Zion Williamson quickly separated himself from the pack during his freshman campaign at Duke to become the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Likely following Williamson will be two high-caliber talents in Murray State's Ja Morant and Duke teammate RJ Barrett.
The New Orleans Pelicans landed the top pick and the right to take Williamson, while the Memphis Grizzlies soared six spots to snag the No. 2 selection and the New York Knicks dropped to No. 3. Reports have already suggested Memphis will take Morant, leaving New York as the likely landing spot for Barrett.
But is Morant truly the second-best prospect in his class, or will Barrett emerge as that guy and overcome the doubts that plagued him during college? Let's review each player's case and come to a verdict:
Morant went from a relative unknown with few scholarship offers to a consensus top-three pick during a historic college season in which he became just the second player in Division I history to average a double-double with assists.
Like Williamson, Morant's unique athleticism and his surprising bounce on highlight-reel dunks received national attention, but he's far more than just flash. The 6-foot-3 superstar led the Racers to a 28-5 record and a win over higher-seeded Marquette in the NCAA Tournament - all while averaging 24.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and a nation-leading 10 assists per game.
Though his aggressive style often gets compared to Russell Westbrook's, Morant is light-years ahead of where Westbrook was as a passer when the former MVP was drafted in 2008. And everything about Morant's game feels natural, as he gets to his spots with ease and collapses defenses like an NBA veteran.
Questions remain about Morant's inconsistent shooting stroke, his lack of size, and his defensive lapses, but there's no doubt his skill set will translate well to the NBA.
He'll also be a welcome replacement for Mike Conley if the Grizzlies part ways with their longtime starter. Meanwhile, Morant's fit with young 3-and-D big man Jaren Jackson Jr. should shape the future of a struggling franchise that's aiming to get back into the playoff mix.
It was only a year ago that Barrett was considered the consensus top pick in the 2019 draft after committing to Duke as the highest-rated recruit in his class. Unfortunately, his freshman season was overshadowed by Williamson's dominance, even while Barrett finished as the Blue Devils' leading scorer.
Barrett has the build of a prototypical wing who can take over as the lead guard in almost every scenario. An argument can be made that he's the best playmaker in the draft, as he possesses a natural ability to score off the dribble and can find the open man after breaking down defenses.
However, his inefficient shooting percentages were concerning throughout the season, as Barrett went cold during multiple key games, including Duke's loss to Syracuse, in which he shot an abysmal 8-30 from the field and 4-17 from behind the arc.
In Barrett's defense, the Blue Devils weren't built for him to flourish, as their roster featured minimal spacing and Cam Reddish as the lone shooting threat (despite him connecting on just 33.3 percent from 3-point range).
If given room to work, Barrett should comfortably develop into an elite scorer no matter where he ends up. If it's the Knicks (and if they choose to keep him), the franchise will be getting the face of its future, regardless of which free agents sign in the Big Apple this summer.
It's difficult to find a player with Barrett's natural abilities at his size, making the Canadian an intriguing prospect who should live up to expectations. If he's able to overcome the deficiencies that held him back at Duke, expect multiple All-Star appearances from Barrett.
However, it feels inevitable that Morant will be given the keys to the Grizzlies' offense with the expectation that he can lead the team to prominence. And similar to what we've seen from other highly touted mid-major stars in recent memory - namely Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard - Morant's destruction of weaker competition in college was likely a true testament of his abilities. It's reasonable to believe this "point god" will become one of the very best players in the Association, and is the right pick at No. 2.