The 2019 NBA Draft class does not possess the same allure the 2018 grouping did, but if there was one category of players to get excited about, it would be the wing prospects. The following prospects should be monitored closely by NBA teams, but also happen to be on extremely relevant college teams this season.
RJ Barrett – Duke – Freshman – 6’7” – 202lbs
Barrett is widely acclaimed as the best draft prospect on an absolutely loaded Blue Devils team. All eyes will be on Duke every time they step onto the court this season because of the absurd amount of talent Coach K has assembled. Barrett is a great athlete who also possesses a unique and refined skillset.
He is able to get to anywhere he wants on the court because of his ability to handle the ball combined with his quick first step and long strides. Once he gets by his defender, he can explode up and finish in traffic consistently. Barrett is a cerebral player who knows when to create for himself and when to get his teammates involved.
Although there is room for his playmaking ability to grow, he has displayed a willingness to do it, which is equally as important.
Defensively, his physical tools and competitiveness should translate to being a competent defender at the next level. Most elite prospects do not have to display their defensive abilities throughout high school and AAU, so it will be interesting to see if he is an immediate impact defender in Durham.
The one trait of Barrett’s game that will be under a microscope this season is his long range shooting . His mechanics are sound and he is already capable of shooting from inside the arc, but extending his range is something he has put a ton of time into this offseason.
Either way, RJ will hear his name called very early on draft night.
Nassir Little – North Carolina – Freshman – 6’6” – 220lbs
Nassir’s draft stock has been on an upward trajectory since he became a senior in high school. The UNC freshman will be a top 5 pick in next year’s draft if things go as expected.
Little is a physical specimen who has all of the tools to be a tenacious defender in the ACC. He boasts a 7’2” wingspan and already has the requisite strength to defend collegiate post players (along with the quickness to guard along the perimeter).
The Tar Heels actually have a few players who would be best utilized as a small ball power forward this year, including Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson, so it will be interesting to see how Little plays alongside them if Roy decides to play a true center.
On the offensive end, Little can use his physical tools and athleticism to get to the rim and finish through contact. He can also knock down mid-range jump shots and has worked on extending his range beyond the arc. Overall, Little is a prospect worthy of watching closely throughout the season.
UNC provides an interesting dynamic in terms of his fit into the offense because of positional overlap, but Little will be a key component in the Heels being a successful team. Little has the athleticism, length, and tenacity to be a great NBA defender one day.
Romeo Langford – Indiana – Freshman – 6’6” – 215lbs
Let me start off by saying, it’s exciting for Indiana basketball to have some palpable buzz surrounding it again. Langford is the most heralded Indiana basketball recruit in quite some time who has decided to stay home and play for the Hoosiers.
Langford, alongside Juwan Morgan, will create a match-up nightmare for opposing teams to figure out. Langford is a prospect who will be a focal point of opposing defensive game plans. He is a creative scorer who can score from all three levels. He is a good ball handler and shows glimpses of being a good passer. Langford is someone can operate as a handler in a pick and roll settings, which should translate to him being a secondary initiator at the next level.
The big questions surrounding Romeo stem from his defensive ability. It remains unclear what positions he can guard and if his lack of elite athleticism/strength will create match-up issues. Langford will need to impress offensively and show competence on the defensive end to put to rest some of the worries NBA teams have.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker – Virginia Tech – Sophomore – 6’5” – 205lbs
Alexander-Walker is a rising sophomore who received a lot of draft buzz heading into his freshman year at Virginia Tech. To be frank, he did not live up to expectations. However, expect him to take a big leap this season in a larger role within the Hokies offense.
Nickeil has proven himself to be a consistent three point shooter, even at the college level, where he shot over 39% last season on 4.5 attempts per game.
The rest of his skill-set is what will be scrutinized this year.
Alexander-Walker did not close most games on the court because of his inability to make a positive impact on the defensive end. This season, he will undoubtedly be tasked with more responsibility on both ends of the court. He is not an explosive athlete in terms of burst, but he is crafty and has good body control to make up for that.
Offensively, he needs to do a much better job creating for others. He only averaged 1.5 assists in 25 minutes per game last season. Throughout the AAU circuit, Nickeil showed an ability to find open teammates and create shots for others; expect him to take a step forward in that regard as he grows more comfortable at the college level.
Look for him to be someone who can emerge as a first round pick if he figures things out on the defensive end and grows more comfortable in his second season in Blacksburg.
Kris Wilkes – UCLA – Sophomore – 6’8” – 195lbs
UCLA has been plagued by injuries this offseason to some rotational players. This likely means an increased emphasis on Wilkes and Jaylen Hands to create offense.
Wilkes is a fluid athlete who looks smooth while possessing the ball. He can get past his initial defender and to the rim against most of his competition. He also shot an impressive 35.2% from three a season ago, given his 4.8 attempts per game.
Wilkes has a slight frame. In turn, he will need to add some weight in order to be effective in traffic at the next level. For Wilkes, the feel for the game and ability to create his own shots off the bounce are things he would benefit from showcasing this season.
Defensively, adding to his frame will help him while trying to contain bigger players, but he needs to make more of an impact on this end. UCLA has not been known to instill the best defensive technique into players, so he gets a bit of a pass here. Going forward, this season will play a big factor on what we can realistically expect from Wilkes at the next level.
Regardless, he will find his way into the league because of his fluidity and shooting stroke.
Cameron Reddish – Duke – Freshman – 6’7” – 220lbs
Reddish may actually be my favorite long term prospect on this list, and that is not to say he is incapable of being very productive as a freshman this season. He likely will be able to show his versatility alongside the aforementioned Barrett and Zion Williamson (more on him next time).
The freshman has ideal size and fluidity for an NBA wing, or even combo forward. The main reason most scouts do not mention him in the same sentence as Barrett is because of his lack of consistency. If you catch Reddish on a good day, you would be blown away by his talent, but the alternative is someone who looks like they lack a requisite intensity.
Also impressive is his ability to get to where he wants to go and finish with both hands around the rim. Furthermore, Reddish possesses great vision for a player with his size and athleticism. Cam is a capable shooter who should help Duke create plays for others and space for Barrett and Williamson to attack the rim.
Reddish is entering this season somewhat under the radar due to the attention his high-profile teammates receive, but by season’s end he will have solidified himself as a top 5 talent in this year’s class.
Keldon Johnson – Kentucky – Freshman – 6’6″ – 215lbs
Kentucky enters the season with a roster chalk full of five star recruits, including Johnson. One characteristic of Johnson’s game that is undeniable is his tenacity and willingness to play hard at all times. His motor never stops running and that should endear him to most of Big Blue Nation.
Johnson seems like a guy that teammates love playing with because of his ability to contribute in several different areas. He will fight for rebounds, cut to the rim at opportune times, ask to defend the opposing team’s best player, and does not care about how many points he scores.
He projects to be a good defender because of his physical tools and desire to compete on that end. His offensive repertoire is lagging behind what he can currently bring defensively, but he can slash to the basket and finish through contact. Johnson likely will not lead the Wildcats on the stat sheet, but he will do many different things to prove his value on the court.
While he will need to make significant strides to be a capable offensive player in the NBA, there are worse bets to take than on someone who LOVES to compete and also possesses size and athleticism.
Kevin Porter (Southern Cal) is also someone to pay attention to. Porter can light it up from all over the floor and should be a focal point of the Trojans offense. Some other guys that will be looking to impress NBA scouts this season are: Tyus Battle (Syracuse), Caleb and Cody Martin (Nevada), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Matisse Thybulle (Washington), and Kellan Grady (Davidson).
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