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You Win Some, You Lose Some: The Biggest Surprises From the 2019 NBA Draft

The 2019 NBA Draft was one of the more eventful draft nights in recent memory.

Despite the top 3 picks being essentially solidified the day of the lottery, every pick after for this draft was tumultuous and left us scratching our heads at some of the picks.

A whole lotta trades…

Probably the biggest surprise of the night was all the trades that occurred. We saw more picks and players change hands than any draft in recent memory. Despite this being a particularly top heavy draft in terms of star potential, many teams traded up and gave up assets to secure rookies who they had their eye on, perhaps indicating that maybe this draft is deeper than originally thought.

  • The Atlanta Hawks traded up to pick #4 in order to take De’andre Hunter, giving up picks #8, #17 and #35 as well as taking on the exorbitant salary of Solomon Hill.
  • Philly traded picks #24 and #33 to the Celtics for pick #20 in order to draft Matisse Thybulle, a high upside small forward out of Washington.
  • Detroit and Milwaukee swapped Jon Leuer and pick #30 for Tony Snell.
  • The Cavs traded four future second round picks in order to snag pick #30 from Detroit (Milwaukee made the pick but traded draft rights in the Snell Trade) so that they could draft Kevin Porter Jr out of USC. The shooting guard struggled with off court issues in his year at USC, but showed great upside and the ability to score in absolute bunches.
  • The Miami Heat snagged pick #44, sending “cash” to the Atlanta Hawks along with a 2024 second round pick. They would use this pick to select highly touted center Bol Bol, only to trade him to the Denver Nuggets for “cash”… and a future second rounder.
Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Ryan McGilloway/NBAE via Getty Images)

Outside of the multitude of trades there were some picks that I found particularly surprising:

The Not-so-Bright Future Suns

The Phoenix Suns kick off this list with a number of head scratching moves. They failed to fill a position of need at Point Guard by trading away pick #6 (when Coby White was still on the board) for pick #11 and Dario Saric (who was disappointing after his trade to the Timberwolves). 

At pick #11 the Sun’s selected 23 year old Cam Johnson, a smooth shooting small forward but with limited upside as a creator and defender. At pick #11 the Sun’s could have drafted Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a solid point guard prospect and cousin of rookie phenomenon Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (the two are cut copies of each other) to solidify their starting backcourt. Instead they drafted a player older than Devin Booker (who has already played 4 seasons in the NBA) with a solid skill set as a role player, yet limited star upside.

Source: NBA.com

Johnson would have been available with the Suns’ later pick, where to their credit they finally did a smarter move when they selected Ty Jerome out of Virginia who could develop into a strong point guard prospect alongside Devin Booker.

Weird Wizards Comparisons

At pick #9 the Washington Wizard’s selected Rui Hachimura out of Gonzaga.

Hachimura, a 6ft8 combo forward has showed potential throughout his one season in college. His size and strength lend itself to his role as a small ball PF, his offensive game mainly consists of spot up mid-range jump shots and dribble drives out of the mid-post. Rui showed flashes of consistent 3 point shooting but as a spot up prospect he still has a way to go from beyond the arc.

Source: NBA.com

If Rui is to fill the hole the Wizards have at both of their the forward spots, he needs to improve his defensive chops. Rui has good hands and is an okay positional defender but needs to sharpen up his lateral quickness and strength as a vertical athlete. At this point in his basketball career he doesn’t have the speed or IQ to keep up with the best small forwards the league has to offer, but he’s not quite skilled or strong enough as a post defender to make life hard on traditional 4’s.

If Hachimura work’s out as a prospect then me writing this will undoubtedly come back to haunt me. Rui is a player I liked coming out of college and even Chauncey Billups compared him to two time finals MVP Kawhi Leonard (C’mon Chauncey really?). But when you look at the options still on the board for the Wiz, the pick looks a little less straightforward. Sekou Doumboya and Cam Reddish were both on the board at the forward slots for the Wiz and in my opinion both are higher upside options (particularly Reddish), with Doumboya being able to step in and contribute immediately on a Wizards team struggling to find starters outside of Bradley Beal.

Boston Blunders

The Boston Celtics had an interesting night. With the likely departure of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, the Celtics found themselves in a unique position where they need to transition from a successful playoff team to a youth dependent team full of “promise”. The question for Celtics GM Danny Ainge is whether to lean into the rebuild with high upside players or try and draft players who can contribute immediately, albeit with lower ceilings than other draft prospects.

To kick off their night, the Celtics drafted Romeo Langford out of Indiana. Langford at 6ft5 projects as a SG/SF at the NBA level, a position in which Jalen Brown currently holds as the Celtic’s resident ‘tweener.  That said, Langford does boast an impressive 6ft11 wingspan, which will allow him to defend above his position.

Langford is a confusing pick because, despite his impressive and versatile scoring ability at the rim, he has struggled from the 3 point line in his college career, he also doesn’t defend at an elite level on the perimeter, often looking disinterested and disengaged when the ball isn’t in his hands. The Celtics needed 3 point shooting and their positions of need are at point guard and center. Langford doesn’t address any of these concerns.

Source: Michael Hickey/Getty Images

With their next pick at #22 the Celtics selected Grant Williams, a ground bound undersized Power Forward out of Tennessee. Williams is an imposing, physical defender at the forward spot but doesn’t project as a strong rim protector with his limitations as a vertical athlete, at his ceiling Williams could be a Draymond Green-esque defender with versatile switchability, but the reality is that he will never reach that level.

With his offensive game limited to layups and dunks, and very restricted range on his jumpshot, Williams will struggle in the NBA, especially on a Celtics roster that have a similar player on their roster in Semi Ojeleye. When you consider the fact that high upside talents like Bol Bol, Ty Jerome, Nassir Little and Mfiondu Kabengele were all available, this pick gets weirder and weirder.

Little’s big slip

The biggest surprise of the night, to me, was the radical slipping of Nassir Little out of UNC.  Little is a 6ft5 forward who showed flashes of extreme defensive impact coupled with astounding athleticism. He was touted as one of the top draft prospects coming out of high school in 2018 while earning MVP honours at the McDonalds All American Showcase.

Source: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Little’s potential as an inside out defender is impressive, he has the length and foot speed to content with the best perimeter players from forwards through to guards. He can also jostle with the bigger bodies in the paint, with decent strength for his size and age and good defensive instincts. His offensive game leaves a bit to be desired, Nassir plays with a fast pace and great motor, relentlessly attacking the rim in a manner of ways but his jumpshot needs a lot of development in addition to his ability to create off the dribble. With a tightened handle and more respectable jumpshot, Little would have been an undoubted lottery pick.

His slip to the Blazers at pick #25 is great for Portland and isn’t bad as a fit for Little to ease his way into the league. The teams that passed on him could be kicking themselves in a couple of years if the small forward can put it all together.

Tune in to the most recent episode of Coast to Coast: A Basketball Podcast for more draft content and stay tuned for more in the coming weeks!

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