NBA Mock Draft: It's crowded at the top, both in teams and elite talent
It's crowded at the top
As many as eight teams are still in the running for the top lottery odds this spring, and the players they're all hunting for make up one of the best classes in recent memory. So with that in mind, we're taking a stab at projecting the first round based on current NBA standings (and the lottery going chalk, of course).
1. Suns: DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona
The Suns have drafted in the Lottery seven straight seasons, including the top-4 in 2016 and 2017. As is the case for any team drafting first overall - and one that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2010 - drafting the best player trumps any specific team needs. The Suns actually get both in Ayton, the offensively gifted 7-footer averaging 19.5 points on 60 percent shooting whose length and athleticism give him potential to improve as a defender. He's a perfect fit in the Suns' up-tempo system and the Alex Len experiment (5th pick in 2013) is just about over. Ayton and Devin Booker form a solid 1-2 punch for GM Ryan McDonough to build around.
2. Mavericks: Luka Dončić, SG, Real Madrid
Dončić will be 19 years old on draft night, but it feels like he's already a seasoned veteran. In 41 games with Real Madrid he's averaging 16.0 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and 4.4 rebounds in just 25.0 minutes. He isn't going to wow as an athlete, but he will with his basketball IQ and court vision. The Mavericks found their point guard of the future in Dennis Smith Jr. in last year's draft, and while Dončić is best with the ball in his hands, multiple ball handlers have become necessary in today's NBA. One of the bigs could be in play for Dallas, which needs help everywhere, but best player available will again trump position needs for a team on pace to win its fewest games in two decades.
3. Hawks: Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke
The Hawks would love to grab the draft's best player (in this author's opinion) at No. 3. Bagley has been a force in his first season at Duke after reclassifying in September. Yes, you've heard it before but it's worth repeating: Bagley should be a senior in high school right now. Instead, he's averaging 21 and 11 for a 20-win Duke team. Bagley's strengths are easily seen: he's dominant around the basket, jumps out of the gym and plays well in transition. He's shown range to the 3-point line, and while it's not necessarily a strength, at 18 years old simply having that range at 6-foot-11 is a plus. The Hawks drafted John Collins a year ago, but they'd have no problem making room for Bagley as the centerpiece of their rebuild.
4. Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma
There isn't a better fit in this draft than Young to the Magic. Orlando dealt Elfrid Payton to the Suns at the trade deadline, leaving them with D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack at the point. Beyond need, the Magic simply need a face of the franchise, an exciting player for a fan base to rally around. Aaron Gordon's emergence this season has begun that process, but a player like Young feels like someone who could transform a franchise stuck in the mud since dealing Dwight Howard. Young leads college basketball in points and assists per game (no one's ever done that) and is showing all the right traits - using screens, decimating pick-and-roll defenses, drive-and-kicks - of a franchise point guard in the NBA.
5. Kings: Michael Porter, SF, Missouri
Forgive us if this feels like such a Kings pick: using a top-5 selection on a 19-year-old who's already undergone significant back surgery. But Porter was the clear-cut top overall prospect in this year's class before undergoing surgery that's forced him to miss his entire freshman season. At 6-foot-10 he's versatile enough to play on the perimeter or inside with smaller lineups, and he's as natural a scorer as there is in this draft. Assuming his medicals check out by draft night, he'd be a steal this late. Plus, the Kings really don't have any versatile forwards on the roster, so adding a dynamic player like Porter gives them needed versatility. If both Porter and Harry Giles can stay healthy, the Kings' rebuild could fast-track.
6. Grizzlies: Mo Bamba, C, Texas
There may come a day when the Grizzlies are built on offense, but with one of the most intriguing defensive prospects in recent memory on the board at No. 6, it won't be in 2018. Bamba is a freak of nature, touting a 7-foot-9 wing span, 9-foot-6 standing reach and - not shockingly - averaging 4.1 blocks per game, second in the country. He's still figuring out how exactly to use his massive frame, but on potential alone he's got Defensive Player of the Year upside. His offense isn't too shabby, either; he's averaging 13.7 points on 54 percent shooting, and has made 13 3-pointers. While it's not going to be what earns him his money in the NBA, that range only improves his potential. The Grizzlies need to be thinking post-Marc Gasol at some point, and Bamba could be the start.
7. Cavaliers (via BRK): Jaren Jackson, C, Michigan State
Regardless of how the Cavaliers right the ship with their four new additions at the trade deadline, defense is going to be the largest offseason need (other than, you know, retaining LeBron James). But the Cavaliers likely won't know James' free agency intentions by draft night, so they'll use this pick to shore up their biggest weakness: interior defense. Enter Jackson, who's averaging 3.3 blocks per game as a freshman for the Spartans' top-5 defense and will still be 18 years old on draft night. He also showed he's more than just an interior presence in a Tuesday win over Minnesota, when he knocked down five 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 27 points. That fits in Cleveland, and any offense he's able to produce would be an added bonus to his elite potential as a defender.
8. Bulls: Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova
There's no denying the Bulls would love to get in to the top-3 and draft a potential franchise-changing talent. But their rebuilding process has fast-tracked (relatively speaking) with three core pieces in Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine. But the best available player also happens to be one who could step in right away and contribute. Bridges has been sensational in his third season with the Wildcats, averaging 16.4 points, shooting nearly 41 percent from deep and contributing elite perimeter defense. The phrase "3 and D" tends to get overused during draft time, but it's exactly what Bridges is. The Bulls need more shooting on the wings, and they certainly need a go-to defender. Bridges supplies both, and would give the Bulls an excellent complement to LaVine on the wing.
9. Knicks: Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky
The Knicks have two core pieces in Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina, and they've invested money in wings Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee. But there's still help needed at small forward, where a combination of Lance Thomas, Michael Beasley and, at times, Hardaway have played. That's where Knox fits in as a combo forward who can stretch defenses and score at will. He's had a turbulent first season at Kentucky (the whole team has, really) but his upside is evident. He rebounds well for his size and has all the makings of a new-NBA forward with 20-point-a-night potential. In that sense he's a little like Carmelo Anthony. Sorry, Knicks fans.
10. Hornets: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama
The Hornets franchise is at a crossroads, needing to decide whether to move on from Kemba Walker in the next calendar year and begin a rebuild. It's a lot like where the Bulls and Pacers stood with their superstars the previous year. Regardless of what they do with Walker, their point guard depth has been a revolving door the last four seasons (Mo Williams, Jeremy Lin, Ramon Sessions and now Michael Carter-Williams). Investing in a point guard like Sexton, a lightning-quick guard who gets into the paint at well, seems like a smart idea. And if he develops quickly there's a chance he becomes their heir apparent to Walker if and when the Hornets move on from him.
11. 76ers (via LAL): Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State
The 76ers are putting the right pieces in place to contend in the East for the next decade. Joel Embiid is an All-Star starter, Ben Simmons is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, and Robert Covington could make the NBA's All-Defensive Team this year. But they could still use some more scoring punch on the second unit, where they rank 26th in points per game. Relying on wings like Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot isn't a plan for long-term success, so nabbing a shooter like Bridges is a perfect fit. The 6-foot-7 Flintstone is averaging 17.3 points on 48 percent shooting, and where he lacks in playmaking and size he makes up for with elite athleticism, drawing fouls and plus defense. That size is an issue, but there's a pretty high floor for him as long as he continues to shoot and defend.
12. Clippers (via DET): Wendell Carter, C, Duke
The Clippers are doing all they can to avoid a full-on rebuild, signing Lou Williams to a three-year contract extension and deciding not to deal DeAndre Jordan at the trade deadline. But they still need to prepare for the potential of dealing Jordan next season (when he'll have an expiring $24 million contract) and selling off other pieces such as Tobias Harris, Austin Rivers and Boban Marjanovic. So while center isn't a massive need with Jordan, Boban and Montrezl Harrell patrolling the paint, it could become a spot they need minutes at over the next calendar year. Carter has played his lone season at Duke in the frontcourt shadow of Bagley, but he's shown a knack for scoring, has range to the 3-point line and, at 6-foot-10, is averaging 2.2 blocks per game. The Clippers need talent, and Carter brings just that.
13. Jazz: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky
It's probably time to give up on expecting anything significant from Dante Exum, and Ricky Rubio can hit free agency after next season. Though Rubio has played well lately, he hasn't seemed like all that great a fit in Utah. And while Donovan Mitchell may be most comfortable handling the ball, and Joe Ingles is a fine pick-and-roll handler, tossing another guard on the floor to facilitate seems to be in Utah's best interests. Gilgeous-Alexander can defend multiple positions, gets into the lane and distributes well and has potential as an outside threat (he's taken just 34 3-pointers this season). His size and passing abilities will make him highly coveted, and while No. 13 may seem high it wouldn't be a surprise if he snuck into the Lottery to a team looking for point-guard help, like the Jazz.
14. Clippers: Troy Brown, SG, Oregon
The Clippers went big with their first pick in this mock, and they're adding some wing scoring with their second pick. Brown is just a freshman but has shown flashes of serious scoring potential in his first season at Oregon. He's shooting 48 percent from the field, and while his 3-point shooting has tapered off in conference play he projects as a true 3-and-D guy at the next level thanks to a 6-foot-11 wingspan. There's always going to be a spot in the league for a wing scorer who can guard multiple positions, and if Brown can hone in on his 3-point shooting he'll absolutely be worthy of a Lottery selection on draft night.
15. Suns (via MIA): Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M
After scooping up Ayton with the first overall pick the Suns could opt for a gamble with their second pick. Williams is a versatile scorer and has raw talent that allows him to rebound well and defend by overpowering his opponent. He still doesn't have a great feel for the game and will make mental mistakes from time-to-time, and his numbers (10.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks in 26.0 minutes) don't justify the talent he possesses. So perhaps adding him to a young, energetic Suns team and allowing him to practice with Ayton every day could do wonders and help get the most out of him. Swapping Alex Len and Tyson Chandler for DeAndre Ayton and Robert Williams sounds promising for the Phoenix rebuild.
16. Bulls (via NOP): Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas
Fred Hoiberg admitted last month that he modeled much of the current system he uses in Chicago after what Mike D'Antoni has deployed in Houston. That includes multiple ball handlers, four or five 3-point shooters on the floor and up-tempo pace. But the Rockets also hum on offense because of Clint Capela, the 7-footer who could win Most Improved Player because of his pick-and-roll prowess, and his ability to crash the boards and block shots. There's value in that skill set, and Gafford brings exactly that to the table. He's shooting 61 percent from the field, averages 2.0 blocks per game and runs the floor well for 6-foot-11. He has plenty of room to grow, and could be the center of the future once the Bulls are ready to compete.
17. 76ers: Dzanan Musa, SF, Cedevita
We won't pretend to know the ins and outs of Musa's game, and there's limited footage of him on the internet. From what we can gather, he's a lanky scoring wing who feels comfortable shooting in a number of ways. This year he's averaging 12.0 points on 33 percent shooting from deep for Cedevita in Croatia. He can become shot-happy and doesn't show much playmaking ability, but the Sixers are in need of wings who can shoot (we have them taking Miles Bridges at No. 11) and can wait for Musa, 18, to develop some more before committing to him.
18. Blazers: Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky
Last year Diallo joined Kentucky's roster midway through the season and never appeared in a game, and he still almost kept his name in the draft. Now we've seen him play a full year with the Wildcats, and he remains somewhat of a mystery. His absurd athleticism includes a 44.5-inch vertical leap at last year's NBA Combine, which was the second highest ever recorded. He's quick, athletic and strong for his size...and yet there's still something there to be desired. He's still a project learning to play the game, and his raw numbers aren't all that impressive. Still, the Blazers could take a look at him if players like Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton walk in free agency (and, given Portland's cap situation, they'll have no choice). A cheap gamble like Diallo is worth it at this stage in the draft.
19. Nuggets: Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami
He's one of the league's most exciting players, and Walker is going to become a fan favorite wherever he winds up. Walker is a natural combo guard who excels off the dribble and spotting up from beyond the arc. He's a high-energy defender who always seems to have his hand in every play, and he'd fit in well with a Denver group that's becoming one of the better backcourts in the league. He could help fill the void left by Will Barton (free agency) and would provide a little more versatility than Malik Beasley has shown in two seasons. The Nuggets have rising stars in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, but not much else in the way of ball handlers (they traded for Devin Harris at the trade deadline, and he's a free agent in July). Adding Walker would be a great fit.
20. Wolves (via OKC): Chandler Hutchison, PF, Boise State
Like most seniors garnering first-round buzz, Hutchison is a jack of all trades who does a lot of things good, and nothing really great. But averaging 20.3 points on 48.5 percent shooting and 7.6 rebounds is nothing to scoff at, and he's added 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals in his fourth year with the Broncos. Nemanja Bjelica can walk in free agency this summer, and the Timberwolves could use an upgrade on the wings behind Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. Shabazz Muhammad isn't the answer, and Jamal Crawford will be 38 next season. Adding Hutchison gives the Wolves a player ready to play now and help the competing Timberwolves. This could be considered early for Hutchison, but it fills a need.
21. Pacers: Anfernee Simons, SG, IMG Academy
Like Mitchell Robinson, Simons will enter the NBA Draft (if he declares) having never played higher than high school competition. The 6-foot-3 combo guard is an elite scorer with serious hops once he gets to the rim, and he's a blur in transition. It remains to be seen how he'll perform on the defensive end because, again, he hasn't had to do it much against steep competition. The potential is there, and some team likely will take a chance on him in the first round. It could be Indiana, who could see Cory Joseph and Joe Young become free agents this summer. Darren Collison will be a free agent after next season, so depth in the backcourt behind Victor Oladipo is a concern.
22. Wizards: Mitchell Robinson, C
You won't find a more unique situation (and there are a few) in this class than Hutchinson, who enrolled at Western Kentucky and promptly left school before playing a single minute. So when some team selects the five-star high school center in the first round, he'll have been away from competitive basketball for a whole year. That should tell you just how talented he is, using his 6-foot-11 frame to his advantage to finish around the rim and block shots. Because of that he's going to be a project, but he could do worse than sitting behind Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi for two years. There's a lot of upside here, but realistically it's more the unknown than anything else.
23. Bucks: Shake Milton, PG, SMU
Versatility is the name of the game in Milwaukee, and Milton has the ability to play both guard positions, and play them well. The junior guard has taken his game to another level, averaging 18.0 points, shooting 43.4 percent from deep while still maintaining his assist totals from a year ago. At 6-foot-6 he has good size to play either position, and he's going to get the job done defensively. Though the Bucks do have Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, and Matthew Dellavedova under contract through 2020, they recently gave up on former first-round pick Rashad Vaughn and could look to find a more versatile version in Milton. They've found success in former SMU product Sterling Brown, so maybe lightning strikes twice in the Cream City.
24. Hawks (via MIN): Trevon Duval, PG, Duke
With their third pick in the first round the Hawks opt for some depth at point guard behind Dennis Schroder. Malcolm Delaney has played surprisingly well, but the rebuilding Hawks could do better both from a talent and potential standpoint than the 28-year-old. It's not a sure thing that Duval will come out of the draft, as he's really struggled with his jump shot - and scoring in general - despite elite athleticism and a really smart head on his shoulders. His defense will be his calling card for now, and pre-draft workouts will be important to showcase his ability to score and shoot with some consistency. Last year Duke freshman point guard Frank Jackson declared and just barely snuck into the first round. There's a lot of talent coming to Durham next year, and that could persuade Duval to stay another year.
25. Spurs: Gary Trent Jr. SG, Duke
This pick makes a lot of sense for the Spurs. For one, Trent could be a diamond in the rough while playing second fiddle to some of the bigger names on the Blue Devils. But Trent has established himself as an elite 3-point shooter (45.4 percent on 152 attempts) and has the ability to score from anywhere on the court. Again, he really hasn't shown off his entire arsenal because of players like Bagley, Allen, Carter and Duval needing looks. But he will add bulk at the next level which should help him attacking the lane, and the Spurs would obviously put him in the correct position to succeed. He could be a Manu Ginobili replacement, but even players like Danny Green, Rudy Gay and Kyle Anderson could test free agency in the summer. There's a need on the wing.
26. Lakers (via CLE): Grayson Allen, SG, Duke
If the Lakers are looking to convince the top 2018 free agents that they have a roster ready to contend now, drafting Allen makes plenty of sense. The three-year starter hasn't been able to replicate his All-American sophomore season but projects to have a spot at the next level thanks to his elite range and ability to handle the ball. And where he lacks in size he makes up for in the toughness department, and that's not just a Duke guard buzzword. The Lakers will say goodbye to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Allen could be an apt replacement on the wing. Allen will be a polarizing prospect in the lead-up to the draft, and whichever team drafts him is going to wind up with a solid role player.
27. Celtics; Omer Yurtseven, C, NC State
Boston lost some of its second-unit versatility when Kelly Olynyk signed with the Heat last summer. They're still flush with talent, but a stretch forward off the bench wouldn't be the worst idea in the world if Marcus Morris decides to leave in free agency in 2019. Yurtseven is an intriguing prospect who competed at the NBA Combine last year before pulling his name out of the draft. The 7-footer has really added to his game in his second year, averaging 13.8 points and shooting 48 percent from deep on 29 attempts. He accomplished plenty overseas in his younger years in Turkey, and it's made him an intriguing prospect. With his ability to shoot he could come off the board in the first, and the Celtics' deep roster could make the gamble worthwhile.
28. Nets (via TOR): Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton
The Nets could opt for a young prospect with higher upside like they've done the last three seasons (Jarrett Allen, Chris McCullough in the first round) but they should also value solid talent this late in the first round. Thomas might be the best perimeter defender in the draft, using his quick feet and massive wingspan to terrorize opposing backcourts. He's also not half bad on the other end of the floor, averaging 14.5 points while shooting .519/.400/.825 for the Bluejays. We could list out the Nets roster and show why they need a defensive stopper, but it's kind of a nightmare. Consider the state of their franchise and understand they simply need good basketball players. Thomas, a junior, checks that box even if he's not a freshman with wild potential.
29. Hawks (via HOU): Brandon McCoy, C, UNLV
The Hawks invested in a pair of wings in the 2016 NBA Draft, nabbing DeAndre Bembry and Taurean Prince. And after taking John Collins a year ago and (in this mock) getting Marvin Bagley, they continue to build up the frontcourt with McCoy. A five-star prospect out of high school, McCoy has averaged 17.6 points and 10.1 rebounds for the Rebels and added 1.7 blocks in 28.2 minutes. He plays above the rim and can also extend to 15 feet, making him a strong fit for the NBA while also using a 7-foot-3 wing span to defend. He's a project, but could accelerate his growth depending on how the rebuild goes in Atlanta. He'd look good next to Bagley.
30. Warriors: Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova
The Warriors could draft the person reading this mock draft and still be in fine standing heading into next season. The reality is they're flush with talent at the top, have developed young talent below those players and can bring in just about any veteran free agent they want at a bare-bones cost. But drafting Brunson would give them a supremely talented offensive player, and give them insurance in case Shaun Livingston decides to retire (he has 16 million reasons not to retire, but work with us. We're looking for any reason the Warriors would need to draft someone). Golden State has ball handlers everywhere, but not many true point guards. They'd get one in Brunson, who is enjoying a remarkable career at Villanova and fits the winning culture the Warriors have created the last six seasons.