NBA Draft Big Board - Lottery 2018

-Jim Root

2018 NBA Draft - @2ndChancePoints Big Board

Before I get into the rankings and write-ups, I want to quick outline what these rankings are meant to do. First and foremost, these are NOT where I think the players will be taken in the draft - it's not a mock draft, and it's not an attempt to rank them as a GM would rank them.

Instead, these rankings reflect the order in which I would draft these players in a vacuum, based on fit in the current NBA, perceived upside, and the chance that the particular player reaches that ceiling. They will not be ranked purely on upside - for instance, someone like Zhaire Smith has a sky high upside, but due to how raw he is and my uncertainty that he reaches said ceiling, he gets knocked down just a bit. 

With regard to "the current NBA" - shooting and the spacing that comes with it was given a particular premium, as I believe that is the most important single skill on offense. Defensively, an emphasis was placed on positional versatility and rim protection, as many of the league's best defenses utilize copious switching. Lastly, IQ on both ends matters a great deal - does the player think the game, make good decisions in space, can they make quick decisions in traffic, etc. - all of which is relevant on both sides of the ball.  

Tier 1

1.      Luka Doncic

Doncic is a prototypical weapon for any team - he can shoot, dribble, and pass at a high level, allowing him to play on or off the ball (and thus fit in with any system/player grouping). He can be a primary initiator, running the pick-and-roll at an elite level while scoring or setting up teammates with equal aplomb, or he can spot up around other action and be a gravitational threat with his shooting (his percentages are low-30s mostly due to the difficult brand of shots he took as Madrid's lead ball-handler). Sam Vecenie wrote a tremendous breakdown of Luka's offensive game here - unfortunately it's Athletic subscribers only, but check it out if you are one. 

The other end of the court is where the questions will come. He's not ultra-quick laterally nor is he supremely explosive vertically, but his sky high basketball IQ should keep him in the right spot most of the time.  He's a good athlete, not a great one, so while he may never be a lockdown defender, he can be solid in a team scheme.  

Ultimately, Doncic is going to be an extremely polarizing player due to how few people have seen him play extensively and the fact that the NCAA draft prospects are so highly regarded. His already-elite skill level and versatility give him an extremely high floor (Joe Ingles is really good, so that's me giving him high praise!), but the upside of being the primary creator for a terrific playoff team that can play in any style is the true appeal. 

2.      Jaren Jackson Jr.

Of all the heralded bigs sitting near the top of this draft class, JJJ was probably the least traditionally productive of the bunch. However, that’s not enough of a reason to knock JJJ down past #2 for me. Sure, he had some minor foul issues, but Tom Izzo’s bizarre inclination to consistently feed minutes to Xavier Tillman, Kenny Goins, Gavin Schilling, etc. drained Jackson’s opportunities. Izzo is often loathe to fully trust freshmen, but JJJ’s elite play was begging to be utilized more frequently.

When he did play, Jackson was an absolute monster and essentially the perfect big for the current NBA. He has the unicorn combination of a threatening outside shot (although I’m hesitant to buy his weird push form immediately extending to NBA range) and elite shot-blocking ability (14.3% block rate, 4th nationally), and when combined with his excellent feet and ability to switch 1 through 5, he has limitless positional fungibility. He’s still developing his off-the-bounce game, but the flashes were there (in a system that very rarely allowed for it), and with more shooting and spacing around him in the NBA, it’s very possible that aspect of his game evolves a little more.

He’s slightly less refined at this point than the gargantuan Ayton or the more-polished Carter, but he’s also younger with time to grow into his lanky, bouncy frame. He has a livewire “litheness” to his gait (I’d compare it to Andrew Wiggins, although he hasn’t really put it to use), always looking ready to explode either horizontally or vertically, and that athletic potential (to go with his burgeoning skill level and positionless nature) makes him a top-tier prospect in my eyes.

Tier 2

3.      Michael Porter Jr.

One of my bigger hopes with this draft is that MPJ will get placed with a creative and intelligent offensive coach. With his size and offensive skill, he could be a massive weapon in a modern scheme that emphasizes ball movement, off-ball screens, and attacking mismatches. But if he gets stuck in a system that just rotates isolation possessions or doesn’t properly allocate roles on the offensive end, he could become a Rudy Gay/late-career Carmelo-esque ball-stopper. I loosely compare it to Jayson Tatum last year – if Tatum had ended up on, say, Phoenix, I think he might have struggled given too large an offensive burden right off the bat. Instead, he ended up under the brilliant tutelage of Brad Stevens in Boston, and he was constantly put in positions to succeed in a varying, multi-weapon system.

MPJ’s college career was a complete throwaway, tantalizing Mizzou fans (aka me) with his potential, but ultimately succumbing to a back injury and only returning for the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, sans any vertical explosion. Speculation on my part, but he might not have returned it all were it not for Cullen Van Leer’s ACL tear (plus Jordan Barnett’s DUI suspension) and the subsequent lack of depth that Mizzou had. Ultimately, my point is – taking anything away from his 2+ college games is a waste of time.

Throughout EYBL and his high school days, Porter exhibited an effortless scoring ability, able to knock down jumpers from all over the court and use his size and touch to finish at the rim. Defensively, he has some gigantic question marks, as his lack of lower body strength limits his ability to guard bigs, and his questionable lateral quickness makes him vulnerable to quicker guards, as well. Like on offense, he will need a coach who can engage him properly on this end, getting him to work at a higher rate, use his length, and allow his basketball IQ to get him in the right positions.

4.      DeAndre Ayton

Ayton is, in some ways, a similar prospect to Bagley (a souped up version, even) – he has all the makings of an offensive hurricane, as his outrageous size and strength at his age plus impressive shooting stroke could make him unstoppable right out of the gate. But questions in other parts of his game, particularly on D and in his fit in the modern NBA, make him less of a surefire star than many in the mainstream media are making him out to be.

To my eyes, he’s not good in space, most notably getting exploited by Buffalo's Jeremy Harris in the NCAA Tournament. This is far too easy:

He also doesn’t bring the elite level rim protection one might expect from a player with his physical tools (in the above clip, Harris shoots with his inside hand, and Ayton doesn't even challenge the shot). Part of the issue is that he was stuck playing the four in college due to Arizona’s questionable wing/forward options (and thus was pulled away from the rim frequently), but he himself seems intent on being more of a forward than a center. Plus, even if he plays center, teams will attempt to attack him in switches whenever possible. 

As good as his post game is already, he will need to continue to get better there to ensure he consistently punishes switches, because his offense needs to make up for the likely-inadequate defense.

5.      Marvin Bagley

Bagley’s decision to reclass into the high school class of 2017 amped up an already strong group of bigs, and his impressive combination of size at 6’11, ball-handling, and vertical explosiveness offer tantalizing potential for a coach to mold into a monster. Throw in the makings of a useful jump shot (23/58 from 3, 40%), and his offensive ceiling is in the clouds.

That ball-handling and ability to put the ball on the floor is probably his greatest asset – although his wingspan (just 7’0.5) might make it tough to play the five all the time, if he can attack opposing bigs off the bounce, he will feast. On the other hand, if he does have a size mismatch, he has a developing post game with which to take advantage of it. He’s a total monster on the offensive glass, possessing a quick second jump that was second to none in college basketball this year, and although that advantage might be mitigated somewhat against NBA athletes, he still has the instincts and motor to be a superb NBA rebounder.

The larger concerns for Bagley reside on the defensive end, where it’s unclear exactly what role he’ll play. His lack of positional wherewithal was a driving force behind why Duke had to play zone full time, and even in that alignment, he often found himself out of position. His aforementioned limited wingspan hurts his potential as a rim protector, and it’s not clear whether he can adequately switch onto smaller wings. Like other recent Duke NBA players, he’ll likely need to be hidden on defense to start his career, at least until his IQ on that end gets up to speed. Again – with his size and fluid mobility, he has potential here, it’s just a large work in progress for now.

6.      Wendell Carter Jr.

Carter is a superb consolation prize big man for anyone that misses on JJJ/Ayton/Bagley. He's a true center, but one with just enough mobility to not get entirely run off the floor when attacked in switches.  He's an elite rebounder, and he has the developing shooting chops to be a floor-spacing big man. Duke played a ton of zone, and although Bagley and Carter were parts of that, Duke's guards were just as big a reason for the switch, if not more, so I don't knock WCJ too much for that. 

You can see the "upside" comparison I give him above - like Bosh on the Heat, I don't think Carter can be the best player on a title winner (maybe not even the second best), but his intelligent ball movement, rebounding, rim protection, and shooting upside make him the perfect big man to play alongside dynamic scoring guards/wings. 

7.      Miles Bridges

Miles is in the elite tier of athletes in this draft. At his size and strength, his ability to explode vertically makes him an excellent finisher (66% at the rim, good for a wing prospect), and while he was already a solid rebounder, he could become outstanding in that regard when not constantly playing alongside two big men (especially glass gobblers like Nick Ward, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Xavier Tillman. 

He's not a primary initiator, but he can attack closeouts off the catch, and he knocked in 37% of his 339 three-point attempts in college, a promising mark for his shooting development (especially when paired with his 85% FT shooting this year).  However, for as good of an athlete as he is, he draws fouls at an extremely low rate, not exhibiting the necessary thirst for contact when attacking the glass to take full advantage of his athletic gifts and smooth FT stroke. 

Defensively, he has gobs of potential. His 6' 9.5" wingspan isn't freakish, but his stout frame and multi-positional versatility make him an ideal switchable player in the NBA. Plus, he's learned defensive principles from Tom Izzo, a background which has done plenty of favors for players like Draymond Green and Gary Harris. Bridges' intersection of ball skills, perimeter shooting, big wing size, and athleticism make him an extremely appealing prospect in the mid- to late-lottery.  

Tier 3

8.      Trae Young

Young is a potentially massively impactful offensive player in the modern NBA, with his quick trigger and deep range offering the spacing and gravity for which many NBA teams yearn. He’s also an incisive passer in transition and in the halfcourt, using creative angles and skip passes to create open shots for teammates. On the other hand, he was an absurdly ball-dominant player in college (led the nation in usage), and it will take the right coach to weave his talents into a cohesive offense.

And on the defensive end…yikes. I have basically no faith in Young settling above a “bad” defender, with his peak outcome seemingly just average. Due to small physical dimensions and an apparent disinterest in even trying on that end, Young’s presence was almost as harmful defensively as it was beneficial on O. In the NBA’s current state, he’ll be targeted relentlessly in mismatches and pick-and-rolls, so it feels inevitable that he’ll be a negative on that end. The one ray of hope is that with a lesser creative burden, he’ll have more energy to try on D, but that doesn’t cover his physical limitations.

9.      Mikal Bridges

I've long loved Mikal Bridges, ever since his redshirt freshman year on the 2016 Villanova title team as a defensive monster (we called him The Octopus). He barely looked at the basket that year while surrounded by terrific and experienced offensive threats, and it seemed like his ceiling was in the Andre Roberson, Tony Allen vein of "all defense, no offense" (he shot 30% from 3 that year). But over the previous two seasons, his offense has evolved drastically, until he was one of the country's most efficient players and a leading usage guy for one of the best college offenses in history. He flashed a superb post game, made the right pass within the system (although not a tremendously creative passer), and became one of the country's truly elite shooters (98th percentile on spot ups, 91st percentile off screens per Synergy). Knocking down this type of shot with regularity would significantly raise his value (vs. just being a standstill shooter):

That rapid offensive development is why I think Bridges has a little higher ceiling than he gets credit for. He's still adding tools to his offensive skill set, and given how smooth he is on the floor, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he continues to evolve off the dribble. That's by no means a certainty - but despite him being an "old" prospect, he still has room to grow. 

Defensively, his frame still needs to add some strength, but he's long with extremely active hands, both of which allow him to generate steals and block shots at impressive rates for a wing. I think there's elite upside on this end for him, too, although he'll got bodied by stronger wings early in his career. 

10.   Mo Bamba

Bamba has been by far the toughest big for me to figure out of the JJJ/Ayton/Bagley/Carter group. He is, first and foremost, a physical marvel, sporting an NBA combine record 7’10" wingspan and 9'7.5" standing reach, with the tools to be one of the league’s premier rim protectors. He’s also flashed potential as a shooter – while his percentages at Texas weren’t great, he has the requisite willingness to fire from deep, and the progress on his form (while working with skills guru Drew Hanlen) is among the best I’ve seen this offseason. If he truly has the shot-blocking/shooting combination that teams salivate over, #10 will be far too low for him.

On the other hand, he’s also extremely thin in both his legs and arms, lacking the physicality to move NBA bigs off their spots, and he doesn’t have the post-up game or strength to score on offense, even against switches. It seems weird to think of a 7’0 guy with a 7’10 wingspan as primarily a floor spacer on offense, but that may be his best role at this point (and I’m not even 100% sold on the shot yet). I’m also not all the way there on his basketball IQ and drive, as he often seemed to float through games, unsure how to impact them when opponents took away his limited offensive gifts. More than once when at PK80 with my 3MW cohorts, we forgot he was even on the court.  He also struggles in space defensively, so he’d definitely be best-served in a defensive scheme that drops the screener’s man into the paint, avoiding the need to switch and D up on the perimeter.

Bamba has insinuated through the pre-draft process that he might embrace a role as a pick-and-roll dive man, and with his reach and coordination, he would be a terror. As long as he avoids the Dwight Howard-itis of demanding post touches and plays more like an elastic version of Clint Capela, his offensive role becomes much clearer.

Tier 4

11.   Zhaire Smith

I feel pretty comfortable calling Zhaire Smith the best athlete in the draft, a destructive leaper whose tip-dunks constantly popped up in nightly highlight reels. The explosion is particularly impressive because of how he wielded it in games (aka not just a workout warrior – cough Hami Diallo cough), and that kind of raw burst obviously has major appeal, regardless of the accompanying talents. That’s not the extent of what he has to offer, though.

Despite a pedestrian recruiting pedigree, Smith pairs his physical tools with an innate feel for the game on both ends, timing his off-ball cuts and offensive rebound assaults perfectly within Texas Tech’s offensive system. He also fit seamlessly into TT’s stout defensive scheme, as Chris Beard allowed his impressive group of athletes to extend more than usual out of his Tony Bennett-esque pack line. His stock rates were very solid, and he has potential as a true on-ball perimeter stopper given his length (nearly 6'10 wingspan), strength, and lateral quickness.

Part of his basketball IQ showed in his awareness of his own limitations on offense – he played within himself, sprucing up his tremendous efficiency by sporting a relatively low usage rate (18.5%, fifth on his own team) and limiting his iffy three-point stroke to only 40 attempts (he did make 40% of them – small sample size theater, though). Keenan Evans was one of college basketball’s best orchestrators this year, and Smith correctly deferred to the senior, but his lack of creation opportunities (lower even than another Red Raider freshman wing, Jarrett Culver) is a cause for concern for any team hoping he will eventually be a primary creator. With his athletic dominance, though, the bar to clear is lower, and he certainly has the potential to outperform this ranking if his shooting and ball skills accelerate up the development curve.

12.   Troy Brown

Brown is slightly polarizing in draft circles, primarily due to the gap between his ball skills and IQ vs. his overall athleticism. He's a former high school point guard who thinks the game at a high level, makes excellent and crisp passes, and has the size to defend multiple positions. He didn't consistently make shots at Oregon, but his form is fluid to my eyes, giving me hope that he can be somewhat of a threat from the outside. Without that, he's more of a ball-mover who's not quite big enough to be the short roll man in PnR, hurting his value. 

As mentioned, his overall athleticism isn't quite up to snuff, though. He's not unathletic, per se, but as a 3-and-D guy, you'd like a little more bounce and suddenness to his movements. He's often in the right place positionally on defense - his smarts help on both ends - but he won't be of any help as a wing shot blocker the way either of the Bridges or Zhaire Smith might:

Still, though, I have faith in Brown's game because of his intelligence and potential for growth. If he's put in a "roll the balls out"-type attack, he'll struggle, especially at first, but on a more structured team where he can use his IQ and passing, he can be a very useful wing. 

13.   DeAnthony Melton

Melton has grown on me quite a bit during the draft process. He was a defensive menace during the one year that the NCAA allowed him to play, racking up steals and blocks using his long, stout frame. He has outstanding feel on both ends of the court, with a knack for making incisive passes or rotating at the right time. 

The issue is his jump shot. I like the Jrue Holiday comp because like Holiday, Melton has All-NBA defensive potential, but he will need to make great strides from the perimeter. Melton made 28.4% of his 74 attempts; for comparison, Holiday hit 30.7% of 88 threes during his only college campaign. Holiday is still not an elite shooter, but he's become a threat from deep, and if Melton can do the same, it unlocks yet another aspect in which he can make an impact and opens up his ceiling as a player. 

14.   Kevin Huerter

Huerter’s biggest positive is his tremendous jump shot, both standstill and on the move. A clearly translatable skill like that makes it a lot easier to stick in the NBA, and when that skill is perhaps the most valuable one in the league’s current iteration, the advantage multiplies. Huerter pairs that smooth stroke with solid size and surprising vertical athleticism (his 38-inch max vertical was better than DeAnthony Melton, Jacob Evans, and Khyri Thomas, among others). 

Like Troy Brown, Huerter also thinks the game at a high-level, understanding scheme and roles defensively, tagging roll men and rotating properly when necessary.  He's burst onto the scene somewhat, but with the tools and outside shot that he possesses, I'd be shocked if he didn't help a team pretty early on. 

15.   Collin Sexton
16.   Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Techincally, these two aren't "lottery-rated," but I'm including them because I place them in the same tier as Melton and the Tier 4 wings.

Sexton is a fearless lead guard whose infectious energy can galvanize a team, and his ability to get to the rim and draw contact should translate thanks to his length and athleticism. On the downside, his streaky shooting and high usage habits/shot selection weren't able to engineer an efficient offense in Tuscaloosa. He was certainly hurt by the youth and total dearth of shooting around him (and there's reason to believe his driving will be even more useful with NBA spacing), but doubts remain about his ability to truly run an offense and set up others.  It's worth noting, though, that Alabama's offense fell off a cliff without him (1.07ppp w/ him, 0.92ppp w/o him - per Hoop Lens). 

Gilgeous-Alexander is a tricky prospect. He has some lead guard qualities - and Kentucky truly excelled once it turned over the offensive reins to him - but his true value lies in his monstrous length on the defensive end and ability to switch 1-3 (and possibly 1-4 if he adds strength/weight to his thin frame). His best fit is a team that allows him to create off the dribble, de-emphasizes his lack of shooting (he was efficient from deep, but on a very low volume), and weaponizes him on defense.