The 2018 NBA Draft is tonight, and our very own Ross MacLeod’s Phoenix Suns are on the clock. If you believe draft reports at this time of the year then you will know that the Suns are expected to take DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick. After that, things do look to be more unpredictable. The Kings are reportedly down to Marvin Bagley or Michael Porter with their pick. After this, Luka Doncic could slide, but reports now suggest that he is unlikely to go lower than the Dallas Mavericks at five.
Woj says the Mavs have their targets set on Luka Doncic pic.twitter.com/P1sSCRyg6q
— Rob Lopez (@r0bato) June 18, 2018
What does this uncertainty mean? Well, the answer is simple. This NBA Draft is going to be well worth staying up for. And if you are a UK-based fan who has never stayed up for a live draft, then this might be the year to change that.
If though, like me, you’re desperate to get a sense of how it all might play out, below is a lottery mock based on what I think will happen, as opposed to what I would do in a crazy parallel universe if I was in charge of every NBA team.
1. Phoenix Suns – DeAndre Ayton (PF/C, Arizona): The Suns are expected to make the safest pick of the draft by selecting DeAndre Ayton. Personally I do not see unicorn potential in him, but he has an offensive game that should mesh well with the pieces Phoenix already has. The Suns had no presence in the paint last year and Ayton does project to be an efficient scorer and roll man. His three-point potential is possible as he did shoot 34 percent from beyond in college, although it’s worth noting that the arc was shorter and the sample size of one per game is just too small. Defensively, many believe Ayton is going to be a problem as he had a low block and steal percentage, but I feel that he can develop into an average defender. Given his offensive arsenal is so good, being an average defender won’t be much of a problem. He does need to improve his decision making, as he often relied on sheer brutality to create. Despite this, we must understand that no prospect is perfect, but that this one has the potential to help Phoenix greatly.
2. Sacramento Kings – Marvin Bagley (PF/C, Duke): The Kings appear to be down to two strangely built prospects in the form of Marvin Bagley and Michael Porter. Bagley looks to be edging ahead and he would give the Kings something they don’t have. They already have a talented guard trio in Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bodganovic and De’Aaron Fox, but they got very little from their bigs offensively last season. Bagley is a strange prospect because he doesn’t project to have the power to match up with bigs from day one, and his jump shot is also questionable. He shot an impressive 40 percent from beyond at Duke, but only 62 percent from the free-throw line. Many believe free throw percentage is a better indicator of jump shooting success at the next level, and Bagley didn’t do well at the line. Despite this, he looks to be a defender who can switch onto guards and defend stretch fours and speedy wings better than he will be able to defend back-to-the-basket bigs. Offensively the best way to describe his game would be as smooth: he ranked in the 98th percentile as a roll man and he has a variety of floaters and post moves that emphasise his touch around the rim.
3. Atlanta Hawks – Luka Doncic (G/F, Real Madrid): The player who is atop the most big boards, the Hawks would get a great deal with Luka Doncic at this spot. They could look to a defensive maestro like Jaren Jackson, Jr. with this pick, but the reality is that they need a ball handling playmaker to help maximize some good prospects in John Collins and Taurean Prince. Doncic to me projects to be the second best player on a great team, but he is a fantastic playmaker who can control the flow of a game. Most bad teams struggle with half-court offense, but Doncic projects as a guy who will be able to slow the game down and use screens to make the correct decisions. His position doesn’t really matter as he would be a ball handling shooting guard or small forward, which opens up lineup flexibility around him. Some are potentially overrating Doncic, but he projects as the best playmaker in this class and should be drafted as such.
4. Memphis Grizzlies – Jaren Jackson Jr. (F/C, Michigan State): The Memphis Grizzlies might be the worst drafters in the NBA. Since 2010 they have missed on almost every first round pick, with Jarell Martin and Wade Baldwin IV being the obvious busts. However, even a GM as awful as Chris Wallace would struggle to mess this pick up. Jackson is the number one prospect on my board and he would help Memphis win now and in the future. He looks to me like a generational defensive prospect, as he has the ability to play as a small ball center, which opens up so many lineup possibilities. One of my many hot takes is that Draymond Green is the NBA’s most valuable player because of what he allows the Warriors to do with their lineups, and Jackson has similar potential on the defensive end. He is not an offensive slouch though. He is a good three-point shooter who moves extremely well off the ball. He can make spectacular shots if needed, but he doesn’t project as a number one option. Regardless, he is the best case scenario for Memphis with the fourth pick.
5. Dallas Mavericks – Mo Bamba (PF/C, Texas): If you want to be amazed, go and look at Mo Bamba’s measurable and athleticism scores. He is honestly built like an NBA 2k18 My Career player, and he has elite defensive potential at the next level. The way that The Ringer NBA has described Bamba is as Rudy Gobert with a three-point shot. I do not quite buy this, but Bamba has the potential to be a deterrent on the defensive end as he is a good rim protector. Offensively his game needs work, but he projects immediately as a good rim-runner and a potential roll man likely to develop an outside shot in the future. The main issue I have with Bamba is the lack of offensive polish; he simply struggles to generate his own shot and I think he needs to be in the perfect situation to thrive. The Dallas Mavericks do not generally give stuff away, but this pick has a sense of inevitability surrounding it. They may want to target a pure scorer such as Michael Porter Jr. at this spot. Bamba is a safe pick but I question whether he has the upside of others, and if I ran the Mavericks I would personally take Mikal Bridges or Michael Porter here.
6. Orlando Magic – Trae Young (G, Oklahoma): The Orlando Magic are one of the few teams in the NBA that do not have a single offensive cornerstone to build around. Jonathan Isaac was John Hammond’s first lottery pick and though he did project as a good defender with an outside shot, he is not going to transform this franchise. Trae Young is divisive with a lot questioning his fit as a defender, but I think he is the type of prospect to turn a franchise around. Young was absurdly good as a pick-and-roll ball handler and he projects well as a three-point shooter in the NBA. He ranked in the 88th percentile at shooting off the dribble, which is ridiculous because his sample size was so high. Oklahoma’s offensive scheme was a complete disaster and Young was basically asked to do everything himself in the way Buddy Hield was a couple of years ago. The most alarming stat regarding Oklahoma’s scheme was that Young only had 19 unguarded three-point attempts in his final year. To get your best player that few open looks should be a criminal offence, but he did make 14 of them. Orlando already has some nice defensive pieces. But you cannot turn a franchise around a team of switchable defenders, you need someone who can handle the ball and score the ball. Young projects as a high-powered guard with the ability to do everything, including facilitate for others.
7. Chicago Bulls – Mikal Bridges (F, Vilanova): The hateable duo of John Paxson and Gar Forman have undergone a weirdly successful re-tool of their roster. Lauri Markannen looks as if he will develop into a star, and Zach LaVine has shown the potential to be an elite scorer. Drafting for need is not always the best policy, but the Bulls either need to go for a wing player or a center in this draft. Mikal Bridges makes a lot of sense as he is an ultra-efficient offensive player with the ability to be a good perimeter defender. Bridges is in my top five in this draft, and the main reason for this is that his efficiency as a shooter is simply absurd. According to Synergy, Bridges ranks in the 97th percentile as a spot-up shooter, the 80th percentile as a pick and roll ball handler, the 95th percentile shooting off-screen, the 83rd percentile in transition, the 89th percentile on all jump shots and the 92nd percentile on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Many NBA teams struggle to find versatile contributors. But Bridges might be the best-rounded NBA prospect I’ve seen that isn’t simply a shot chucker. His defense is slightly overrated and I do question whether it is fair to call him an elite perimeter defender, but he is a good team defender and you could argue that is more important. Given the fact the Bulls already have players who will want the ball in their hands, it makes sense to pair them with the best off ball prospect in the draft.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn Nets) – Michael Porter, Jr. (F, Missouri): Porter is another divisive prospect, as he projects to be a score-first wing at the next level. The Cavaliers have the most uncertain future in the NBA. It is for this reason that they need to find themselves a prospect who can either play alongside LeBron James or replace his scoring prowess when he leaves. Porter is a polished scorer who has elite isolation potential at the next level. People underrate isolation scorers but the playoffs showed the value that a one-on-one player has, and it is for this reason Porter is the guy that people love to hate on. The main knock on Porter is that he has tunnel vision and averaged less than one assist per game in his short time in college. He is a brilliant pull-up jump shooter but many felt he relied on this. What people overlook is that prospects often have to play like that because they aren’t surrounded by much of note. Porter is divisive and his defensive ceiling is questionable, but I don’t trust this Cavaliers front office to make an educated pick. I like Porter, but I think the Cavaliers will choose him because he is a big name.
9. New York Knicks – Collin Sexton (PG, Alabama): The Knicks are in a good place with David Fizdale as their Head Coach, but they still need to add a floor general. After the eight guys previously drafted, I believe there is a big drop off, but I can see the infatuation with Sexton. He is an aggressive player who attacks downhill, but for a player with this mentality he struggles to facilitate and struggles to finish at the rim efficiently. As a pure pick and roll scorer though he is one of the best in the draft, as proven by the fact he was in the 87th percentile. The issue with him is as a creator; he simply lacked vision out of the pick and roll. Regardless, the Knicks need someone who can attack downhill if they are to run David Fizdale’s playbook. They also need to find the long-term man to get the best out of Porzingis, and Sexton’s potential as a downhill threat is mouth-watering. The main issue I have with Sexton is his shot selection, but again, he played for a very ordinary college programme in Alabama. Any guard that has poor team mates is going to have iffy shot selection, but with good coaching he can be an energetic scorer with hawkish defensive potential.
10. Philadelphia 76ers – Miles Bridges (F, Michigan State): I am lower on Bridges than most, but I do love his fit with Philadelphia. Bridges is built like a wing but has the skillset of a forward due to his limited jump shot and his good cutting ability. For many teams this would be a problem but Philadelphia are going to trot out positionally lopsided lineups. He fits this philosophy because of his unorthodox skillset. He is an explosive player who will be able to shred his way to the paint. This makes him a really fun fit with the likes of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as they both draw double teams at will. As a shooter he did rank in the 82nd percentile when unguarded, and that is where he projects to generate most of his points in the NBA. One thing I love about Bridges is that he is an intelligent cutter. This fits very well in Brett Brown’s creative sets, and he has the potential to be the sort of player who generates points off wrinkles and secondary actions in the scheme.
11. Charlotte Hornets – Wendell Carter, Jr. (PF/C, Duke): Even after trading Dwight Howard, the Hornets still find themselves with a logjam at centre in the immediate future. Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Willy Hernangomez are all tied down. Drafting for need when you are in the Hornets position is a bad strategy. Because of this, they need to take the best player available and I think they would snag Carter in this scenario. He was kind of the forgotten man at Duke, but he is starting to shoot up draft boards with some whispers he could go in the top eight. I like Carter as he is well-rounded and has a serviceable three-point shot, and teams with stretch centers generally create more open looks. I do, however, have worries about his defensive footwork. This is amplified by the fact his pick and roll defense was inconsistent at best. Despite his clear athletic limitations that affect his switchability, he is an intelligent prospect on both ends of the floor. He is the best passing big man in the draft, and he fits a lot of the concepts that James Borrego will want to bring to the Hornets offense. As of now the Hornets have very few legit building blocks, and they are one of the teams who could really bank on Carter’s potential.
12. Los Angeles Clippers (via Detroit Pistons) – Robert Williams (C, Texas A&M): The Clippers can take advantage of Stan Van Gundy’s panic trade by selecting Williams at the end of the lottery. He projects to be a rim running center with a high defensive ceiling, and he enters the NBA as an advanced stats darling with the potential to be a VORP-Machine. The Clippers roster is in an interesting place, but the selection of Williams would make DeAndre Jordan an expendable piece. Many in the NBA believe that Jordan is actually finally declining, and drafting a younger version of him in the form of Robert Williams gives them someone to potentially pair with Kawhi Leonard. The main knock on Williams is that he loses control in pick and roll situations and turns it over. He is no doubt a project pick, but the Clippers already have some reliable big men on the roster which gives Williams room to learn and develop.
13. Los Angeles Clippers – Lonnie Walker (G, Miami): The term ‘boom or bust’ is overused in prospect analysis across all sports, but it is the best way to describe Lonnie Walker. The Miami guard projects to be a very good natural defender with a nice jump shooting stroke and the potential to get hot. The main issue teams have with him is that his effort level dropped. This often happens to prospects who find themselves on average teams, but Walker’s inconsistency was alarming. He shoots a lot of jumpers after a high screen and although he makes a lot of them, he is highly reliant on them. He can finish through contact and has the potential to be a machine at getting to the line in the NBA. The Clippers roster honestly isn’t in a terrible place, but I think they need to take players with high upside. Walker has a low floor, but sometimes you’ve just got to swing for the fences.
The Indiana Pacers trade the 23rd pick and Al Jefferson to the Denver Nuggets for the 14th overall selection and Kenneth Faried.
I would be a terrible person if I took credit for this trade, so I will give credit to Bobby Marks for the idea. The Nuggets are trying to shed Kenneth Faried’s contract as he is a good player who simply doesn’t fit alongside Nikola Jokic, Juancho Hernangomez and Paul Millsap. Denver is already stocked with young talent so moving down makes a lot of sense for them. Kenneth Faried is a weird fit in the modern NBA because he has no jump shot, but the Pacers offense is a good fit for him. They like to use their big men as screeners to create a switch, and Faried could fit this as a short-term replacement for Thaddeus Young who is an impending free agent.
14. Indiana Pacers (via Denver Nuggets) – Elie Okobo (PG, Pau-Lacq-Orthez): The Pacers had Okobo in for a workout yesterday, and I feel he is the type of player who could thrive next to Victor Oladipo. Okobo strikes me as an effective pick and roll player, but what attracts me to him is how good he is at playing off the ball. Most good NBA teams these days need guards who can do things without holding the ball for 20 seconds on each possession, and Okobo has a good understanding of the way defences work and excels at creating easy assists for his team-mates. The main knock on him is that he is too reliant on the jump shot to bail him out, but you are hardly going to find a perfect 20-year old. The French guard also plays outstanding defense and looks to be a rare prospect who can actually deny penetration to guards. There is more to defending in the NBA than denying penetration, but it’s a good start.
Featured photos – via NBAE / Double Clutch illustration