to clear them all in any two-year stretch are DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

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    David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

    For his career, Matisse Thybulle has averaged only 4.8 points and hit 32.4 percent of his three-point attempts. Based on that alone, it would be impossible to justify his top-10 selection in the re-draft.

    But few players here benefit more from the eye test than Thybulle. And when you watch him play, it’s clear that he’s an absolute menace on defense.

    Thybulle can dominate passing lanes without sacrificing position in his individual matchups or compromising teamwide rotations. His ability to recover out to the three-point line or on the rare occasion that he’s blown by is unparalleled among guards and wings. He can be trusted to guard a variety of positions and players, too.

    After only three seasons, Thybulle is already one of the best defenders in the NBA.

    Manute Bol is the only player in NBA history who has a higher career defensive box plus/minus than Thybulle. Carey Scurry is the only player who matched or exceeded both of Thybulle’s career marks for steals (2.7) and blocks (1.6) per 75 possessions.

    It would be nice if Thybulle became more consistent from deep, but Defensive Player of the Year ability on the other end should make him a rotation player for years to come.

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    Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

    Three years after mild outcry over Cameron Johnson going 11th in the original draft, he now finds himself two spots closer to the top.

    The 26-year-old is closer to his prime than a lot of his peers. But even if he doesn’t have much more developmental runway, he’s proved to be a high-end floor spacer and solid positional defender.

    Johnson has played 4,422 regular-season minutes, averaged 2.1 threes per game and posted a 57.0 effective field-goal percentage throughout his career. Only seven players have matched or exceeded all three marks over the same span.

    Johnson’s size (6’8½” with a 6’10” wingspan) makes him an easy plug-and-play option for switch-heavy defensive schemes, too.

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    Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

    It took a bit of time for Keldon Johnson to work his way into his current role, but he looked like a legitimate second option in 2021-22. He averaged 17.0 points and 2.1 threes per game while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from deep last season.

    The sub-.500 San Antonio Spurs played winning basketball when he was on the floor, too. During Johnson’s 2,390 non-garbage-time minutes, San Antonio was plus-1.8 points per 100 possessions compared to minus-3.7 when he was out.

    Moving the needle that far for a losing team is encouraging, especially since Johnson is only 22 years old. There’s still plenty of time for the 6’5″ wing to add to his playmaking repertoire and become a more consistent and versatile defender.

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    David Berding/Getty Images

    Brandon Clarke almost entirely purged three-pointers from his shot diet in 2021-22, and he instantly became one of the NBA’s most efficient reserve scorers. Among the 177 players who averaged at least 10 points per game last season, his 65.0 effective field-goal percentage ranked fifth.

    Clarke is undoubtedly one of the league’s more dynamic and explosive rim-runners, but he’s far from one-dimensional (even without the threes). His touch with runners and push shots from beyond three feet makes him less predictable than some of the NBA’s dunk-only bigs.

    While Clarke may not be a shut-down-the-paint rim protector or stifling one-on-one defender, he is at least solid in both of those areas. A strong combination of steals and blocks backs that up.

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Based on stats alone, RJ Barrett doesn’t really have an argument for going in the top 10 of this re-draft. He’s 39th among players drafted in 2019 in career wins over replacement player, and his effective field-goal percentage is a whopping six percentage points below average.

    That isn’t all. During Barrett’s three seasons, the New York Knicks have been minus-2.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and plus-1.9 when he’s off.

    So, why is he here at No. 6? For one thing, he still has the pedigree that made him the top high school recruit in 2018 and the No. 3 pick in 2019.

    Barrett has prototypical size (6’6″ with a 6’10” wingspan) for a wing in today’s NBA. And he’s shown at least a dash of everything necessary to be a modern point forward.

    In 2020-21, Barrett shot 40.1 percent from three. He’s averaged 3.2 assists per 75 possessions over the course of his career. And he’s shown an ability to stay in front of guards and wings when locked in on defense.

    If he can meld everything together over the next few years, there’s still star potential here.

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    Eric Espada/Getty Images

    RJ Barrett is bigger than Tyler Herro, and he almost certainly has more defensive upside. But Herro has produced comfortably better results through their first three seasons, and in 2021-22, he reached a level Barrett hasn’t come close to.

    Herro averaged 20.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.7 threes while shooting 39.9 percent from deep en route to the Sixth Man of the Year award. That breakout season made his career numbers look an awful lot like those of Devin Booker’s first three years.

    That comparison isn’t meant to suggest Herro will become that level of player, but it at least lays out a path to All-Star upside.

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    Josh Leung/NBAE via Getty Images

    The numbers of Tyler Herro and Jordan Poole are strikingly similar over the last two seasons. The latter gets the nod here for a few significant reasons.

    First, Poole appears to have higher upside as a defender (even if it isn’t All-Defense potential), thanks in part to a wingspan that’s 3½ inches longer. That extra length should make it easier to deploy Poole in the kind of positionless lineups that his Golden State Warriors have made so popular.

    The other reason—and probably the more important one—is that Poole has shown the higher ceiling in the postseason. Although he has only one playoff appearance to his name, it was a title-winning playoff run in which he averaged 17.0 points and 2.3 threes while shooting 39.1 percent from deep.

    He was exactly the kind of momentum-swinging reserve that the Warriors needed to get back to the mountaintop.

    Although Herro has the edge over Poole in three-point percentage, Poole’s shot selection is far more analytics-friendly. He’s also been much better inside the three-point line (54.9 percent to 48.5) over the past two seasons.

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    Rick Osentoski/Getty Images

    The Cleveland Cavaliers’ rebuild feels a bit ahead of schedule, thanks in large part to Darius Garland’s ascendance to bona fide All-Star status. He was on the edge in 2020-21, but this past season was a legitimate breakthrough.

    Beyond the raw numbers (21.7 points, 8.6 assists and 2.6 threes per game along with a 38.3 three-point percentage), Garland played with the kind of control and pace typically reserved for point guards with several more years of experience. He can manipulate defenses as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, beat guys one-on-one or pull up on a dime for a jumper.

    At only 22 years old, Garland is already one of the game’s best point guards, and he still has room to grow as a defender.

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    There is a legitimate argument to have Ja Morant in the No. 1 spot of this re-draft. He’s an electrifying driver who’s transcended the smaller market he plays in.

    In 14 career playoff games, Morant has averaged a whopping 28.2 points, 9.2 assists, 1.9 threes and 1.4 steals per game. The 23-year-old already has a top-10 finish in MVP voting, too.

    So, why is he No. 2?

    For one, Morant is small by NBA standards. Not only is he 6’3″, but he’s also slight, which is part of why he struggles on defense. With the exception of Stephen Curry and Isiah Thomas, there isn’t much of a track record for diminutive point guards being the best player on a title team.

    Morant is bad enough on defense that he’s become a consistent target of opponents. That’s the biggest reason why the Memphis Grizzlies went 20-5 and had a significantly better net rating without him last season.

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    Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

    After a full season of absences and head-scratching over those absences, it’s more than fair to wonder about Zion Williamson’s long-term durability.

    Before he debuted in the NBA, we’d never seen a player with his body type move the way he does. The kind of explosiveness and torque that he generates makes it reasonable to wonder about his joints, ligaments, etc.

    But if he can stay healthy, Zion has obvious “best player on a title team” potential.

    He has a preternatural feel for when driving or cutting lanes will open up. With his size, speed and strength, he can exploit those lanes in a way no one else can. His athleticism is borderline terrifying. And toward the end of 2020-21, we started to see it married with some point forward skill.

    This word gets thrown around a lot in sports, but Zion truly is unstoppable. His career mark of 28.9 points per 75 possessions trails only Michael Jordan and Joel Embiid’s (both at 30.3). Among the 22 players since 1973-74 (as far back as per-possession data goes) who’ve averaged at least 25 points per 75 possessions, Zion’s 64.0 true shooting percentage ranks first.

    Sticking with him at No. 1 in the re-draft is a bit of a gamble, but no player offers a higher potential reward.

    Unless noted otherwise, all stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, Stathead, Cleaning the Glass, PBPStats.com and NBA.com/stats.

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