As the 2018 NCAA tournament progresses, the unexpected continues to happen meaning the top NBA prospects get knocked out of the tournament earlier than expected. When the bracket was first released, we circled potential matchups like Duke-Michigan State and Kentucky-Arizona that would feature some of the top prospects squaring off. These games never came to fruition as upsets occurred causing many of the top seeds to be eliminated early.
I write this just hours before watching either No. 9 seeded Kansas State or No. 11 seeded Loyola-Chicago make the Final Four. I had the opportunity to see top Kentucky players Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo play in what was a disappointing outing against Kansas State. All three underwhelmed, especially Gilgeous-Alexander who looked careless with the basketball and limited offensively. It is important to remember these tournament games are just a small piece of the evaluation process and not to get too high/low on a player based on a handful of performances.
Which brings us to Luka Doncic who continues to be No. 1 on my draft board while remaining in the periphery during March Madness. I still think it is going to be very difficult for whoever lands the top pick to move away from Doncic, despite the talent of players like DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley. All this makes for an exciting close to the NBA season leading up to the actual draft lottery during the playoffs.
Be sure to check out my sit-down interview and scouting impressions of IMG Academy’s Anfernee Simons, who just declared for the NBA draft. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @JonDAdams as I’ll be tweeting out draft prospect information during the tournament games I am attending in addition to the McDonald’s All-American Game featuring some of the top players for the 2019 NBA draft class.
The following draft order is based on the Tankathon standings as of Saturday, March 24.
Here’s the latest March Madness edition of my 2018 NBA mock draft.
NBA Mock Draft 2018: Lottery Picks 1-14
No. 1 Phoenix Suns: PG Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
After watching the majority of NCAA tournament games, I deliberately put on some tape of Luka Doncic given he has been out of sight for the last month while the top prospects shine during March Madness. Doncic is great at getting into the teeth of the defense allowing him to either get buckets, or pass it out to an open teammate. At times, some of his mid-range shots remind me of Dirk Nowitzki in the way he contorts his body to avoid defenders.
According to SB Nation, Doncic is on pace to post the highest plus-minus number in Euroleague history. What’s the downside on Doncic? For as good as the Euroleague is, Doncic will be facing much more athletic players in the NBA. Doncic hismelf is not the most athletic player, but his playmaking ability will allow him to thrive. For as good as Ayton and Bagley have been down the stretch, I still have Doncic atop my board, and a big reason is the absolutely necessity of having great guard play to succeed in the ever-evolving NBA.
No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies: C DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
To the surprise of no one, Ayton officially declared for the NBA draft this week. As we get closer to the draft, we are likely headed to a two-person race between Ayton and Doncic for the No. 1 pick. Ayton is a seven-footer who moves like a guard, and shoots the ball better than the majority of top NBA big men did when they were in college.
“I’m just a kid from the Bahamas who came to the States when I was 12 years old with a dream. I can’t say anything about this journey other than that it’s God’s Plan 🙏🏾 Next Stop: 2018 NBA Draft,” Ayton tweeted out as he announced his NBA plans.
Ayton may not be an ideal fit in Memphis, but his athleticism will allow him to play with Marc Gasol. The Memphis big man has played nine seasons in the league, but still has a few more years left in the tank. Ayton gives him some help down low.
No. 3 Atlanta Hawks: F Marvin Bagley, Duke
Bagley has had the deepest tournament run of all the top NBA prospects. An NBA team can plug Bagley into their lineup, and expect the Duke big man to average a double-double. Bagley can accomplish this just by running the floor getting easy baskets along with his willingness to rebound.
It is hard to imagine Bagley not succeeding in the NBA as he has the perfect formula to contribute right away: size, athleticism and motor. Bagley has plenty of flaws, notably his shooting ability and lack of a shot blocking presence. These are things that can be improved, but Bagley still has a chance to be in the running for the No. 1 pick.
No. 4 Orlando Magic: C/F Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State
Jackson had a puzzling end to this season, and potentially his college career. Jackson played just 15 minutes in Michigan State’s upset loss to Syracuse. Jackson could end up being an even better pro than college player as Michigan State did not seem to fully utilize Jackson’s capabilities. This could help explain Jackson’s lack of flashy numbers at times.
Jackson’s scoring numbers were in single digits 10 times this season, including both NCAA tournament games where he combined for eight points. There were other times when Jackson was still able to shine during the season like his eight blocks against Rutgers and 19 points, seven rebound performance early on against Duke.
Jackson is one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft based on how he could project at the next level. He averaged over three blocks per game while shooting 39.6 percent from the three-point line making him very appealing as an NBA big.
No. 5 Dallas Mavericks: F Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
Porter’s two-game return was a disappointing end to Porter’s college career, but by the time June hits it will be a distant memory. The good news for Porter is he will be able to fully participate in pre-draft workouts and other events leading up to the draft. A team will gamble on him early based on potential, hoping he can return to the player he was prior to the injury.
No. 6 Cleveland Cavaliers: PG Collin Sexton, Alabama
Between the SEC tournament and March Madness, Sexton helped his draft stock dramatically. During these five tournament games, Sexton averaged 24.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists while shooting 47.8 percent from the three-point line. The big question surrounding Sexton is his shooting ability after shooting just 33.6 percent from long range during the season. Sexton showed he can get hot, but teams will want to evaluate how it translates at the next level.
Sexton has no problem getting buckets, and is at his best penetrating the lane. This allows him to be a scoring threat and opens up opportunities for his teammates because he can get to the rim with ease. I’ve pegged him to Cleveland in the last few mocks given the Cavs lack of great guard play.
No. 7 Sacramento Kings: F/C Wendell Carter, Duke
Carter reminds me of old school big man Horace Grant who made a lot of money by knocking down mid-range jumpers and rebounding. Just in case Grant was either before your time or you don’t remember the man with the goggles, here are some highlights of his days playing with Shaq and Penny.
Like Grant, Carter can hit the mid-range jumper as the big man is shooting 56.8 percent from the field. He does not have the athleticism of Bagley, but his play is a major reason for Duke’s success. Carter can bang down low grabbing rebounds, scoring on the block and defending. Carter seems unlikely to be a superstar, but he is a glue guy that a team will not win a championship without.
Having watched Carter in person against Georgia Tech when Bagley was out, Carter had no problem being the go-to player as he dropped 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in Atlanta.
No. 8 Chicago Bulls: F Miles Bridges, Michigan State
After last year’s disappointing early March Madness exit, draft fans were hoping to see Bridges go on a deep run in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Syracuse had other ideas, as they knocked out Michigan State in the Round of 32. Bridges turned down NBA money last summer to return to East Lansing for his sophomore season. He is unlikely to do the same thing this time around. Bridges gives the Bulls a scoring forward who has the potential to play both the three and the four in the NBA.
No. 9 New York Knicks: PG Trae Young, Oklahoma
We’ve been part of the club pulling for Trae Young to get to Madison Square Garden. It is hard to project how good Young can be in the NBA, as he gave scouts two different seasons this year at Oklahoma. The Steph Curry comparisons may be a bit overblown, but if Young could even develop into a player like J.J. Redick at the next level that is still extremely useful. Young’s unreal play at the beginning of the season created a new level of expectation that he did not live up to by season’s end. Let’s not forget Young led the NCAA in scoring and assists, something very difficult to do. Young is more than just a scorer, and has a great feel for getting his teammates involved.
No. 10 Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers): SF Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Bridges to the Sixers is a story that would be similar to a Disney movie. Bridges grew up in Malvern, Pennsylvania just a short drive from Philadelphia. He opted to stay close to home playing college basketball at Villanova, and the Sixers drafting him would make him the ultimate hometown kid. Bridges’ mother even works for the Sixers human resource department.
NBA teams don’t make selections based on cute stories, and Philadelphia would need to determine if Bridges is the best fit for their team. With the exception of his second half performance against Alabama, Bridges has been underwhelming in the NCAA tournament. With Villanova knocking on the door of the Final Four, Bridges still has an opportunity to shine as the perfect three-and-D NBA candidate.
No. 11 Charlotte Hornets: SF Kevin Knox, Kentucky
Knox along with Kentucky’s other top prospect struggled against Kansas State. Seeing Knox up close, he has the size and length that makes him an intriguing prospect. Having watched Knox play in several games, his performance leaves you wanting more. Knox only scored more than 25 points one time this season. That said, Knox’s usage at Kentucky was not high as the team never really identified a go-to player in the closing minutes. At times it was Knox, but other times Gilgeous-Alexander would try to take over.
After the game, Knox remained non-committal on his future, but based on his stock it appears likely he heads to the league. It is unclear what Knox’s NBA ceiling is, but his potential makes him a late lottery pick.
No. 12 Los Angeles Clippers: C Mo Bamba, Texas
The Clippers could use some insurance in case DeAndre Jordan ends up on another team, and there is a lot of value here if Bamba falls this far. Bamba has a chance to go in the top five, but I have a few big man ranked higher at this point in the process. With so many top-level bigs in the draft class, we are likely to see one or two fall on draft night just based on the number of big men. It says more about the depth of big men in this class than Bamba’s ability.
No. 13 Los Angeles Clippers: SG Lonnie Walker, Miami
With back-to-back picks, the Clippers are likely to take the best player available here. Walker never really got it going at Miami, and had bizarre usage for the Hurricanes starting the season coming off the bench. I still think Walker’s best days are in front of him, and he could end up being a better pro than college player. If there was a candidate in this draft class to be the next Donovan Mitchell, it would be Walker. Like Mitchell, Walker could end up being a later lottery pick, and did not put up eye-dropping stats in college.
No. 14 Denver Nuggets: C Robert Williams, Texas A&M
The Nuggets are not desperate for a big man thanks to Nikola Jokic, but Williams offers some value here. After being a potential lottery pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Williams opted to return for another season at College Station. The results were mixed as Williams did not live up to the expectations many had for him when the season started. The good news is Williams helped himself in the tournament.
Williams had 13 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in the Aggies first round win over Providence. He followed it up with eight points, 13 rebounds and two blocks against North Carolina. Williams displayed the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper in addition to his emphatic slam.
Williams has a wide range in the lottery, but an NBA team will look at his high points during his sophomore year as proof of the player he could become.
NBA Mock Draft 2018: Picks 15-30
Here’s a look at my mock draft for the second half of the first round.
|No. 15 Phoenix Suns (via Bucks)||C Daniel Gafford, Arkansas|
|No. 16 Phoenix Suns (via Heat)||PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky|
|No. 17 Washington Wizards||C Mitchell Robinson, N/A|
|No. 18 Utah Jazz||G/F Troy Brown, Oregon|
|No. 19 Indiana Pacers||PG Aaron Holiday, UCLA|
|No. 20 Atlanta Hawks (via T-Wolves)||SG Anfernee Simons, IMG|
|No. 21 Philadelphia Sixers||SG Khyri Thomas, Creighton|
|No. 22 Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans)||G De’Anthony Melton, USC|
|No. 23 San Antonio Spurs||SF Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State|
|No. 24 Minnesota T-Wolves (via Thunder)||SG/SF Chandler Hutchison, Boise State|
|No. 25 L.A. Lakers (via Cavs)||SF Jacob Evans, Cincinnati|
|No. 26 Portland Trail Blazers||SF Dzanan Musa, Cedevita|
|No. 27 Boston Celtics||SG Bruce Brown, Miami|
|No. 28 Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors)||SF Zhaire Smith, Texas Tech|
|No. 29 Golden State Warriors||SG Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky|
|No. 30 Atlanta Hawks (via Rockets)||PG Devonte Graham, Kansas|
Source: Heavy Sports