- Unlike last year's guard-heavy class, the 2018 NBA draft is loaded with talented big men. How many will go in the lottery? The Crossover's Front Office dishes the latest projections.
The college basketball season is only a few weeks old, but there have already been a number of changes to the NBA draft landscape. From Michael Porter’s back injury to breakout starts from several under-the-radar prospects, we've already seen a handful of developments that will shape next June's draft.
As of now, three players have risen to the top of most boards: DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley. It’s largely a matter of opinion, more than a gap in talent, as to which one is currently No. 1. The state of Porter’s injured back will ultimately determine where he lands, but no other prospect has especially separated from the lottery pack with their play at this point. Contrary to last year’s guard-heavy crop, the top of the 2018 draft is shaping up to be rife with bigs. Beyond that trend, it’s still early to jump to conclusions.
As always, the aim of our mocks is to project what the first round of the draft might look like if the season ended today, based on which players are trending. Our Big Board serves as a more definitive, fluid ranking of prospects.
(Note: Teams are sequenced in the reverse order of standings as of Dec. 3 with traded picks and protections considered.)
1. Bulls | DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona | Fr.
Thanks to his freakish tools and impressive scoring touch, Ayton rates as the top prospect on our Big Board and has a strong case to go first overall. He checks every physical box you’d want in a center and already possesses a legitimate jump shot. Ayton’s effort levels can wax and wane over the course of a game, and it could be that he’s simply bored by collegiate competition, but when at full go he’s extremely difficult to stop. He needs to improve defensively, but has all the ability to do it. Whoever picks first will have a difficult decision to make, but Ayton’s massive talents will be tough to pass on.
2. Hawks | Luka Doncic, G, Real Madrid | 18 years old
Perhaps the most complete and accomplished European draft prospect we’ve ever seen, Doncic’s body of work is hard to argue with. He’s a savvy lead ball-handler and playmaker and easy to peg as the most NBA-ready player in this class, already putting up massive numbers in the Euroleague at age 18. He’s not a high-end athlete, but Doncic is advanced enough in essentially every other area that it may not matter. He has a strong case for the top spot and won’t fall far.
3. Mavericks | Marvin Bagley III, F/C, Duke | Fr.
Bagley’s early-season production has matched the hype. He’s emerged as perhaps the best rebounder in college basketball and an athletic mismatch on the interior, dominating opponents despite his slim physique. Bagley’s high work rate and competitiveness haven’t been oversold, and his overall versatility and room for growth make him a third quality candidate at No. 1. His offensive skill set has a ways to go, but if his jumper comes around, the upside is significant. Whichever of the top three players falls here will make a team extremely happy.
4. Kings | Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri | Fr.
Porter’s lower back surgery creates cause for concern but barring significant medical red flags, his draft position should remain relatively stable. As a highly valuable combo forward with elite shooting ability, he possesses considerable scoring potential on the perimeter. Due to the injury, questions about his defensive fit and how multi-dimensional he can be offensively will remain mostly unanswered going into June. The Kings have a surplus of bigs, and until another prospect plays his way into this spot, it belongs to Porter.
5. Grizzlies | Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas | Fr.
While Bamba has started the season slowly, his long-term defensive potential keeps him in the mix as a top–five selection. At 7’0” with an absurd 7’9” wingspan, he’s as projectable as they come. He’s still figuring out the college level, but then again, he’s averaging four blocks per game. He will require plenty of development offensively, but it’s easy to see him becoming a dangerous screener and lob threat. Bamba should settle in as the season goes on, and there’s plenty to like in the long run. As the Grizzlies face a potential rebuild, he’d be a quality building block.
6. Suns | Robert Williams III, F/C, Texas A&M | So.
Williams’s natural rim-running proclivities and strong upper body make him a productive interior threat and a good bet for the top 10. He’s a little undersized but has the length to play center, and has shown all-around improvement as a sophomore. As a natural offensive rebounder and lob-catcher with some mid-range shooting ability, Williams has a chance to slide nicely into an NBA role. His defensive timing needs work, as he can be slow to rotate and rebound out of his area. Still, his overall feel is better than advertised. His physicality would provide a nice contrast to the Suns’ other bigs.
7. 76ers* | Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State | Fr.
(Note: Philadelphia owns the Lakers’ first-round pick unless it falls between Nos. 2–5, in which case it conveys to Boston.)
Jackson profiles as a stretch big who can step outside and protect the rim, but he's also had some real struggles to score the ball early in his college career. His rebounding, shot-blocking ability and the fact he’s extremely young help set him apart. Jackson can make set shots, but it’s unclear if his unorthodox jumper will actually translate to the next level. He’d be a nice rotation piece and would have time to grow in Philly.
8. Cavaliers* | Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State | So.
(Note: Cleveland owns Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first-round selection.)
Although he’s one of college basketball’s more well-known faces, Bridges is a bit of a polarizing prospect in NBA circles. His explosiveness, ability to play in transition and defensive versatility are strengths, but he struggles at times to score off the dribble. There are questions about how good of a shooter he really is. As a baseline he has the makings of a useful rotation player with some athletic pop. Bridges could give the Cavs some extra depth and versatility off the bat.
9. Clippers | Collin Sexton, G, Alabama | Fr.
In a thin guard draft, Sexton’s scoring ability stands out. He’s streaky, but tough to handle when changing speeds and attacking the rim. He’s extremely competitive, which can translate on the defensive end, but like most of his game is contingent on whether he’s mentally locked in. Sexton needs to improve as a decision-maker to play point guard and may struggle to score efficiently at high volume against NBA defenses. His talents make him a good bet to become a tone-setting, change-of pace guard at minimum, and his scoring chops could allow him to be more than that. The Clippers have guards, but could use some new energy in their backcourt. Clearly, Sexton has plenty to spare.
10. Hornets | Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky | Fr.
Knox has looked like Kentucky’s best prospect so far. At 6’9” with a 7’0” wingspan and 8’11” standing reach, his measurables are ideal for a combo forward. He’s already evolved into a more legitimate perimeter player and shown improvement as a shooter. Knox will need to be more physical and improve as a rebounder to capitalize on his athletic gifts, but he’s one of the younger players in the class and looks like an intriguing project. His ability to slide between positions would fit well in Charlotte.
11. Magic | | Bruce Brown, G, Miami | So.
Brown is an absolute pitbull of a combo guard with a chance to become a 3-and-D stopper in the NBA. A former football player with a capable jumper and aggressive on-court disposition, Brown is a high-caliber athlete with one of the more NBA-ready bodies in the draft (he’s already 21). He must continue to show he can be a lead ball-handler and shoot consistently from outside. The Magic would benefit from his toughness.
12. Thunder | Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami | Fr.
Walker has come off the Hurricanes’ bench early on and has yet to hit his stride as a scorer. He’s a prototypical scoring two-guard with great length for his position (6’4” with a 6’10” wingspan) and the ability to attack closeouts and threaten from the perimeter, but he needs the ball in his hands to make a significant impact right now. He projects well defensively, but needs to show it. Walker has a lot of long-term promise and could be an eventual asset for OKC.
13. Suns* | Trevon Duval, PG, Duke | Fr.
(Note: Phoenix owns Miami’s top-seven protected 2018 first-round pick.)
While Duval’s jumper is an issue, teams have been willing to overlook those issues in the past, and he remains one of the draft’s top true point guards. He’s a beast in transition who finishes well at the rim and is willing to advance the ball using the pass. He has enviable tools at 6’3” with a 6’9” wingspan and impressive instincts and lateral quickness on defense. Duval has long thrived simply by being bigger and faster than other players, but has shown improvement when it comes to playing under control, though he’s not yet ready to run a team full time. His defensive ability and playmaking skills would be a nice fit in Phoenix.
14. Knicks | Dzanan Musa, F, KK Cedevita | 18 years old
Musa is a productive, intuitive scorer who continues to improve shooting the ball from outside. He’s only 18, but has been a contributor in the Adriatic League for a couple of seasons and has begun to round out his game. At 6’9”, he has great size for a wing. Musa is known for his confidence and competitive streak and has been at his best with the ball in his hands. He may not become much of a defender, but can provide some offensive punch. The Knicks continue with the international flavor in this scenario.
15. Jazz | Wendell Carter Jr., F/C, Duke | Fr.
Though Carter has been exposed somewhat by his struggles to score against length, he’s been productive for Duke and remains in the lottery conversation. He’s offensively skilled with a good feel and a jumper he’s rarely showcased to this point. He rebounds well and has blocked shots at a good rate, but the Blue Devils have spent a lot of time in a 2-3 zone, which makes his defense harder to peg. Carter plays with an emotional edge that can get the better of him at times, and scouts will nitpick his fit within the framework of a faster-paced NBA game. The Jazz are a team that could utilize his offensive strengths and help cover for him on the other end.
16. Pelicans | Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova | Jr.
An intriguing defensive prospect, Bridges has been elevated somewhat by a dearth of projectable wings. He’s established himself in the first round discussion with greatly improved play in his junior year, shooting the ball extremely well from the outside and racking up steals and blocks. Bridges has expanded his offensive skills to accompany his great defensive versatility. He’s not a great shot creator off the dribble and as a result has a tendency to float in and out of games, but has 3-and-D upside and an NBA body, including a 7’1” wingspan at 6’7”. The Pelicans have struggled to find quality wings to round out their roster and would benefit immediately in some respects with this pick.
17. Pacers | Troy Brown, G/F, Oregon | Fr.
Brown has given Oregon versatile contributions this season and has appealing physical tools at 6’6” with a 6’11” wingspan. He’s a good transition playmaker and versatile defender who should fit nicely into pace-and-space concepts. Brown is at his best with the ball in his hands and has a streaky three-point shot, but also has clear selling points as an oversized guard with matchup flexibility. He needs time, but he has the advantage of being extremely young for his class. The Pacers, meanwhile, need long-term backcourt pieces.
18. Wizards | Mitchell Robinson, C, Chalmette HS | 19 years old
Robinson remains a bit of an enigma after leaving Western Kentucky to prepare for the draft on his own. His size, length and talent should keep him in the first round, and good workouts will help. Robinson could be a valuable shot-blocker and lob catcher around the basket, but it’s a little concerning that he won’t play competitively at all this season given his questionable feel and lack of high-level experience. Robinson has appeal as a risk-reward proposition. With money tied up on the perimeter, the Wizards could stand to add youth to their frontcourt.
19. Trail Blazers | Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky | Fr.
For better or worse, Diallo has been what most NBA scouts expected so far at Kentucky. He’s an exceptional athlete whose skills and feel need added polish, but with first-round intrigue nonetheless. Diallo needs to improve his jumper and handle to score consistently in the NBA, but gets away with a lot of things thanks to his explosion and quickness. Scouts will watch to see if he can turn a corner and utilize those gifts in a meaningful way. He’d be a nice developmental player for the Blazers.
20. Hawks* | Justin Jackson, F, Maryland | So.
(Note: Atlanta owns Minnesota’s lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick.)
Jackson has started slow for Maryland, but his appeal lies in his projectable versatility. He’s 6’7” with an absurd 7’3” wingspan that allows him to slide down a position. His handling and passing are also an interesting fit in a league skewing small. He shot 44% from three last season, a clip that may not be sustainable but offers promise. Jackson won’t be an offensive focal point at the next level, but could become the kind of player who helps everywhere else.
21. Milwaukee | Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma | Fr.
One of the breakout stars of college basketball’s first few weeks, Young’s absurd scoring production has approached 30 points and nine assists per game and established him as a prospect to track. There are fair questions about his defense and end-to-end speed that may keep him from being a lottery-level player. That said, his ability to score off the bounce, shoot from deep and make plays for teammates is extremely impressive. Young will get all the shots he wants at Oklahoma, and if he can sustain his efficiency, he may create a worthwhile opportunity to turn pro.
22. Nuggets | Shake Milton, G, SMU | Jr.
Blessed with a great nickname and plenty of talent, Milton has been on draft radars for a while and is enjoying a productive if not always efficient start to the season. He shot 42% from three last year, but just 45% from two, and has begun the year with similar issues. The good news is he can shoot from outside, has the size to play either guard spot and can impact the game defensively. That versatility should serve him well, and scouts will monitor how he handles an even greater percentage of SMU’s shots this season.
23. 76ers | Chimezie Metu, F/C, USC | Jr.
Metu is an outstanding leaper who can step out and hit a mid-range shot, attack the glass and block shots. He’s a naturally gifted big who can make difficult plays look simple. Metu can assuage scouts’ concerns by showing more polish, composure and defensive intensity. Consistency has been a question, but he has the talent to be a legitimate part of someone’s future plans.
24. Pistons | Brandon McCoy, C, UNLV | Fr.
McCoy’s early numbers have been a pleasant surprise—the fact that he’s already averaging a double-double puts him well ahead of schedule. He has the size and instincts to dominate in the Mountain West, and has looked focused. Assuming the production holds up, McCoy's ability (or struggles) to protect the rim will have a major bearing on where he lands in the draft. If McCoy stays this hot, he should have some room to move upward.
25. Nets* | Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga | So.
(Note: Brooklyn owns Toronto’s lottery-protected first-round pick.)
Though Hachimura still requires a lot of projection, Gonzaga has begun to let him do his thing as a scorer and put his size and strength to use on the wing. He’s demonstrated the ability to shoot from outside and has the body to handle either forward spot. How much playing time he’s afforded from here will be worth monitoring, but once he puts his skill set together may have a chance to sneak into the first round.
26. Spurs | Killian Tillie, F/C, Gonzaga | So.
After being handed a starting role, Tillie has done nothing but produce, displaying a deft touch and ability to probe defenses along the baseline. He has range out to the corner three and works hard on the glass, although a thin frame and lack of great length can make it tough for him to gain position and win 50–50 rebounds at times. Tillie’s scoring talent and feel are impressive for a young big, and as he matures they should find him a place in the league.
27. Cavaliers | Grayson Allen, G, Duke | Sr.
Allen’s shooting numbers have fluctuated so far, but he’s been the player Duke leans on for critical baskets and leadership as he attempts to reverse his narrative and earn an NBA role. His ability to hit difficult shots and sustain streaks have teams intrigued. He’s a great athlete who competes hard, but runs hot and cold and can get in his own head at times. If he improves his handle and continues to shine from three-point range, Allen should be worth the plunge.
28. Warriors | Nick Richards, C, Kentucky | Fr.
Predictably, Richards’s play has been all over the place for Kentucky. His tools remain appealing: he moves extremely well and profiles as an athletic roll man, switchable defender and potentially high-level shot-blocker. But his skills need work, he’s prone to foul trouble and already the same age as some sophomores. But in the right system, Richards could excel in a simplified role.
29. Hawks* | Tyus Battle, SG, Syracuse | So.
(Note: Atlanta owns Houston’s top-three protected 2018 first-round pick.)
Battle has emerged as an improved scoring threat for Syracuse and one of the better scorers in the ACC. He has nice size and length, shoots threes at a respectable clip and has a developed mid-range game. As a passer and rebounder, he leaves something to be desired. He has a chance to make it seven straight years ‘Cuse has produced a first-round pick if the production holds up.
30. Celtics | Devonte Graham, PG, Kansas | Sr.
Graham has successfully taken on a heavy scoring and playmaking load for Kansas and is doing it at an improved clip that bodes well for his draft standing. His shooting percentages are up across the board, though it’s a small sample size. Right now he’s doing everything you’d expect from a senior point guard, and could give himself a chance to move up the ranks in a draft that’s thin at his position.