By Reed Becker
The 2019 NBA Draft might have turned out to be the calm before the storm of free agency. While there are still a record number of trades most of the selections went mostly according to plan. The first three picks of the draft turned out to be the expected order with Zion Williamson from Duke going to the New Orleans Pelicans, then Ja Morant from Murray State going to the Memphis Grizzlies second overall, and then Duke’s RJ Barrett going to the New York Knicks. The unexpected moves then started after the first three picks. Let’s take a look at the biggest surprises and snubs that took place Thursday night.
Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga (#9 to Washington): Hachimura was originally expected to be a lottery pick in the draft, especially since he was an All-American player. However, this opinion around the league changed when he decided to skip the NBA Combine, not allowing teams to see his talent in person in front of NBA evaluators. What makes this pick even more bizarre for Washington is that they never met with the Gonzaga product before the draft. What the Wizards are likely banking on is that Hachimura’s talent will come full circle when he hits the court come the regular season.
Cameron Johnson, UNC (#11 to Phoenix via Minnesota): Cameron Johnson was already a projected first round pick in the draft. When Cam Johnson got announced to the crowd there was an awkwardness felt throughout the arena because, Johnson, a lottery selection wasn’t even in attendance at the draft. He wasn’t projected to go in the lottery. Johnson struggled early in his collegiate career at Pittsburgh but took off when he transferred to UNC, which is where he helped the Tar Heels win the ACC and get the number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. A strength of his game is his ability to shoot the ball. However, some of his weaknesses are that he isn’t good on the defensive end of the floor, and he has trouble creating his own shot. In the end, all these negatives don’t add up to a lottery talent. Even his former UNC teammate Coby White, in his press conference after being selected seventh,was visibly shocked when he was told that Johnson was selected 11th. Phoenix is making a gutsy move by taking Johnson in the lottery when you could of gotten him later. Furthermore, something that is being thrown aside and not talked about as much is since Johnson is already 23 years old that’s pretty old for a rookie and gives Pheonix less time to try to develop him.
Chuma Okeke, Auburn (#16 to Orlando): Chuma Okeke was a big part of the Auburn Tigers run to the final four. He led the team in rebounds, steals and blocks. He was also the first Auburn player since 2000 to have 20+ points and 10+ rebounds in the NCAA tournament. However, he tore his ACL during the Final Four, which dropped his projected value. If he didn’t tear his ACL he could have possibly been a lottery pick, but once he did he was projected to drop as low as possibly into the second round. Orlando is taking a gamble by taking Okeke this early since he is coming off an ACL injury and might not be fully recovered in time until late in the season.
Darius Bazley ,Princeton High school (Ohio) (#23 to Utah via trade from Memphis via Utah): Darius Bazley declared for the NBA Draft right out of high school last year. He did not play this past 2018-2019 season. He originally committed to Syracuse, but later spurned the Orange to sign a $14m contract with New Balance, which included a million dollars to be an intern. His plan after decommitting from Syracuse was to play in the G League, except that opportunity never was realized when he struggled in preseason workouts. This resulted in Bazley deciding to take a year off of basketball and intern at New Balance. This is not the first time the Thunder have taken a player that didn’t play at the collegiate level. General Manager Sam Presti also took Terrance Ferguson in the 2017 draft. The Thunder like what they saw in Bazley because he has the potential to be an elite player on both ends of the floor and play multiple positions. The downside of his game is that he has an awkward shot. However, with hard work some scouts believe he won’t have a problem shooting at the NBA level. This is an unexpected selection by Oklahoma City who is in win now mode and are taking on a project with Darius Bazley.
There were also a couple of players that got snubbed during the draft. Let’s take a look at the players that fell unexpectedly.
Nassir Little, UNC (#25 to Portland): Nassir Little was projected to be a lottery pick entering this season. Little was unable to contribute to the best of his ability, numbers-wise, while at UNC because of his role as Carolina’s sixth man. However, he did show some flashes throughout the season, especially toward the end and during the NCAA Tournament where he scored 19 points against Iona and then and then followed that performance with 20 points and seven rebounds in the Round of 32 against Washington (he shot 70% from the field in those two games). Considering where Little was taken he is thought to be the steal of the draft, as he is a 6’-6”, 225 pound wing with a 7’1” wingspan who was still on the board in the 20s.
Bol Bol, Oregon (# 44 to Dever via trade from Miami): This was the shocker of the draft. Bol Bol was expected to be a potential top five pick entering this past season as a 7’2” center and with his ability as a shot blocker and three-point shooter. However, that dream quickly died when he suffered a season ending injury early in the season. Even with Bol Bol being shut down for the season, he was still projected to be taken in the first round in the twenties. Denver now goes back-to-back years taking a player with a health concern, last year being Michael Porter Jr out of Missouri.
For the most part, considering that the value of the players in this draft fell off a cliff after the third pick these later surprises might not make a difference in the long run. This now set the scene for the impending storm — a wild free agency that began on June 30th at 6pm.