As the NBA season begins again, we will start to see whether the draft picks made by the teams will have been worthwhile or not. The draft, which this year took place on June 20th, 2019 at the Barclays Center in New York, is the annual event for NBA teams to recruit amateur players (most of whom currently play college basketball). The draft was run in two rounds, with a total of 60 selections being made. The first two teams to choose were the New Orleans Pelicans and the Memphis Grizzlies, both of whom play in the Western Conference. The first of the Eastern Conference teams to make a selection was the New York Knicks (who had the third pick), followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers (who selected fifth). Both of those selections should be at the top of the leaderboards for NBA rookies this season.
The Top Eastern Conference NBA Rookies
RJ Barrett is a 19-year-old who was the third pick in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft. He was selected by the Knicks, who had their early pick due to their poor performance last year. It is hoped that the skill and performance Barrett demonstrated while playing college basketball and in FIBA international games will help the team that is currently ranked least likely to win the Eastern Conference this season. During his time playing for Duke, Barrett picked up 15 awards, including the Nike Hoop Summit, Mr. Basketball USA, and Gatorade National Player of the Year 2018.
At 6’8” Barrett is one inch taller than the average NBA player, which gives him a slight advantage. He also has sporting genes, as his father (Rowan Barrett, Sr.) was a college basketball player for St. John’s and had a professional career in several countries, including Spain, Greece, Israel, and France. Meanwhile, his mother Kesha Barrett was a long jumper and sprinter, also for St. John’s. Barrett credits his father for his talent. That is thanks to the time he dedicated to teaching his son to play basketball well.
The 6’2”, 19-year-old Darius Garland became the fifth pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, after being selected by the Cavaliers. The scoring guard is a very promising talent who made a big impact for his team while playing for Vanderbilt. He was the only freshman player to make it onto the preseason all-conference team in the Southeastern Conference. In just his first-ever college basketball game, Garland scored 33 of the team’s 79 points against Winthrop—this being the second-highest number of points scored in a single game by a freshman player at Vanderbilt.
Due to injury, his college basketball career was shorter than most would have liked; he averaged 16.2 points per game, with 47.8 percent of his shots coming from outside the key. Although it might take some time for him to settle in with his new team, it is not improbable that Garland could be the highest scorer for the Cavaliers this season. Of course, this depends on his long-term health and whether his injury returns.
At 6’5”, Coby White is a point guard who delivered impressive performances when playing college basketball for the University of North Carolina. This saw him being picked seventh in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. White impressed right from his first college game, when he scored eight points and three assists again Wofford. He continued to put in solid performances. That resulted in him beating Michael Jordan’s record of all-time freshman point-scored at North Carolina (with a total of 469). During high school, White picked up four awards, including McDonald’s All-American and North Carolina’s Mr. Basketball.
The Bulls have been looking for a long-term replacement for point guard ever since Derrick Rose left. This has proven to be a challenge thus far, with Kris Dunn not living up to expectations. Therefore, White has an opportunity to provide a long-term solution. Particularly if he can break records as he did in college.
Twenty-year-old Cam Reddish was the 10th pick in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft. At 20 years old, the 6’8” small forward had an impressive college basketball career before being selected by the Atlanta Hawks. Before enrolling at Duke University (alongside RJ Barrett), Reddish picked up four awards, including McDonald’s All-American and Mr. Pennsylvania Basketball. This reflects his stellar performance throughout the season at Duke. He averaged 13.5 points, 1.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. He scored 22 points in his college debut, with equally solid performances in several other games.
Twenty-one-year-old Japanese national Rui Hachimura became the ninth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft when he was selected by the Washington Wizards. At 6’9” Hachimura towers over many other players. He played college basketball for the Bulldogs at the private, Washington-based, Gonzaga University. His college eligibility was called into question, as his English-speaking ability was below what many considered to be sufficient; however, he successfully met both the GPA and SAT requirements to play for the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
During his first college game on November 11th, 2016, Hachimura became the fourth Japanese national to play basketball in the NCAA division one basketball. He scored 1 point and 3 rebounds in just 4 minutes of play. By his third college basketball season, he increased his points-per-game average from 2.6 to 19.7 after starting in all 37 games. He is only the second Japanese national to be drafted into the NBA.
Overall, there are some strong players that have been picked by Eastern Conference teams in the 2019 NBA Draft. The majority of these top picks have been selected by lower-ranked teams, based on their more favorable positions in the draft order. These new players may not single-handedly turn around these teams’ fortunes, but they may well have a significant effect on their performance. The two teams that are favorites to win the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers, barely made any picks between them during the draft. Instead, they opted to trade most of their picks, showing their confidence in the abilities of their existing team line-ups.
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