By Norm Elrod
(CBS Minnesota/CBS Local) — Every NBA mock draft shows Duke’s Zion Williamson going to the New York Knicks with the first overall pick. The 2019 NBA Draft order isn’t set. And while the Knicks may end up with the League’s worst record, that’s no guarantee that they’ll pick first. (The three teams with the worst records each have a 14% chance at the top pick, with the worst team guaranteed to pick no later than fifth.)
Whatever team picks first will probably take Williamson. That’s a pretty safe bet, looking at the teams stumbling toward the lottery in June. But predicting the future always involves some element of chance. So rather than looking two months into the future, let’s take stock of what we’re seeing right now.
Most of college basketball’s top prospects are currently — or were very recently — playing in the NCAA Tournament. And their performances will certainly factor into future draft positioning. Using the most recent CBSSports.com mock draft as a guide, let’s check in on them after the first weekend of action.
Zion Williamson, Duke
Williamson mania seemed to pause with his February shoe blowout and knee injury. The sports world breathed a collective sigh of relief when the injury was revealed to not be serious. And Williamson’s exploits during the ACC Tournament — 27 point, 10 rebound-per-game average and multiple thunderous dunks — confirmed that everything was just fine. Zion still has his Blue Devils headed toward the Promised Land; his 32-point, 11-rebound double-double was integral to Duke advancing to the Sweet 16.
RJ Barrett, Duke
RJ Barrett continues to play very well in Williamson’s rather large shadow. And while it’s hard to see the forward stepping out in front (what NBA GM not named Ernie Grunfeld would risk passing over a once-in-a-generation talent?), he remains a worthy of top-three pick. Averaging 22.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists on the season, the ACC’s leading scorer put up 26.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists in Zion’s absence, even as the Blue Devils struggled. With Williamson on the court, he still tallied 26 points and 14 rebounds in Duke’s opening-round win over North Dakota State.
Ja Morant, Murray State
Ja Morant came into the NCAA Tournament among the top scorers in college basketball. And in the national spotlight, an opening-round showdown with prolific scorer Markus Howard of Marquette, he showed why. The Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year managed a triple-double — 17 points, 16 rebounds, 11 assists — as the Racers grounded the Golden Eagles. But their season would end two days later, at the hands of Florida State. Morant poured in five three-pointers in the first half, but the Seminoles answered, and then some. His 28 points wasn’t nearly enough to keep up.
Darius Garland, Vanderbilt
Darius Garland, the top-rated point guard coming out of high school, played four games for Vanderbilt and then injured the meniscus in his left knee two minutes into his fifth. Surgery ended what looked to be a promising season. The Commodores were 4-0, and Garland was coming off a 33-point performance. The 9-23 Commodores didn’t sniff the NCAA Tournament this season, losing in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Garland, who looks to be a budding Stephan Curry type (strong handle, deep range), is believed to be fully recovered.
Cam Reddish, Duke
It’s hard to believe that Cam Reddish is the third best prospect on the Duke team. But that just shows the quality of last year’s recruiting class. With only one basketball to go around, the small forward has languished a little in Durham. He’s averaging 13.6 points on the season, and fell just short of that in the Blue Devils’ two Tournament wins so far. Reddish fits the NBA profile of a small forward and is still learning the position, which may account for his occasional detachment on the court. Duke will need him to stay engaged as it moves deeper into the Tournament. But his play so far hasn’t damaged his prospects in June.
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech
Culver is still growing. The sophomore is listed at 6’6″ but might actually be about 6’8″ by this point. The shooting guard can do a little bit of everything and has shown that all season. The Big 12 Player of the Year is among the Conference leaders in host of offensive and defensive categories, including points and steals, and is perceived to have one of the highest ceilings among this year’s prospects. Texas Tech has rolled over its first two NCAA Tournament opponents Northern Kentucky and Buffalo by 15 and 20 points respectively. And Culver has scored 29 and 16 points while contributing across multiple categories. Texas Tech faces a much tougher Michigan team next and will need Culver’s versatility to advance.
De’Andre Hunter, Virginia
Hunter is another lengthy all-around player, who can shoot the three, drive to the basket and play strong defense. He’s averaging 15.2 points on 52.9% shooting along with 5 rebounds in his sophomore season. The 6’7″ small forward watched Virginia’s collapse in last year’s tournament with a broken wrist, but has been a major contributor so far this year. That includes 23 points and six boards to help keep history from repeating itself against against Gardiner-Webb.
Sekou Doumbouya, France
Doumbouya may very well be the first international player off the board in June. The 18-year-old, who plays small forward in France’s A division, isn’t a part of this year’s Tournament. Though many teams would happily enlist his services were he available. At 6’9″ (and growing), with almost three years of pro experience, he can also play shooting guard and power forward. With the level of polish Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis have displayed early in their careers, look for Doumbouya to make an immediate impact, or at least given the chance.
Coby White, North Carolina
Not initially considered a one-and-done, White came to North Carolina as a five-star recruit who could score but maybe needed to improve his passing a little. He’s had that opportunity at point guard in his freshman season, averaging 16.1 points and 4.1 assists, which puts him in the ACC top 10 for both categories. Highlights include a 34-point performance in a win over Syracuse and 33-point outings against Texas and Miami. His Tournament started off slowly, with 10 points against Iona. But he hit four of his seven three-point attempts in UNC’s last win over Washington. Another performance like that against a solid Auburn club could push up his stock even more.
Jaxson Hayes, Texas
The Texas Longhorns didn’t make the NCAA Tournament but have advanced to the NIT quarterfinals. Freshman forward Jaxson Hayes, who hurt his knee in the Big 12 Tournament, won’t be on the court regardless. He’s shown promise much of the season, including a 19-point seven-rebound showing against TCU in the game before his injury. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year averaged 10 points and five rebounds, and has loads of potential, which is only just starting to reveal itself.