It's never too early to look ahead, especially when you're talking about sports fans' never-sated desire to examine upcoming prospects. There's an inherent cultural fascination associated with what's coming next, and nowhere does that manifest itself deeper than in sports. In the NBA, kids who haven't yet reached their 10th birthday are being featured in YouTube highlight videos that generate millions of views.
By that measure, the notion of evaluating the pro prospects of a 16-year-old doesn't seem so far-fetched. As a matter of fact, it isn't hard to find already-existing mock drafts that project the NBA futures of teens who are just high school sophomores right now. Fans of aimless NBA clubs might find at least some semblance of comfort and hope in looking ahead to the potentially rosy future that may await through the draft. Or you might just be the type of basketball nerd that needs to be on the cutting edge of knowing 'who's next'.
Of course, the mock draft reigns above all when it comes to future outlook content, giving fans not only a perspective into what the next class of young prospects will look like, but how they could stack up when measured against one another. In this exercise, we take an extremely early look at the next three NBA draft classes. Even if you don't necessarily follow the college game, most basketball fans are surely familiar with much-buzzed about Duke freshmen Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. But this outlook spans beyond that Blue Devils' twosome into 2020 and 2021 classes that could be pretty star-studded in their own right. Here's an early look at who might occupy the top seven picks of the next three NBA Drafts.
21 2019: No. 1 - Zion Williamson (Phoenix Suns)
Things are already looking up in the desert since the Suns paired Devin Booker with Deandre Ayton, the reigning No. 1 overall pick. Imagine if they added the most electrifying force in the NCAA to that mix next June. It's not out of the realm of possibility to consider Zion Williamson in a Suns jersey. After all, even with their young talent, the club currently sits firmly in the basement of the Western Conference as they await the development of Ayton and potentially more reinforcements to come. Phoenix also has the capacity to absorb Williamson's lack of clear position in the pro game, with a spot for the explosive 18-year-old whether he looks more like a power forward or small forward.
20 2019: No. 2 - R.J. Barrett (Cleveland Cavaliers)
It's a testament to just how much buzz surrounded R.J. Barrett as he began his collegiate career at Duke that even in light of the Blue Devils' early season dominance and scoring prowess, his stock may have actually taken a hit. Even as he averages an ACC-high in points per game, critics have taken issue with the high amount of shots he's needed to do it. Most notably, those looking to nitpick the game of the 6'7" wing point to a streaky three-point shot as reason for questions about his pro future.
If he does slide at all in the draft, don't expect the pro-ready Barrett to slide far. The Cavs, for one, would do well to rebuild their club around one of college basketball's savviest open floor players.
19 2019: No. 3 - Cam Reddish (Atlanta Hawks)
Could the third best freshman on his own team also double as the third pick of the 2019 NBA Draft? This unthinkable scenario is in play thanks to Duke's impossibly talented recruiting class. Now, Cam Reddish has, of course, felt the pinch of being part of such a wealth of talent. The playmaking skills that had scouts raving have been harder to spot in a crowded rotation, where Reddish is the third option.
On the plus side, he's still producing points and has done little to dampen his draft stock. The Blue Devils have plenty of big games ahead, including a possible Final Four run in March, so Reddish won't lack for opportunities to impress NBA scouts down the stretch.
18 2019: No. 4 - Romeo Langford (New York Knicks)
Wherefore art thou, Romeo? That could be the question on the minds of long-frustrated Knicks fans come June as they face the enticing prospect of drafting high-upside scorer Romeo Langford out of Indiana. About as sure a bet as can be, Langford wasted no time cementing himself as the Hoosiers' go-to option with a silky smooth jumper and a creative array of moves to get to the basket.
The shooting guard still faces questions about his three-point shooting, but few 19-year-old freshmen have that part of their game nailed down at this stage. A future core of Langford, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and a healthy Kristaps Porzingis could breathe some life back into Madison Square Garden.
17 2019: No. 5 - Nassir Little (Chicago Bulls)
For Nassir Little, the biggest obstacle in the way of improving his draft stock might be his own teammates. The UNC freshman SF is currently stuck behind Tar Heels seniors Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye in Roy Williams's rotation. But even in his limited playing time, Little has showcased a relentless defender who can make shots and get to the rim.
While every NBA club could always use a little more defense (especially in an era of offensive explosion), the Chicago Bulls would make particular sense. Currently, the Bulls look inept on the other side of the ball, boasting a leading scorer in Zach LaVine with a well-established reputation for giving less than full effort on the defensive end.
16 2019: No. 6 - Kevin Porter Jr. (Brooklyn Nets)
The NBA Draft is always good for a late riser or two, and that could very well be Kevin Porter Jr. this year. The dynamic USC shooting guard wasn't on the radar of many scouts before this season, but has forced his way into the lottery conversation with an impressive array of James Harden-like offensive moves for the Trojans. The Brooklyn Nets could certainly use that kind of offensive flair, not to mention a draft prospect with the potential to be a franchise cornerstone. Porter Jr. wasn't even starting to begin the season, so his modest production appears poised to grow.
15 2019: No. 7 - Bol Bol (Washington Wizards)
The son of Manute Bol might be poised to redefine this 'unicorn' term that has become en vogue in the modern NBA. While there is no question that players like Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic can, indeed, do it all on a basketball court, the league hasn't seen a player like Oregon's Bol Bol. Like his dad, the 7'2" Bol hardly lacks in height, but carries a narrow frame that makes him look like a strong breeze may take him down.
Good thing, then, that he's showcased a surprisingly strong perimeter game with the Ducks, knocking down shots beyond the arc and even handling the ball. Players like Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura may boast more experience, but Bol will surely tantalize with his eye-opening skill set.
14 2020: No. 1 - Jaden McDaniels (Atlanta Hawks)
Quite possibly the fastest riser of the entire 2020 class, the sky is the limit for Jaden McDaniels when it comes to future potential. Ever since Kevin Durant, teams have covetously eyed any forward possessing the combination of length, agility and skills. The 6'10 McDaniels boasts all three, with ball-handling abilities and shooting talents that project well at the NBA level.
He may not have quite the same degree of upside as KD, but even a comparison to Lakers forward Brandon Ingram will have team execs intrigued. Pairing him with rookie sharpshooter Trae Young in Atlanta could be the closest thing the league has to Golden State's KD / Steph Curry tandem.
13 2020: No. 2 - Anthony Edwards (Charlotte Hornets)
As a powerful, efficient shooting guard who has emerged as a standout scorer at every level, Anthony Edwards has long been on the radar of scouts. But it was a dominant summer session on the Under Armour AAU circuit that sent expectations through the roof and prompted a reclassification that made him the No. 1 recruit of the 2019 class. Despite just turning 17 back in August, Edwards is already drawing lofty comparisons to the likes of James Harden and Victor Oladipo based on his 6'4" frame and explosive offensive potential.
Perhaps he could even take the place of another dynamic guard in Kemba Walker, who could leave the Hornets in free agency this summer. If Walker does bolt, it would surely lead to a free fall for the already-mediocre Hornets, one that could see them in contention for a top draft choice in 2020.
12 2020: No. 3 - LaMelo Ball (Washington Wizards)
Forget LaVar Ball, forget the annoying "Ball in the Family" Facebook Watch reality and forget the Big Baller Brand. Soon, it will be time to evaluate LaMelo Ball independently as a draft prospect. And if the youngest of the three Ball boys can commit himself to playing defense and providing consistent effort, then he might be something special. Now, don't be misled into thinking that he'll be a Lonzo clone. The brothers stand to be very different types of point guards, with LaMelo looking more like a dynamic attacking scorer who may already have a better shot than Lonzo.
Of course, any team thinking of taking him will have to do their research and figure out an organizational plan on how to keep LaVar in check and ensure that LaMelo is coachable. Succeed there, however, and you could have a budding star and nightly triple-double threat on your hands.
11 2020: No. 4 - Cole Anthony (Chicago Bulls)
When dad is a former No. 2 overall NBA draft pick, there's only one place to go to improve on it. We don't know yet if Cole Anthony will be in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, but we do know he'll be well prepared for a pro career, thanks in part to his old man, Greg Anthony. A point guard like the elder Anthony, Cole is a bit undersized at 6'2" and 185 pounds, but brings elite court vision and a high basketball IQ to the table.
What sets him apart from Greg, however, is his impressive combination of speed and athleticism, which will serve him well offensively as he also (hopefully) inherits his dad's defensive tenacity. Could the Oak Hill product follow both his dad and popular player comparison Derrick Rose and answer the long-standing point guard questions of the Bulls?
10 2020: No. 5 - James Wiseman (Cleveland Cavaliers)
An Anthony Davis comparison will always get people talking, so Memphis commit James Wiseman certainly has the attention of scouts given the complimentary parallels to the 'Brow that are being thrown around. The 7'1" leaper is a project, but an intriguing one. For all of his potential as a rim protector who can run the floor and finish on the offensive end, there remain big questions about Wiseman's ability to play in the post.
A disciple of Penny Hardaway at Memphis East High School, the big man has a lot of work to do but will definitely be a player to watch once he joins the Memphis Tigers. For Cavs fans, he would look good finishing off lob passes from Collin Sexton, in addition to whomever they happen to draft this summer.
9 2020: No. 6 - Vernon Carey Jr. (Orlando Magic)
Vernon Carey Jr. has used his big 6'10", 265-pound frame to capture the attention of scouts and recruiters, largely by pushing around smaller opponents. But that won't work for much longer, particularly when NCAA basketball pits him against a higher level of talent and more size. That's where Carey's impressive quickness and agility, not to mention a growing array of low post moves, will serve him well. Even when mixing it up with other collegiate big men that can match his size, he should have an edge in skill level.
That combination could certainly pique the interest of a team like his home state Orlando Magic, who've long shown an affinity for big men prospects and might see Carey's skill set as standing out from what they already have.
8 2020: No. 7 - Kahlil Whitney (New York Knicks)
The 2019-20 season could well represent a step in the right direction for the Knicks, with a healthy Kristaps Porzingis leading the charge and what is hopefully an improved supporting cast. That, however, may still not be enough to pull the Knicks into playoff contention, which isn't necessarily a bad thing for a club that could still use more help.
Enter Kahlil Whitney, a small forward whose early 2001 birthday has enabled a physical maturity that few other members of this year's recruiting class can match. Whitney is already 6'7 and boasts a 7-foot wingspan. Though still boasting a raw skill set, the Kentucky-bound 17-year-old brings elite athleticism to the table and physical gifts that have already drawn comparisons to Kawhi Leonard.
7 2021: No. 1 - Jalen Green (Charlotte Hornets)
Remember the name Jalen Green. While the top picks of the next two drafts still carry some degree of mystery and uncertainty, the top pick of the 2021 draft already looks to be set it stone. Sure, it goes without saying that plenty could change between now and then. But the hype around Green highlights a 6'5" 16-year-old guard with generational talent. A relentless attacker with off-the-charts athleticism, the Fresno product has scouts' tongues wagging for both his physical makeup and his ultra-competitive mindset.
NBA Draft Room went so far as to suggest that Green might be the best player in high school right now, even with a full class ahead of him. The Hornets haven't had many foundational pieces in their history, so the chance to position themselves to select Green might be worth a few lean years.
6 2021: No. 2 - R.J. Hampton (Washington Wizards)
NBADraftRoom.com referred to point guard R.J Hampton as "John Wall with a jumper". The comparison is a notable for a couple of reasons. For starters, it stands as lofty praise for the explosive ball handler to not only liken him to a five-time All-Star, but also to suggest he boasts a dimension to his game which Wall lacks. Then, you have the potential irony (if these predictions somehow actually hold, of course) of Hampton replacing his NBA player parallel in the Wizards' backcourt.
By 2021, Wizards fans surely hope their team will have found a way to unload Wall's mega-deal that is only now getting truly burdensome. If the Wiz do go into sell mode, there could be some lean years coming in the nation's capital. But players like Hampton could represent the next wave of superstar talent to hit D.C.
5 2021: No. 3 - Isaiah Todd (Brooklyn Nets)
It's hard to call anyone who won't even be draft-eligible for two more years a 'can't-miss' prospect, but Isaiah Todd looks like as safe a bet as any 2021 prospect thus far. Essentially every major program is pursuing the silky smooth 6'10" power forward, one of the most complete players of his draft class. Though neither a deep threat nor a dominant interior player, Todd has a reliable jumper and an all-around finesse game that makes him truly unique. The most popular parallel for Todd to this point has been another one-of-a-kind big man, Chris Bosh. Now back to building through the draft, the Brooklyn Nets could sure use an elite forward down the line to help bring Barclays Center back to relevance.
4 2021: No. 4 - Evan Mobley (Memphis Grizzlies)
Most seven footers are hard to miss, yet Evan Mobley somehow eludes opposing defenders on a nightly basis. Apart from his height, what's most notable about the Compton Magic star is a quickness that is jarring for a player of his size. Mobley will routinely grab a rebound on the defensive end and still manage to pick up enough steam to get behind the defense on the other side of the court for an easy transition basket.
It's not entirely clear how that ability will translate to the pros, and Mobley may even slow himself down some by adding muscle to his thin frame. Still, on skill set alone, there will be plenty of interest in the big man over the coming years. By 2021, we could be seeing an aging, injury-prone Grizzlies core of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Chandler Parsons start to fade, leaving the possibility of an explosive front court pairing of Mobley and Jaren Jackson Jr.
3 2021: No. 5 - Scottie Lewis (Philadelphia 76ers)
Yes, I know what you're thinking - "wait, Scottie Lewis is a 2020 guy!" Well, hard as it may be to believe in the one-and-done era of college basketball, not every freshman is duty-bound to immediately declare for the draft after their first year. And Lewis, a Florida Gators commit, stands as a prime candidate to stick around the NCAA game. While he's one of the most athletic prospects of any draft year, there remain questions about Lewis' shooting, ball-handling, defense and physical presence.
The five-star recruit simply won't be able to answer all of those questions in one year of college ball. So while sticking around Gainesville another year may seem unconventional these days, it could help him grow that much more NBA ready.
2 2021: No. 6 - Jalen Johnson (Portland Trail Blazers)
While potentially not even the best Jalen in his draft year, Jalen Johnson nonetheless has the chance to be one of the gems of the 2021 draft class. A point guard in the body of a 6'8" forward, Johnson has the physical tools to occupy the rare air of point forward and serve as a matchup nightmare for any team he plays against. Despite being one of the youngest players of his draft year, Johnson has already demonstrated a heady court awareness and elite basketball IQ that has inspired comparisons to Paul Pierce. As he continues to grow, adding mass and muscle to his skinny frame will be a challenge in the coming years.
Still, he reigns as an intriguing prospect to watch, perhaps even for a club like Portland that could land back in the lottery depending on the futures of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
1 2021: No. 7 Kyree Walker (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Looking at the imposing, broad-shouldered, 210-pound build of Kyree Walker, it's easy to forget that he's a 6'4" shooting guard and not an undersized power forward. Both Walker's shot and passing game still need work, but what will set him apart is his ability to punish opposing guards as they struggle to handle his strength. That may not make for the most aesthetically pleasing style of play, but it can prove to be awfully effective, providing the same type of production that the Boston Celtics have gotten out of Marcus Smart. In a blue collar town like Cleveland, a hard-nosed, physical player like Walker can gain popularity in a hurry.