It’s officially NBA Draft season, with the combine and draft lottery inching ever so closer. For the few prospects hoping to hear their names called within the first 14 selections, what teams are the best and worst fits for their services?
On the summer evening of June 20, the Barclays Center in New York will be full of thousands of spectators and a plethora of young men hoping that their names will be one of the 60 that will be selected at the 2019 NBA Draft.
In a draft with so much uncertainty and no clear stars outside of Zion Williamson — and, really, no players that stand out as guaranteed future starters — fit seems to be more important than ever for players hoping to reach their peaks and not crash and burn. The landing spot, whether it’s based on team outlook or culture or personnel or whatever, is crucial for this year’s crop of draft prospects.
If you’re a prospect needing time to progress and improve, then landing on an impatient team with unreasonably lofty expectations could be troubling. Land in a spot where you’re expected to play a larger offensive (or defensive) role than what you’re accustomed to (or capable of, for that matter), then you’re in trouble. Land in a spot that has continuous personnel and roster upheaval and a poor culture and, yes, you’re in trouble.
Really, “fit” is far more than just X’s and O’s on the court — it encapsulates so much more, which is why it’s a tricky thing to figure out, even for professional scouts and executives. At times, teams nail it. Jaylen Brown with the Celtics, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter with the Hawks, and Pascal Siakam with the Raptors are recent examples from the past few drafts of players that landed in perfect situations. And, at times, teams get it completely wrong. Dennis Smith and the Mavericks, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss with the Suns, and Josh Jackson and the Suns (sorry, Phoenix) being recent examples of player-team pairings that just didn’t work out for one reason or another.
With the steep talent drop-off after Zion Williamson (and even Ja Morant and RJ Barrett) at the top of the draft, the rest of the lottery is a complete crapshoot without any real consensus regarding what prospects truly stand out among the rest. For the 15 teams with potential lottery selections, there’s plenty of work to do to figure out what prospects fit and which ones don’t, as the “best player available” strategy might not be applicable for many teams this year.
1. New York Knicks
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Phoenix Suns
4. Chicago Bulls
5. Atlanta Hawks
6. Washington Wizards
7. New Orleans Pelicans
8. Memphis Grizzlies* (top-8 protected)
9. Atlanta Hawks* (top-5 protected, via Dallas)
10. Minnesota Timberwolves
11. LA Lakers
12. Charlotte Hornets
13. Miami Heat
14. Boston Celtics* (top-1 protected, via Sacramento)
Other: Philadelphia (if Boston’s pick jumps to No. 1), Dallas (if their pick jumps into top-4), Boston (if Memphis’ pick drops out of the top-8)
Now, to the process of deciding teams that are the best and worst fits: Let it be known that it’s fairly obvious that some teams and some prospective draftees are automatically poor fits for one another based on who all is on the team.
For example, a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers will likely look to draft someone other than a point guard, since they currently have Collin Sexton as their building block at the same position. Of course Cleveland would be a bad fit for the likes of Ja Morant and Darius Garland — that’s pretty obvious.
For the sake of not stating the obvious (and for the sake of being able to add some substantive analysis), some teams will automatically be removed from consideration from the “worst fit” section of this piece … because it’s pretty obvious that some teams won’t need a player of a certain position.
This is mainly applicable for teams that already have centers or point guards, two positions that are rather stiff and set in stone; wings and forwards are more malleable in role and playstyle (theoretically speaking, that is), so it’s more likely that they could be squeezed onto teams that may already have an abundance of talent at those positions. (Really, you can never have too much wing depth in the NBA.)
And, of course, players that have no business being discussed in the top-3, top-5, top-10, and so on, won’t be mentioned with certain teams. Someone like, say, Stanford’s Kezie Okpala likely isn’t going top-10 in the draft, as he’s in the outside looking in and is one of the many candidates to either miss the lottery entirely (likely) or barely squeak into the tailend of it (possible). So, he’ll be connected to the few teams at the back of the lottery, and other players will be sorted in a similar manner.
Hopefully, this piece will do a good job of weeding out the obvious and explaining everything well, so that this word salad of an introduction isn’t all for naught. We decided to use the top 20 players from our last mock draft for this project. Why? Well, the NBA typically invites up to 20 draftees to the greenroom for every draft, since there’s always uncertainty regarding who will get selected in the first 14 picks, so we decided to follow a similar structure.
There will be some trends that pop up in this piece, with some teams (i.e., Atlanta, Miami) offering better developmental structures for prospects over others (i.e., Chicago, Washington). Some teams will be mentioned several times for both best and worst fits, which isn’t a result of being lazy or ill-spirited (sorry, Chicago): Some teams really are great landing spots for prospects, and some aren’t. Sometimes it’s just that simple, and it’s applicable to various prospects of differing skills and positions. Additionally, some prospects have more than one team that stands out as a strong or weak fit, for one reason or another, so some sections will be far more detailed than others.
So, with that said, what are the best and worst possible fits for the 2019 NBA Draft’s top prospects?