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This summer’s upcoming NBA draft pool looks like one of the deepest in recent memory.
Trae Young just led the country in points (27.4 per game) and assists (8.8) as a 19-year-old freshman, and he might not be among the top 10 picks. Marvin Bagley, a popular No. 1 pick earlier this year, could be out of the top three despite averaging 21.2 points on 61.3 percent shooting and 11.3 rebounds.
This batch of big-time prospects is packed to the brim, and it won’t be easy for scouts to sort through all of them between now and the June 21st event.
But we’ve seen enough of these players and their potential employers to map out how the first round could fall, and we’ll take a closer look at three things to watch over the coming weeks.
2018 NBA Mock Draft
1. Phoenix Suns: DeAndre Ayton (Arizona, C, Freshman)
2. Memphis Grizzlies: Luka Doncic (Slovenia, SG, 1999)
3. Atlanta Hawks: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State, PF/C, Freshman)
4. Orlando Magic: Mohammed Bamba (Texas, C, Freshman)
5. Dallas Mavericks: Marvin Bagley III (Duke, PF/C, Freshman)
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn Nets): Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke, C, Freshman)
7. Sacramento Kings: Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri, SF/PF, Freshman)
8. Chicago Bulls: Mikal Bridges (Villanova, SF, Junior)
9. New York Knicks: Trae Young (Oklahoma, PG, Freshman)
10. Charlotte Hornets: Kevin Knox (Kentucky, SF/PF, Freshman)
11. Los Angeles Clippers (via Detroit Pistons): Collin Sexton (Alabama, PG, Freshman)
12. Philadelphia 76ers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Miles Bridges (Michigan State, SF/PF, Sophomore)
13. Los Angeles Clippers: Daniel Gafford (Arkansas, PF/C, Freshman)
14. Denver Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky, PG/SG, Freshman)
15. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat): Anfernee Simons (IMG Academy, PG/SG, 1999)
16. Phoenix Suns (via Milwaukee Bucks): Mitchell Robinson (USA, C, 1998)
17. Philadelphia 76ers: Dzanan Musa (Bosnia & Herzegovina, SG/SF, 1999)
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Minnesota Timberwolves): Troy Brown (Oregon, SG/SF, Freshman)
19. Indiana Pacers: Lonnie Walker IV (Miami, SG, Freshman)
20. Chicago Bulls (via New Orleans Pelicans): Chandler Hutchison (Boise State, SF, Senior)
21. Washington Wizards: Jontay Porter (Missouri, C, Freshman)
22. San Antonio Spurs: Robert Williams (Texas A&M, C, Sophomore)
23. Utah Jazz: Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State, PF, Junior)
24. Los Angeles Lakers (via Cleveland Cavaliers): Aaron Holiday (UCLA, PG, Junior)
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Oklahoma City Thunder): Khyri Thomas (Creighton, SG, Junior)
26. Portland Trail Blazers: Bruno Fernando (Maryland, C, Freshman)
27. Boston Celtics: Jerome Robinson (Boston College, SG, Junior)
28. Brooklyn Nets (via Toronto Raptors): Bruce Brown Jr. (Miami, SG, Sophomore)
29. Golden State Warriors: Gary Trent Jr. (Duke, SG, Freshman)
30. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets): Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky, SG, Freshman)
Trae Young vs. Collin Sexton Debate
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Any lottery team in the point-guard market will need to hold the “Young or Collin Sexton” discussion at some point. No matter where they fall on the overall prospect board, they almost assuredly sit side-by-side on everyone’s floor general rankings.
Their per-40-minute averages would have been phenomenal for any player, but for first-year lead guards, they’re almost hard to believe. Young checked in with an absurd line of 30.9 points, 9.8 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 steals, while Sexton tallied 25.6, 4.8, 5.0 and 1.1, respectively.
Excluding Luka Doncic—who’s more of a wing—Young and Sexton will deservedly fight for the right to be this draft’s top point guard taken. The fact they play such different styles adds even more intrigue to this discussion.
Glass-overflowing optimists might see Young as the next Stephen Curry and Sexton in the Russell Westbrook mold. They aren’t those players, but it’s a simple way to say Young shines as a shot-creator and clever passer, while Sexton is an explosive athlete who can bulldoze back-tracking defenders.
Young goes first in our mock, but that has more to do with team makeup than superior talent. It might be a popular sentiment for now—although Sexton should be trending up for his torrid close to the campaign—but it won’t be universal.
“Young’s elite perimeter skills may give him an edge when it comes to starry upside in the modern league, but there will be some difference of opinion as point guard-needy teams process each player’s situation and decide what they value,” Jeremy Woo wrote for Sports Illustrated.
Big Men Are Back
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Those who paint with the broadest of brushes might assume centers are going extinct in today’s game. That isn’t the case.
The post position is simply evolving as the game gets faster and more perimeter-oriented. It’s making skill more important than size, but clubs would gladly have both if they could get it.
The top of this class potentially offers that combination, which is why power positions are shooting back up the draft boards.
Last year saw just four bigs go in the lottery, none in the top five—Jonathan Isaac (sixth), Lauri Markkanen (seventh), Zach Collins (10th) and Bam Adebayo (14th). This group could have five bigs go in the top six picks and maybe three or four others land in the lottery depending on where the swing forwards suit up.
“This year’s crop of bigs is markedly better than what NBA teams had to choose from last season, when 15 still went in the first round,” Jacob Bogage wrote for the Washington Post.
Only time knows if DeAndre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III can defend at an NBA level, or if Mohamed Bamba will play a big enough offensive role to justify a top-five selection. But the ceilings are drool-worthy enough to push 4s and 5s back up the prospect hierarchy.
Tank Race Will Be Ugly
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Last season, five teams finished with a winning percentage south of .360. There are nine teams beneath that number in this campaign, and little reason to believe that number will noticeably shrink given the strong incentive for bottom-feeders to end 2017-18 on a down note.
For starters, a lot of these prospects look tank-worthy. Sexton might be a difference-maker, and he’s outside our top 10. Anfernee Simons has a skyscraper’s ceiling, and he’s not even in our lottery.
So, the talent is there to justify an embrace of the loss column.
The timing is critical, too. This will be the last draft before lottery reform decreases the reward for finishing with an abysmal record.
“Under the current system, the worst team has a 25 percent chance of nabbing the top pick,” ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote. “The second-worst team has a 19.9 percent shot. Starting in 2019, the three worst teams will have an equal 14 percent chance at the most coveted asset in basketball.”
If clubs want to flat-line, this is the year to do it. Not that you need to inform them, since the tank race is already tumbling toward the final stretch.