2019 NBA Draft: Ranking Best Guards Available
There’s name-brand value among the guards in this draft, headlined by Ja Morant, Jarrett Culver, Coby White and Darius Garland, all of whom will hear their names called early on draft night. From there, things get a little dicier quickly, and once you get into the second round, the pool narrows as usual. Still, there’s value to be had with this group, and there’s a good amount of variety in styles and roles in the mix.
Given the increasingly positionless nature of the league, these position rankings are split into three groups—guards, forwards and bigs—rather than five, to offer a sense of which players teams might be choosing between at a given spot. Our complete list of the top 100 prospects in the draft can be found here, and our latest mock draft projections here.
1. Ja Morant, Murray State | Sophomore
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 175 | Age: 19
From my perspective, Morant is the clear-cut No. 2 prospect behind Williamson, with a delineated gap in best-case projection between him and everyone beneath him in the rankings. As a remarkably natural and instinctive playmaker, Morant fundamentally won’t have to change his style of play to succeed, but need only fine-tune and expand his skills. His superior passing vision, ambidextrous touch, explosiveness and change of direction are hard to oversell. His athleticism has been touted, but Morant takes over games with skill and feel and can play naturally at different speeds, in transition or in the halfcourt. His jumper continues to improve, and should be more than passable as he adds upper body strength. Morant’s high turnover rate was excusable given his heavy usage — his mistakes tend to be aggressive, rather than careless, and at the end of the day, they’re a byproduct of a creative approach you’d never want him to abandon in the first place. It may not happen right out of the gate, but he has the tools to evolve into a star.
2. Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech | Sophomore
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 195 | Age: 20
Culver noticeably took his lumps over the course of the NCAA tournament, but there’s still a lot to like. In a better draft, Culver wouldn’t be flirting with a top-five selection, and this spot on the board is a tick higher than general consensus. There’s an intuitive yet unflashy quality to his game on both sides of the ball that’s extremely appealing, and his size and developing handle profile nicely as an off-guard and secondary playmaker. He’s an instinctive finisher, plays an unselfish style, and should be able to fit in with a variety of lineups and systems. There are two key areas of improvement for Culver going forward, one being his jump shooting off the dribble, which is not quite natural yet. As a set shooter, it’s easy enough to buy his future improvement, but he’s not dynamic with it on the move. The second issue is a lack of elite athleticism, which was exposed against better defenders at times, and he may have to compensate by working diligently on his change of speed off the bounce. Still, when you factor in how much Culver was asked to do this season, how successful he was, and how much responsibility he assumed in a short span of time, it’s encouraging. There are few bad habits here, and while he may not be a star, he offers more untapped ability than he gets credit for.
3. Coby White, North Carolina | Freshman
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 185 | Age: 19
White’s combination of size, athleticism and potential as a pull-up scorer oozes upside. He continues to evolve as a decision-maker and probably won’t be ready for full-time point guard duty, but there’s clearly room for combo shooters in his mold to be successful. White improved over the course of the year for the Tar Heels, and on his best nights showed some tantalizing flashes. His consistency on both ends of the floor will have to improve, but as a 19-year-old boasting what could be elite, dynamic shot-making skills, there’s a lot to like about him as an option in the lottery. It will take some projection to justify him this high in the draft, but in terms of natural ability, he certainly belongs in this group. If you look at what Jamal Murray has developed into for Denver, it’s easy to understand White’s long-term appeal.
4. Darius Garland, Vanderbilt | Freshman
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 170 | Age: 18
Most around the league agree that Garland has actually been helped by missing nearly the entire season with injury. Whether that should be the case is a different question, but he does have a good deal of talent as a shot-maker and ball-handler and will be an option for point-guard needy teams once Ja Morant comes off the board. There is risk involved here, as Garland’s four-game sample came against so-so competition, and while teams had a feel for him based off what he’d done prior to college, it would be foolhardy to think there aren’t elements of his game that will eventually be exposed. Chiefly, his average athletic tools and ongoing development as a playmaker who can legitimately run a team will be nitpicked. That he still might be selected in this range points to the overall uncertainty surrounding so many of the lottery prospects.
5. Kevin Porter Jr., USC | Freshman
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 220 | Age: 18
There is a wide variance of opinions around the NBA as to where exactly drafting Porter becomes worth the risk, but his rare gifts as an athlete and creative scorer are hard to find. The concerns teams have about him primarily center on his maturity level after a tumultuous year at USC. But there’s a school of thought that if you can insulate him on a team with veterans and an established culture, you might be able to bring him along slowly and turn him into a special player. There’s bust potential here, particularly given it was something of a lost year in college, but Porter is capable of things most people simply cannot do with the ball in his hands. He should only be allowed to slip so far.
6. Tyler Herro, Kentucky | Freshman
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 195 | Age: 19
Teams were buzzing about Herro as a potential first-rounder coming into the season, and after a slow start, he settled in and cemented himself as one of the more dynamic perimeter scorers in this class. His ability to make difficult shots from deep and playmake a little on the side has always been endearing. Herro has cut back a bit on his tendency to overdribble, and seemed to have a good feel for his responsibilities by season’s end. His body type doesn’t have great appeal from an NBA standpoint, but his overall defensive effort and toughness have been encouraging. He’s trending in a good direction going into the predraft process.
7. Keldon Johnson, Kentucky | Freshman
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 210 | Age: 19
Johnson has always been a player whose value lies in his floor as a likely contributor, and while he may not end up in the lottery, he has the type of intangibles and skill set that teams will be happy to roster at a position of need. His three-point shooting has been encouraging and his competitiveness consistently runs high, but he’ll need to find ways to be effective getting into the paint and finishing, where his struggles changing speeds and elevating might make things difficult. Johnson also doesn’t have much of a playmaking element to his game. The fact he plays so hard is going to cover up some of his issues, but for someone who has always been pegged as a scorer, he will have to adjust his style of play a bit to fit in as a glue guy moving forward.
8. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech | Sophomore
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 205 | Age: 20
Alexander-Walker took a step forward in most facets this season, from his slimmed-down build to more consistent contributions on offense. Although he clearly profiles as a two-guard at the next level, he has the passing feel, shooting ability and size to be a nice complement alongside a more explosive playmaker. He’s not an alpha dog and can be turnover prone when asked to do too much, but he was at his best when Justin Robinson was healthy running the point, giving Alexander-Walker the freedom to operate off-ball. He could become a useful role player and backcourt piece with his ability to move the ball and space the floor.
9. Romeo Langford, Indiana | Freshman
Height: 6'6" | Weight: 215 | Age: 19
There is some real reason for concern with Langford, who turned in an uneven season without showing much tangible progression. He played through a right hand injury for a large chunk of it, but he was not a particularly convincing jump shooter beforehand, and still rarely ever went left to compensate. Langford has an NBA body type and is a talented finisher around the rim, but plays a predictable offensive style and struggles changing speeds. If his three-point shot never comes around, he could end up on the fringes of the league sooner than anyone expects. He has not looked the part as a lottery pick, although that may still be where he ends up based on perceived upside and his pedigree as a highly rated high school scorer.
10. Ty Jerome, Virginia | Junior
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 195 | Age: 21
It’s tough to see Jerome’s stock getting much higher after Virginia won the national title, and he’s played his way onto the cusp of the first round. Although his body type leaves something to be desired, he has good positional size and substantial role-player chops. Jerome is a capable shooter and playmaker with a strong feel for the game and good amount of finesse scoring the ball. He’s a steady decision-maker who excels creating good looks for himself and others in pressure situations, and could be a plug-and-play backcourt piece early in his career. Jerome is a tough, willing defender, but bigger players could still give him some issues. His craftiness and intangibles should bridge the gap.
11. Carsen Edwards, Purdue | Junior
Height: 6'1" | Weight: 200 | Age: 21
His string of dominant NCAA tournament performances stood as a reminder of Edwards’ immense shot-making talent, and will go a long way toward cementing him in the first round. It’s been no secret what he’s capable of, and after two seasons as the catalyst for overachieving Purdue teams, it’s pretty clear that the attention he draws and the points he can put up quickly add real value. He’s more of a natural two-guard, but paired with a bigger playmaker, you can see a fit. Edwards will never be asked to shoot as much as he did at Purdue, some of his turnovers and mistakes were excusable based on how much time he spends with the ball in his hands. There’s some justified skepticism about his playmaking ability, but Edwards might have enough offensive juice to succeed with his present skill set.
12. Matisse Thybulle, Washington | Senior
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 205 | Age: 22
In terms of defensive impact, Thybulle is among the best players in the country, to the degree that he needs to be taken seriously in spite of the fact Washington plays exclusively zone. If you believe what he does translates — and noting his quickness, length and disruptive hands, it should — then he has a strong case in the first round. While he’s unlikely to be much of an offensive weapon, as a 36% career three-point shooter (and 78% from the line), it’s fair to bet that his jumper stays passable. If you couple that with potentially elite perimeter defense, you have the makings of a very solid role player. All things considered, he’s a low-risk, high-reward option in this range of the draft.
13. Luguentz Dort, Arizona State | Freshman
Height: 6'4" | Weight: 215 | Age: 20
Dort remains a first-round talent based on his tools, but his outside shooting and decision-making skills are still questionable, and make him something of an acquired taste. He’s built like a tank and has been able to overpower college defenders with his heft and explosiveness as a straight-line driver, and his base level of athletic ability gives him a good chance to find some level of NBA success. Still, Dort is not a particularly creative finisher in traffic and doesn’t have a very good left hand, and his approach barreling into the paint will only go so far at the next level. Defensively, his bulk helps him with larger wings, but also might keep him from sticking with quicker guards. There will be teams who value his unique physical attributes, and others who are concerned enough by his limitations to take a pass.
14. Jalen Lecque, Brewster Academy | HS Senior
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 190 | Age: 18
Lecque turns 19 in June and is draft-eligible following a post-grad season at Brewster. He’s an unfinished product and will need G League time, but he’s an explosive leaper with nice potential defensively who it seems likely a team will want to take a chance on and develop. Lecque isn’t a natural point guard, nor is he a particularly good perimeter shooter, and he’ll have to answer questions as far as role and position are concerned going forward. He can still go play at NC State next season if he chooses, but if he doesn’t, the emphasis will be on player development as an organization tries to tap into his athletic upside.
15. Jordan Bone, Tennessee | Junior
Height: 6’3” | Weight: 180 | Age: 21
Bone has real chops as a floor leader and probably deserves more credit for Tennessee’s run this season. He’s extremely athletic, has a good feel for where the ball needs to go, and could end up making an impact off someone’s bench, though he’ll have to keep proving himself. Bone won’t create a ton of offense for himself, but he did a great job limiting turnovers, proved he’s capable of hitting big shots, and has become an intriguing sleeper.
16. Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State | Senior
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 205 | Age: 21
Weatherspoon showed well at the Portsmouth Invitational and parlayed that into a combine invite, profiling well as a utility-type guard who can blend lineups and supply value on both sides of the ball. He’s an above-average athlete with a solid feel for the game, and as long as he’s not forcing up shots, he adds value by spacing the floor and playmaking a bit off the dribble. Defensively, he’s rangy, often around the ball, and capable of holding his own. With no elite strength but no glaring holes in his game either, Weatherspoon has a fairly clear pathway to becoming a useful glue guy in the pros.
17. Zach Norvell Jr., Gonzaga | Sophomore
Height: 6'5" | Weight: 205 | Age: 21
Norvell has been a consistently dangerous three-point threat this season on a high volume of attempts, and profiles well as a potential specialist. His calm approach and ability to continue shooting through his misses has been impressive, and his lack of fear shooting from outside coupled with a consistent stroke gives him a chance. He has also shown some encouraging improvement defensively. Norvell is not an especially creative finisher and has to refine his game attacking the paint, but the all-around package complimenting his potentially elite outside shooting makes him worth consideration as high as the late first round. He may have a better chance at the first round next year, but it’s also easy to see him having one hot shooting day at the combine that ultimately keeps him in the draft.
18. Jaylen Nowell, Washington | Sophomore
Height: 6’5” | Weight: 200 | Age: 19
Nowell led the Huskies to the top record in the Pac-12, flashing an improved jumper and a consistent perimeter scoring presence. He’s got a good basketball body and positional size, although he’s more of a scoring guard than a point and has had recurring issues with turnovers. He could be better defensively and isn’t elite in terms of efficiency either, but Nowell has certainly played his way into being draftable, although his case is not clear cut. As teams search for shot-creation, he could be a viable flier in the second round. If he goes back, Washington will be Big 12 favorites.
19. Tremont Waters, LSU | Sophomore
Height: 5’11” | Weight: 170 | Age: 21
A slippery scorer and playmaker, Waters emerged as the primary catalyst and connective tissue for an LSU team that pulled together surprisingly well as the season went on. He finds ways to impact the game all over the floor, with a knack for stealing the ball, finding open teammates, and even contributing on the defensive glass. Waters’ overall feel is impressive, and while his three-point shot has been a little streaky and his height will probably render him a liability on defense, he certainly has the chops to make it work as a backup point guard at the NBA level. It will come down to whether he can bring enough offensively to stay on the floor in spite of his size, which is likely to be an uphill climb.
20. Shamorie Ponds, PG, St. John’s | Junior
Height: 6’1” | Weight: 180 | Age: 20
Scouts have been split on Ponds all season: some see upside in his shot-creation skills, while others harp on his underwhelming physical profile and inconsistent play. The New York native has natural ability to create off the dribble and make plays, and has progressed as a passer, but he’s still a shoot-first player at heart who faces a big adjustment at the next level. He needs the ball in his hands, isn’t a terrific team defender, and will have to be able to help run a team more effectively to stick. Ponds’s tendency to freelance with the ball may make or break him.