NBA mock draft 2018: Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton at No. 1?

March Madness is here. It’s time for a new NBA mock draft.

The NCAA tournament bracket is out. If you’re an NBA fan who hasn’t watched much college basketball yet, this is the time to finally tune into the sport.

Our latest mock draft serves as a primer of the names you need to know entering March. Of the 30 players we tab as first-round picks, 24 of them will be playing in the NCAA tournament. That includes 12 of the 14 projected lottery picks.

The biggest draft subplot entering the tournament remains the race for the No. 1 pick. Slovenian-born forward Luka Doncic has been considered a slight favorite for the honor, but Arizona center Deandre Ayton is pushing him hard.

Can Ayton unseat Doncic for No. 1? This is how we’re looking at the 2018 NBA Draft on the brink of March Madness.

1. Memphis Grizzlies – Luka Doncic, G, Slovenia

We’ve had Doncic at No. 1 since our very first 2018 mock draft in late June, but there’s no denying Ayton has gained ground on him. As Doncic’s play has started to dip during the longer European pro season, Ayton’s hype has never been louder as March Madness grabs the national spotlight.

So why do we still have Doncic over Ayton at No. 1? Because of Doncic’s superior skill level, positional versatility, and his overall knack for making winning plays.

Everyone knows Doncic fills the boxscore, but he also does so many little things that don’t necessarily show up there. This was evident during Slovenia’s upset run to the EuroBasket championship and has consistently shown up during his Real Madrid career.

Ayton might be a safer pick for proven statistical production, but Doncic feels like he might have a higher ceiling because of a blend of elite skills we rarely see in a prospect.

2. Phoenix Suns – Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona

Ayton should be nothing less than a multi-time NBA All-Star. He has elite size and athleticism for a center, with a skill set that is developing at a rapid rate.

Ayton can score in the post. He can score on a face-up jumper with range that extends to the three-point line. He’s a great lob target on alley-oops. He’s a ferocious offensive rebounder who can get off the ground twice before most big men can do it once. And when Ayton catches the ball near the basket, it’s a near certainty he’s finishing with a power dunk.

Even without a top-flight point guard getting him the ball at Arizona, Ayton has turned into one of the country’s most efficient scorers. He’s averaged 20 points per game on a 66 percent true shooting percentage, with impressive marks for a man his size from three-point range (34 percent) and the foul line (74 percent).

There are still questions about his defensive instincts, which are particularly important for a center in the NBA. But he has every tool to eventually turn into an asset on that side of the ball.

Want a comparison? Think a more explosive version of DeMarcus Cousins. Not bad for the second pick.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers – Jaren Jackson Jr., C, Michigan State

Jackson doesn’t have the gaudy stats to match Ayton or Duke’s Marvin Bagley, but he does have a skill set that’s a more natural fit in today’s NBA. Jackson can stretch the floor on offense and protect the rim on defense. What more do you want out of a modern center?

Defense should be Jackson’s calling card. He has quick feet, a 7’4 wingspan, and the intrinsic gift of timing when it comes to shot blocking. His block rate of 14.6 is No. 5 in the country — ahead of even Mohamed Bamba. Just watch the way he’s able to stick with Illinois guard Mark Alstork all over the court:

Offensively, Jackson’s biggest value comes as a shooter. He’s knocked down 38 threes this year at a 39.6-percent rate, giving him an edge on Ayton, Bagley, and Mohamed Bamba as a perimeter shooter.

He’s also coordinated enough to finish around the rim with either hand. For a player only averaging 11.3 points per game, there’s a lot to like about Jackson.

4. Orlando Magic – Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas

Bamba isn’t a finished product, but there’s so much to like about his potential. His appeal starts with his historic length — his 7’9 wingspan will be the longest in the NBA from the moment he enters the league. He’s already a skilled shot blocker, swatting shots on 13.3 percent of opponent possessions, the No. 7 mark in the country.

Bamba’s offensive upside relies largely on his jump shot. He’s knocked down 13 threes this season, but at just a 26.5 percent clip. Still, he’s a confident shooter with solid form who should be able to make stride as he matures. Initially, he’ll provide his largest offensive value as a lob target and screen setter.

5. Atlanta Hawks – Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri

Porter missed his entire freshman season after back surgery, but made his return for Mizzou in the SEC tournament, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds on 5-of-17 shooting from the floor in a loss to Georgia. Before the injury, Porter was considered a possible No. 1 overall pick.

Porter became arguably the top incoming recruit in college basketball because he’s an athletic 6’10 combo forward who can score inside, in the mid-range, and beyond the arc. In a draft loaded with big men but light on wings, he fills a positional need for almost every team at the top of the order.

The injury is definitely a concern. How Porter checks out medically will ultimately determine if he goes higher or lower than this.

6. Sacramento Kings – Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke

Bagley is tall (6’11) and extremely athletic, with great touch around the basket. These things are indisputable. It makes Bagley almost unstoppable at the college level, where he’s averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game.

The question is how his game will translate to the NBA.

A bet on Bagley comes with the idea that he’s just scratching the surface of his skill level. He’s shooting 36 percent from three-point range on 50 attempts this season, but he’s only a 62-percent free-throw shooter. You can see the outline of a playmaking big man who can attack off the dribble for himself and others, but his feel and handle are still developing.

Finding the right team will be as important with Bagley as any prospect. Bagley is not a shot blocker and he doesn’t have strong defensive instincts right now. He needs a defensive anchor next to him, ideally one who can also stretch the floor.

7. Dallas Mavericks – Wendell Carter Jr., C, Duke

There’s a lot that Wendell Carter does well. At 6’10 and 260 pounds with a 7’3 wingspan, he’s a monster rebounder who ranks in the top 100 of both offensive and defensive rebound rate nationally. He’s can score with his back to the basket or with a face-up jumper. He’s been shockingly good from three-point range, canning 50 percent of the 38 threes he’s attempted. He’s also a solid post defender who uses his length to block 2.2 shots per game.

The issue with Carter is he isn’t a great defender in space. If he can figure that out as he gets older, he could be an Al Horford-type on the next level.

8. Chicago Bulls – Mikal Bridges, SF, Villanova

Bridges isn’t a go-to scorer or playmaker, and that limits his ceiling. He’s not someone who is going to initiate offense or create scoring opportunities off the dribble late in the shot clock. Bridges sticks to what he knows, and that’s playing great perimeter defense and hitting three-pointers.

But in today’s NBA, a good three-and-D wing is incredibly valuable. That’s worth a top-10 pick.

Bridges is one of college basketball’s elite defenders, leveraging his 7’1 wingspan to get into passing lanes and smother smaller ball handlers. He’s also grown into a knockdown three-point shooter after four years of college basketball, hitting 42 percent of his triples this season.

9. New York Knicks – Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma

Ah, yes, Trae Young. The man who went from the best story in college basketball to the sport’s most polarizing player in the span of a few weeks.

Young was a golden boy for the first half of the season, drawing Steph Curry comparisons with unlimited shooting range and dazzling passing ability. Oklahoma — a team that won 11 games a year ago — suddenly found itself ranked in the top five.

Then the second half of the year happened. Young’s efficiency tanked, his turnovers spiraled out of control, and suddenly his deep threes weren’t falling as regularly. The Sooners lost eight of their last 10 and almost missed the NCAA tournament completely.

It’s important to recognize the reality of Young’s situation. Oklahoma didn’t have another NBA prospect on the roster, or anyone who could create their own shot. Young carried an immense burden all season. The cost of that was losing some efficiency. He’s still a great shooter and passer who should be even better with real talent around him.

His defense … well, let’s not talk about his defense.

10. Charlotte Hornets – Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama

Sexton is the polar opposite of Young. He’s bigger, stronger, and more athletic, a downhill point guard who thrives getting to the rim and to the free-throw line. Sexton drew 7.6 fouls per 40 minutes, good for seventh-best in the country. He’s also a tough defender thanks to a relentlessly competitive mindset.

Sexton just isn’t the shooter or passer Young is. He hit only 30.6 percent of his threes and averaged 3.6 assists per game, compared to 8.8 for Young. If his jumper comes around, he could become similar to Kyle Lowry.

11. Los Angeles Clippers – Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Bridges is a monster athlete with good shooting touch who plays a premium position as a wing. He can be deadly as a cutter on the baseline or a lob target, thanks to his effortless ability to finish above the rim. He’s also a solid shooter — hitting 37.8 percent of his threes across two college seasons on over five attempts per game.

The frustrating thing about Bridges is he appears too willing to settle for a jumper. A player as strong and athletic as he is should be able to get to the rim off the bounce. Maybe it will happen as he grows in the league and his ball-handling ability improves.

12. Philadelphia 76ers – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

A 6’6 point guard with a 7-foot wingspan, Gilgeous-Alexander has gone from one of Kentucky’s least heralded recruits to its best two-way player. SGA can get into the teeth of the defense and use his length to finish inside. He’s also a skilled passer, averaging five assists per game. Shooting is the question mark, but he’s hitting 40 percent of his threes (and 80 percent of his free throws) on a low volume this season.

13. Denver Nuggets – Kevin Knox, F, Kentucky

Knox is a 6’9 combo forward who has developed into Kentucky’s most reliable scorer as a freshman. He’s a solid spot-up shooter (35 percent from three) who can also get a look from mid-range off the dribble. When his jumper is falling, he looks fantastic.

Knox does need to grow on the defensive end to reach his potential. He has the tools to be an impact defender who can switch screens and guard multiple positions, but that hasn’t showed up in his lowly block and steals numbers yet.

14. Utah Jazz – Dzanan Musa, SF, Bosnia

Musa is a lanky wing who has put up big scoring numbers playing as a pro in Europe since he was 17 years old. He’s a confident shooter from three-point range who can get hot in a hurry, and he’s also shown some slashing ability. Defense is the big question mark.

15. Phoenix Suns – Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M

Williams is a 6’10, 240-pound big man who projects as a quality shot blocker and lob target thanks to his 7’4 wingspan and elite leaping ability. His numbers have stagnated as a sophomore after a surprising decision to return to school despite being projected as a lottery pick in last season’s draft. He also hasn’t been in an ideal scenario, logging lots of minutes at power forward next to a throwback center in Tyler Davis.

A role similar to Clint Capela’s — a screen setter and rim runner surrounded by shooters — seems like the best way to unlock his potential.

16. Phoenix Suns – Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Smith is projected as the No. 16 pick in the 2019 draft by ESPN right now, which means slotting him in here is breaking from the consensus quite a bit. Three reasons I think it’s possible:

  • This part of the draft feels totally unstable right now.
  • There’s a dearth of wings available.
  • Smith is a monster athlete who is all over the floor whenever you watch Texas Tech.

Smith was barely a top-200 recruit out of high school, but he’s made a name for himself quickly because of his energetic presence on both ends of the floor. Smith’s most immediate impact will come on defense, where the 6’5 guard has elite athleticism, a lockdown mindset, and the ability to force turnovers. Offensively, he’ll get baskets around the rim just based on his athleticism. He’s also been a 40 percent three-point shooter, albeit on low volume.

17. Los Angeles Clippers – Mitchell Robinson, C

Robinson should have been at Western Kentucky this season, but a series of bizarre occurrences left him training for the draft all year instead. He was a McDonald’s All-American out of high school as an ultra athletic 7-footer who profiles in a shot blocker/lob target role similar to the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert. His offensive skill set remains unrefined.

18. Philadelphia 76ers – Lonnie Walker, SG, Miami

Walker tore his meniscus in the preseason and took a while to work himself into shape. It’s part of the reason his numbers on the season are relatively underwhelming at 11.6 points per game on just 42 percent shooting from the field. His talent has never been in question, and lately that’s shining through more and more.

Walker entered the ACC tournament hitting multiple three pointers in his last five games. He has a short, compact stroke that should translate to the NBA line. He’s also capable of some creative finishes driving to the basket, which should only increase as he gets more comfortable playing on the ball.

19. Minnesota Timberwolves – Troy Brown, G, Oregon

Brown is a 6’7 wing with a well-rounded game. Considered a point guard for most of his prep career, Brown is a heady passer and productive defender thanks in large part to his 6’11 wingspan. He’s not an above-the-rim athlete or a knockdown shooter (30 percent from three) yet.

20. Indiana Pacers – Anfernee Simons, G, IMG Academy

Simons could enter the draft or play college basketball next season after doing a grad year at IMG Academy. ESPN had him as a top-five pick in the 2019 draft originally, which means he could provide big upside to a patient team at the bottom half of the first round.

Simons is 6’3 and rail thin, but he has great bounce and the ability to hit shots off the dribble. A year or two in the G-League would do him a lot of good.

21. Washington Wizards – Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas

Gafford is another athletic rim-running, rim-protecting center. He’s a long and mobile big man who has enough hops at 6’11 to do stuff like this:

Gafford does all of his work close to the basket. He has not attempted a three-pointer and is only a 53 percent free-throw shooter.

22. Atlanta Hawks – Chandler Hutchinson, F, Boise State

Hutchinson is the first senior off the board as a 6’7 slashing wing who made major strides as a shooter over his four years in school. He’s a 36.5 percent three-point marksman over the last two years, which has opened up the rest of his game. He averaged 19.5 points per game for Boise this season.

23. San Antonio Spurs – Jontay Porter, C, Missouri

Michael Porter’s brother is considered a 2019 draft prospect for now, but his skill set as a shot blocker (top-100 nationally in block rate) and three-point shooter (38 percent from deep) could make him appealing to teams in the pre-draft process. He hasn’t been consistent this season and he’s still working on improving his body, so another year in school might not be the worst idea.

Also: our Mizzou man Bill Connelly told me he reminds him of Sam Perkins.

24. Los Angeles Lakers – Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State

Bates-Diop blew up this season, averaging 19 points per game and garnering All-American acclaim for Ohio State as a junior. He’s a 6’7 wing who can guard multiple positions and score in a pinch. He hit 35 percent of his threes this season, and ability to hit spot-up jumpers will likely make or break his pro career.

25. Chicago Bulls – DeAndre Hunter, SF, Virginia

Hunter has been a breakout star for Virginia as a redshirt freshman, morphing into ACC Sixth Man of the Year and an emerging NBA prospect — if not this year, then next. The 6’7 wing has a compact shooting stroke (37 percent from three), a developing comfort level with the ball and plus athleticism. It’s not easy to find a long, skilled wing at this point in the first round.

26. Portland Trail Blazers – Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Thomas is one of college basketball’s most ferocious perimeter defenders thanks to a lockdown mindset and 6’10 wingspan that makes him play bigger than he actually is at 6’3. Thomas has also developed into a 42 percent three-point shooter this year. He knows what he’s good at and does it well.

27. Boston Celtics – Aaron Holiday, G, UCLA

Holiday is a tough, defensive-minded point guard who has grown into a 20 points per game scorer and 45 percent three-point shooter this season. His brothers, Jrue and Justin, carved out quality NBA careers, and Aaron should, too.

28. Brooklyn Nets – Shake Milton, G, SMU

Milton is a 6’6 junior point guard who has hit at least 42 percent of his threes during every year of his college career.

29. Golden State Warriors – Jacob Evans, SG, Cincinnati

Evans is a 6’6 shooting guard who profiles as a 3-and-D wing player. He’s hit over 40 percent from three-point range the last two years, and has been a critical cog in Cincy’s No. 2-overall defense in the country.

30. Atlanta Hawks – Rawle Alkins, SG, Arizona

Alkins is a strong 6’5, 220-pound shooting guard who thrives getting to the rim. He’s also turned into a 38 percent three-point shooter this season. – All Posts