Palestra Back 2019 NBA Draft Guide – Nos. 16 to 35

16. Daniel Gafford

C – Arkansas


Amazingly, this is the first true center to appear in these rankings. That says more about that position and the state of the league than it does about this particular class or about any individual player.

A large portion of recent playoff series have featured one team going small and putting the impetus on opposing centers. The league’s best bigs, like Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Anthony Davis, are either versatile enough to hold their own or, more importantly, good enough to make an opposing coach regret his decision to insert a tiny lineup.

This draft doesn’t feature the kind of center who can go the latter route. None of the available 7-footers in this class project as reliable back-to-the-basket scorers.

With that in mind, we’re looking instead for the kind of big men that can move their feet and stay effective in switches and versus a mismatch.

The Houston Rockets may look to move on from Clint Capela this summer simply because he isn’t effective against the Golden State Warriors, though that undersells his contributions during the regular season and in other playoff moments. Sure, it doesn’t make sense to draft the type of player who would get played off the floor in the playoffs in the lottery, but that doesn’t mean rim-running centers are completely without value.

Ask Sixers fans (I’m one of them) what they would have given for a quality backup for Embiid, both when it was critically needed against the Raptors, but also week-to-week during the slog of the regular season.

Using a mid-first round pick on a center who can anchor things on defense, finish around the rim, and set a solid screen makes total sense.

So now almost 300 words into this section that was supposed to be about Arkansas big man Daniel Gafford, we finally will mention Daniel Gafford.

He looks and fits the part of a fluid big man perfectly. Gafford looks, just by his build, like a poor man’s Anthony Davis. He doesn’t have Davis’ skills, instincts, or talent, yet he can be a dumbed down version of Davis. Gafford makes for a perfect pick-and-roll big, with a high target for lobs and a big body on screens.

Gafford will need to improve as a free throw shooter in order to be effective enough to start in the NBA. As a backup big, he’ll fit just fine.

 

17. Mfiondu Kabengele

F – Florida State


On a per possession basis, or even per minute played, Kabengele was one of the best players in college basketball. Compared to the other power forwards in this draft, even Zion Williamson, his production per 100 possessions is impressive:

Now, here’s the issue: Kabengele played only 21.6 minutes per game this season. There were a few reasons Florida State’s best player spent nearly half the game on the pine.

First, Leonard Hamilton had a deep frontcourt and has always liked to keep his players rotating and fresh.

More importantly though, Kabengele could not avoid foul trouble. He committed at least 3 fouls in 17 of Florida State’s 37 games, fouling out 5 times. Kabengele committed 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes of play. On a per possession basis, that is just as troubling as it sounds.

This could mean he’ll be hack-happy at the next level as well, yet it’s more troubling from a larger standpoint. Some of Kabengele’s fouls came from over aggression and trying to block shots he had no chance to even alter. Many more, however, came from Kabengele being a step slow or out of position. He resorted to fouling rather than allowing buckets at the rim. He showed flashes defensively, at times looking like his uncle, Dikembe Mutombo. With the right coaching, I think he can be effective at that end of the court.

Offensively, he has a smooth stroke when he steps out for a jump shot and is aggressive attacking the tin. He should be an effective floor spacer and work well as a pick-and-pop guy. With room to grow and some refining on defense, he should be a nice rotation player.

 

18. Grant Williams

F – Tennessee  


The two-time SEC Player of the Year dominated college competition during his junior year. Around the rim, he was nearly unstoppable.

Smaller forwards had no prayer of keeping the 6-foot-7, 236 pound Williams out of the paint. Using his thick frame, Williams operated out of the high post and was able to maneuver to the areas of the court where he loves to score.

Watching Williams at Tennessee this season felt like watching a new and improved Charles Barkley.

But in 2019, is that the kind of player that succeeds in the NBA?

Williams stands under 6-foot-6 without shoes, per his NBA combine measurements. That will make playing power forward in the NBA a tough task. Williams has the girth and strength to battle in the paint, but I fear he won’t have the pure size to be the switchable frontcourt player that scouts might hope he could be. There’s a world where he’s the next PJ Tucker. Or he could be too slow to chase on the perimeter or too short to battle on the blocks.

In three seasons in Knoxville, Williams shot only 100 attempts from outside the arc, making only 29 of those attempts. His stroke looks solid and he made 82 percent from the free throw line.

If he can’t be a league average shooter, even if his game makes sense defensively and stylistically, it’s hard to see him as a consistent contributor. If he makes shots and can defend, he has the motor and the attitude to keep any coach happy.

 

19. Jaxson Hayes

C – Texas


Go ahead and re-read the Daniel Gafford section above that lays out exactly where the center position stands in today’s NBA. It’s not exactly reached “running back in the NFL” status, but so many NBA teams have recalibrated their opinion of how valuable a center can be.

Skilled big men are hard to find. Whether it’s a shooting touch, high level defensive thinking, or deft passing ability, the great big men in today’s game separate themselves by doing more than the running, dunking, and rim-protecting we saw from effective centers less than a decade ago. Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan had tons of value earlier this decade. Now teams realize that those types of players are readily available in the second round of the draft or on the scrap heap.

Like Gafford, Hayes could have some of the traits that would distinguish him from the waiver fodder available after the draft.

Right now, he’s not a shooter. Hayes didn’t attempt a single three this season, but was 74 percent from the free throw line. Even if his shooting touch isn’t hopeless, he’s not a pick-and-pop guy by any stretch of the imagination.

He’s also not a passer. Hayes had only nine assists all season. In 32 games. That seems almost hard to do.

What Hayes does bring to the table is smart movement on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he aggressively rolls to the rim and he can finish. Hayes led the Big XII in effective field goal and true shooting percentages, mainly because his shot selection was simple and effective. According to Hoop-Math.com, 71 percent of Hayes’ field goal attempts came at the rim and he finished a mind-boggling 87 percent of those tries. He was determined to finish, even against contact. In conference play, Hayes averaged 5.4 trips to the free throw line per 40 minutes.

At the combine, his standing reach measured 9-foot-2 and his wingspan was an impressive 7-foot-3, making Hayes a factor around the rim on both ends. NBA teams will hope he can gain weight on his currently 218 pound frame to avoid being pushed off of his spots.

Defensively, he uses that frame to protect the rim at an elite level. In this draft class, that’s a valued resource. Even building the chart below was difficult, as there are really only four or five true centers with the hope of hearing their name called in the first round:

Hayes was more aggressive than most defensively, leading to major foul trouble issues. It’s something Gafford struggled with as a freshman as well, when he averaged 5.4 blocks, but more than 8 fouls per 100 possessions. As a sophomore he decreased his fouls but still was able to block and alter shots. That’s why I have Gafford ranked ahead of Hayes, who could project to be a better defender, but has a ways to go before that can happen.

My worry about Hayes? He might just be a dime-a-dozen lanky rim runner. He has the physical framework and the basketball IQ to be more, so for a team in need of his skills, he’s worth a try in the mid-to-late first round.

 

20. Matisse Thybulle

G/F – Washington


Few players in this draft have one single skill as strong as Thybulle’s key feature – his defensive ability is perhaps the best available in this class (aside from Zion, which is the caveat for all superlatives this month).

Since 1993, only one player has finished a college basketball season with at least 95 steals and 75 blocks. It was Matisse Thybulle this year.

In fact, not only did Thybulle meet those thresholds, he crushed them. He finished with 120 steals and 82 blocks. He was everywhere for the Huskies. He led the nation in steal rate this year and led the Pac-12 each of the last two seasons.

Mike Hopkins employs the Syracuse zone at Washington, which left Thybulle available to play free safety all over the floor. This may leave some scouts wishing to see Thybulle play lockdown man-to-man. I’m willing to bet based on his never-before-seen success in the zone that he’d be just fine playing man.

Now, his defense is great. That’s roughly half of the sport.

His offense? Not ideal!

His shooting stroke isn’t bad. Thybulle shot a hair under 36 percent from outside the arc, on 530 collegiate attempts. He was better from the free throw line, making 78 percent of his freebies in college.

Aside from an average jumper, his offensive game is bland. His assist rate as a 22-year old senior was just 13.5 this season. Despite appearing to be an athletic specimen defensively, he was utterly unable to force the issue on offense. Thybulle attempted less than two free throws per contest this past season.

At his age, turning 23 as a rookie, you’re getting a nearly finished product. That means Thybulle could be an excellent defender and a “stick-him-in-the-corner-and-tell-him-to-shoot-if-he’s-wide-open” guy on offense. For a team looking for a rotation wing, that can work. It’s better than other defensive aces who could never shoot like Tony Allen and Andre Roberson.

 

21. Kevin Porter Jr.

G – USC


At this point in the first round, there are almost no players with real All-Star potential. That makes Porter a rare commodity and a major value this late in the draft. He has the body and skills to project into the kind of player that contributes to an NBA franchise at that level.

In 21 collegiate games, he shot better than 41 percent from beyond the arc, many of those looks coming off of a patented step-back move.

He also has the athleticism and bounce to be a terror in the open court in transition.

So why won’t he be a lottery pick?

Porter only played 21 college games due to an injury and an indefinite suspension that only lasted a week, but weighs heavily on the minds of evaluators. Even in the games he did play, with the skills he possesses, Porter failed to average double-digit scoring, clocking in at just 9.5 points per game. He’s not a great passer and had more turnovers than assists this season. It’s suspicious how little he produced when you consider how talented he is.

I think he has a chance to blossom into a very strong player, but if he doesn’t do so until he turns 26 years old, he’ll be in his seventh NBA season. Will the team that drafts him be the one reaping the reward of their patience with him? That seems less likely than a few teams kicking him around the league before one finds the right role for him to shine. That’s a dangerous gamble in the lottery but great value in mid-first round.

 

22. Cam Reddish

F – Duke


No prospect is as difficult to scout or as completely perplexing as Cam Reddish.

Before this season, he was a surefire top five selection, coming to Duke as the third ranked recruit in the nation. He faced a situation unseen in the history of college basketball, as Reddish was the third most heralded freshman in the country, but also the third most hyped freshman on his own team. With the top two recruits in the nation, Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, also choosing Duke, Reddish became an incredibly talented afterthought.

This made evaluating Reddish tougher. His situation absolutely colored perceptions about his future. How does this season affect views on Reddish?

Well, that’s easier when split into two smaller questions.

First, how did he play at Duke? The answer, quite simply, was not good. Reddish did not live up to expectations in any way. Not only did he fail to reach the heights of a typical third ranked recruit, but most of the season he left a lot to be desired as a third scoring option for Duke. At times, he was useless or an outright negative.

He came to Duke billed as an elite athlete with a silky shooting touch. That shooting was never apparent in his season as a Blue Devil. This year, 62 percent of his shots came from outside the arc. That is an exorbitant number.

If he were sinking shots on a regular basis, that reliance on the long ball would be totally justified and even encouraged. Instead, he shot 33.3 percent from the college 3-point line on an insane 267 attempts. Only three other players in all of college basketball took as many threes while shooting as low a percentage as Reddish. That many shots makes Reddish’s freshman season a valid sample size.

Looking for past examples of his shooting is spotty. High school or prep school stats are tough to find, and high-profile recruiting events provide an even smaller sample. That being said, he was 2 for 8 from the field, missing all four of his 3-point attempts, at the Nike Hoop Summit. All the evidence we’ve seen suggests Reddish is not, as of right now, a good long range shooter.

That can change. Plenty of players develop at the next level. Many NBA teams consider shooting one of the most coachable skills in the game of basketball. Yet the team selecting Reddish needs to accept where his shot is, rather than simply expecting him to be the shooter he appeared to be in high school.

This issue is compounded because of how much Reddish relies on his outside shot. With such a high level of his shots coming from beyond the 3-point line, his entire offensive game is built off making long range buckets.

That was evident this season, as Reddish was historically terrible inside the arc. He managed just 39 percent on 165 attempts from 2-point land. Reddish shot just 51.4 percent on shots at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com. That figure only includes shots classified as layups, dunks, or tips in the play-by-play data. For him to only make half those shots is a terrible sign for his ability to compete in the paint at the next level.

Say what you will about sample size. You shouldn’t need a sample size for lauyps. All of this tracks back to his weak shooting season. Without a consistent outside shot, teams stopped running him off the 3-point lane, closing his lanes to the rim and making creating any separation difficult.

On the defensive end, Reddish competed and was plenty athletic enough to hold his own. In fact, Reddish is so athletic that at times, he coasted defensively. He could afford to, with the body, speed, and length to make-up for any lapses. With his physical gifts, he could be an elite defender. We didn’t see the motor, instincts, or attitude to believe he will be.

So our second question, where does that leave Cam Reddish’s future?

He’s not hopeless. He has basketball skills. He has the frame and athleticism to grow into a really useful player. Reddish needs to improve as a shooter, finisher, ball-handler, passer, and defender. Yes, that’s pretty much everything.

Selecting him in the top ten is a scary proposition. His high ceiling makes a selection in the mid-first round or even the late lottery worth the risk. His ceiling though, is not as high as you might believe. He’s an old freshman, turning 20 in September.

His camp recently released information about a core injury Reddish had treated during the draft process. That may explain some of his failings at Duke but it also makes for a tidy excuse for an underperformer. In draft season, it’s hard to take anything at face value.

Right now, all you’re drafting is tools. Getting the most out of those tools during the four years of his rookie contract will be an interesting task for one NBA team.

 

23. Louis King

F – Oregon


If you polled the teams drafted in the back third of the first round, the NBA’s best teams (for the most part), and asked what kind of player they are looking for, the composite sketch they’d build would end up looking something like Louis King.

He just turned 20 after a productive freshman year playing for Dana Altman at Oregon. King measured 6-foot-8 in shoes, with a 7-foot long wingspan at the combine. This makes him a perfectly switchy defender, with the theoretical ability to guard 2s, 3s, and most 4s in the pros.

At Oregon, King was not a major catalyst offensively, with the fourth highest usage rate on the Ducks. While he wasn’t typically creating, King feasted on his opportunities within Altman’s motion offense. He averaged 13.5 points, shooting 39 percent outside the arc. King sank a three in every Oregon game after February 2, shooting 43 percent from long range in his final 16 college games.

It’s nearly comical how perfectly King fits the dreams of every member of Basketball Twitter. The dictionary entry for “3-and-D” ought to feature his photograph.

King doesn’t require offensive touches. He won’t overextend beyond his talents. He won’t get beat up defensively or hunted as a mismatch.  

There’s really only one sound argument against drafting King in the first round: watching the playoffs, it’s remarkable how often teams find 3-and-D guys laying around. Alfonzo McKinnie was in Luxembourg two years ago and now gives value to the Warriors. The Rockets mine the G-League like old timey prospectors for wing depth. The list of players with King’s skills that were 2nd round picks or undrafted free agents is long and storied. Robert Covington. James Ennis. Torrey Craig. Danuel House. Hell, even Danny Green.

I happen to like King’s age and pedigree enough to use a selection on him, but any GM willing to pass in favor of churning the pool of undrafted players available post-draft isn’t insane.

 

24. Ty Jerome

G – Virginia


If you simply watched this draft class walk into a gym in street clothes, Jerome might be the last player you’d pick for your team. He measured 6-foot-5 at the combine, with a short 6-foot-4 wingspan. He ran very pedestrian times in the athletic testing portion of the combine as well.

Judging this book by its cover, however, would leave you sorely mistaken, as Jerome more than makes up for his physical limitations in four key ways.

First, he has impeccable footwork. Most players as slow as Jerome are put in far worse positions, on both ends of the floor, because every missed step puts them even further behind where they want to be. Jerome is like a ballerina, with no wasted toe taps or movements. Even though it might take him longer to get from Point A to Point B, he’s getting there in the fewest steps possible.

On offense, this means that while Jerome can’t penetrate or maneuver with explosive movements, he does so with effective energy. Whether he’s navigating inside the arc for a floater or arranging his toes for a jumper, Jerome does so efficiently and with poise.

Defensively, this enables to Jerome to stay with players much quicker than he. Jerome establishes his feet correctly in every defensive stance he takes, saving himself precious nanoseconds. His defensive instincts, like knowing when to jump to and off the ball, are always on time and perfectly executed. This sounds like a nitpick, but it is the difference between Jerome being a defensive liability and a player who can hold his own on defense.

Overall, his footwork is an indicator of Jerome’s second key skill – high basketball IQ. Playing in Tony Bennett’s slow, methodical scheme at Virginia, Jerome’s elite on-court intelligence was clear and obvious. His movements, decisions, and thought-processes are all aided by his calm under pressure and his basketball background. Jerome finished his career with a 2.65 assist-to-turnover ratio, due to his smart passing and ball control.

With the ball in his hands or coming off of screens, Jerome showcased his third skill – shooting. In three seasons at Virginia, it was clear that Jerome is a top of the line shooter, making 40 percent from 3-point range, 79 percent from the free throw line, and incredibly soft touch from floater range.

Jerome shot the best percentage from outside the arc of any of the potential point guard prospects available in the first round (ignoring Darius Garland’s five games at Vanderbilt) and of that grouping, only Carsen Edwards made more unassisted. Jerome is more than a stand-still shooter, having clearly showed an ability to make shots from a variety of body angles and distances.

Those three qualities – his footwork, basketball brain, and shooting stroke – would be enough to impress, yet there’s one more chit in Jerome’s column. From all reports, he’s an absolute bulldog on the court. One article pegged him as one of college basketball’s best trash talkers. He may look like a choir boy in a church league, but we’re talking about a New York City area point guard.

Knock his arm length all you want. I’ll bet on Jerome to make it in the pros.

 

25. Carsen Edwards

G – Purdue


There’s a fairly straight-forward case for Edwards at the next level. He showcased his ability to shoot and score in college in just about every game he played. In his junior season, Edwards took nearly 11 threes per game, firing from all sorts of release points and launch angles with defenders draped all over him.

Even when considering for his volume, when factoring the amount of attention he received from opposing defenses, Edwards was one of the most potent scorers in the nation last season.

He’s good enough with the ball in his hands and a strong enough passer to function as a nominal point guard, but everything about Edwards’ chances at the next level rests on two specific questions.

First, his scoring will need to translate to the next level. He can flat-out shoot, yet did so mostly off the dribble or whenever he chose, with the ball constantly in his hands at Purdue. He doesn’t have the size, driving game, or passing to be a primary option in the pros, so we’ll need to see him improve as a catch-and-shoot guy and off-ball mover. When he is making shots, Edwards needs to show he can get by NBA defenders and have an answer once he gets into the paint. That likely means more of an arsenal of floaters than winning at the rim, since he shot under 50 percent at the basket this season (per Hoop-Math.com).

Second, no matter how well he scores, Edwards needs to at least survive defensively. His feet are fast enough to keep him active and engaged against other smaller guards. The challenge will come when teams hunt Edwards as a mismatch victim. His wingspan, a full six inches longer than his height (without shoes) will help. He’ll need to get his body to a better position for defending bigger players as well. At the combine he weighed under 200 pounds, which he’ll need to improve.

If he checks those boxes, Edwards has a long career as instant offense off the bench in the NBA.

 

26. Luguentz Dort

G – Arizona State


My quick and easy description for Dort is simple:

What if Dwyane Wade’s entire body was made of muscles?

I know what you’re thinking. More muscular Dwyane Wade sounds great! But that’s not exactly what I said. I’m talking the whole body. No bones. No tendons. No teeth.

Just muscles.

Dort is a cube of beef, standing 6-foot-4 in shoes at 20-years old. He tested well athletically at the combine, both running and jumping impressively. He uses those skills and his thick torso to drive the ball non-stop. At Arizona State this year, he took more than 200 free throws in 34 games.

He also shot more than five long range attempts per game, making under 31 percent of those tries. If he doesn’t develop as a shooter, that’s a problem. It leaves him as an attacker, like Wade was, but Dort hasn’t shown the basketball IQ, soft touch around the rim, or craftiness that Wade made famous.

This makes Dort one of the more confusing prospects in this class. I’m not sure exactly how he fits into the NBA, but I don’t blame any GM for taking a chance on “Dion Waiters Without a Brake Pedal”.

 

27. Chuma Okeke

F – Auburn


Few players raised their draft stock during the course of the NCAA Tournament more than Okeke. Unfortunately, for Okeke and Auburn fans, his tournament ended early with a torn ACL in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Tigers were able to win that game, upsetting North Carolina, en route to the Final Four. Okeke played 25 minutes before his injury and was the best player on the floor. Even against the Tar Heels, with multiple players ahead of him on these rankings, Okeke was dominant. He finished those 25 minutes with 20 points, including 3 of 5 shooting from outside the arc, plus 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block. It was an easy peek into Okeke’s future in the NBA.

He’s big enough, at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, to be a presence inside the paint, yet he’s also spry and skilled enough to extend a defense to the perimeter. Okeke improved greatly from his freshman to sophomore season, making his injury more disappointing. His stock would have continued to rise as he continued to grow as a player.

For the right team though, this injury could be a blessing in disguise. A smart team will nab Okeke in the late first round, with the patience to keep him off the floor until his body is ready to return from that traumatic injury. Once he’s healed, whichever team selects Okeke will be able to continue his development and reap the benefits of a smart, high-motor player. Had he not been injured this severely, I’d have slotted Okeke at least four or five spots higher on my board.

 

28. Tyler Herro

G – Kentucky


There’s a lot of good shooters in this, and every, draft class. We’re talking about a group of players trying to make it in the best basketball league in the world. If shooting is your primary appeal, you’d better be damn good at it.

This is what separates a Nik Stauskas from a JJ Redick. Many good shooters are automatic off the catch, with their feet underneath them. Redick, Kyle Korver, Joe Harris, Danny Green, and Buddy Hield are the types of players that showcase what a truly great shooter is capable of doing in the NBA. That level of shooter makes long range bombs fading, flying, and leaning every which way. Their range knows little to no bounds.

Herro has the kind of shooting stroke to enter that rarefied community of shooters. He shot the best free throw percentage in college hoops (among players shooting 2+ FTs per game), sinking 87 of his 93 attempts from the charity stripe.

From outside the arc, Herro’s season was much less impressive. In Kentucky’s first ten games, he shot just 27 percent from long range. In Big Blue’s four NCAA Tournament games, Herro sank only 3 of 16 outside shots, good for a dismal 18.8 percent.

Between those two stretches, Herro was much better from 3-point land. In those 23 games, the freshman guard made 42 percent of his threes. Even during that hot period, Herro was streaky. That length of games included an 0-5 game, an 0-4, an 0-3, and two 0-2 nights. Even when his shot was clicking, Herro either had trouble finding the right looks or sinking them once they became available.

Based on the look of his shot and what we saw of it last year, I’m willing to bet on Herro making shots at the next level. He’s big enough and athletic enough to survive on defense, too. If you’re looking for this draft’s Landry Shamet, look no further.  

 

29. Talen Horton-Tucker

G/F – Iowa State


We’ve reached a point in the rankings where most of the players have fairly high floors and relatively low ceilings. Guys like Thybulle, Jerome, Okeke, and Herro can be good productive players, but if they reach 90 percent of their potential, they are all likely still high-end role players, not All-Stars. Those kinds of players are good fits for the playoff teams selecting in this region of the draft.

Some of the teams selecting in the 20s got there via a trade or were playoff teams but figure to be losing talent in free agency. They may want to take a bigger hack of the bat, with more hopes of a home run.

Talent Horton-Tucker (THT henceforth, if that’s OK with you, reader) is an intriguing player, with a sky-high ceiling. He first jumped off of the tape when Iowa State was battling a mix of injuries and suspensions at the Maui Invitational, forcing THT into a more major role than expected so early in his freshman season.

In those three days, we saw the possibilities of Horton-Tucker’s future, both good and bad. His tournament began with a 16 point, 7 rebound performance versus Arizona, in which THT had zero assists and shot 0 of 4 from long range. He responded to a cold shooting day by attacking the paint with his rollie-pollie frame, shooting eight free throws against the Wildcats. His second game that week was a masterpiece, to the tune of 26 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, and a steal. THT was everywhere. He dictated the entire game. He made 4 of 7 from outside the arc. Illinois had no answer for him.

His final performance that week was then a letdown. Against San Diego State, THT scored just 4 points in 31 minutes, on 1 of 11 field goal shooting. It’s fair to say that the tournament schedule got to his legs, raising questions about the conditioning of a player who, later at the NBA combine, measured under 6-foot-3 without shoes and a rotund 235 pounds.

That San Diego State game, however, while a dismal shooting performance, showed how THT can contribute in other ways. He finished with 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and zero turnovers. Even though I just questioned his physique, there’s obvious ways to spin that build into a positive. Teams are salivating at the thought of shedding THT’s baby fat for some muscle and having him guard multiple positions defensively. He’s aided by a ridiculous 7-foot-1 wingspan. NEARLY A FOOT LONGER THAN HIS NATURAL HEIGHT.

Sorry, for yelling. It’s just easy to get excited about the thought of THT as the kind of super-duper role player that gets nods to the All-Star game. He’s an excellent passer, with an intuitive eye for the open teammate across the court. THT would make a great secondary creator as a screen-and-pop guy and in transition.

To reach anything close to his full potential, he needs to improve as a shooter, having made only 31 percent from deep and 63 percent at the line this year. With a smoother jumper and the right level of conditioning, the sky is the limit. Without those things, he could be an odd duck without a role.

 

30. Cam Johnson

F – North Carolina


Late in the first round and into the second, the players worth selecting may have question marks, but more importantly, they have definitive answers to at least one or two questions about their game. It’s risky to reach for a player who might be very good at lots of things (see the section above about Talen Horton-Tucker), rather than betting on a guy who is definitely good at something.

Can Cam Johnson dribble or defend or pass? I don’t know.

Can he shoot? HELL YEAH.

Johnson took 639 threes over five college seasons. He made 41 percent. This past year, he was unconscious from long range. Playing in Roy Williams go-go-go offense, Johnson took 210 long balls and sank 46 PERCENT.

This year, 179 Division I men’s college basketball players took at least 200 shots from 3-point land. Only three players in that sample shot better than 45 percent, Johnson and two smaller conference players. Johnson also shot like that while fading, running, moving and leaning.

He’s 6-foot-9 and can shoot as good as anyone. Draft him and figure the rest out later.

 

31. KZ Okpala

F – Stanford


Very intriguing prospect that feels like an NBA scout playing Mad Libs. Okpala was the nearly cliché player who was a guard until his growth spurt in high school, having retained his ball-handling skills through the physical transformation.

He plays like a guard on the perimeter, stretching big men away from the basket and taking them off the dribble to the rim.

His game transformed a bit this year when he reworked his jump shot, raising his 3-point percentage from 23 percent as a freshman to 37 percent as a sophomore, on more than double the attempts per game. This made him a more dangerous threat, stretching defenses further and challenging big men to close out and stay in front of him. Even with the increased volume, he still looked hesitant to trust his new shot. In the NBA, he’ll be relied on more as a shooter than as a creator with the ball, so he’ll need to adapt to his new game.

That development seems possible, especially from a player with an interesting personality profile. The Mad Libs example takes a hard left turn when you learn he missed the first semester of his freshman year at Stanford because he “only” got a C- in AP Calculus as a high school senior. How many other guys in this draft even took an AP course?

He’s got major upside if his body fills out and he continues to grow as a shooter.

 

32. Bruno Fernando

C – Maryland


Feel free to scroll back and read either of my two prior diatribes about the diminishing value of centers earlier in this draft guide (See: Gafford, Daniel and Hayes, Jaxson).

The problem with Fernando is trying to figure out what he does an elite level to separate himself from run of the mill rim-runners. He can’t shoot, making only four shots from outside the arc in college. His free throw stroke is better but nothing that’s making opposing defenses think for even a second that he’s a threat to pop and shoot at this point in his career.

He’s also a good, but not eye-popping athlete. Even if he can protect the rim and run the floor, Fernando isn’t making the kind of flash play that will require extra attention on the scouting report.

For now, he doesn’t stand out much, but he also doesn’t have a ton of bad habits. Fernando finishes at the rim, defends his position, and has a nose for rebounds, making him an effective glass cleaner. Around the end of the first round? We’ll take it.

 

33. Jordan Poole

F – Michigan


Super straight-forward case here. Poole is 6-foot-6 and has a lot of skills. He shot 37 percent from long range in two collegiate seasons and is a smart playmaker with the ball in his hands. He’s not a high level passer, but playing for John Beilein showed himself able to attack a close out or transition opportunity and make the simple play.

His defense, especially his effort on that end of the floor, was worth note. Poole is not an Olympic athlete but is savvy and works hard, making him a plus defender at the next level.

Lastly, I generally roll my eyes at some of the more feathery qualitative scouting you’ll see (“He’s a winner” or “He just wants it more” type stuff), but it really does apply to Poole. The Wolverines had a chance to win the national title both of his years in Ann Arbor and Poole was constantly making positive plays and showing up in the right spot. He aced the eye-test, whatever that is worth to you.

 

34. Zach Norvell

G – Gonzaga


For the last two seasons at Gonzaga, Norvell has been Mark Few’s answer for instant offense. Other Zags were relied upon in the half-court, on must-score possessions or as the creators on a larger, gameplan-level scale. Yet whenever the Zags went on a run, Norvell had usually spurred the scoring burst. He’s not a point guard by trade, nor expected to make tons of plays for his teammates.

Norvell is more of a pure scorer, from every area of the court. He’s able to hit pull-up and step-back threes. Norvell has a tendency to knife into the paint and can convert reliably in the mid-range or fight to the rim.

His defense would be a work in progress, but he has the tools to be at least average on that end of the floor. For teams drafting in the 30s, Norvell is fully ready to provide some scoring pop.

 

35. Admiral Schofield

F – Tennessee


During Schofield’s senior season, his future as a pro seemed pretty clear. He’s a power forward tailor made to play the role of a stretch four. He guarded multiple positions defensively in college and blossomed into a 40+ percent long range shooter.

Seeing him in the draft process has altered my feelings. Schofield measured under 6-foot-6 in shoes at the combine. Dreams of him as a power forward got much cloudier. Even with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and a body frame like a Brinks truck, it’s less likely Schofield is able to hold his own on the boards and in the paint. Even as a senior against college competition, Schofield only grabbed 6 rebounds per game.

For Schofield to succeed, he’s going to have to be the kind of guy that breaks the mold and becomes the kind of player that we use as a comp for other players in future drafts – a PJ Tucker or Draymond Green type that has NBA nerds gushing.


Next up: 36th – 70th

 

*****

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.

One thought on “Palestra Back 2019 NBA Draft Guide – Nos. 16 to 35

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