With the college season just around the corner, all eyes are on the incoming freshmen who have piqued basketball fans’ interest all around the globe. Duke certainly has one of the most impressive hauls in terms of recruitment as they managed to snag the top three players among ESPN’s top 100 for 2018. R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish were all ranked one, two, and three respectively and this coming season they will all dawn the white and blue under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Romeo Langford, Bol Bol, and Nassir Little also took part in making this class arguably one of the more intriguing rookie groups we have had in years. Langford is a smooth scoring guard who broke multiple high school records, Bol is the son of former NBA player Manute Bol, Little won MVP both at the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic; certainly feats worth noting.
Even though people put a lot of stock into high school rankings, they usually do not mean anything once a player steps onto a college court. High recruits not even being drafted or a player who did not even make the top 100 high school player ranking is suddenly a lottery pick, a lot can happen during a full college season. There are hundreds of good college players and quite frankly just because you were the best in high school does not necessarily mean you will still be the best in college.
With that said, here are our predictions for the 10 prospects from the 2019 draft who will flop and 10 who will surprise. Note that this list will also include sophomores, juniors, seniors, and international players.
20 Surprise: R.J. Barrett (Duke Shooting Guard/Small Forward)
Right now, R.J. Barrett is the consensus number one pick for a good reason. Barrett is a skilled wing who can do a little bit of everything. He can pass, defend, rebound, and most importantly, score the basketball. He also led team Canada in a surprising gold finish over team USA back in the Fiba World Cup U19 in 2017. Barrett impressed with 38 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists.
It is hard to surprise when you are already considered the best player but it is certainly possible that Barrett shuts down the doubters with his play. With his combination of skill and athleticism, the Canadian wing will surely be the safest pick in next year’s draft.
19 Disappoint – Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s Point Guard)
A 6’1" pure scoring point guard, Ponds garnered national attention with his play last season. In his sophomore year, Ponds averaged 21.6 points per game and 4.7 assists per game. He even poured in 33 points against the Duke Blue Devils.
Ponds would have certainly been drafted in both his freshman and sophomore year but instead chose to stay for his junior year. Most scouts expect this to be his last year playing college ball.
Although he averaged an impressive 21.6 ppg, Ponds struggled to shoot the ball from 3-point area, where he only shot 25 percent. He will have to improve his shooting to become a reliable scorer in the NBA, as he is only 6’1".
18 Surprise – Cam Reddish (Duke Shooting Guard/Small Forward)
Much like R.J Barrett, Cam Reddish barely has any weakness in his game. At 6’7", Cam is arguably this year’s best scorer and without a doubt Duke’s best offensive player. Reddish is a silky smooth scoring savant who makes it look so effortless. He is also a good passer and rebounder although not to the extent of Barrett. As a defender, Cam is versatile since he has a 7’1" wingspan; he can switch from one to four and when he is locked in he just takes the ball away from the opposing player.
Ranked second in ESPN’s top 100, Reddish will not have to prove much, but he might just impress and surprise scouts that he overtakes teammate R.J Barrett as the number one pick.
17 Disappoint – Jalen Smith (Maryland Power Forward/Center)
One of the less popular freshmen, Jalen Smith is a late bloomer who only recently entered the top-10 recruiting ranks.
Certainly oozing with potential, teams might fall in love with what Jalen brings to the table at power forward or center. Smith is an athletic 6’10" big who can easily finish above the rim and he also has a nice looking jump shot that is still clearly developing. Clearly, he has the tools necessary to become a starter in the NBA.
The issue with Smith is that he has no definitive position just yet. He is not a good shooter yet to play the power forward and he is not strong enough nor has the defensive instincts to be a center.
16 Surprise – Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga Small Forward)
At 6’8" and 225 pounds, Rui Hachimura is an ideal small forward in the modern NBA. Hachimura is a versatile player that can do whatever you ask of him on the basketball court; able to score in the paint, grab rebounds, lead the fast break, Rui is projected to be a Swiss Army knife kind of player in the NBA.
People often disregard Rui as a potential star because of his Asian background. Ideally, Hachimura will develop slowly in a situation where the national media is not constantly on him. If Hachimura can improve as an outside shooter he may very well be a future All-Star, if not he will still be a serviceable role-player.
15 Disappoint – Jaylen Hands (UCLA Point Guard)
Going into his freshman year, Jaylen Hands was a household name because of his jaw-dropping athletic ability. Often in the middle of highlight videos, Hands was one of the most popular freshmen last year.
Unfortunately for Hands, he looked as raw as advertised. He was often making head-scratching turnovers, settling for ill-advised shots, and driving in the teeth of the defense, and it was clear the Bruin still had a lot of growing to do as a basketball player.
While the mistakes Jaylen made were part of being young, it was also clear that Hands might not be ready for the NBA any time soon because of the lack of shooting and defense.
14 Surprise – Romeo Langford (Indiana Shooting Guard)
Romeo Langford was one of the best scorers in the country last year. Breaking multiple high school records, it was clear Langford belonged in the top-5 in terms of high school players in the country.
At 6’5", Romeo has one of the smoothest strokes going into the season. He shot well from deep in high school and he also showed amazing touch around the basket when finishing over bigger defenders. With better athletes guarding him, Romeo will not have an easy time scoring early on but expect things to change gradually.
Without a doubt one of the best scorers in the nation, Langford will have to prove his worth as he takes on the challenge of being Indiana’s go-to guy.
13 Disappoint – Darius Garland (Vanderbilt Point Guard)
A 6’3" point guard who seemingly has everything you want for a point guard, Darius Garland certainly looks like a sure thing both in college and in the NBA. Best describe as a jack of all trades, master of none, Garland does not necessarily excel in one area on the floor. He scores well, passes well, defends well, and controls the pace well.
The problem is exactly that; he does not have a skill that he outshines others in. Most like a future back up in the NBA, Darius would have to prove his worth, especially as a facilitator if he wants to be a starter in the NBA.
12 Surprise – Quentin Grimes (Kansas Shooting Guard)
One of the more dynamic scoring freshmen, Quentin Grimes made a name for himself as the best player for Team USA this past summer. Grimes scored every way imaginable, he ran through screens, drove to the basket, posted up, shot off the dribble, and scored in the fast break.
Grimes will be the focal point of the Jayhawks’ offense as his shooting fits in perfectly with the offense Kansas likes to run. Being the focal point of a college offense usually means scoring in bunches and I expect the same thing to happen to this shooting guard from Texas.
Quentin averaged 29.5 ppg and 8.6 rpg in his senior year at College Park.
11 Disappoint – Keldon Johnson (Kentucky Shooting Guard)
Keldon Johnson will follow the likes of Devin Booker and Jamal Murray as a shooting guard for Kentucky. Like the two prior to Johnson, he will mostly be relied on as a scorer. Johnson is a massive shooting guard, unlike Booker and Murray, Johnson is listed at 6’6" and 225 lbs. Unlike Booker and Murray, Johnson is not a good shooter just yet although he showed great skill in finishing underneath the rim as a result of brute forcing his way to the paint.
The “modern NBA” has relied on outside shooting and if Johnson cannot provide that, then he might struggle mightily in the NBA as a shooting guard. If he can improve as a shooter, then he certainly has a place in the league. That is a big “if,” though.
10 Surprise – Jontay Porter (Missouri Power Forward/Center)
One of the most surprising moves during last year’s draft was Jontay Porter pulling his name out of the players that declared. A sure first-round pick, almost everybody wondered why Porter pulled out. The younger brother of Michael Porter Jr, Jontay played himself into the first round as a do-it-all big for Missouri.
At 6’9", Porter showed skills as a playmaker for the Tigers. He was constantly involved in the offense as he showed passing skills beyond his age. Defensively, he was solid, grabbing rebounds with timing and skill and staying in front of guards while holding his own against bigger men down in the post.
Considering he re-classified, Jontay is still relatively young and he might surprise people with how good he really is.
9 Disappoint – Bol Bol (Oregon Center)
Standing at 7’2" with a 7’8" wingspan, no one screams “potential” more than Oregon’s Bol Bol. He is one of the most recognizable names in this year’s class as the son of former NBA player Manute Bol. Unlike his father, Bol has shown offensive skill even at a young age; in fact, he shot 40 percent from deep on Nike’s EYBL circuit. Physically, he is a freak of nature similar to last year’s sixth overall pick Mo Bamba.
Bol has the length to be a successful defensive player and even a good offensive player, but he will have a hard time adjusting to the NBA’s physicality. He will need to bulk up in order to take hits from NBA players for 20 or more minutes.
8 Surprise – Jaylen Hoard (Wake Forest Small Forward/Power Forward)
Jaylen Hoard is a French forward who will play under one of the best college coaches in Danny Manning. With a blueprint of success mentoring him in Boris Diaw, Hoard is also a versatile player that can do all the little things for a team. A great rebounder, passer, and a passable defender, Hoard has the chance to be one of the best role players in the NBA, much like Diaw.
Not a big-time scorer just yet, Hoard will have to rely on play calls and hustle for rebounds as a way to score in the NBA. The French forward will surely have a place in the league.
7 Disappoint – De’Andre Hunter (Virginia Small Forward)
Much like Jontay Porter, De’Andre Hunter had the chance to be a first-round pick in last year’s draft but chose to withdraw. After going down with a hand injury, Hunter returned to Virginia with the hopes of showing a more to the national audience.
Last year Hunter was impressive. He earned the ACC Sixth Man of the Year as a defensive wing for Virginia.
The problem is that he was never a good scorer let alone a very skilled player. In the NBA, hard work means everything but sometimes talent just rises to the top far more than hard work. If Hunter proves to be the same player he was last year, then teams might just have no use for him.
6 Surprise – Daniel Gafford (Arkansas Center)
An incoming sophomore for Arkansas, Daniel Gafford is a long athletic big. Gafford’s role for Arkansas will mostly be rim runs and rim protection, but that might be enough to be an effective center in the NBA especially if he does it at a high level.
Even though some teams have shied away from rim running centers, you cannot argue that there is no place for them in the modern NBA. Players like Clint Capela, Dwight Howard, and Tyson Chandler all proved to be effective as a rim-running center that can also protect the paint.
Following an okay freshman year, Gafford has a good foundation to build his sophomore year upon.
5 Disappoint – Sekou Doumbouya (France Small Forward/Power Forward)
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Year after year, we have young teenagers from Europe come in and utterly impress enough to be considered top 10 draft prospects. This year, we have Sekou Doumbouya from France, a 6’9" defensive-minded forward. Doumbouya impressed scouts in his showing at Basketball Without Borders.
At the time of next year’s draft, Doumbouya will only be 18-years-old, certainly making him the youngest of his peers. The intrigue surrounding Sekou is his potential as a defender that can switch onto any position. Another thing scouts rave about him is his potential as an outside shooter.
But realizing his potential is entirely up to him. His level of competition is nowhere near the NBA and it might be a tad too overwhelming once he makes the next step.
4 Surprise – Naz Reid (LSU Center)
Like Daniel Gafford, Naz Reid is an athletic center who will most likely rim-run and protect the paint. The difference is that Reid is a better shooter compared to Gafford, which gives him the slight edge in terms of potential star power.
Reid is considered undersized by many as he only stands at 6’9", but that should not be an issue for him. Naz is one of the stronger college players in the upcoming season and he can very much hold his own against NBA caliber bigs.
The main concern is if Reid is skilled enough to play in the NBA, but a rim-running, paint-protecting, three-point shooting center certainly sounds intriguing, even in the NBA.
3 Disappoint – Nassir Little (North Carolina Small Forward)
The major recruit North Carolina got for the 2018-19 season was Nassir Little, a 6’7" forward with the nose for the ball and a thirst for physicality. Winning MVP at both McDonalds’ All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic, Little established himself as a potential number one pick for next year’s draft. Nassir is a throwback small forward as he aggressively attacks the paint, crashes the board, and competes defensively.
The main concern people have with him is his ability to shoot and create a shot for himself. If Little cannot improve offensively, he might just turn into the next Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
2 Surprise – Carsen Edwards (Purdue Point Guard)
The crop for point guard next year is looking slimmer with each passing day. In fact, out of the top 15 high school recruits, there are zero point guards among them.
Enter Carsen Edwards, an explosive scoring point guard who can score inside, shoot off the catch, and off the dribble. Edwards has a good chance of solidifying himself as the best point guard in next year’s draft especially with his scoring ability.
While scouts have their questions on how good of a passer he is, Edwards can surely play himself into the top-10 and maybe even the top-5, depending on how well Purdue does with him at the helm.
1 Disappoint – Zion Williamson (Duke Power Forward)
Completing the holy trinity of Duke freshmen is Zion Williamson. If you are a basketball fan, chances are you have seen his highlight footage as Zion is an athletic freak of nature that effortlessly glides in mid-air. With all the athleticism in the world, Williamson also has all the potential to be one of the best players in the NBA.
Although a ball of superstar potential, Zion certainly has a lot of bust potential as well. Williamson is not yet a respectable shooter and his on-ball skills are still developing. With two other potential superstars in R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, it will not be a surprise if Zion sticks out as the worst of the three.