The NBA may be coming out against tanking, but the league is about to see it happen in epic proportions during the final two months of the season. There are seven teams within a game of the No. 1 lottery spot, and eight teams are separated by two games or less.
Here is a portion of Adam Silver’s comments about tanking in an NBA internal memo obtained by USA Today’s Sam Amick.
Over the past several seasons, discussions about so-called ‘tanking’ in the NBA have occurred with some frequency, both in the public discourse and within our league, and you as governors have taken steps to address the underlying incentive issues by adopting changes to our draft lottery system that will go into effect next year. Throughout this period, we have been careful to distinguish between efforts teams may make to rebuild their rosters, including through personnel changes over the course of several seasons, and circumstances in which players or coaches on the floor take steps to lose games.
The former can be a legitimate strategy to construct a successful team within the confines of league rules; the latter — which we have not found and hope never to see in the NBA — has no place in our game. If we ever received evidence that players or coaches were attempting to lose or otherwise taking steps to cause any game to result otherwise than on its competitive merits, that conduct would be met with the swiftest and harshest response possible from the league office.
The reality is the best chance for the majority of lottery teams to improve their team is through the draft. This is especially true for small market teams who have had trouble attracting marquee free agents over the last several years. Teams are smartly going to try to lose games down the stretch to give themselves the best chance to get a high draft pick. If the NBA really wants to reform tanking, they need to change the lottery structure. For now, it is a race to the bottom like we have not seen with so many teams fighting for the best chance to land the top pick.
The order for the mock draft below is based on the Tankathon standings as of Friday, March 2. Given the majority of players will not begin declaring for the NBA draft until after the NCAA tournament, the players listed are based on where I project them to go if they declare for the draft.
Here’s a look at my first NBA mock draft in March.
NBA Mock Draft 2018: Lottery Picks 1-14
No. 1 Orlando Magic: PG Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
In a draft class dominated by big men, Doncic is the top guard as we look toward June. Doncic is still my number one player, and the lack of quality guards in this class makes him even more valuable. As ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla points out, Doncic has been playing professionally since he was 16, and is now excelling in Europe. There are questions as to how Doncic will be able to play against more athletic NBA players, but his play-making abilities keeps him No. 1.
The Magic are desperate for a franchise player, and the combination of bad lottery luck along with bad personnel decisions continues to keep Orlando picking early in the draft.
No. 2 Memphis Grizzlies: C DeAndre Ayton, Arizona
A cloud continues to surround DeAndre Ayton, and how exactly he landed in Arizona. NBA teams are more concerned with how he plays on the court, and there is no question he does that at a high level. Ayton may have had his best performance yet against Oregon on the heels of ESPN’s report noting there is a wiretap that recorded Arizona coach Sean Miller discussing money in exchange for Ayton. On the floor, Ayton is the new kind of big man the NBA covets.
He runs the floor, blocks shots and hits the mid-range jumper. The NBA will be looking for Ayton to improve his 31 percent shooting from the three-point line, but checks all the other boxes. Ayton is firmly in the discussion to be the top pick. Memphis already has Marc Gasol, but the Grizzlies can find a way to use both players on the floor thanks to Ayton’s athletic ability.
No. 3 Phoenix Suns: C/F Marvin Bagley, Duke
Bagley is being listed as a center at the next level, but I have my doubts he is an NBA center. What I do believe is Bagley has an NBA game, and the right team will find a way to best utilize him. His post moves and offensive game is still raw. He is not polished enough on the perimeter to play as a three. Right now, Bagley thrives on his athleticism and motor. His potential is as high as any player in the draft, and will be a real threat once he polishes up some of his weaknesses through NBA coaching.
No. 4 Dallas Mavericks: F Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
No one seems to know whether Porter will take the floor again for Missouri. The good news is he has been cleared to play, which at the very least means he can participate in pre-draft workouts assuming he declares for the draft. Porter was once thought to be the favorite to be the 2018 No. 1 pick, but has lost some momentum since his injury. Unless his medicals come back with a lot of questions, Porter should be selected in the top five.
No. 5 Sacramento Kings: C Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Sacramento has a lot of young big men on their roster, but the strength of this draft is bigs. Jackson is the best player available here, and likely better than any of the big men on the current Kings roster. It will be interesting to watch what Jackson’s offensive ceiling will be after he leaves East Lansing, where he is not needed to be the lead offensive player. Jackson is one of the best shooting big men in the draft, and also is a monster on the defensive end averaging 3.3 blocks per game.
No. 6 Atlanta Hawks: C Mo Bamba, Texas
Look at Bamba’s number, and it is hard to not be impressed. Bamba is averaging 13 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.8 blocks. He is not the shooter that other bigs in this draft class are, but I do think it is something he can improve at the NBA level. Some have questioned whether Bamba brings it every night, but if the right coach lands him they will get one of the most talented players in this draft class.
Heading into college, Bamba was linked with Ayton, but the Arizona center has surpassed him early in the draft process. Bamba combined with John Collins down low gives Atlanta a couple young, athletic big men to build their team around.
No. 7 Cleveland Cavs (via Nets): PG Collin Sexton, Alabama
The Isaiah Thomas experiment was a disaster, and it is unclear whether Cleveland has their point guard of the future on their roster. Sexton reminds me a little of De’Aaron Fox as a prospect. Sexton is extremely competitive, but needs to improve his shooting. Sexton is at his best as a scoring guard similar to how Fox thrived at Kentucky. Outside of Doncic, Sexton is the best point guard in this class if he enters the draft.
No. 8 Chicago Bulls: SG Lonnie Walker IV, Miami
Coming into college, Walker was one of my top prospects based on his performances at the high school all-star circuits. Early on, Walker had a disappointing start at Miami, based on what he was expected to do. It is unclear whether Walker’s slow start had more to do with his overall game, or the way Miami was using him. Walker has turned it on in the last month, and I still like his potential moving forward. Walker could really help himself with a strong NCAA tournament.
No. 9 New York Knicks: F Kevin Knox, Kentucky
Knox has not had an explosive freshman season at Kentucky, but the forward has been steady. He is an intriguing player to watch as the Wildcats head into the SEC tournament and March Madness. He is another player that has a good chance to help himself during the tournament. I like his long-term potential to develop into a solid NBA scorer. In addition to being a more consistent shooter, Knox needs to get better at playing through contact. Knox has the ability to play multiple positions in the NBA.
No. 10 Philadelphia Sixers (via Lakers): G Trae Young, Oklahoma
Young is the most controversial prospect in this draft class. If you love him, you see him as the next Steph Curry. For those that are down on him, Young is too small and without a position at the next level. Young has had a difficult 2018, after having a monster start to his college career. While I don’t think Young is a top-five player, he has the ability to be a key player in the NBA. His quick release will serve him well in the NBA, but if a team is expecting him to come in as a franchise player they will likely be disappointed.
No. 11 Memphis Grizzlies: F Miles Bridges, Michigan State
We’ll see what the NBA will do with Bridges, who is a veteran in draft terms even though he is just a sophomore. Bridges’ numbers have gone up in nearly every category, including his shooting percentage. Bridges is one of the best scoring forwards in this draft class. The thing to watch is how the NBA compares Bridges with the freshman prospects who are likely to enter the draft.
Charlotte will have a new front office by draft time, and it will be worth watching how the new regime approaches the 2018 draft.
No. 12 Los Angeles Clippers (via Pistons): F/G Mikal Bridges, Villanova
The Clippers get this pick thanks to the Blake Griffin trade before the deadline. The Clippers have yet to find a long-term solution at forward, and Bridges would be a nice fit. How has Bridges risen up draft boards despite being a junior? He nearly doubled his points per game (17.4 ppg), and his three-point percentage is up two percent (41.7 percent) on more attempts. Bridges has the potential to be a three-and-D player that NBA teams are looking for.
No. 13 Utah Jazz: SF Dzanan Musa, Cedevita
Utah may have won the draft last year with Donovan Mitchell, and will look to carry that momentum into this year’s evaluation process. There are plenty of good big men still on the board here, but Utah could benefit from adding an additional swingman after losing Gordon Hayward in free agency.
No. 14 Los Angeles Clippers: C/F Wendell Carter, Duke
The Clippers could have two lottery picks if they miss the playoffs. With DeAndre Jordan’s future with the team up in the air, it would not be surprising if the team adds a big man with one of their two picks. Carter has a good chance to be drafted inside the top 10, and has helped himself with his play the second half of the season. He is not the most athletic big man in this class, but can score in multiple ways. Carter has the ability to hit the mid-range jumper ala Horace Grant. Carter is also a good defender, but does not have the same upside as some of the big men at the top of the board.
NBA Mock Draft: Picks 15-30
Here’s a look at the mock draft for teams currently in the NBA playoff picture.
|No. 15 Phoenix Suns (via Heat)||G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky|
|No. 16 Phoenix Suns (via Bucks)||SG Anfernee Simons, IMG|
|No. 17 Denver Nuggets||G/F Troy Brown, Oregon|
|No. 18 Philadelphia Sixers||C Robert Williams, TAMU|
|No. 19 Indiana Pacers||G Landry Shamet, Wichita State|
|No. 20 Minnesota T-Wolves (via Thunder)||SG Grayson Allen, Duke|
|No. 21 Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans)||C Mitchell Robinson|
|No. 22 San Antonio Spurs||C Daniel Gafford, Arkansas|
|No. 23 Washington Wizards||PG Aaron Holiday, UCLA|
|No. 24 Portland Trail Blazers||G/F Khyri Thomas, Creighton|
|No. 25 Atlanta Hawks (via T-Wolves)||G De’Anthony Melton, USC|
|No. 26 L.A. Lakers (via Cavs)||SF Melvin Frazier, Tulane|
|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 Chandler Hutchison, Boise State|