13 ACC Players Selected in 2019 NBA Draft
By Bryan Bruwer
Thursday night in Brooklyn marked one of the most exciting days on the NBA calendar, the annual draft. 13 ACC players were chosen (6 in the lottery and 10 in the first round), and this article will recap where some of the ACC’s finest ended up and how they fit with their new teams.
Round 1 Pick 1 (New Orleans Pelicans): Zion Williamson (PF, Duke)
After a tremendous stroke of luck that led them to land the #1 overall selection in Thursday’s draft despite having only a 6% chance, the Pelicans got their hands on an absolutely transcendent talent in Williamson. Despite tipping the scales at just shy of 300 pounds, Williamson is one of, if not the most explosive athlete to ever grace the hardwood. His combination of strength, speed, and leaping ability is unmatched, and allowed him to dominate at the college level. This pick was an absolute no-brainer, as the Pelicans landed perhaps the most talented prospect since Anthony Davis in 2012, who they ironically traded to the Lakers less than a week ago, securing a tremendous amount of young talent to pair alongside Zion for the long haul.
Round 1 Pick 3 (New York Knicks): RJ Barrett (SF, Duke)
Knick fans everywhere dreamed of a world where Zion Williamson would call the Big Apple and Madison Square Garden home before promptly having their dreams crushed in May’s draft lottery. However, Barrett is an awesome consolation prize. The former #1 recruit averaged 22.6 points per game in his freshman season at Duke and showed the ability to score at all three levels. Barrett is a crafty finisher around the rim and is a plus athlete with an impressive 6’10” wingspan despite measuring in at 6’6.5” in shoes. One aspect of his game that Barrett must improve is his passing, as he can have tunnel vision at times and is prone to taking bad shots instead of making the extra pass. Regardless, Barrett only turned 19 on June 14th, and has tons of room to grow into an all-star caliber wing for a Knicks team that is devoid of talent at the moment.
Round 1 Pick 4 (Atlanta Hawks): Deandre Hunter (SF, Virginia)
The Hawks traded up from #8 to land Hunter, who many consider to be perhaps the most NBA-ready player in this entire class. His calling card is his lockdown ability as an on-ball defender, which has drawn him some comparisons to Kawhi Leonard in the respect that both were raw on the offensive end coming out of college despite being defensive aces. However, Hunter shot 43.8% from deep this season (although shooting around only two three-pointers a game), giving him a skill Leonard hadn’t refined nearly as much at that point in his career. Hunter is also incredibly switchable on defense, and can guard almost any position on the floor, as evidenced by being tasked with guarding Purdue guard Carsen Edwards in the Final Four. Hunter’s draft stock was greatly aided by his outstanding performance in the National Championship thriller against Texas Tech, where he hit multiple big shots and outplayed a similarly rated talent in Jarrett Culver. Atlanta will slot Hunter in as the newest member of their promising young core consisting of Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, and #10 overall selection Cam Reddish.
Round 1 Pick 7 (Chicago Bulls): Coby White (PG, North Carolina)
The Bulls filled their void at point guard by selecting one of the most entertaining players in the entire class in the form of Coby White from UNC. The former Tar Heel plays at a frenetic pace, pushing the ball up court in transition for easy layups and showing the ability to knock down threes at an impressive clip. White’s offensive acumen fits the mold of score-first point guards who have taken the league by storm over the last decade or so. One concern for White is his tendency to turn the ball over, which comes naturally given his propensity to be always be in attack mode on the offensive end. The all-time leading scorer in North Carolina high school basketball history should end up being a strong contributor on the next level alongside the Bulls young core of Zach Lavine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.
Round 1 Pick 10 (Atlanta Hawks): Cam Reddish (SF, Duke)
Despite entering the 2018-2019 college basketball season as the #3 recruit in the country and a projected top five pick in this year’s draft, Reddish had a bizarre year at Duke. He struggled immensely from the field, shooting only 35.6% and averaging only 13.5 points per game. Many attributed his scoring struggles to getting the scraps from Zion and Barrett, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of efficiency from both in close and from deep (33.3%) from a player whose primary strength is his jump shot. Although Reddish struggled this season, he certainly has an NBA-ready body and his free throw percentage of almost 80% suggests better days are ahead for his shooting efficiency. If Reddish can return to form and realize the potential he flashed in high school, he’ll be an absolute steal for a Hawks team that is young and hungry.
Round 1 Pick 11 (Phoenix Suns): Cameron Johnson (SF, North Carolina)
The basketball Gods have been quite cruel to the Phoenix Suns as of late. Despite a clear tanking effort, they drew the short end of the stick and ended up with the sixth overall selection in Thursday’s draft. Although initially a disappointing outcome, many thought the Suns would at least be able to land their point guard of the future in either Darius Garland of Vanderbilt or the aforementioned Coby White. However, the Suns had other ideas. After moving starting small forward T.J. Warren to the Pacers in a salary dump earlier in the day, the Suns traded down from 6 to 11 and picked up Dario Saric from the Timberwolves. They then used the 11thpick on Cameron Johnson from UNC, which was one of the more head-scratch inducing moves of the evening. Johnson is a strong player and definitely has a future in the league, but he was projected as a late first round pick in the pre-draft process, meaning that the Suns likely could’ve traded down even further and accrued more/better assets in a potential trade. Regardless, the Suns added perhaps the best pure jump shooter in the class, as Johnson shot an astounding 45.7% from three in his senior season at UNC. Johnson is a complete player on the offensive end, but he has medical concerns and is already 23 years old, making him older than Suns star Devin Booker, who was drafted in 2015 and is on his second NBA contract. Phoenix should have plenty of floor spacing with Booker, Johnson and Saric, clearing up room down low for last year’s #1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.
Round 1 Pick 17 (New Orleans Pelicans): Nickeil Alexander-Walker (SG, Virginia Tech)
The second Canadian wing off the board on Thursday, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, cousin of Shai Gilgeous Alexander of the Los Angeles Clippers, became the newest member of the Pelicans war chest of young assets. Alexander-Walker has good upside as a combo guard at the next level, and showed an ability to orchestrate an offense when senior point guard Justin Robinson went down with an injury this past season. He has good size and long arms, which enabled him to average nearly two steals per game in his sophomore season for the Hokies. Alexander-Walker can also stroke it from three, and will serve as a valuable swish army knife coming off the bench for Alvin Gentry’s Pelicans, with ample time to learn from one the league’s best combo guards, Jrue Holiday.
Round 1 Pick 24 (Phoenix Suns): Ty Jerome (PG, Virginia)
At 24, the Suns landed another strong jump shooter and another ACC product in Ty Jerome from Virginia. Jerome played an integral role in the ‘Hoos run to a national title, and will look to bring some of that winning pedigree to a Suns team that hasn’t made the playoffs in almost a decade. In addition to his prowess beyond the arc, Jerome is a skilled distributor and possesses strong basketball IQ, averaging 5.5 assists per game with a 3.31 assist to turnover ratio. However, one concern with Jerome’s game is his defense and whether he’ll be able to stay in front of shiftier, more athletic NBA guards. The Suns had a gaping hole at point guard going into the draft and they very well may view Jerome as the long term answer to that quandary. However, they’ll likely still be active in the point guard market once free agency rolls around in early July.
Round 1 Pick 25 (Portland Trail Blazers): Nassir Little (SF, North Carolina)
Although Bol Bol suffered the most precipitous draft slide on Thursday night, Little was not far behind. Projected to be a top five pick in the draft about a year ago, Little nearly slipped out of the first round before being scooped up by a Blazers team that needs all the help they can get in terms of wings. The main reason for Little’s fall on draft night was his sheer lack of production in college, which can partially be attributed to a lack of playing time. Little had a hard time finding the court as a freshman, playing only 18 minutes a game for coach Roy Williams, despite being extraordinarily productive when he did see the court. Extrapolated over 36 minutes, Little would’ve averaged 19.4 points per game alongside 9.1 rebounds. He is very raw offensively but has tremendous physical tools and athleticism that make him a force to be reckoned with in transition. Little fits in perfectly with Portland, a wing needy team that already has plenty of shooting with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in the backcourt.
Round 1 Pick 27 (Los Angeles Clippers): Mfiondu Kabengele (Center, Florida State)
The final ACC player selected in the first round it was only fitting that Kabengele, the 2018-2019 ACC Sixth Man of the Year goes to a team that values bench production perhaps more than any other team in the NBA. Despite playing less than 22 minutes per game, Kabengele was FSU’s leading scorer at 13.2 points per game, and also pulled down 6 rebounds and blocked 1.5 shots. The main knocks on Kabengele are his lack of ability to create offense for himself and others, and his unrefined post game. However, Kabengele will definitely have a role as a rim running shot blocker at the very least for a deep Clippers team.
Players from the ACC selected in the second round were as follows
Round 2 Pick 48 (Los Angeles Clippers): Terrance Mann (SF, Florida State)
Round 2 Pick 55 (Sacramento Kings): Kyle Guy (SG, Virginia)
Round 2 Pick 59 (Toronto Raptors): Dewan Hernandez (C, Miami)
When discussing the draft, it’s important to acknowledge that not being drafted is far from the end of the line for aspiring NBA players. Many players such as Ben Wallace, Bruce Bowen, and Jeremy Lin have defied the odds and carved out noteworthy careers despite not hearing their names called on draft day. It only takes one opportunity for a player to realize his dreams.