March is one of the best times of the year for basketball fans, and it is especially true for fans of NBA teams whose postseason hopes have already been crushed. March Madness is a time when many fans get introduced to the future NBA stars, and the 2018 NCAA tournament will be full of star power with nine of my top 10 picks projected to be playing.The race to the bottom has never been more intense as the bottom seven NBA teams are all separated by less than three games.
If you’re looking for tournament teams full of NBA prospects, Arizona, Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky are just a few of the teams that you will want to watch during the tournament. Arizona big man Deandre Ayton has had a killer few weeks, and will be fighting Luka Doncic for the honor of hearing his name called first by Adam Silver come June. Michigan State’s duo of Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges is also must-see TV as long as they can avoid an early upset that snared the Spartans last year.
Here’s a look at my latest NBA mock draft.
NBA Mock Draft 2018: Lottery Picks 1-14
No. 1 Memphis Grizzlies: PG Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
This is the time of year Doncic can lose momentum for the number one pick as some of the top college players benefit from playing in the NCAA tournament. As you are watching the top players during March Madness, keep in mind Doncic has been playing professionally for three years in one the world’s toughest leagues. Doncic is still 19 years old meaning he still has plenty of upside.
Doncic is averaging 15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists for Real Madrid. He will need to continue to improve his shooting, but he is one of the best playmakers in the draft.
No. 2 Phoenix Suns: C Deandre Ayton, Arizona
Ayton has growing buzz around him for the No. 1 pick heading into March Madness. Bleacher Report’s C.J. Moore wrote an interesting piece breaking down the numbers on Ayton and NBA big men like Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns. The numbers show Ayton is a better shooter at this point in his career than the other big men were in college. Ayton possess the rare combination of athleticism and shooting that NBA teams are looking for from the new modern big man.
ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reported more and more NBA executives have Ayton atop their draft board.
After canvassing most of the league in recent weeks, there seems to be somewhat of a consensus forming around Ayton as the “safe pick” at No. 1. Which team ends up getting the pick will obviously play a role, but Ayton’s sheer productivity combined with his freakish physical tools are making it increasingly difficult to keep Luka Doncic up top, especially after a somewhat lackluster month of February by his standards.
No. 3 Orlando Magic: C/F Marvin Bagley, Duke
Bagley used the ACC tournament to serve as a reminder for NBA executives and fans that he has what it takes to play at the next level. Bagley’s play has been lost a little with Ayton’s dominance along with Porter’s return, but he is playing some of his best basketball when it matters most. Bagley had 33 points and 17 rebounds against Notre Dame in the tournament as the big man scored all over the floor. There is debate as to where Bagley will play in the NBA, but Orlando has plenty of holes to fill. He has the potential to be the franchise player the Magic have been craving.
No. 4 Atlanta Hawks: C Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Jackson has had a quiet couple weeks, but has an opportunity to set himself apart in March. Jackson is unlikely to surpass Ayton on draft boards, but is still competing against Marvin Bagley, Michael Porter Jr. along with some of the other big men projected to be a high lottery pick. Jackson is an even better shooter than Ayton, and is averaging over three blocks a game. Jackson is the kind of big man that fits on any NBA roster.
No. 5 Dallas Mavericks: F Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
A lot of people are killing Porter for his college basketball debut (aside from his previous two minutes of play) performance in the SEC tournament. Porter looked rusty, but what did people expect a player to look like who has not played in over five months? The good news is Porter is on the floor rather than in street clothes. His desire to compete should be applauded, despite the lackluster performance. Porter will have at least one more opportunity to show off his skills in the NCAA tournament.
No. 6 Cleveland Cavaliers: PG Collin Sexton, Alabama
Sexton has had himself a week, and picked a great time to snap out of his shooting slump. Sexton’s play in the SEC tournament helped Alabama move out of the bubble conversation, and likely cemented their status as an NCAA tournament team. Sexton’s game winner against Texas A&M was one of our first March moments of 2018. Sexton needs to continue showing NBA teams that he can shoot from long range. After giving up on the Isaiah Thomas experiment, the Cavs could use their point guard of the future, and his competitiveness is sure to be popular with LeBron James.
No. 7 Sacramento Kings: F Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Fans were robbed of seeing much of Bridges in the 2017 NCAA tournament after Michigan State was stunned in the first round. Bridges is the kind of player who likely will shine in March, assuming the Spartans can avoid an upset in the opening round this time around. At this point, the Kings needs more quality players, regardless of position. Bridges should be able to play both forward positions at the next level. Bridges does many things well, but his biggest strength is putting the ball in the basket.
No. 8 Chicago Bulls: G Trae Young, Oklahoma
One of the things that may surprise fans is Young’s court vision, and his ability to get the ball to his teammates. Young is known as a prolific scorer thanks to his crazy hot streak earlier in the season. The Oklahoma guard has cooled off as of late, but he still stands a good chance of being a top 10 player. Young’s scoring streak from earlier in the season will have an NBA team willing to roll the dice early in the draft in hopes he can replicate it at the next level.
No. 9 New York Knicks: F Kevin Knox, Kentucky
Knox’s high moments this season have not been at the level of some of the other top lottery picks on this list. However, he has been consistent and can contribute in multiple ways. Knox showed off his rebounding ability in the SEC tournament with 15 points and nine rebounds against Georgia. One question around Knox is how high his ceiling is, but the Kentucky forward also seems like a relatively safe pick based on his scoring ability combined with his length.
No. 10 Charlotte Hornets: C Mo Bamba, Texas
Bamba has the widest range of possibilities of any other potential lottery pick. It would be no surprise if Bamba goes in the top three, but teams could also opt to go with a perimeter player. Bamba has been battling a toe injury, and the Longhorns are on the tournament bubble. Draft fans are hoping Texas makes it to the tournament as it would be nice to get a look at Bamba in March. Some have questioned his motor, and a couple Texas upset wins during March Madness could help his draft stock.
No. 11 Philadelphia Sixers: SG Lonnie Walker, Miami
It is interesting to look at the Sixers roster, and decide what to project the team will do moving forward. It is full of young, talented players all over the depth chart. Walker would be a nice fit on the Sixers roster with little pressure to be the guy right away. Walker played high school ball just a short drive from Phialdelphia in Reading. We give the Sixers the local kid with a lot of upside. Trust the process.
No. 12 Los Angeles Clippers: SF Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Even when the Clippers were at their peak, they struggled finding a permanent fit at small forward. Bridges improved in nearly every statistical category this season. He’s shooting 42.9 percent from the three-point line, making him a perfect candidate to be a three-and-D player in the NBA. Villanova is one of a handful of teams that are legitimate title contenders. A deep March run can only help Bridges’ draft stock.
No. 13 Denver Nuggets: G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky
Gilgeous-Alexander has been the engine making this year’s Kentucky team go. In a draft heavy with big men and forwards, he has a chance to be a lottery pick thanks to the limited backcourt competition. With Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, the guard position is not a weakness for the Nuggets, but Gilgeous-Alexander gives them another quality player to throw out on the peremeter.
No. 14 Utah Jazz: C Wendell Carter, Duke
In a draft full of hybrid big men, Carter is a bit of a throwback as the Duke big man does his best work on the blocks. Carter can also step out and hit the mid-range jumper as well. The Jazz have their centerpiece in Rudy Gobert, but Carter gives them some depth at the position. He is also the the best player available at this point in the draft.
NBA Mock Draft 2018: Picks 15-30
Here’s a look at the mock draft for teams mostly in the NBA playoff picture.
|No. 15 Phoenix Suns (via Bucks)||C Daniel Gafford, Arkansas|
|No. 16 Phoenix Suns (via Heat)||SG Anfernee Simons, IMG|
|No. 17 Philadelphia Sixers||C Mitchell Robinson, N/A|
|No. 18 L.A. Clippers||C Robert Williams, TAMU|
|No. 19 Atlanta Hawks||G Troy Brown, Oregon|
|No. 20 Minnesota T-Wolves (via Thunder)||SG Chandler Hutchison, Boise State|
|No. 21 San Antonio Spurs||G Landry Shamet, Wichita State|
|No. 22 Indiana Pacers||PG Aaron Holiday, UCLA|
|No. 23 Washington Wizards||G De’Anthony Melton, USC|
|No. 24 L.A. Lakers (via Cavs)||SG Grayson Allen, Duke|
|No. 25 Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans)||SF Melvin Frazier, Tulane|
|No. 26 Portland Trail Blazers||SG Khyri Thomas, Creighton|
|No. 27 Boston Celtics||SG Bruce Brown, Miami|
|No. 28 Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors)||SG Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky|
|No. 29 Golden State Warriors||F/C Chimezie Metu, USC|
|No. 30 Atlanta Hawks (via Rockets)||SF Dzanan Musa, Cedevita|
Source: Heavy Sports