No topic is debated more among NBA fans than the pros and cons of “super teams”. The assumption is teams in bigger markets clear cap space, and lure marquee free agents away from smaller markets. To be clear, this does happen, but this is not how the Warriors built one of the best organizations in the NBA. Golden State’s success is a product of the NBA draft, and it is the same way we have seen winning NBA franchises be built for decades.
When fans complain about super teams, what we’re really asking is for NBA GM’s to build better teams. With the exception of the 2016 addition of Kevin Durant, the core of the Warriors all came through the draft. Steph Curry was drafted No. 7 in the 2009 draft, Klay Thompson No. 11 in the 2011 draft and selecting Draymond Green in the second round (No. 35 overall) of the 2012 draft.
Why were all three of those picks so successful? The reasons are worth a separate article, but the biggest thing the Warriors were able to do is identify talent that was undervalued by the rest of the league. For Curry, teams questioned his size, Thompson had off-court challenges and Green was a position-less big man with weight concerns. In economic terms, the Warriors capitalized on market inefficiencies the same way any other team could have done.
The draft is about calculated risk as none of these players were sure things on draft night, but the Warriors took a chance on the right players. Golden State’s case study even proves there is margin for error as they selected Baylor big man Ekpe Udoh over players like Paul George and Gordon Hayward in the 2010 draft.
Identifying skill is the easy part, but picking players who will continue to stay motivated after receiving an NBA contract, as well as players who will mesh with a team’s current roster is far from an exact science. There is a reason there are not a lot of teams like the Warriors in the NBA, and that is it is very difficult to get the draft right year after year. However, Golden State shows it is possible, and the teams with long-term staying power will do just that. The Warriors have been able to pair elite level drafting with other smart personnel decisions like hiring Steve Kerr and using free agency to sign the right players (Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala).
What does any of this have to do with the 2018 NBA Draft? To have success in the NBA, a team has to get the draft right, maybe not every time, but most times. The Celtics, Kings, Lakers, Sixers and others are seeing a return this season for what looks to be prudent drafting over the last few seasons.
Fans are already looking ahead to next summer’s draft but teams have been evaluating the prospects we are about to discuss for years. It is too early for these projections to be set in stone, but the race for the 2018 No. 1 pick centers around three players. For me, Real Madrid point guard Luka Doncic, Duke forward Marvin Bagley and Missouri forward Michael Porter start the season a tier above the rest of the group. While Doncic has been playing against professional competition in Europe, things will really get interesting for Bagley and Porter once we have college basketball tape to evaluate.
Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @JonDAdams with any NBA draft or basketball related questions. Leave us a comment on what prospects you are most excited to watch this season.
Here’s a look at the preseason edition of my top 10 2018 NBA Draft prospects.
No. 1 PG Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
It’s difficult to watch Doncic, and not get extremely excited. After watching his highlights, you’ll be amazed at all Doncic is able to do as a 6’8″ and 228 pound point guard. When watching clips of a player, it is difficult to get a feel for their size, and the same is true for Doncic who plays like a 6’2″ point guard.
Doncic has enough scoring ability to be a number one option on a team. He has a filthy step-back jumper, the best I have seen from a prospect in years. Doncic has great range, and can punish teams from behind the three-point line. Despite his ability to score, there are other attributes that are even more impressive.
Two things that come across any time you watch Doncic are court vision and his handles. He’s always looking to get his teammates involved, and his offensive ability makes penetration a real asset for Doncic as the defensive attention allows him to kick it out to wide-open teammates.
During the college basketball season, it is going to be easy to get caught up in the hype for Porter and Bagley. Rightfully so, both players are elite level talents, but Doncic has the potential to be better than either player. His performance in the Eurobasket tournament cemented his status as the top prospect heading into the season. Months ago, draft analyst Chad Ford detailed how good Doncic already is along with his potential to be so much more.
He is quite simply the most heralded international prospect I’ve ever scouted. At age 17 [now 18] he is already starting and averaging eight points a game in the best league in Europe.
He’s a highly skilled wing with an elite basketball IQ, the ability to score from everywhere on the floor, superior court vision and solid athleticism. He plays like a veteran already. Some teams worry a bit about his lack of elite explosiveness and lateral quickness — and that’s the only reason he isn’t topping our board at the moment.
The scouts who know Europe best say he’s a once-in-a-decade prospect.
There will be questions about Doncic. As Ode to Oden’s Sean Derenthal points out, there is an athleticism gap between what he will face in the NBA, and what he is facing in Europe. Doncic will have to prove he can defend NBA points guards.
No. 2 F Marvin Bagley III, Duke
The Cameron Crazies finally got to see Bagley in a Duke uniform as Duke hosted its Countdown to Craziness. Bagley has become an internet sensation with countless mixtapes and highlights including catching lob passes from NBA players like James Harden in the Drew League.
Bagley was missing from our initial 2018 draft coverage, but re-classified from the 2018 class so he could play college ball this season. Bagley is a big man that can run the floor, block shots, and his athleticism is apparent with how agile he is in the air.
Bagley’s jumper is already developed, and he has no problem using his dribble to get to the basket. While he has good handles for a big man, at times, he does not look as comfortable as you would like to see. Bagley has potential to play both the three and the four in the NBA.
Being a top NBA prospect is more than mixtape dunks and playing against NBA players in summer league games with little defense. I look forward to seeing how Bagley can perform for Duke against a difficult ACC schedule. This year’s Duke team is loaded with NBA prospects with Wendell Carter, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. joining Bagley on the Blue Devils squad.
No. 3 F Michael Porter Jr. , Missouri
Prepare for a year-long conversation on Porter vs. Bagley. We are unlikely to see them square off in college given Porter will play in the SEC, and Bagley is in the ACC. The only exception would be if both teams battle in the NCAA tournament. While Porter can play both forward positions, he looks most comfortable on the perimeter at small forward.
Porter is 6’10”, 214 pounds with a freakish 7’0″ wingspan. It is difficult to get a feel for exactly how good he is as most of his high school footage is against competition much less physically gifted than Porter. Porter does have great size, but needs to get stronger as he continues to face bigger and better players in college.
At times, he gets loose with his dribbling which can lead to turnovers. What you’re getting with Porter is a forward with great hops, shot blocking ability and solid shooting. Porter uses his athleticism to his advantage to get to the basket. There’s a reason many believe Porter could be the top pick in the draft, but I want to see how he does against players who are more similar to his frame.
Right now, I think Bagley and Doncic are above his skill level. The gap is not insurmountable, and a great season at Missouri could put him back atop my board.
No. 4 C DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
One of the difficulties in projecting college freshman at this point in the process is the huge gap between elite high school prospects and their competition. Ayton impressed in Arizona’s scrimmage to kick off the college basketball season. While it is not necessarily predictive, it is good to see Ayton is performing well against better competition, even if it is a scrimmage.
Ayton can carve out an NBA role from Day 1. As long as he brings the effort, his ability to run the floor, block shots and score off putbacks means he can contribute right away. Look what is happening with Jordan Bell in Golden State. Bell is older and more physically developed, but what makes him effective could be similar to how Ayton starts off in the league.
NBA scouts are going to want to see Ayton’s ability to hit jumpers. Ayton showed it at times in high school, and it will be interesting to see if the Arizona offense will allow him to pop out. We have seen college coaches are sometimes hesitant for their big men to play on the perimeter. It is something Ayton can showcase in pre-draft workouts if he does not get the opportunity to show his shooting ability in college.
The role of centers and power forwards in the NBA is evolving. It is hard to see the floor as a big man if you are not able to shoot. One of the exciting things about this draft class is some of the natural comparisons for players at the same position who are at a similar level of play. Ayton is going to be compared to Texas freshman Mo Bamba. Both project to be top ten draft picks in 2018, and their competition could bring out the best in each player as it did in high school.
No. 5 PG Collin Sexton, Alabama
There is not a player on this list I am more excited about than Sexton. Alabama has long been a football powerhouse, but Sexton could have the Bama faithful yelling “Roll Tide” long into March. Sexton reminds me of De’Aaron Fox, but not for his style of play. Though they have two very different games, Sexton has the same swagger and competitiveness Fox showed at Kentucky.
What can you expect from Sexton on the court? As his winning performance in the McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk contest showed, Sexton can jump out of the gym. His teammates at Alabama better keep their head on a swivel as he has the ability to get his teammates the ball, when they least expect it.
Sexton is 6’3″ and 175 pounds, so like many players on this list, he could afford to get stronger. In addition to all the positive traits I’ve outlined, where Sexton really shines is his ability to score. Sexton is relentless at attacking the basket, but also can pull up from three to keep defenses honest. If you can only watch one player on this list, Sexton is the player to start with.
No. 6 F Kevin Knox, Kentucky
Knox has all the tools to develop into an offensive player that is impossible to defend in the NBA. Knox is a forward who does his best work on the perimeter. He is 6’9″ with a 7′ wingspan in the same build as a player like Otto Porter. Knox comes into Kentucky with handles and a jumper making it interesting to watch how John Calapari uses him.
According to TampaBay.com, Knox had offers to play professionally in China for a year, but opted to head to Lexington to play under Coach Cal. Wildcats fans should not expect to see him past this season if all goes as planned.
“That’s written on my bedroom wall, to be a one-and-done,” Knox told TampaBay.com. “A lot of people project that I’ll do that. But it’s not done yet. I still have to work hard for it.”
No. 7 C Mohamed Bamba, Texas
Bamba is a big man that looks very comfortable on the perimeter. This is not a big man that needs to develop a jumper in college, as he is entering Austin with a jumper intact. My biggest question about Bamba heading into the college basketball season is whether he can be the kind of offensive player that a team can pass the ball to in the post, and let him go to work.
My sense is Bamba is going to start out by getting most of his points off jump shots and putbacks. Bamba brings a lot of athleticism to the table which helps him block shots, rebound and run the floor. He will need to get stronger over the next year, but at 7’0″ he has the frame to put on weight. ESPN lists Bamba at just 216 pounds, but he has a crazy 7’9″ wingspan to go with his slender body type.
We would be remiss not to mention Bamba’s brother, Ibrahim Johnson, accusations that Bamba accepted improper gifts during the recruiting process. CBS Sports Gary Parrish provides context to Johnson’s claims.
‘He’s not going to play this year in the NCAA because I already reported him to the NCAA — and I’m already going to meet with the NCAA,’ said Ibrahim Johnson, Bamba’s brother [via a Facebook video]. ‘He’s not going to play this year. … I exposed that kid.’
Johnson, who has been arrested multiple times this year, made the claims in a profanity-filled 22-minute video in which he alleges Bamba accepted $200 a week for an unspecified amount of time, a bed and various other things from Greer Love, who is a vice president at Huron Capital. If true, and without context, that could theoretically cause NCAA issues for Bamba. But a source told CBS Sports that Love has mentored Bamba since he was ‘9 or 10 years old’ — meaning, in the NCAA’s eyes, Love and Bamba likely qualify as two people with a ‘clear preexisting relationship.’
No. 8 SG Lonnie Walker, Miami
To me, Walker enters the season as the most underrated NBA prospect in the country. Walker tore his meniscus during the summer, but the Miami Herald reported Walker is expected to be ready for the season opener. It is a good time to be a Hurricanes fan, and not just for football reasons. Walker will join Bruce Brown to give Miami offensive firepower, and plenty of reasons for NBA draft nerds to watch Miami basketball this season.
Walker shined at both the McDonald’s All-American game as well as the Jordan Brand Classic. At 6’4″, Walker is slightly undersized to be an NBA shooting guard, but has enough handles that he could split time at both the one and two. Walker is a scorer who is best with the ball in his hands, and specifically when he is on the attack. Walker can also shoot the ball from outside, and scouts will be looking to see how he is able to get his teammates involved now that he is on a Miami team with plenty of talent.
No. 9 SF Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Bridges had an opportunity to be a late lottery pick last season, but opted to return to East Lansing for his sophomore season. Basketball is an unfortunate place where players often get downgraded for being anything but a freshman in the NBA draft. Make no mistake, Bridges has plenty of potential, but he will also have the advantage of entering the NBA a bit more polished with two years of college basketball experience.
A good starting place for Bridges is to watch him play against Kansas in the NCAA tournament where he matched up against Josh Jackson, who ended up being a top five pick in the draft. Bridges held his own with 28 points and eight rebounds. Bridges shined during his freshman season averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 blocks. Bridges shot 38.9 percent from behind the three-point line, and NBA teams will want to see that number bumped up to over 40 percent this season.
Bridges does a great job getting to the basket, but needs to work on finishing opportunities in traffic. Bridges won’t need to bulk up at the next level, but there are questions as to whether his ideal playing weight could be a little lower that the 230 pounds he played at last season.
The biggest challenge Bridges will face next summer is not what he puts on tape this season, as it seems unlikely Bridges would not take a step forward given his strong first season. The challenge is Bridges will be compared against the upside, real or imagined, of freshman players who will not go through a second college basketball season of being dissected by NBA decision makers.
No. 10 PG Trevon Duval, Duke
If it has not become clear, Duke is going to be must-watch television this season for NBA draftniks with four freshman phenoms who have pro potential. Duval loves getting into the teeth of the defense and kicking it out to teammates for an open shot. Duval is 6’3″, but has a 6’9″ wingspan allowing him to disrupt passing lanes that leads to steals and fastbreak opportunities.
Duval’s propensity for making highlight reel passes can lead to problems as ESPN’s Jonathan Givony details.
…He [Trevon Duval] has an elite first step, plays above the rim regularly, and changes speeds powerfully to make a living inside the paint. Duval is nearly unstoppable in the open floor and has significant potential defensively due to his physical tools. He shows flashes of unselfishness and vision as a passer, but he’s a poor decision-maker, preferring the flashy highlight-reel play over the substantive one too often.
There is still plenty to like about Duval, and he has a real shot to move up draft boards if he can take advantage of being the playmaker on a Blue Devil’s team full of NBA talent.