With the 2017 NBA Draft in the bag and free agency and Summer League on tap, it probably feels early to look ahead an entire year at the 2018 draft. It’s indeed early, but it’s not premature to put a little thought into what the prospect landscape might look like. There are a handful of high-level players who have begun to separate themselves from the pack already.
Michael Porter Jr., Mohamed Bamba, DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic are the names you want to know if you suspect your favorite team might be tanking. There’s a batch of five or six players after that who are good bets to land in the early to middle range of the first round. After those first couple of tiers, projecting any draft a year in advance is a toss-up. Nobody really knows anything this early.
If it helps, SI has already laid eyes on every freshman on this list firsthand, and all the returners appeared on at least one of our boards in this year’s run-up. So, without making any sweeping conclusions, here’s a first look at what we’re working with for 2018.
1. Michael Porter Jr. | F | Missouri | Freshman | 6’10” | 214
After decommiting from Washington, Porter Jr. will be one-and-done in what could wind up a very temporary revival for the Mizzou program under Cuonzo Martin. It won’t matter much with regard to his draft stock: Porter Jr. would have had a chance to go first overall in this year’s draft, and is the early favorite to be there a year from now. He’s got enviable size, length and skill, shoots the three and the midrange, and could be a go-to scorer at the next level at either forward position. Porter’s ceiling is massive.
2. Mohamed Bamba | C | Texas | Freshman | 7’0” | 207
There’s been worthwhile Bamba-Ayton debate over the last couple years. Bamba’s ridiculous length (he’s been measured with a 7’9” wingspan) puts him on the shortlist of pure physical outliers in the history of the draft, and as he puts on weight and expands his offensive game, he could become a monster. He’s fairly bankable as a defensive anchor, rebounder and shot-blocker already. Texas will give him the chance to be a pick-and-roll weapon and expand his offense. You can argue Bamba has the most untapped talent of anyone projected in next year’s class.
3. DeAndre Ayton | C | Arizona | Freshman | 7’0” | 243
Ayton is a big boy who’s become increasingly skilled over the last few years, and should be another of college basketball’s must-watch players next season. His physical tools—wingspan, mobility, timing—are off the charts, and he can shoot the ball from deep or operate on the block. He’s a little in love with his jumper at times. Here’s hoping Sean Miller takes a page out of the Calipari–Towns book and makes Ayton park himself in the post most of this season and get used to it. Regardless, he has serious talent and should be in the mix at No. 1.
4. Luka Doncic | SG | Real Madrid (Spain) | 18 years old | 6’8” | 185
One of the best international prospects to arrive in a long time, Doncic has been a fixture on Madrid’s senior team for two years already. He’s a stat-sheet stuffer, averaging 15.7 points, nine rebounds and 8.5 assists per-40 in 35 Euroleague games this season, and operates on and off the ball comfortably. His elite feel has helped him play up at a young age, and his versatility and size will have him in the mix high in the lottery, potentially at No. 1.
5. Wendell Carter | PF | Duke | Freshman | 6’10” | 263
Carter is the type of versatile, tough big man Duke really could have used this season. He’s an outstanding rebounder and passer that reminds me you some ways of Kevin Love and Al Horford. Carter can handle it on the perimeter and face up, and has a fairly well-developed post game. He’s a highly intelligent player and looks well-suited for the pace-and-space game with his range of offensive skills. He’ll need to continue working on his body and display more consistency on his jumper, which has range but isn’t a true weapon yet. He’s a good bet for next year’s lottery.
6. Trevon Duval | PG | Duke | Freshman | 6’3” | 191
Duval’s elite physical profile coupled with his aggressiveness on both sides of the ball give him a great chance to be the first point guard off the board a year from now. He’s strong, quick and has been measured with a 6’9” wingspan, giving him a chance to be a high-quality defender. Duval is instinctive with the ball in his hands both as a passer and scorer, and his explosiveness helps him get where he needs to go and play above the rim. He must improve his jump shot and play more under control in order to maximize his draft slot.
7. Jaren Jackson Jr | F/C | Michigan State | 6’10” | 227
Although it’ll likely take a complete season at Michigan State for Jackson to play up to this slot, he profiles nicely at the next level with his mobility, three-point range and shot-blocking skills. The son of an NBA player, Jackson will be one of the youngest players in the class if he comes out. His 7’4” wingspan will play nicely, particularly as his body fills out. Jackson has a well-rounded offensive skill set and an unconventional but effective jumper that makes him an ideal stretch-four prospect. He needs to improve as a rebounder and get tougher on the interior, but Jackson should be popular amongst scouts based on his potential. He’s not a lock this high, but will have a case with a good freshman year.
8. Collin Sexton | PG | Alabama | Freshman | 6’2” | 183
With a nose for scoring the ball and a nasty competitive streak, Sexton will be a popular watch next season. He’s a talented scorer off the dribble and finds ways to get to the rim and finish with his agility and ability to change speeds. He’s extremely intense, which bleeds through on both offense and defense as he barrels around the court. Sexton is a score-first guard who needs to improve his jumper and show he can become a consistent playmaker, particularly given he’s not overly tall or long. But he checks a lot of boxes in terms of skills and makeup that will endear him to the NBA.
9. Miles Bridges | F | Michigan State | Sophomore | 6’6” | 226
Bridges is another player who chose to return to school, and will need to make strides as a ball-handler and shooter in order to improve his stock, which likely would have put him somewhere inside the Top 20 this season. He’s an outstanding athlete and powerful leaper who plays above the rim and can defend multiple positions, but his lack of size to match his power forward-like role will be his Achilles heel as a prospect unless he ups his productivity. If he makes the transition into a legitimate perimeter player, it’s his best shot at a Top 10 selection.
10. Robert Williams | F/C | Texas A&M | Sophomore | 6’9” | 237
After opting to bypass this year’s draft, Williams has another year to work on his skills and accelerate his learning curve for the next level. He’s raw but talented, and impacts the game on both sides with his rebounding and shot-blocking. He’s got a budding mid-range jumper and has the makings of a high-level energy big man. His 7’4” wingspan helps mitigate being slightly undersized. However, Williams took a risk returning to school and will have to make serious strides in his offensive game to avoid being nitpicked by scouts and bypassed by younger prospects. In his case, it doesn’t help that he’ll be 21 by the time he takes an NBA court.
11. Lonnie Walker | SG | Miami | Freshman | 6’4” | 206
Walker is a prototypical two-guard with good size, strength and explosiveness on the wing. He should be an impact player for Miami, and has a chance at the lottery with his ability to attack the basket, shoot off the dribble and make from three-point range. His 6’10” wingspan could help make him a very good defender. He’s not a finished product, and will have to ease into the right role at Miami and show scouts he can put everything together. Walker’s talent and potential as a scorer really pops, and that could be enough to warrant a high selection.
12. Mitchell Robinson | C | Western Kentucky | Freshman | 6’11” | 215
Much was made over Robinson’s surprising commitment to Western Kentucky, and you may not see a ton of him in primetime, but he’s an intriguing player with potential as a rim-protecting modern center. Robinson runs the floor well, plays above the rim and is an extremely productive rebounder and shot-blocker. He’s gotten by on his physical gifts at this point and has a below-average feel for the game at this stage, having picked the game up relatively late. Robinson will need to be coached up, but has clear potential.
13. Hamidou Diallo | SG | Kentucky | Freshman | 6’5” | 188
Diallo opted out of this year’s draft, meaning we’ll actually get to see him play college basketball before he turns pro. This could work both ways for him—either he showcases his immense physical gifts and returns as a first-round pick, or struggles to put it together skill-wise, falls toward the back of the round and faces the exact same questions a year later. Diallo’s one of the best athletes in the class, but a bit of a toss-up at this stage given the questions about his ball-handling and jump shooting. He’s such a great athlete that we can keep him here on spec for now.
14. Nick Richards | C | Kentucky | Freshman | 6’11” | 231
Like Mitchell Robinson, Richards is a projectable, athletic big man who must continue to improve skill and feel-wise to make an NBA impact. Richards is a good rebounder who learned the game late and has developed some rudimentary post skills. His quickness is impressive and could help him become a plus defender both on the block and corralling switches. He wavers in terms of competitiveness at times and will benefit from the developmental environment at Kentucky. Richards will need to learn the game, but has first-round tools.
15. Troy Brown | SG | Oregon | Freshman | 6’6” | 210
Brown is the type of versatile wing that comes at a premium right now, with a 6’11” wingspan that enables him to guard multiple positions. He’s a good ball-handler and passer who keeps the offense moving, can attack closeouts and is improving as a shooter. He doesn’t turn 18 until the end of July, which bodes extremely well for him. Oregon has done well developing players in recent years, and whether it’s one year or two, Brown will be a person of interest in NBA circles.
16. Rawle Alkins | SG | Arizona | Sophomore | 6’4” | 223
Alkins was a top performer at this year’s draft combine and was on the fringes of the first round before returning to school. Another year at Arizona in a larger offensive role could really help his stock, given how cluttered the backcourt was at times last season. He combines size and athleticism nicely, and teams like his intangibles and competitiveness on both sides of the ball. He’s a well-rounded player with a good chance to land in the first round.
17. Justin Jackson | F | Maryland | Sophomore | 6’8” | 230
The other Justin Jackson is a unique prospect with an inside-out game and the requisite length to be a versatile frontcourt player. He has a 7’3” wingspan and could be a power forward or a small-ball five in theory. He shot the ball well last season from three, handles and passes the ball well, and though he’s not a scorer in the commonly-used sense, has the ability to be a two-way standout in the modern NBA. He’s a good defender already and potentially a unique piece who can enable different lineup combinations and complement a variety of personnel. Another good year at Maryland should get him into the first round.
18. Bruce Brown | G | Miami | Sophomore | 6’3” | 200
An elite defender with a diverse set of offensive skills, Brown surprised some with his choice not to even test the draft waters. He did a prep year out of high school and will be 22 by the time the 2018-19 season starts. That said, Brown had a strong season at Miami and with continued production will be an intriguing prospect given his ability to run the pick and roll and shoot the three. He’s got a competitive streak and chips in all over the stat sheet. Miami should be a sneaky ACC contender next season with Brown and Lonnie Walker forming a talented backcourt.
19. Kevin Knox | F | Kentucky | Freshman | 6’9” | 206
In a nutshell, Knox is a physical specimen who needs a perimeter skill set. He’s young for his class and has a big frame that should fill out well. He can defend multiple positions, has improved somewhat as a shooter, and rebounds the ball well. John Calipari tends to do a good job of coaching kids into bankable roles, and if Knox buys in as an energy player in the frontcourt, he could be really intriguing. He tries to do too much at times, but as a high-energy power forward could bring a lot of value. This is all a toss-up right now. He may need a couple seasons to get here.
20. Rodions Kurucs | SF | Barcelona (Spain) | 19 years old | 6’8” | 190
Kurucs was a late withdrawal from this year’s draft,. He was a likely late first-round selection and should remain somewhere in that range if he comes out again, given his size and versatility on the wing. A native of Latvia, Kurucs will benefit from (presumably) moving up from Barcelona’s B team and increasing his profile. He’s a capable shooter and skilled player with intriguing long-term potential if he fills out.